These questions are about the short story “What We All Wished Had Happened”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen. For the actual short story itself, please go here.
So this was yet another of the ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, wasn’t it?
Yes, and before you ask, no, I didn’t win. The prompt word for this one was “Home”, and it got me thinking about what “home” can mean, and about people who’ve been born here being told to “go home” by other people who were born here, and about how horrible it is to feel unwelcome in your own country.
It’s a piece of magical realism, isn’t it.
I’m actually not sure what it is. Is that the genre, “magical realism”? I’m honestly not down with the microgenrefication of art, I’m very much a “what does it make me feel/think?” kinda person, more than a “where does this fit in terms of recognised labels?” kinda person. But I could call it “magical realism” if you like.
“Magical realism” is basically a realistic bit of art that also is a bit magical.
Well then, maybe this isn’t that then. Because, the point of this story to me (and yes, I know that the author’s point of view isn’t necessarily the definitive point of view, but it’s surely at least a relevant point of view) is that what is described in the story didn’t actually happen.
What do you mean?
Well, in the story a group of three racist thugs (and I don't mean to suggest they're bad people - they're kids themselves, after all, and have been indoctrinated to think this way) harass this little kid with Indonesian heritage, tease her about her most obvious points of difference, her slanty eyes and her headscarf. In the story she then proceeds to grow dragon wings and blast them with her laser-eyes, and they run away, scared and crying, perhaps to re-think their racist ways and to at very least approach people with more caution. But the story is explicitly called “What We All Wish Had Happened”, not “What Actually Happened” or “What Magically (and Realistically) Happened”. This story is what we wish had happened instead of what actually happened.
What actually happened?
Well, I don’t know. But I’m almost certain it didn’t involve laser-eyes and dragon wings.
That’s pretty depressing.
Yeah, I know. It’s a depressing story, really. Because the whole situation is a depressing one. It’s awful. I mean, what happens in these situations? In the very best case scenario, Syifa managed to run away and get home safe, and spent the rest of the evening shaking and crying and dealing with PTS. And that’s the best case scenario. There’s many worse case scenarios that come to mind, and they’re all pretty fucking distressing.
I know, right? And you know, I actually intended for the racist kids to be eaten alive, or torn limb from limb, or sawed in half with her powerful heat-vision, or splattered all over the place. I wanted to harm them so very much. But in the end I opted for the G-rated 1980s-vibe of having them just be naked and scared (I even used the word “bums”, which I don’t think I’ve ever used before, for maximum primary-school G-rated connotation), rather than gorily eviscerated, just because, I don’t know, I thought that Syifa probably wouldn’t feel good about murdering them all, in the long run. I mean, she’s just a kid, and is probably not actually interested in obliteration. She just wants to be left alone.
The little coda was nice: her dad asking her if “anything interesting” had happened, and her saying “nope”.
Thanks. Yeah, that was a twofold thing, of her kinda keeping her superpowers secret from her old man (another 1980s G-rated movie kinda trope?), but also pointing out that being hassled by fuck-knuckle racists isn’t even interesting – it’s just the norm for a lot of people. It’s the shitty background noise of life, especially if you look at all Muslim or foreign. Racist “Aussies” being racist is as uninteresting as it gets (and I put “Aussies” in quotes because, as mentioned in the story, Syifa was born here, just as much as I was, and so is as “Aussie” as I am, if such nationalistic happenstance actually means anything in the first place).
Sigh. You’re totally right: without even knowing what did actually happen, whatever it was, I wish that this had happened instead.
Me too, anonymous asker of questions, me too.