Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so happy to bring your story “Heirlooms” to our readers. Can you tell us what inspired this story and how it came about?
I lived in Harlem in an upscale, new building for a year. I loved the apartment’s layout; it was the nicest place I had ever lived in NYC, and through a series of circumstances and roommates, I was able to afford it. And yet, it was strange to move to a neighborhood where I finally could be around other black people (after living in the Upper East Side in subsidized student housing) and yet, the majority of black people who lived in the neighborhood were quite separated from the building. There was a disconnect between the populations of buildings like this and the other residents of Harlem. There was also the disconnect between myself and the mostly white, upper class residents of the building, with occasional micro-aggressions and a strange sense that I and other black residents did not quite belong. I had a sense that I was part of a larger gentrification. At one point in this year, a group of white people took up residence in the park outside our building, visible to us at all times of the day. The hill became their home. The reality of their presence “ruined” the view for many residents in the building. It was bizarre, bringing up issues around entitlement, disparities, race, and more. I began to think about the possible repulsion the residents felt, and that I was part of this building and what it meant, too. I wanted to raise the fear, the conflict and the contradiction of these circumstances within a speculative story, taking this kernel of experience and morphing and heightening it.
The apartment’s windows struck me as a core aspect to the story: allowing observation without danger, almost like a zoo, until they prove to be more penetrable. What factors led you to put so much emphasis on the windows?
Exactly this. I was inspired by the windows of my real-life apartment, which were massive and took up the entire wall. The view of Harlem was beautiful; those windows let in all the light of the morning, and we could see the park, the brownstones, the view for blocks and blocks, but we were insulated from the usual chaos and pressure of the city. We were high up, able to see everything but above it all. There was a sense of luxury, decadence, extravagance to it. And then, a sense of exposure. We didn’t have curtains and could be seen from the outside. We were observable, our privilege in being able to be there also exposed. In reality, I didn’t mind that exposure. In the story, the windows represent many things: how the character is unable to hide from her own participation in gentrification, a white world observing her and thinking she doesn’t belong in this place, and also how she is not able to shut out parts of the real world she doesn’t like.
I found this story to be awash in colours, with the narrative emphasizing reds, blues, oranges, greens—everything except for the climactic tomato, it seems. How important was colour in your conception of this story, and the situation around it?
I did find myself focusing on the taste and feel of the tomato, as something eaten, finally, in the dark, but did not focus on its obvious redness. In particular, I wanted to include the blue and red of police car lights. These colors felt elemental, frightening, and symbolic of the way neighborhoods like this are policed, how the privileged might weaponize the police against those of lesser privilege. There is also the contrast of the park itself, its lush greenery in the midst of city life, and how the unhoused residents of the park live in “nature,” now part of the view that the building’s residents wanted to enjoy. Their presence “intrudes” on the illusion of nature in the city, the sense of exceptionalism and peace away from thinking about the particular situations of gentrification or disparity. And yet, the park is beautiful, lush, and for everyone to enjoy.
Throughout the story, the group of homeless people are portrayed as something “other,” with no dialogue and descriptions braced with threat. What led you to approach the situation from this angle?
Living in New York City for so long, in neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, yet in subsidized student housing, and then living in Harlem, I was always struck by the apparent modernity of NYC contrasted with its stark class and race disparities. There was so much privilege and poverty, and a racial divide that struck me as very distinct. I don’t know why I was surprised by that, but I was. There is a way, in particular, that living in NYC makes you callous to others, including the unhoused. Everyone minds their own business, ignores the throngs of people around them, and also ignores the many unhoused people they encounter day to day. To be able to do this, there is a degree of dehumanization and shutting down of normal emotional processing that we do. We other those who are unhoused. Within the story, I wanted the supernatural beings to represent our own wrongs, our projections, as well as an element of racism butting up against class privilege (in them being white and the protagonist being black).
Is there anything you’re working on now that you’d like to talk about? What can our readers look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I am working on the final drafts of a sci-fi psychological thriller which I will be submitting to agents soon! I am also running another workshop on mental health and writing, so look forward to that on my social media. Hopefully more speculative stories to be published soon!
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