Downstairs in the kitchen, I searched the cupboards for something to eat. I found nothing. I know LaShawn was barbecuing, but what about potato salad, chips, cocktail onions, savoury biscuits, cupcakes? Maybe Budgie was going to shop for the party tomorrow morning. Where was Budgie anyway? He didn’t even have a jar of Vegemite. Finally, I noticed half a loaf of bread on top of the microwave. That would suffice. I took two slices from the bag, removed a blueish spot of mould from one of the crusts, and laid the slices side by side on the bench. I opened the fridge and examined the preposterous stash of Swiss cheese. I took a wedge, carved off five thick slices and made a sandwich, placing it under the grill. A few minutes later, with a delightful aroma filling the room, I sat down to enjoy one of the finest meals known to man.
Halfway through my snack, LaShawn threw the front door open with a crash and ran straight into the kitchen. Horror flooded his face.
“No!” he wailed. “What are you doing?”
He ran up and snatched the sandwich from my hand, opened the slices of bread and stared in disbelief.
“No, no, no. This is bad. How much cheese did you put in here?” he asked, scraping the golden goo between his fingers as though trying to mould it back into its pre-melted form.
“Jeez, relax man,” I said, “I was just having a snack. There’s another eighty kilos of cheese in the fridge.”
“Eighty-one point seven,” said LaShawn, throwing the half-eaten sandwich down on the table.
“Well, don’t do that,” I said.
“You don’t get it,” he said. “There were exactly eighty-one point seven kilos of Swiss cheese there. We needed it all—down to the gram. Nils said… Sh**, I hope we haven’t stuffed it up.”
“Stuffed what up?”
“The—” LaShawn looked about to erupt in frustration, but then checked himself and said calmly, “The cheese was for the brisket. It’s a very specific recipe.”
“Sorry. I didn’t know.”
He squinted hard and took a breath. “How much cheese did you use, exactly?”
I shrugged. “A couple of slices.”
He nodded and said, “Okay… Okay, we’ll just have to go ahead. I suppose we don’t have a choice.”
He looked me up and down with concern.
“I have been cutting back on cheese,” I said. “Honest.”
He nodded. “Too much isn’t good for you. Come on, help me out, will you? We have to hurry.”
We opened the fridge and began unloading the cheese. With our arms cradling twenty wedges each, we made our way out to the shed. LaShawn ran all the way there, so I ran as well. We made three return trips for the rest of the cheese, and then set about unwrapping every wedge. LaShawn kept scolding himself.
“Damn it! I can’t believe I forgot the cheese. It was the first thing I was supposed to put in. Nils only told me about twenty times. How could I do something so stupid?”
Once all the cheese was unwrapped, LaShawn climbed up onto the giant meat smoker and opened the hatch on a long, rectangular compartment at the top.
“All right,” he said, “throw the cheese up to me.”
Wedge by wedge, I threw the Swiss cheese up to LaShawn, and he dumped it into the compartment. It took longer than you would think, and quickly became boring. By the end of it, my shoulder hurt. But pain usually produces a gain, and to this day I am really good at throwing cheese.
“All right, that’s the last of it,” I said, tossing the final wedge up to LaShawn.
He crammed the wedge into the compartment.
“Are you sure?” he said. “There aren’t any lying on the ground? What about behind that bag there?”
“No, that’s it,” I said, giving the area a half-hearted scan.
“Okay,” he said, and closed the hatch.
He slid down the side of the smoker and landed next to me. His expression became grave and he exhaled a long, slow breath.
“Let’s hope this works.”
He always did take barbecuing seriously.
He examined a control panel on the side of the smoker; tiny lights flashed. He muttered to himself, nodded, and then took a small key from his pocket. He slid the key into a barely noticeable slot next to the control panel and turned it. The smoker beeped, and then a square flap opened below the key; inside was a lever that looked like the gearstick in my grandad’s old Datsun. LaShawn put his hand on the lever and then paused. He stared; his shoulders rose and fell with long breaths.
“Hey man,” I said. “I know you like to get your cooking perfect, but none of us are food critics—however it turns out, I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”
“Enjoy it?” he said. His expression brightened. He turned to me and nodded. “Yeah.”
He pulled the lever down. Some sort of engine cranked and whirred within the smoker, while above, the cheese compartment hissed and spat a cloud of blue smoke toward the ceiling.
“No point if you’re not enjoying it, right?” said LaShawn, slapping me on the shoulder.
“Now we run away,” he said.
His eyes lit up. “Run. We have to get out of the shed.”
I shook my head. “Run?”
He giggled and darted past me and around the smoker.
“Run!” he yelled.
I looked about the shed, not sure what prank LaShawn was playing. In a clear plastic bag on the floor there was a lump of the grey putty I had seen earlier. Beside a metal toolbox, I noticed three cheese wedges I had missed. A hand gripped me by the collar.
“F**king move!” shouted LaShawn, dragging me forward. He ran off again. “Come on!”
This time I followed him.
Around the meat smoker I raced, and toward the doorway. LaShawn was already there, ready to slam the heavy, insulated door.
“Hurry up!” he called.
I hurdled a bunch of electrical cables, sidestepped a big foam Esky and made the final dash to daylight. As I crossed the threshold, I came crashing down face first, with a pain in my hip as though someone had tried to yank my right leg from its socket. I was dazed for a second, and then tried to stand. My foot was stuck. LaShawn grabbed my leg and tried to wrench it free from the bird’s nest of copper wire that had it trapped just inside the doorway. The meat smoker began shuddering like an old washing machine. LaShawn let go of my leg and grabbed the huge wire tangle, trying to drag it out, but to no avail. The smoker gave a howling whistle, and blue smoke seeped from beneath it. LaShawn ran inside the shed; there was some rapid thumping, and then a cry of, “Damn it!” He ran back out and took hold of the door. The smoker gave a loud, long hoot, like an alarm.
“What’s happening?” I said, feeling my heart thumping.
“Just lie flat,” said LaShawn, heaving the door shut, “and put your leg hard up against the doorframe.”
I moved my leg as close to the doorframe as I could; LaShawn pushed the door up against my shin.
“What’s going on?” I said.
There was a six-inch gap in the doorway where my leg prevented the door from closing. LaShawn stood in front of the gap, his back to it, and held the door. The dim shed light behind him turned soft blue.
The smoker rattled and roared, and then came a thunderous crack and a bright flash of blue light. My foot slid out from the door and the door closed with a thud. LaShawn checked it was sealed and then bolted it. He stood there a moment, waiting. A loud, steady hum droned from within. He sighed.
“I think we’re okay,” he said. Then he turned and looked at me. “Oh no.”
© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED