These questions are about the short story “How Long Are You Supposed To Wait?”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen. For the actual short story itself, please go here.
This one was another one of those ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, right?
Yeah. Although if I’m perfectly honest, I already had the idea for this story before I ever entered the challenge. I make notes on my phone whenever I have an idea for a story, and this one said something like “person trapped under boulder, has to saw off own leg with pocket-knife to escape, moments before person gets rescued by large group of fit and friendly backpackers who could easily have just moved the boulder”. It was just a twist on that “person has to saw off limb to escape” trope, something that I thought was simultaneously hilarious and brutally horrible.
What was the prompt-word?
“Lost”. It reminded me of that idea, and so I went for it.
So what’s the appeal of making someone do something horrible for, in hindsight, no good reason?
I think it’s rooted in my own inability to ever make a proper decision. I think, if I was in that situation, I’d always be thinking “hang on, don’t be too hasty, there might be another way out of this”, and then just end up dying of hunger and thirst or whatever. I don’t think I’d ever be certain enough that sawing off my own leg with a pocket knife would be the right course of action. I find it hard enough to choose something off a dinner menu.
Is this symptomatic of a bigger issue, Mr Blackwell?
I really don’t know. It might be. I mean, when my delightful life-partner asks me something like “would you like a cup of tea” out of the blue, I’m thrown into paroxysms of indecision. I’m like, do I want a cup of tea? How much desire is want? I was fine without tea moments before, so clearly I didn’t want a cup of tea seconds ago, did things really change so drastically in the last few seconds that now I do? I mean, a cup of tea might be nice, but do I want one? How do I tell? Is it based on thirst levels, or pure flavour, or just the warmth of the cup in my hands? If she hadn’t’ve asked, I wouldn’t’ve got up and made one myself just then, so does that mean I don’t actually want a cup of tea? Or that I do want one now? How did things change so fast from not wanting to wanting, just based entirely on someone else making a cup of tea for themselves? Am I really that much of a herd animal that I need to have whatever someone else is drinking? Is that a healthy way to be? What if she’d asked me if I want a cup of something else? Do I really crave beverages at all, or am I just craving inclusion in a social act? Is it about the tea, or the experience of sharing an activity? Would any activity do? And how much-
Does she ask you very often?
No, not any more.
I’m not surprised.
Sometimes when she asks now I just pick a random answer. “Yes, absolutely”, I’ll say, without even considering whether I actually do or don’t, avoiding the traumatic whirlpool of decision altogether. Because, in the end, it’s just a cup of tea. It’s not really worth all that stress of actual desire-interrogation and multi-level cravings-analysis. The decision-making maelstrom is so much more bewildering and takes so much more energy than it does to just say a quick yes or no, and then deal with the consequences. So I tend to do that nowadays. Um.
“Black with one sugar thanks.” See, easy, done. Boom!
So, the title of the story, “How Long Are You Supposed To Wait”, is really just you asking this question of yourself, isn’t it.
Yes. Trying to get some handle on exactly what an appropriate time is. Because if the character had just waited a few more minutes, she’d be out and safe and with the perfect quota of legs. When are we being hasty? When is it time to panic? How do you panic properly? I’ve never quite been able to get my head around this stuff.
I’m guessing you enjoyed the ending of that Steven King movie, ‘The Mist’?
Fucking best ending ever.