How to Tell if You’re in a MFA Workshop Story -The Toast

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Digital CameraPreviously in this series.

You are a young man driving across the country, thinking about the women in your life and the various ways in which they have disappointed you.

You saw something horrifying at the circus.

Sometimes you think about just picking up and leaving this filthy city, but then one morning you wake up and watch the sky turn from narcissus-white to the delicate, throbbing, vein-purple hues of the nodding heads of crocuses and irises, the ones you remember picking from your mother’s garden when you were still young and unafraid, and there above the Gowanus you see a map of your future, your past, and your heart (but not in an overwrought or sentimental way.)

Your father never said he loved you, not once, not to your face, not to your heart.

The snake is a metaphor.

You sit at the bar and have a drink. When you finish your drink you have another. You drink in a way that is simple and direct and not at all in imitation of Hemingway or Carver, and if it is then it’s an homage, a subtle, searingly thought-provoking homage, and the bartender is a charming old gent who calls you “hoss” and not a college girl with a swallow tattoo on her breastbone.

Bullies ruined your Halloween costume.

The world is baroque in its cruelty.

The dog is a metaphor.

That’s not what you meant.

“I just wish you would express your feelings more,” your girlfriend says. “I never know what you’re thinking.” You drink your drink. If only your girlfriend knew what you were thinking. Your thoughts are so brutal and true that they would scare her witless. She would die. And even through the buffer of this short story, female readers are probably becoming barren just by encountering the power of your thoughts, right at this minute, right now.

Her laugh was like the jangle of a charm bracelet, or like the wind whispering in the branches of an aspen, or like waves crashing on the beach, or like something else that doesn’t really sound at all like laughter, or even any sound a human can make, to be honest.

There is an ethnic person nearby, but they are dispensing with excellent advice. Their voice is cracked and earthy, like the earth. If they were your father they would say they loved you, to your face and to your heart. “Chile,” they say, “sho nuff, this crazy world goes on a-spinnin’ and don’t nobody know where it gon’ stop.” You nod sagely. It is good to take the G Train.

The G Train is a metaphor.

The love of a good woman will save you. A good woman will place her cool hand upon your feverish brow and not like the bands you don’t like. A good woman will know she is a metaphor, and accept it.

You drove all day and into the night. It was good to be out west. When you stopped at the filling station, the attendant wore a denim jacket and asked if you’d be staying in Idaho long. “Maybe I will,” you said as you watched the sunset over the whatever river they have out here, or some mountains or something, who cares. “Maybe I will.”

Sarah Marshall is not metaphor. She earned her MFA in fiction at Portland State University, where she wrote a thesis about dogfighting, ghost babies, and polygamy, and is currently at work on a novel about frontier vampires, which rips off Ravenous and Deadwood to equal extents.

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