Nadine Gordimer's short story Once Upon A Time reveals a family's futile attempts to protect itself from an unknown force which threatens its safety. The parents go to great lengths to create a perfect family but cannot escape this concern that "people of another color" may invade their space and "stream in." First, they install electronic gates, then burglar bars and an alarm system but this is not enough because the cat triggers the alarm thereby rendering its purpose ineffective. Then they build the wall higher because the "unemployed" people are loitering and may even be able to climb over the wall into the garden. The parents notice that other families have gone to even greater lengths by adding broken glass, spikes and even "concentration-camp style" barbed wire to their walls which has no aesthetic value but it is the barbed wire which appears to be the most appropriate for their needs. They feel that it is an obvious deterrent and "anyone would think twice" before attempting to thwart their efforts and get through the fence.
It becomes apparent to the reader (and is therefore what is inferred) that the story that the mother reads to her young son is the story of Sleeping Beauty and the irony is completely obvious when the next day, the little boy sees the comparison between his own home and the "terrible thicket of thorns" or brambles which the prince who will save Sleeping Beauty must overcome. While it is the prince in the story who will manage to cut his way through the thorns, and the story will have a happy ending, the little boy only becomes more entangled in his version of thorns and it seems that the "bleeding mass" which now represents the little boy is no longer alive, having become nothing more than "it" (a bleeding mass). It is therefore also inferred that the boy has or may die from his injuries.