Kathryn H. Ross reflects on her short story, Ara, from Arkana’s 9th Issue!
Questions from Arkana’s Fiction Editor Victoria Mays & Arkana Staff.
Victoria Mays: Throughout Ara, we learn a lot about Ara’s mother and father. I’m curious about your decision to leave them nameless. Is there anything a reader should draw from that? Anything, in particular, you were aiming for?
Kathryn H. Ross: In leaving Ara’s parents nameless, I wanted to keep Ara himself at the forefront. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot in regards to parenthood. In each of our lives we are the main character in our story. As we pick up other characters (friends, colleagues, a partner), our story expands and the focus on ourselves (hopefully!) diminishes, but having a child is like a shifting of the spotlight completely. Let me be clear: I don’t have children. I’ve mostly built this view from now being at that age where my friends are having children, and honestly watching my parents and grandparents and how, as my sister and cousins and I— all the kids—grew up, their spotlight shifted to us. I never considered how much of a sacrifice that is before, but it’s also so natural—so a given Some can go too far and only care about their children and forget about themselves. In addition, I’ve seen what it looks like when that spotlight doesn’t shift. When a child is born or a kid is growing up and their parents didn’t allow the light to slip from them and illuminate their child. Usually in those scenarios, the child becomes nameless.
Of course, the reasons why this happens or doesn’t happen are varied. Some adults are unable to give up the spotlight because they didn’t have it much to begin with. Others never felt cared for so that can’t bear to lose it. I think with Ara’s parents, I’m trying to fit all these thoughts into who they are as unnamed but important entities. They created Ara’s life, but his life is the meat of the story. How they react to his life is the meat of the story. What happens in response to their reactions to his life is the meat of the story. They’re important, too, but Ara is centerstage.
VM: The thought of an expiration date being printed on a baby’s foot is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. How did this idea come to you?
KHR: I’ve had this idea for a pretty long time. I think it came to me in the summer of 2012 and I’m not really sure what brought it on. I’ve rewritten this story many times but I would always get caught up in the why and how of the expiration date. I was trying to explain it and doing way too much exposition. As time’s gone on, I’ve learned that not all stories have to tell, because life doesn’t always tell. There’s probably an answer for why Ara was born with the expiration date (and whether or not it’s viable), but I personally don’t know those answers. I just wanted to focus on the “what if” of the immediate situation. What would I do? What would the reader do? What did Ara’s parents do? It’s such an absurd thing to think about, but what if it was real?
VM: There seems to be an air of vagueness, almost leaving the reader to interpret the situation on their own. Was this intentional?
KHR: Yes! One of my favorite writers and biggest influences is Ray Bradbury. As someone with such a prolific repertoire of sci-fi shorts, there are so many fantastical stories that he just doesn’t explain. However, the lack of explanation never bothers me. Bradbury is such an amazing, masterful writer that the reader gets just enough of what he’s saying, but there’s also room for thought and interpretation. I think keeping some vagueness in storytelling removes some of the control I want to have. I can’t make the reader see or think exactly what I’m seeing or thinking. So, why not just lean into that? I think some of the best art and the best stories are those that tell you what happened, but don’t tell you what happened. They capture a moment in time, but don’t tell you how things end up. They’re just snapshots. This also gives me the freedom to revisit Ara and his family if I want to. Maybe next time I see him he’ll be all grown up. Maybe he’ll be becoming a father. Maybe he’ll be a kid in therapy. There are so many avenues to take and an air of vagueness keeps those paths open.
Read Ara here!