Wednesday 1 February 2017


© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014

‘So,’ thought Wu Ze Xi, ‘this is it.’ She had just sat down to the beginning of her senior high school final exams, on a very warm summer’s morning. The exam was English poetry. She had organised her exam space, and tested her three blue pens on the card with her candidate number indicating her allocated desk. Wu Ze was seventeen years of age and felt fairly confident of doing well on the exams, largely because she naturally adored learning. She had arrived in Aus from China with her two professional parents sixteen years ago, 1982, and didn’t really miss China at all, proud nonetheless of her ancient culture. The family soon after arriving here chose Sydney to take up abode, predominantly for business reasons. Naturally then they would want to live in the heart of the city, or as close as possible, and so ended up in nearby multicultural Redferne. Her and her parents all loved being of two cultures and Wu Ze was very proud of her excellent bilingualism. Well, three languages if you included French but she had never used it in France. She was also very confident in her understanding of English poetry (although she preferred Classical Chinese poetry, both sharper and more wistful.)
     The exam supervisors now began handing out the exam paper, face down on each student’s desk. When Wu Ze received hers she took out a flask from her bag. She placed it on the table and, after a quick prayer, poured herself a cup of chamomile tea. She took a sip when the supervisor announced the official beginning of the exam.
     It didn’t take long for one of the supervisors to approach Wu Ze and to query her about the flask she was drinking from. Wu Ze presented a medical certificate stating that she has suffered from anxiety for the past year, as well as having a family history of such, as a result of her father passing away in a car crash. Wu Ze had discovered that chamomile tea was great in alleviating her stress and the doctor had prescribed it whilst sitting her final senior high school exams. After reading the certificate the supervisor said that she would temporarily allow the tea but would have to show the document to her own supervisor. She told Wu Ze though that she would probably be allowed to keep the tea if the certificate proved to be genuine.
     Thus Wu Ze was allowed her tea throughout the remainder of the exams and by the end of them felt supremely confident that her many, many hours of study would bear the promised fruit. She was aiming to do Science at university, majoring in Biology and Physics, and when she received the final results she had the pick of her institute. She received 98.37%. She was slightly miffed that she fell just short of a perfect score but her parents were quick to point out that perfection is impossible and that she had done very, very well. Very, very well indeed.
     Wu Ze now came to rely on her flask of chamomile tea throughout her university studies, in lectures, and when doing assignments and exams. The other students nicknamed her ‘Teadrop’, which she was rather flattered by, proud of her eccentricity. The students liked her though and were impressed with her consistently high results. But unbeknownst to them Wu Ze was perhaps studying too hard, her goal being to be accepted for Honours Science. The crux came during the very last of her university undergraduate exams. She had just poured herself a chamomile tea but whilst having the first sip her right hand was shaking so hard that she spilled most of it. Looking at the mess she had made of her exam paper seemed to unleash a dam, and Wu Ze began sobbing uncontrollably. One of the campus’ nurses told her that it was a nervous breakdown, the obvious result of having very, very little social life since senior high school but studying intensely instead. Wu Ze had opened up to the nurse as she hadn’t opened to anyone since high school. Wu Ze had never really talked about her father’s passing, choosing to bury herself in study instead. The results, or so said the nurse, were always predictable.
     It took a full lunar month for Wu Ze to more or less recover and the university was happy to allow her to sit the final exam again after being provided with a brief report from her doctor. Her final results were again outstanding and she was invited to study for Honours Science, in Physics, which course she found gave her the first real intellectual challenge of her life. Her PhD studies, in Biophysics, were even more invigorating, with the assistance of the chamomile of course, and by the following day of her thesis’ oral defence she found herself being headhunted by some of the world’s largest breweries. At the time she didn’t know they were big players but a little research showed her that she had come under the notice of some very powerful companies. She soon enough found out why they were so desperate for intelligent employees.


