Exquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.
by Tom Hazuka
A cloister of dripping laundry is my landscape today. Nixon is President and I’m eight years old, hiding in the bower of Mom’s breeze-billowed sheets, a pirate in a secluded Caribbean cove. I grip a badass plastic cutlass in my teeth, and dare the world to dare me to use it.
Somewhere in the distance my landlubber brother’s bouncing basketball thumps like native drums. I’m scared, but not enough to shirk my duty. A man does what a man has to do. Especially a pirate man.
I bend low to peer through a porthole, alert for the enemy, but the bounding main is empty of frigate or caravel. I pull the cutlass from my mouth and wipe spit on my shorts as if it’s some scurvy dog’s blood, which it soon will be if I have my way.
My father, the noble Randy Lowe, is wasting away in a castle’s dismal dungeon. “Wasting away” were the words I just heard my mother, Lady Bev Lowe, say to her friend Gwen over cigarettes and Sanka at our kitchen round table. “Two or three months, that’s all they give him.” The Lady Bev wept, and I crept away unobserved to my ship.
My time is short, my task daunting: to free the noble Randy from his black-hearted captors. I need to plan my campaign. I need to be a strong, brave pirate man to rescue my Daddy.
With my faded Superman sheet I wipe the briny water rolling down my cheeks.
Caruso Sweating and Big Nick in His Underwear
by Robert Scotellaro
A cloister of dripping laundry is my landscape. Clotheslines crisscrossing the fat backs of the tenements. Three-digit heat and everybody’s window is open wide. The old Italian wino beneath the hanging garden of our sheets and second skins. Sweating in a heavy overcoat four sizes too large. Roaming the back yards between the buildings. Singing great songs in Italian in a clear and powerful voice and people lean out windows and throw money. Pennies. Kids sit with their legs hanging over fire escapes, their mouths open.
We are poor, like everyone here is poor, but my mother opens her purse, digs in. When he is finished the old man bends over like a bird and picks up his scattered riches. Fills the pockets of his great overcoat.
Once, when Big Nick was home, drinking beer in his underwear, he yelled down to him: “Bravo! Bravo! and tossed out a fistful of singles. And the old man, with sweat running down his face stood under his window and poured out his soul singing Nick’s favorite, Male Femina. The sun shining down, the laundry dripping. And it rained money in the back yards.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Tom Hazuka has published three novels, over fifty short stories, and a book of nonfiction, A Method to March Madness: An Insider’s Look at the Final Four. He has edited or co-edited six anthologies of short stories: Flash Fiction; Flash Fiction Funny; Sudden Flash Youth; You Have Time for This; A Celestial Omnibus: Short Fiction on Faith; and Best American Flash Fiction of the 21st Century (Shanghai, China). He teaches fiction writing at Central Connecticut State University.
Robert Scotellaro has been published widely in books, journals, and anthologies including: W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International Anthology, NANO Fiction, Gargoyle, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and many others. He is the author of seven literary chapbooks and two full-length collections: Measuring the Distance (flash fiction, 2012) and What We Know So Far (microfiction, 2015). The latter was the winner of The Blue Light Book Award. A forthcoming collection of his 100-word stories is due out by Big Table Publications in 2016. He was the recipient of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award in Poetry. Robert currently lives with his wife and daughter in San Francisco. Visit him at www.rsflashfiction.com.