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 Sheila O’Connor
I bought a gutted-out trailer on the far edge of Waconia and moved into it alone, hoping that love or God would find me. There were stars stuck to the ceiling and a finger-painted picture of blue trees taped to the wall. A life that someone left. I’d left my life; it didn’t amount to much. An efficiency apartment in the city. A job working the switchboard at an ammunition plant. The man I’d planned to marry was in love with my best friend.
I’d planned to start again in that trailer. Buy a blow-up mattress for a bed. Survive on pork and beans. Cook suppers on a salvaged Coleman stove. Take in a ragged stray for a companion. Commune with rabbits and raccoons. Alone, I’d learn the language of the land.
It was months before I brushed my teeth or combed my hair. What use was daily hygiene if I never met the world?
At night, sleeping naked in the heat, I’d rise up from my bed, walk out to the cornfield, and howl under the moon.
How hard it was to hope for happiness ahead.
How dumb it was to hope.
Home on the Road
by Marty Case
I bought a gutted-out trailer. Stop running back and forth to the nursing home, interstate, interstate, interstate. To the hellhole where the ex-Marine was caged, reduced to prowling hallways at half his fighting weight. Where the old hospital administrator imagined she was running the asylum, another circus of delusion, bewilderingly familiar. Relentless televisions every ten feet, sports and politics, advertisements for larger televisions and Big Pharm, in certain cases may cause death. In the common room on Saturday nights, Lawrence Welk, bandleader without soul, reruns from 60 years ago, all the performers dead now. Crashing on my brother’s couch, learning stories of childhood betrayal that I’d never heard, all certainties slipping away.
And just to arrive there, that final trip, the winter highway, ninety percent perfect and ten percent ice, everyone driving seventy except the people in the ditches. Dreams of skidding off the road into a snow bank at evening, the prairie sky as peachy red on the horizon as the sad, color-saturated tuxedo of Joe Feeney, Irish tenor, it’s you, it’s you must go and I abide.
When I saw the trailer it was love. I could park it anywhere and stay a while. It was aluminum, an easy load to tow. It was only a shell, nothing material in it to tell me how I should feel, a grandma’s teapot place, empty in a way all things eventually become.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Sheila O’Connor is the author of novels, poems, essays, and stories. She teaches in the MFA program at Hamline University where she serves as Fiction Editor for Water~Stone Review.
Marty Case is a writer/researcher whose work focuses on treaties and the spread of the American myth.