     ‘Please be seated,’ said the suited young executive. Wu Ze had chosen to meet at random one of the brewing companies seeking her services.
     ‘Thank you.’ She was in a well-appointed office and her parents had bought her a new suit for the interview. Wu Ze was here just to test the waters, adamant she wasn’t going to fall for the first offer she was made.
     ‘Just a bit of paper work before we begin, Wu Ze,’ said the young man, taking a sheet of paper from inside his Manilla folder. His name was Earnest. ‘Would you mind signing this confidentiality agreement: what I’m about to raise with you is still commercial-in-confidence.’
     ‘Certainly,’ replied Wu Ze. She duly signed the document and Earnest then promptly got down to business.
     ‘As you probably know hops is the critical ingredient in making beer. Well, within the past three months an unknown disease has begun wiping out the planet’s hops crops. We want you to find the cure.’
     ‘On my own?’
     ‘Certainly not. We’re recruiting other higher achievers and you’d be part of the team.’
     ‘Surely it can’t be all that serious. Can’t people just switch to wine?’
     ‘One of the best things about an open market is that people have choice. And most people choose beer over wine. It has proved to be an important social lubricant over the millennia. This unknown disease is still secret because news of it could well snowball into disastrous consequences.’
     ‘And considering that we live in a patriarchal society, and that men love their beer, it could well bring society to its knees.’
     Earnest considered this a short while, and then replied,
     ‘Essentially, that’s correct.’
     ‘Well, Earnest, what are you offering for my help?’ Wu Ze listened politely to Earnest’s offer and then told him she’d think about it. She followed the same procedure with the other breweries finally selecting the largest of them, a German company, Hahne, who had the best resources for her to tackle the problem.
     Hahne paid for her flight over to Germany, arranged accommodation, and saw to all the paperwork for allowing her to work in Germany. She instantly missed Sydney, Aus, a land so pristine that she felt Mother Nature must have created another one in a parallel universe out of overflowing love for it. Wu Ze took up her role two weeks after becoming set up in her new homeland.
     Her first day at the new job was a thorough disaster. She wasn’t allowed to bring her regulation flask of chamomile tea with her into the lab, her supervisor stating that not only was it a contamination hazard but an accidental spillage would undoubtedly ruin the results of very expensive work. Wu Ze was dumbfounded. She had never had this problem before, her own supervisors at university making a medical exception for her in the lab’s standard operating procedures (within reason of course), especially since she was such an excellent student. She seriously did not think that she would be able to perform the high grade work required without the tea’s necessary soothing. But her new supervisor was not to be swayed: she must work without its benefit.
     She tried working without the tea but it was no use, her anxiety levels soon became uncontrollable. With her smattering of German she consulted a doctor who prescribed her Valium. The doctor warned her against its addictive nature and told her to have one only when the stress became unbearable. He prescribed it at the lowest dose, allowing her to work whilst medicated, although she would need someone else to operate the lab’s machines for her.
     Wu Ze thought that there was nothing finer than chamomile tea for relaxing her but the Valium was altogether in a greater league. She naturally loved it but despite her best attempts could not stop herself from popping the tablets like they were confectionary. She soon had to go doctor shopping, also necessitating improved German to argue with the doctor for what she had come to rely on. Naturally her work suffered and it wasn’t long before her employment was terminated. Her supervisors had clearly seen her popping the pills too much and felt that they had no choice but to let her go in case she caused a terrible accident.
     Wu Ze took to unemployment gracefully but she wouldn’t give up her Valium and so wouldn’t be able to reasonably find another job. A serious job. She spent her time instead in reading, pleasantly zonked throughout the day, and going to bed early. She found a black market site on the Net to supply her with the pills and felt she had no more needs. But when the news finally broke, three months after she was fired, that the planet’s hops plantations were dying out she felt tremendous guilt, feeling, undoubtedly unreasonably and irrationally, as if she had abandoned her global cousins. Life was probably going to become very trying for a large part of the world’s population and she felt that she was part of the cause. So she abandoned her own life, abandoned her flat and her pet dog, abandoned any chance of a fulfilling career and took herself to the streets of Berlin in a vague attempt to ‘atone’ for her sins. And now that she had no Net she found it virtually impossible to get the much needed Valium. She had no choice really but to substitute it with wine, red wine being the chosen medication. Luckily she had only a mild addiction, being sure not to up the dose per pill, and her withdrawals were readily quelled with the wine.  

     She was drunk throughout the various riots and looting across the globe that followed the news of beer inevitably, and soon, going the way of the dodo and she died drunk. She had accidentally become caught up with a bunch of looters and a flying shard of glass from a smashed bottle shop window nicked her left carotid artery. She died amongst her fellow citizens scrambling for the last of the beer. As she had no ID on her she was buried without being missed. The hops crops were eventually saved, just in time, through sheer luck if nothing else. Wu Ze’s parents still live in hope of hearing from her.


If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and
paperbacks (go to Other ebook and paperback options are available at Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing and you can follow its journey at