“Prose in the City” by Pietra Dunmore

My MFA nonfiction workshop was held in a small room, surrounded by bookcases with hardcovers and their yellowing pages. We sat around an oval, oak table listening to an older man with a sparse beard and black turtleneck. Among those plush chairs sat archetypes of stereotypical writers with their bushy beards, thick glasses, and self-proclaimed alcoholism. One of those writers was the man I fell in love with.

Our first assignment, explained to us by our hoarse-voiced teacher was to share a two-page story about something that happened in our lives. The subject matter was open, and each student presented various types of narratives and writing styles. We emailed our finished creations to each other, and in the following class, we sat shoulder to shoulder with our papers, marked in red with revision ideas and comments like, “I don’t feel this paragraph is necessary,” or “Add more dialogue.”

We all read aloud and opened ourselves up to being critiqued. Authors were not allowed to utter a word in defense of their piece. Seated directly across from me was Brian; he had dark-grey eyes, and long, jet-black hair which was greying at the temples. He would come to class wearing designer gym clothes and smell of Ralph Lauren. As he read his words aloud in class, I felt myself getting dreamy and enjoying every minute.

I found Brian’s prose to be just as striking as his looks; it was filled with unusual, yet perfect-word choices and flawlessly structured paragraphs. I read in awe, imaging myself growing up with him in a tiny, New England town and embarking with him on his childhood adventures on the sea. In my mind, I’d professed my love to him as I read his passages.

This was not the first writer that made me feel this way. I’d declared my love for Junot Diaz the first time I read Drown. I fell in love with the raw feel of his words and the interweaving of English and Spanish languages. I scoured the internet to read his pieces in the New York Times and just about lost it when I heard him on NPR.

I had felt this way before.

By the middle of the semester, Brian and I ate at a Japanese restaurant on Chestnut, talking prose over a bowl of Miso soup. He had my paper next to him, scanning the page deliberately and looking for a passage.

“I love your voice,” he admitted, putting the ladle down into the murky clouds of the soup and moving a strand of dark hair away from his eyes.

“You have a sharp wit, and lots of observation, yet it comes off very soft and feminine, but not annoyingly girlie. I haven’t heard anything like it.” He points to a paragraph and reads it to me. My words sound different coming from his mouth.

After that “date” we would email each other our work for proofreading and offer comments like, “Delve into this more”, “Show me, don’t tell me,” and “Flesh this scene out.” This was a level of intimacy I’d never experienced before.

The last day of class, Brian walked me to my car, and we spoke for a little while until it became slightly awkward. There were no more papers to edit or encouraging notes to email. The city was quiet. Brian gave me a small hug, enveloping me in his Polo-laced skin and wished me luck on my future work. I conveyed similar wishes and waved to him when he turned around for the last time. I sat in my car watching him lower the top to his BMW.

He graduated that summer, and I never saw him again.


Pietra Dunmore is the author of two short stories, A Rhetorical Question and Funerals and Crucifixions, published in For Harriet. Her non-fiction piece, What Happens When You Lose Yourself to a Relationship, was published in the Human Parts collection of Medium.com

Her poetic works have appeared in the Journal of New Jersey Poets and Phati’tude Literary Magazine. She has also written a cache of relationship, beauty, and style articles for Obassema Magazine. She is currently working on a novel.

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