Image Description: A sketch of a man in a vest playing with a vat of milk.
By William Huang
“Well, interesting stories? Something happened to me the other day. Something that I had no reason to share before this night. There you are, standing in front of me, drinks in hands, one of you even pouring that classic combo of Baileys and milk. Well, settle in, because I have a tale to tell. And yes, it does involve milk. No, it doesn’t involve Baileys.
“It was a cool late autumn morning, and there was hardly a soul in sight on the UWA campus. It was one of those blissful, reflective days, when you could just go in and do your work, contemplate your life, and relax as you looked upon the open lawns and clouded sky.
“I had a class at 11 am. Online. And I wanted to sit the class in one of the clubrooms in the Guild building. But first, I thought, why not grab a drink from the IGA?
“So I walked in, and saw that the flavoured drinks were $4. Yuck. But the milk, at 1L – only $2.50. And the 2L bottle – $3. Why not buy twice the amount for $3, I thought? Why not?
“Bringing the bottle, and feeling its chill in my hand, I ran up the stairs, ready to enter onto the third floor. The door was locked.”
At this point, the whole room, which has been held in collective anticipation, begins to quieten down. Some people in the corner stop talking, and turn to look at me. One person splutters on her drink, while another simply stares open-eyed, fear and anticipation reflecting off his face.
“What did you do then?” Someone whispers. A collective sound, somewhere between a sigh and a gasp, colours the atmosphere. The question has been asked.
“Well, my first instinct was not to panic. The only fridges I had access to were on third floor, but several options branched out for me. By then it was too late to join the class, so I had to focus on the milk.
“I didn’t want to open it just yet. So I asked my friends what to do.”
I notice a slight shift in the mood of the room as a few people know they’re about to be involved in the story.
“I asked Percy. Yes, Percy, of course you remember this. How could you forget?”
A look of sheer terror crossed his face as I was about to reveal the advice he gave.
“Percy… you said that drinking too much milk would acidify my bones. You said that drinking the milk would weaken them. You do realise, it’s partially your fault that the situation, that agonising milky dilemma, was stretched out so much because you convinced me not to drink the two litres?”
With this accusation, the whole room bursts into a round of murmurings. Deliberations are made. Eventually, people start to nod and settle on an agreement. Yes, Percy was in the wrong. And slowly then, people start to look at him with fiery shots of accusation. I wait for the room to settle down.
“Percy… you will not be sleeping on the spare bed tonight”.
With my damning judgement, his eyes open wide, excuses coming out half formed, before I raise a hand to shut him down, and continue with the story.
“But Percy’s betrayal is nothing… compared to Nathan.
“Nathan. I offered the milk to you. By that point I’d had it for about half an hour, and it was starting to warm up. All you had to do was catch a bus for twenty minutes to come and have some coffee or tea. Instead of making a mistake, you opted for the passive route. Inaction. And that is the cowardly choice, far worse than what Percy did.”
Nathan begins to physically shake. Bits of the liquid in his cup start spilling sporadically on the floor.
“Nathan, you’re sleeping outside. I’ve also set the sprinklers to turn on sometime between 2 and 5am.”
The mood begins to shift as people start to shuffle around. Factions begin to form. Some are uncomfortable with my harsh sentence. But the hottest fires in hell are reserved for those that, in times of great moral crisis, choose to remain neutral. I take a breath to steady myself. The whole room waits in anticipation for the next excommunication. My sister comes out of her bedroom to tell us to be quiet. In the distance, I can hear people partying ominously.
“By this point, I was willing to reach out to the wider community. My first thought – uni clubs. I messaged the Poetry Poetics and Poesis committee. I trusted you guys.”
Someone from the committee speaks out:
“Well, I would have, but I couldn’t! Don’t think that owning two litres of milk means you own us. You’ve got to remember we have our own milk at home too. We have our own milk to drink. We have our own problems to deal with.
“Where were you when I bought a packet of Tim Tams, and had nobody to share them with? They ended up rotting in the clubroom! Own up to your own mistakes before you accuse anyone else.”
I think it over. She does have a point.
“There are some heroes who need to be acknowledged. Shanniah told me to give the milk to the cafes. Maybe they would have some use for it.
“I went back, back to the IGA first to see whether they could accept it again. By now an hour had passed since I bought it. They wouldn’t, but they did let me store it there. I was able to leave it and pick it up again when I got home. I had my milk and I drank it too.”
And so, with that tale over, we go back to partying. But it’s just not the same anymore. Percy doesn’t want to talk to me, and neither does Nathan. Some people did think I went too far, others related to my story. My sister came out of the room again and yelled at me for talking too loud. And I don’t know it then, but I will never, to this day, touch another bottle of milk in my life. That’s not because I was put off by the accusations I threw around. No, I found out a few days later that I was lactose intolerant.
William Huang never purchases too much milk.