A story by Barry Chant
‘Have you heard about the resurgence of blue chocolate?’ whispered buxom Beverley Trad one winter morning to her slender brunette friend Sophie Wise. They were both in their twenties, enjoying the embracive warmth of Linger Inn, a popular café that served the best coffee in the university precinct.
‘Blue chocolate!’ exclaimed the other. ‘Since when?’
‘I’m not sure,’ replied Beverley.
‘Blue chocolate?’ said Sophie again, screwing up her button-like nose. ‘I hope not.’ She was enjoying the pleasant aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the thought of blue anything at that point was not inviting. Besides, although it had always been available, blue chocolate had also been widely regarded with disfavour, even disgust.
‘It can’t be so bad if people like eating it,’ Beverley went on. She looked for the positive in everything.
‘But surely chocolate is brown by definition?’ wondered Sophie aloud, glancing slightly upwards, as if she was seeking approval from the ceiling fan. ‘Blue chocolate is a paradox.’
Rich, dark brown chocolate had been an integral part of planetary life for generations. It was well established that regular consumption was beneficial overall to both body tone and intellectual awareness.
‘Why would anyone want to change?’ mused Sophie. ‘Even the kids do better at school when they eat brown chocolate.’
‘Yes, and it can prove seriously detrimental when people exclude it from their diet,’ Beverley agreed. ‘Besides, it’s part of our cultural tradition.’
‘So why this sudden interest in blue chocolate?’
‘Don’t ask me,’ Beverley responded, ‘but I’m told there is a hidden and growing market for it.’
‘Surely not,’ replied Sophie.
‘Surely so,’ said Beverley. ‘I have it on very good authority.’
‘Mm,’ murmured Sophie. ‘Well, time will tell.’
And time did tell. As the weeks went by, the rumours escalated. More people were making, buying and eating the new confectionary. It was always behind closed doors: no one seemed willing to bring it out into the open. But the smoke wafted around, as it were, and it was a sure indication of fire.
Most people were not impressed. The community at large was conservative and wary of change. They regarded blue chocolate eaters with disdain and either rejected them or scorned them.
‘Have you heard about this blue chocolate stuff?’ the ever-brash Nate Query asked his mate Luke Smart, as they chatted after work. ‘Seems to be the latest fad. They say that as many as ten per cent of the population are going for it.’
‘More like one and a half to two per cent,’ replied Luke, leaning forward, his eyebrows raised. He had just graduated with a degree in social science and was eager to display his knowledge.
‘Yesterday’s paper said it was ten,’ argued Nate, his eyebrows lowered..
‘Well if the press say ten, it must be ten.’ Luke replied sarcastically. ‘But did you know
that this figure is based on research done among people who had no other choice? It was either blue chocolate or nothing. I’m surprised it wasn’t more like fifty per cent! The whole process was exaggerated and flawed. There were no proper controls.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I read it in the paper!’ laughed Luke. ‘No, seriously, I’ve been boning up on it. Several surveys have been done recently and they all confirm the two percent maximum figure—except for one program that counted participants as users who had only tasted blue chocolate once in their whole lives.’
Nate looked thoughtful. ‘Anyway, what do you think about it?’ he asked, leaning his large frame back against his chair.
‘Me? It doesn’t matter what I think. It won’t make any difference to anything. But if you really want to know, I find the idea nauseating.’ He gave an involuntary shudder as he spoke.
‘Yeah, it doesn’t do much for me, either,’ Nate observed. ‘Real dark chocolate—well, I can understand people going for that. It’s… it’s natural. But blue chocolate… Ugh.’Nate was not alone in his attitude. People generally thought that anyone who preferred blue chocolate to traditional dark brown chocolate was crazy. How could you compare the two? It was like preferring thistles to lilies or grass-seeds to wheat. Who would even want to get close to someone who meddled with blue chocolate? The whole idea was revolting. Such people should be forced to change their ways.Nate was not finished. ‘The world would be a better place if we banned blue chocolate altogether,’ he said, ‘and banned the people who eat it as well.’
