Hot Stuff

A sneak preview from Victoria’s new book, Two Old Fools Fair Dinkum.

My son, Shealan, and his partner, Daria, had moved to a new apartment.

“Are you free next weekend? Come and have drinks and nibbles at our new place,” they said.

Indy and Winter were having a sleepover at their Aussie grandparents’ house so an adult evening was planned. Joe wasn’t feeling well and stayed at home.

I arrived with Karly and Cam and we were given the grand tour. The new apartment was on the ground floor of a large building set on the edge of a national park, yet still convenient for both of them to commute to their jobs. They’d furnished the rooms tastefully and a big outdoor table was set up on the verandah.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” said Shealan. “What would you like to drink?”

Daria brought out a cheeseboard and we grazed, sipped and chatted as the sky darkened. Moths danced a fandango around the outside lights and kookaburras out-laughed each other.

“I’ve got some really hot tortilla chips, if anybody is brave enough to do a taste test with me,” Shealan suggested.

Shealan collects red-hot sauces and is well known for his ability to eat raw chili peppers and crazily spicy food.

“Chips?” I asked.

“We’d call them crisps in England.”

I nodded.

“I’ll do it,” said Aussie Cam. No surprise there.

“Yup,” said Karly, “bring it on.”

“Sure,” said Daria.

Lent courage by my third glass of wine, I heard myself saying, “I love spicy food, I’ll give it a go.”

“Are you sure, Mum?” asked Karly and rolled her eyes.

Shealan and Daria smiled.

“Okay, if you’re sure, this is what I’m going to do,” said Shealan. “I’m going to lay the chips out in rows, in order of hotness. We’ll each try a chip at the same time. Of course anybody can back out at any time if you find them too hot.”

Red rag to a bull. 

Shealan went inside to organise the board, while Daria splashed iced water into glasses for each of us. Just in case.

Shealan reappeared and put the board down in the centre of the table. We eyed the rows of innocent-looking chips. There were five rows of five.

“All the chips look the same,” Karly remarked.

“No, believe me, they aren’t. There are five chips to try in each row, each one a bit hotter than the last. Cam, the top row is yours. Karly, yours is the second row down, and Mum, yours is the middle row. Daria and I will taste rows four and five.”

We nodded.

“The first chip is the mildest. Is everybody ready?”

“Yes,” we chorused.

“Okay, let’s begin. Right! Taste the first chip in your row!”

Obediently we followed his example and reached for the first chips and popped them into our mouths.

“Easy,” said Aussie Cam, crunching.

“Done,” said Karly.

“Done,” said Daria, smiling.

“That wasn’t too bad,” I said, trying not to cough.

“Well done, Mum,” said Karly. “One down, four more to go. Do you want to carry on?”

“Of course!”

“Okay, everyone,” said Shealan,  “grab your second chip. All together now, taste!” 

I really didn’t want to, but I couldn’t let the side down. Like everybody else, I grabbed the second chip from my row and put it in my mouth. Within seconds, little red flames danced on my tongue.

“Too easy,” said Aussie Cam.

“Done,” said Karly.

“Done,” said Daria, still smiling.

I tried to speak but my tongue wouldn’t behave. Part of it had gone numb and my eyes were beginning to sting. I looked longingly at my glass of water.

“Don’t drink the water,” hissed Karly, “it’ll make it feel worse. Do you want to stop?”

My head said YES, I want to stop. My heart said YES, I want to stop. But my pride wouldn’t let me tap out. I shook my head. 

“No.”

“Chip number three, halfway through the taste test!” crowed Shealan. “Are we all ready? Grab your chip. Now, all together, taste!”

A kookaburra laughed hysterically in the darkness.

I forced the third chip into my mouth. Hot flames spread to the inside of both cheeks and my eyes watered. Gasping, I opened my mouth wide and sucked in the night air, hoping to cool the furnace that was my mouth.

I looked at the others who were clearly busy fighting their own battles.

“Easy,” said Aussie Cam, but for the first time his voice lacked conviction and his cheeks were inflated as he blew out.

“Done,” whispered Karly, eyes wide.

“Done,” said Daria, smiling sweetly.

I couldn’t speak. All I could do was close my eyes and wait for the burning to subside. I sounded like an old-fashioned steam train as I puffed and blew, attempting to cool my mouth. 

And chip number four was waiting for me. 

“Mum, you don’t have to have any more,” said Shealan.

“Just one more,” I rasped. My iced water sparkled alluringly. “I’ll give number four a go. I doubt I’ll try the last one, though.”

The kookaburra cackled and swooped away on silent wings. I saw him silhouetted for a brief moment against the silver moon before being swallowed by the black Australian bush.

The night was silent. Nothing stirred in the bush. The only movement came from the ice cubes shifting in the water jug and moths whirling their endless dance around the lights. 

“Right, chip number four, the last but one,” said Shealan, breaking the silence. “On your marks, get set, go!”

I ordered my reluctant fingers to pick up the tortilla chip and put it in my mouth, aware that all my companions were doing the same. 

It was done. For a split second, nothing. 

Then my mouth exploded. I felt as though I’d taken a bite out of a red-hot meteor. A burning sensation spread across my lips and ignited my tongue. Tears spurted from my eyes and my nose poured. I was sweating and I knew my face was beetroot-red.

Enough. 

I grabbed the glass of water and gulped it, I swilled my mouth out and leaned over the verandah wall, evacuating the contents of my mouth.

Slowly, slowly, my mouth cooled. I heard shrieks of laughter and turned to look at my family. Cam and Karly were just about getting their breath back from the latest devilish chip, but Shealan and Daria were laughing so hard they could hardly stand up.

“How could you do that?” asked Karly, aghast. “That was so mean!”

“Do what?” I asked, confused.

Shealan couldn’t speak, he was laughing so much, so Karly answered for him.

“He’s just told us that he switched the fourth and fifth chips.”

“You mean…”

“Yes, Daria and your beloved son, my brother, have just tricked us into tasting probably the hottest tortilla chips ever invented.”

“Daria was in on it?”

“Yup, Daria and Shealan’s rows of chips were just the mild ones. You, me and Cam were eating the hot ones. And we thought the fifth chip would be the hottest, but in fact it was the fourth.”

I still haven’t forgiven Shealan and Daria. And I now understand why professional hot sauce tasters use just the tip of a cocktail stick to dip into the sauce and onto their tongues. Far more sensible.

Old Fools series

Amazon Link to the first book in the series: https://bit.ly/OldFools-Chickens

The excerpt, Hot Stuff, comes from Two Old Fools Fair Dinkum which is the seventh book in the Old Fools series.