So, what exactly is Cash? Or is it just best not to know?
I think it’s best to maintain a level of mysteriousness with what Cash is, and what her shadow is, but I can say that she’s deeply human first and foremost. Although she is nonverbal, she has her own personality and way of communicating. Her shadow is one of the biggest ways she communicates. But when writing the story I didn’t want to define Cash too strictly mostly because it’s important that she starts conversations about the story’s themes and issues rather than ending them. Despite her nonverbal nature, she fosters conversation and thought about stuff nobody in the neighborhood probably had to encounter so face-to-face before. And of course that extends out to fostering conversation and thought to the readers of the story.
There are a lot of different topics available for discussion through this piece, like family dynamics, how we treat those who are different from us, and our dependence on technology. What kinds of discussions were you hoping for from this story?
My main goal in writing this story when I first drafted it was to have a nonverbal character possibly on the autism spectrum who has agency and power in the story—and that power should not be hers in spite of her neurodivergence but because of it. I think as I revised the story this goal changed slightly. It became less important to have Cash have power and more important for her to have depth and the ability to communicate—and to show how her different type of communication is regarded by the neighborhood and her stepmother, Oona. Showing Cash and her shadow in ambiguous terms that Oona—and the reader—are trying to sort through raises those discussions about families and how we treat those who are different, particularly those who have what we define as a disability or a different ability. I was hoping for discussions about how people who are different are often stripped of their complexities when being described—they are either good or bad—and how people who are different are often unable to communicate not because they can’t but because it’s difficult to decipher their communication methods when you’re only listening for a certain type of talking. I was also hoping for discussions about the complexities of our dependence with technology—because it can be both good and bad. Bad if you’re using it to isolate yourself, but good because it allows different voices to speak. Bad if you stay afraid of it and use your fear to guide how you interact with it, but good if you learn to think critically about it and learn to interact with it in a less one-sided way. I don’t present a lot of answers for these issues I raise in the story—such as how to treat people deemed different, how to navigate family dynamics, how to interact with our increasing dependence on technology—but I did want these issues to be discussed and thought about critically.
It seems almost like being taken by Cash is a good thing, like the boy who suddenly learned to play all of Beethoven and dedicated his time to becoming a pianist. Should we see Cash as benevolent or malevolent?
Cash is a human being, so she has the potential for being either benevolent or malevolent. Her shadow aspect is simply her way of communicating. It isn’t good or bad, really—but is a force of change, as communication often is. And because change is often treated with suspicion and sometimes even fear, it’s easy to think the shadow and Cash are only malevolent, bad forces in the neighborhood that are taking control over people. I think it’s a sticky situation to describe a person as completely good or bad, so Cash is really no different for me, though the shadow is meant to be a creepy force in the neighborhood and therefore for the reader. It’s creepy because it’s supposed to be something that makes people think and question what it is, what it’s doing, and what it means.
If you had a message for readers about this story or writing in general, what would you say?
I’ve noticed online and in society in general that people are developing a troubling tendency to want to speak out about their own feelings, beliefs, and lives—all of which are important to speak out about—but they don’t want to listen to anyone who they think doesn’t resemble themselves. As with all my writing, with “Cash’s Shadow” I hope to foster a sense of empathy for people who are easily overlooked or dismissed. There are a lot of different ways to communicate, and there are even more ways to live a worthwhile, meaningful life. So although I’m not a big fan of blatant statement-making in art, I do think that writing and art has the ability to make you see yourself not only so you feel validated, but also so you empathize with people who are different from yourself. With “Cash’s Shadow,” that philosophy sort of guided the way I think about it—communication methods (like writing, art, technology, etc.) can be vehicles for empathy, if that’s how we decide to use them.
Do you have any previously published pieces you’re particularly proud of?
L’Éphémère Review is a beautiful journal that published a story of mine called “Not Exactly Moonlight and Smooth Jazz” that. like “Cash’s Shadow,” touches on themes of technology. I also write poetry, and am proud to have been included in Milk + Beans and Drunk Monkeys recently this year.
You can read Cass Francis’ piece “Cash’s Shadow” in Issue Eight of The Ginger Collect!