‘Well, I think that’s a bit strong,’ continued Luke. ‘You don’t help people by rejecting them. What people do is not the same as who they are. They’re still people, after all, and deserve the same consideration and acceptance as anyone else. If we looked close enough we’d find that almost everyone has a habit or a practice that we don’t approve. We still have to live with them and respect them. But there is another aspect to be considered. There are signs that blue chocolate is actually damaging to health and potentially dangerous.’
‘Really?’ asked Nate quizzically, his big frame leaning forward as he spoke.
‘Really,’ Luke replied earnestly. ‘There have already been admissions to hospital.’
Beverley Trad, always eager for the latest gossip, could hardly wait for her morning coffee with Sophie Wise at Linger Inn.
At last Sophie arrived and even before the coffee was served she plunged into her topic. ‘Have you heard the latest?’ she asked eagerly. ‘It’s about this blue chocolate. Two people ended up in hospital after eating it.’
‘Yes,’ Sophie replied thoughtfully. ‘I have heard. I hope it doesn’t become an epidemic.’
‘An epidemic? It won’t come to that, surely. It’s only chocolate.’
‘Well, no it’s not exactly only chocolate. It’s actually potentially dangerous—and not only to those who eat it. The virus is easily transmitted by handling the wrappings or using the same knife or drinking from the same cup.’
‘Oh, poof,’ said Beverley, her rosy cheeks rounding as she spoke. ‘No way. Not from chocolate.’ She was ever the optimist.
‘We might be surprised.’
And surprised they were. Within weeks the outbreak of a new disease was officially reported. They called it Anti Biological Enervating Toxic Syndrome, abbreviated as ABETS. Its symptoms were obvious—rising temperature, loss of appetite, severe pain, shortness of breath, dehydration, deterioration of bodily functions. But no satisfactory treatment could be found. Physicians worked furiously to discover a cure. Meanwhile the numbers of people
succumbing to the disease multiplied exponentially. And then one by one, deaths were recorded. One or two a week at first; then three or four; then seven or eight or nine or ten. And soon the similar figures were being reported not weekly, but daily.
The newspapers and news broadcasts were full of it. Each headline strove to be more sensationalist than the former. ‘Rare Disease Baffles Scientists… Public Warned Not to Share Utensils… Food Wrappings Labelled Dangerous… Saliva Breeds ABETS…’ And so on. All kinds of explanations were offered and all kinds of hoped-for cures reported.
Strangely, while the transmission of the affliction was discussed at length the cause was rarely mentioned. No one stated the obvious. All victims had one thing in common: they had all been eating blue chocolate. But no one suggested that sufferers should stop. They should be careful in handling it; they should be sure to clean up after eating it; they should never take an unwrapped piece from anyone else; they should even try tasting it without swallowing it. But no physician prescribed abstinence as a cure. Not one headline declared: ‘Blue Chocolate Identified as ABETS Cause’.
Inevitably, it was not long before it also became an indirect cause. People who came into close contact with blue chocolate eaters were also falling ill. Anyone was now a potential victim.
Some weeks later, Sophie Wise sat in her favourite coffee shop unusually immune to the avuncular aroma of freshly brewed coffee, tinkering with a sachet of sugar and staring blankly at the wall, her cup untouched, its contents growing cold. Her friend Beverley was not with her. There were times when Bev’s bright chattering and non-stop gossiping had annoyed Sophie and she had longed for a few moments silence. But now she would have given anything for the quietness to be broken by Bev’s raucous laughter or waterfall voice. But she was there alone. For Beverley Trad was lying in a hospital bed, her once round jolly cheeks shrunken and pale, her breath coming in exhausted gasps, her normally shining eyes dull and listless. She had only hours to live. She had become an innocent victim of ABETS.
