MacFarlands Unreasonable Expectations

Sean Murray

is an Analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He is a lawyer by training, and previously worked as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department, in Lithuania, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. He is married and currently lives in the D.C. area.

Fiction, Humor & Satire

MacFarland’s Unreasonable Expectations

written by Sean Murray

What do a box-car riding, washed up sax player, a Tijuana cop, a Scandinavian diplomat, a gorgeous high diver, and a race horse ready for the glue factory, have in common? They all turn up in Sean Murray’s highly entertaining short story, MacFarland’s Unreasonable Expectations.

Saxophone player Mac McCune just wants to get to San Diego in hopes of rekindling an old flame and finding a job. What happens after he arrives, where no one and nothing is as it seems, shows us that a lost cause may not always be as lost as it might first appear.


Read by Tom Zingarelli

“This is the prime, Mac. This is the moment for heart, and big strides, advancement. Full living. The body still youthful, bearing up. The faculties aligned to high purpose. A man in his middle thirties will surely never know an age of greater power, right? Oh-ho, this is the prime, Mac. This is your life.”

“A few days ago Mac had been borrowing hygiene products from barn animals. Now here he was about to start talking politics over eggs and ham at the Coronado with a diplomat. A diplomat! Things were shaping up all around.”

“Evie reached across the table, took Mac’s wine glass and drained it in one go. Mac eyed her with what felt like a very prudent wariness. “L’chaim,” he said. She licked her lips.”

“Mac stewed, going over everything in his mind. Evie and San Diego. Diplomats, missiles, horses, borders, and one dead man. Mac had stepped over frozen drunks and bums before; bleeding men on gross streets, but in spite of it all, he was a relative stranger to violence.”

macfarland's unreasonable expectations

Sean Murray is an Analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He is a lawyer by training, and previously worked as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department, in Lithuania, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. He is married and currently lives in the D.C. area.

Watch our Interview with Sean

Q&A with Sean

Tell us about your story...

MacFarland’s Unreasonable Expectations actually came about because my then-agent wanted to put together an anthology of “Border-Noir” pieces from both established and new writers. The anthology was ultimately scuttled, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing a kind of screwball genre mash-up.

What was the inspiration for this story?

The main character, Mac, is based on a real person — a guy my dad knew well in my hometown of Lincoln, NE. He was one of those characters who make you reconsider your sense that people in small towns on the plains haven’t seen a lot of life. You think that, but then you meet somebody like Mac, you realize, My God, there are subterranean universes of feeling here.

Most of my work is involved in trying to get a handle on this confounding dynamic – the staid and superficial aspect of small-town life vs. the rich and churning.

What have you recently read that you loved?

Well, it’s not fiction, but I recently read and enjoyed a collection of essays on the life and work of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. As with the character of Rolf in MacFarland, I see phenomenally rich possibilities for fiction in the raw material of diplomacy and international affairs (or whatever you want to call it).

As a former diplomat myself, I can vouch for the authentically captivating textures of international affairs – both the glamor of presidential palaces and Ambassadors’ cocktail parties (the clichés are true, it is kinda glamorous at times) and the tedium, pettiness and absurdity of bureaucratic culture. It’s a tremendously… what? A tremendously fecund admixture.”

Someday I want to...

Retire to Stockholm. Or the Canadian Rockies, I can’t decide which. 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Mostly I watch sports on TV. I’m as fascinated with the stories of sport as I am with stories of diplomacy.

I tried amateur dog-training for a while, but I wasn’t very good at it. 

Do you have any hidden talents?

Yes, but I can’t tell you about them, or else I’d have to kill you. Kidding. I’m kidding.


On the weekends I like to...

Nap. Multiple times per day if at all possible.

Tomorrow, I absolutely refuse to...

Eat junk food. I’ve been eating too much of it lately.

Heard any good jokes lately?

So these two hunters are walking in the woods and come upon a hole in the ground. They can’t tell how deep it is, so they decide to throw something down and see how long it takes to hit bottom. They look around and find this big, rusty, junky old anvil; they shove it to the hold and over the edge. They listen, but don’t hear anything.

“Man, must be deep,” one of them says.

A moment later, a goat comes tearing past them and over the edge into the hole.

“What the hell was that?!” the other one says.

Next they hear somebody calling out a name over and over as if searching for someone. They come upon an old farmer.

“You two seen a goat around here?” the famer asks.

“Yes!” they say. “He just went screaming past us and jumped into that hole!”

The famer looks confused. “That’s impossible,” he says. “I had him chained to an anvil.”

Anything else you'd like to share?

This was fun!

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