Flash fiction: The Monte Cristo Minnesotan

This is the short short story that I wrote for this year’s mn artists.org flash fiction contest. I wasn’t a finalist and don’t feel inclined to expand it so here it is:

The Monte Cristo Minnesotan

The first time he ordered a Monte Cristo she had thought the decision charmingly, mildly eccentric. That was their second date. Their first date had occurred while playing hooky from a conference for non-profits in St. Paul and had consisted of conversation and coffee, except he had ordered chai or Earl Grey or rooibos or something. She couldn’t really remember.

She had never seen someone eat a Monte Cristo before so when it came and powdered his fingers with sugar and coated his lips with grease and left traces of raspberry jam at the corners of his mouth, she still felt the charm, but beneath it detected an incipient childishness that both intrigued and repelled. Then, as their relationship progressed, came the Reubens, the egg creams, the ice cream sodas, several more Monte Cristos, and (leaving the alimentary behind) the Flaming Lips, cricket, the fiction of Pynchon, episodes of the Steve Allen Show (on VHS), a blue and white striped seersucker suit, vintage NES games, etc.

Her friends loved him. So did her mother. “You two are a great fit,” they all said. His friends said the same. But they only got him in small doses where his civility and political centrism and respectful secular humanism; his voluminous grasp of educated, urbane conventional wisdom; his never-truly-passionate but always informed and classicly quirky choices came across as interesting and reassuring and unique.

To break it off seemed rash — almost regressive. She wasn’t interested in going back to flaky hipsters or macho drummers or bratty graphic designers. And yet it bothered her that his bland quirkiness refracted two decades of her own cultural and consumer choices. Choices that now seemed so much less creative and cool than she had previously supposed.

As the weeks wore on, her desperation grew, and she put him on a steady diet of greasy, rancid dives; trashy, poser bars; and shabby, suburban watering holes. But, of course, he always found something to remark upon in a way that was witty or informative. He always met someone who was impressed by his implacable taste. And he always found something classic but not too trendy and somehow utterly palatable to order.

She thought about wrecking his Saab or trashing his loft. She thought about worse things. She also thought about that first date and the fact that it was really not fair that not ordering a coffee drink had been a sign, and she obsessed over what it was that he had ordered and what she should have seen and what it said about her that she hadn’t. And she thought about all the avenues she had and how each of them seemed clichéd. To rebel. To retreat. To quest. To escalate. To self-destruct. To settle.

Finally, she decided that the best course of action was to mirror his every move. So she did. And although eventually she broke up with him, for a while there, it was pretty fun.


1. This is my first attempt at writing something that identifies myself as a Minnesota writer. I kinda like the idea of being a regionalist. There aren’t strong Minnesota elements to the story, but they are there and the details would be more filled in if it didn’t have to come in under 500 words.

2. Yes, it’s rather twee. I am of the McSweeney’s generation and sometimes I have to let that side of myself play. This seemed like as good of place as any.

3. I suck at writing from a female point of view so I generally avoid it. For all its faults, this is a step forward. And although I think it’s a failure (there’s that weak ending again), it did make me a little less afraid to try.

4. Comedy is hard, especially when it’s dramedy. I have newfound respect for Amy Sherman-Pallidino and Joss Whedon and Judd Apatow (for Freaks & Geeks — not the films), etc.

3 thoughts on “Flash fiction: The Monte Cristo Minnesotan”

  1. I don’t know why, William, but I immediately had an image of their first date taking place in view of the Landmark Center, or on the edge of downtown St. Paul overlooking the river, or even in one of those weird little places up on Grand Avenue. So, even without super specific regionalisms, there is enough of a suggestion for someone like me who used to be a Minnesotan.

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