In God’s good time, the epidemic waned. A semi-cure was found. It was not a complete answer, but it would lengthen life expectancy for a time as long as you kept taking the medication. So the crisis was averted and people got used to the idea that ABETS was with them. Most of the populace just stayed away from it. And as it had now touched people in all realms of life few even remembered how it had started in the first place.
And then something happened that not even the most optimistic blue chocolate eaters would have predicted. Instead of being blamed as perpetrators, they became pitied as victims. It was difficult to identify when this change actually happened. Gradually, the stigma diminished.
Sporadically and then more consistently, blue chocolate eaters became known as ‘Blithe’. No one knows who conjured up the term, but it began to appear everywhere. It clearly emerged from a need to find something short and sweet, a term that was both inoffensive and linked with pleasant connotations, a name that even a child could remember. So ‘Blithe’ became part of the language. No one dared use it any more with its original meaning. In fact, most young people didn’t even know there was an original meaning. And if they did come across the term in an old book or song they were variously puzzled or outraged or just plain amused. Ultimately, emboldened by this new acceptance, more radical eaters formed activist groups to promote their cause, demanding recognition, equality and freedom.
Luke wondered if he was the only person who felt as he did. ‘Nate, you studied literature. What do you think of the way the word ‘blithe’ is being used now?’ he asked.
Nate shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s okay, I guess. People can use it however they like.’
‘But don’t you find it objectionable? To me it’s like having something precious stolen from me. I’m angry that such a delightful word should be restricted to the risky practices of a small percentage of people.’
‘Ah, Luke, you’re a pedant,’ laughed Nate. ‘Times change and sometimes we have to change with them. You need to learn to bend a bit. Loosen up. Don’t be so rigid.’
‘Maybe you’re right,’ mumbled Luke. ‘But I still don’t like it.’ He shifted in his chair, took a deep breath, sighed and slumped into a comfortable position
‘Well, no one else seems too worried,’ replied Nate, flexing his broad shoulders and stretching his elbows, as he leaned back. ‘People’s attitudes certainly have changed. I reckon it’s a guilt thing. People were once so aggro towards Blithes they feel guilty about it and now want to be nice to them.’
With a hint of a smile, Luke said, ‘Including you?’
‘Me? Nah. No way. I never badmouthed someone just because of their taste in sweets. I’ve always been mates with everyone.’
‘Yes, of course you have.’
‘Yeah, right. Besides I can’t help it if they’re hooked on junky stuff.’
‘Can we go back to your guilt theory?’ continued Luke. ‘You’re probably right. But I think it’s bigger than just blue chocolate. There’s been a general upsurge over the last few years of concern for all minority groups. Look what’s happened. Ramps for disabled people; greater opportunities for the disadvantaged; more respect for people of other skin-colours; greater tolerance for different religious views. It’s actually been healthy in lots of ways. It’s time we cared more for the marginalised and disenfranchised people in our community. They’ve been by-passed for too long. Our society needs to become more compassionate and understanding.’
‘Mm, that’d be true,’ agreed Nate, nodding his head, screwing his nose and scratching the side of his head thoughtfully.
‘The trouble is,’ said Luke, ‘disabled people and people of a different colour usually can’t do anything about it. It’s not something they’ve chosen for themselves. Eating blue chocolate, on the other hand, is a choice.’
As a minority, the Blithe community pushed their claims to new limits. Didn’t they have the right to eat blue chocolate if they wished? What harm did it do to the majority anyway? Why shouldn’t they be free to behave as they liked? Besides, why should the Government intervene in people’s private lives? How did their private behaviour affect anyone else? When some in the Government argued they had a responsibility to protect people from self-harm and believed this did give them grounds to interfere, Blithe people protested strongly that this was an infringement on human rights. Instead, they demanded that millions of dollars be spent on researching improved medications that would enable them to continue to eat blue chocolate without their health being affected. And how could a compassionate society like theirs refuse such a reasonable request?
