Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: “Flush” feels magical, in the way the characters view and interact with the world. This magical bubble is popped, and they are forced to face a harsher and more realistic world after the abortion. How did you choose where in the narrative to place this dissolution?

Caroline Fox: I think about Acadia’s abortion less as the breakdown of illusion and more as the opening of an even deeper foray into that gravitational space that exists between two people in an intimate relationship—especially one that operates in a domestic realm, which has its own relational anatomy. I don’t think the world necessarily becomes more ‘realistic’ when one encounters conflict or undergoes something traumatic. Acadia’s pregnancy is both an emotional and deeply material experience, and it produces an oscillation between lucidity and the haze of turning-inward. I like to think the narrative reflects that. This story could have ended at multiple points, and I think that’s the most realistic thing about it; the way that intimacy shapes perception is its own kind of surrealism—it bears on vision, on temporality, on the limits of the supposedly self-contained individual. Dissolution feels imminent throughout this story, though I understand it less as a form of linear destruction and more of a cyclical phenomenon—the way something elemental might shift between states of matter.

RR: The parallel between the invading centipedes and the intrusion of a pregnancy into their fantasy romance is a daring metaphor. Could you give us some insight into this choice of imagery?

CF: That parallel actually isn’t something I intended when I began writing, but then I couldn’t let the centipedes go, so I leaned into it. More than the idea of intrusion, I was interested in toying with the registers of imagery that I might typically use to characterize the home, or more broadly, the interior. For whatever social and psychological reasons, humans are masters of integrating discomfort into their conceptions of domestic life; obsession is frequently a surrogate for fear. I think this is evident both through Acadia’s feelings for Lucas, which are zealous but threatened, and in the way that she deals with the centipedes. You get the sense that she’s disturbed by them, but she’s also a bit intrigued by the experience of confronting them. When people are in emotional survival mode, we often assign meaning to strange and unexpected things. More than anything else, I wanted to defamiliarize something familiar.

RR: Not only does this story not shy away from details, it doubles down by sharing details of intimate actions and conversation that could make the readers uncomfortable but reinforces the narrative. Is this a technique that you regularly employ, or did you use it specifically for this story?

CF: “Flush” is a story about the extent to which people build collective worlds, both consciously and subconsciously. Creation is embodied and physical, and yet it’s also underscored by the images and language that we ascribe to our own experience. Since this is a story about two young artists, I wanted to double down on unexpected details. My intention isn’t to shock readers, but to provide them with multiple entrances into the emotional world of the story; sometimes feeling is best conveyed through images, and other times through the intentional manipulation of language. I’m always thinking about language, and how it leads us between modes of creation and analysis. On the one hand, creation and analysis are two modes of engaging with art and the world in general, but I think people experience intimacy in similar ways—there are moments of intensely present labor, and there are moments when existence seems to demand a view of oneself from a remove. I love the juxtaposition of pure action with characters talking about themselves. On a craft level, I really enjoy characterization that happens through intense dialogue—that way, I can maintain a certain degree of tension between the characters’ evolution and the tonality of the story itself. That’s something I try to employ in most of my work.

RR: As an author whose work often explores questions related to intimacy, consumption, and compromised states of consciousness, do you ever feel pressure to fabricate a neat resolution to your stories or do you tend to conclude with an ambiguous ending, as in this piece?

CF: Ambiguity has always been really fascinating to me, both on a narrative level and as a mode of being in the world. But I don’t always feel that an ambiguous ending is the right one for a piece of fiction. An ending that feels resolute can be just as interesting, as long as it doesn’t feel fabricated, to use your word. Through both form and content, a story has the potential to suspend the reader’s consciousness and attention at a threshold—I think an ending, whether it’s resolute or more loosely associative, should feel like the crossing-over. As a reader, I’m hardly ever anticipating a particular plot ending, but I am anticipating some kind of emotional release. Any pressure I feel as a writer usually grows out of a desire to provide that experience for someone else.

RR: A staggering number of centipedes meet an unfortunate end in this piece. How do you personally feel about centipedes and other creepy crawlies that sometimes invade our human spaces? 

CF: This is such a strangely funny thing to say, but working on this story completely changed my relationship to centipedes! I’d see them in our basement growing up and thought they were a literal nightmare. But then they were all over my apartment in New York this summer, and I was like well, you’ve been here longer than I have, so cool. While writing “Flush,” I’d have to stop working to trap a centipede in a cup and put it outside. Which is to say, I have a really hard time killing things. As a child, I don’t think I ever saw one of my parents kill a creature that found its way into our house—if anything, I have this feeling of embarrassment, like isn’t it so weird and unnatural how sterile and anthropocentric our spaces are? Admittedly, there’s something particularly skin-crawling about the way a centipede moves, and I don’t really want to see one in my shower, but I’m grateful for anything that makes me think about my own relationship to nature.


Read “Flush” by Caroline Fox in Issue 11.1.