As a result of Beverley’s death, Sophie read everything she could lay her hands on about blue chocolate. She was perusing a new report on her laptop in a quiet corner of the subtly-lit Linger Inn when she was interrupted by a voice she didn’t recognise: ‘Studying for an exam?’ She looked up to see a red-haired woman in her late thirties smiling down at her.
‘Not exactly,’ Sophie replied. ‘Just catching up on some recent reports.’
‘About what?’ the woman inquired.
‘Blue chocolate, actually.’ A stray hair had drifted down over one eye and she tucked it neatly back into place.
‘Blue chocolate? Mm, I have some thoughts about that.’
‘Why don’t you join me?’ suggested Sophie.
‘Thank you,’ the woman replied, encouraged by the warmth of Sophie’s manner and the openness of her expression. She drew up a chair and introduced herself as Wanda Whye.
Soon they were sipping coffee together while they chatted.
‘What do you think about the connection between blue chocolate and ABETS?’ asked Wanda. ‘I have a neighbour—Felicity—who likes to eat it.’
‘From the reading I’ve done,’ Sophie replied, it seems to me to be a perilous practice, not just because it may cause disease, but because it is also dangerously delusive. People think of it as just a sweet, but it actually gets an almost unbreakable grip on those who eat it.’
‘Felicity certainly seems to be hooked on it,’ said Wanda. ‘She believes she has a genetic disposition towards it. She says she was born that way.’
‘In other words, she can’t do anything about it and therefore she can’t be held responsible.’
‘Yes… yes, that’s what it amounts to.’
‘Just like someone who is born left-handed or white-skinned.’
‘And you agree?’
Wanda was a bit taken aback at Sophie’s direct approach. ‘Well… yes… I guess I do.’
‘Do you know there is no scientific evidence whatever for that?’ Sophie persisted.
‘Really? I thought it was well-established,’ Wanda counter-attacked.
‘I’m afraid not,’ replied Sophie, stirring her coffee before taking a sip. ‘If you check out the various reports, many of them are either inconclusive or poorly controlled. There may well be developmental issues that lead to a person choosing blue chocolate—such as childhood upbringing, peer pressure and the like—but ultimately the choice is individual. Putting it bluntly, we can’t do anything about being left-handed or tall or short or brown or white, and we can’t do anything about experiencing hunger or thirst—but usually we can do something about how we deal with such matters: what we choose to eat or drink, for example.
‘But you hear it everywhere—“Born that way”,’ protested Wanda.
‘Oh yes, but it’s never been established,’ said Sophie. ‘Obviously, we are all born with a need for sustenance but we can still decide when, what and even whether we will eat. Most people would argue we were born with a disposition for healthy food such as dark chocolate, but that doesn’t give us licence to eat it whenever and wherever we like or steal it or be powerless to say no to it.
‘Then there are others who can’t afford dark chocolate or maybe have a genetic dysfunction that affects their digestion and so on. In that case, we just have to accept it. There are others again who claim they are born with a desire for alcohol or nicotine, but even if that were true, being born with a certain disposition doesn’t compel us to follow it. At the end of the day we all make choices.’
‘Well, yes, I guess so,’ Wanda replied thoughtfully, trying to grasp Sophie’s point. A ray of sunlight was now shining through the window and her red hair glowed like a coronet of gold.
‘And there’s something else,’ Sophie continued. ‘Remember what I said about it being addictive? Even one or two samples are enough to capture one’s appetite. It seems there is a significant number of tasters who actually don’t like the product but find the craving so strong they can’t control or resist it. Once the pattern is established it’s almost impossible to break it. Which is why people feel it is part of their makeup. It becomes such a driving, urgent, burning, yearning desire they cannot imagine ever being any different.’
‘So it’s dangerous even to try it?’ asked Wanda.
The push for acceptance of blue chocolate did not diminish. New medication was developed which allowed people to go on eating it with diminished negative effects. There was even a new brand of blue chocolate that, like decaffeinated coffee, filtered out one of the more dangerous ingredients, but it was not widely taken up.
Most of those working in the media wanted to be seen as champions of the despised and rejected in society and so they agitated forcefully for Blithe people’s freedom to eat whatever they desired. When one of their readers had the temerity to suggest that regular consumption of blue chocolate actually shortened life expectancy, the response from the journalistic fraternity was immediate and voluminous: scorn, ridicule and derision. The claim was ‘heartless’, ‘offensive’ and ‘inappropriate’, they shouted. Not one of them actually tried to dispute the assertion rationally or to raise a significant factual rebuttal.
Nate and Luke were locked in a debate on the subject. ‘Are you sure you’re not just blueanoid?’ suggested Nate.
‘What do you mean?’ Luke goaded him, knowing full well what he meant.
‘Well, you’re just against the whole idea,’ Nate explained.
‘And that makes me paranoid?’
‘I’m not saying that,’ protested Nate.
‘But you are,’ said Luke. ‘“Noid” derives from “paranoid”. To call me “blueanoid” is to say exactly that.’
‘Well, I didn’t mean it so strongly,’ Nate said, apologetically. ‘I just meant you don’t like the whole idea of blue chocolate.’
‘That’s true,’ the younger man replied, feeling a kind of impatient anger beginning to rise within him. ‘Even so, I object to that term. I mean, I don’t agree with stealing. Does that make me kleptonoid? I don’t agree with fornication or violence. Does that make me pornanoid or violenoid? Can’t I dislike something without being accused of suffering from a psychotic condition?’
‘All right, all right,’ said Nate, glowering. ‘I take your point.’ He shuffled in his chair. ‘I didn’t make up the term and I should have thought before I used it. And I know you said once before that the Blithe people have been unfairly treated by society generally. I know you are not paranoid about it. But you still don’t believe in chocolate equality, do you?’
‘That’s an oxymoron.’ said Luke, ‘a contradiction in terms. All kinds of chocolate are not equal. Dark chocolate and blue chocolate are by definition different. If people want to eat blue rather than brown, that is their choice. But let’s not pretend it’s the same thing. Eating dark chocolate is beneficial; eating blue chocolate is detrimental. It’s as simple as that. To suggest they are even similar is to demote the word chocolate to a meaningless lexical lowest common denominator.’
‘What?’ repeated Nate.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ laughed Luke. ‘I’m just a pedant.’
The Blithe community were persistent and insistent. They sensed an opportunity to secure a place of acceptance from which they could not be moved. They began to demand that it should be illegal to speak against their lifestyle; that blue chocolate should be given equal recognition with all other kinds of chocolate; that their confectionary habits should be accepted as just as healthy as anyone else’s; that it should be compulsory to teach children this in all schools; and that they should be treated with compassion and understanding without any attempt to require them to change their ways. But there were still many people with conservative attitudes and traditional values who feared the ultimate outcome of such policies and they were not entirely successful.
Wanda and Sophie had become regular friends and were meeting regularly for coffee at the Linger Inn café.
‘The more I read about blue chocolate the more concerned I am at the number of people who seem to be trying it,’ said Sophie, her brows gathered over her green eyes. ‘Once upon a time it was regarded with suspicion and concern. Now it’s reached the point where it is almost universally accepted as a normal thing to do.’
‘It’s gone further than that,’ replied Wanda. ‘At their school, my two children are not only being told that it’s all right to eat blue chocolate if they prefer it, but they are being positively encouraged to try it. What can I do? They have no idea at their age what is best for them. They certainly have no predisposition towards it—or anything else for that matter.’
‘That is appalling,’ said Sophie. ‘Left to themselves, kids will obviously go for anything that looks or tastes nice or seems to be exciting.’Continue reading