Exquisite Duet: Matthew Burnside and Christopher Allen

Exthe-duetquisite 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.


The World Is Flat

by Matthew Burnside

Drained by the dead eyes that met mine
I bon voyaged my grandma into the afterlife
with the slow arc of a smile and a raging
hollow in my chest like a gutted piano.
Anyone at their end deserves to see a smile
even if it is counterfeit. Some lies can be
forgiven, like the world is flat and every
thing is going to be ok. The first girl who
broke my heart rigged up a trapeze in my
throat but never swung once. Years later
there is still netting everywhere—words get
lost bouncing into oblivion. I tuck them under
my tongue and say a prayer. Otherwise they burst
into butterflies, filling the ductwork of my ear
canals. Call it what you will but hope is only
secondhand misery. Falling for it is like inheriting
a new way to impale yourself upon tomorrow.
The night grandma cashed in her last breath so
calmly she folded her treasure map hands over
mine, through a flash of crisp lucidity spoke:
People always get it backwards . . .
it’s not about finding someone you deserve finally
but finding someone who finally deserves you.
If there’s one thing I know now it is love ravages the weak.
These days my inner weather is autumnal glazed
with a wintry blitz, and every snowman is flipping me
off. I don’t know if I’m going to make it but
the world is flat and every
thing is going to be ok.


Death of Man—an Exhibition
by Christopher Allen

Drained by the dead eyes that met mine, I falter, slump to a bench, a one-palm-tree island
where the last person on earth and I have to save the sinking world.

Nodding, my chin brushes the hairy, wet arm of the hulking guy sharing this island. Hoss, he
says—like that’s a real name—and offers a damp catcher’s-mitt hand. He has a sweat rag and
a kinetic kid with a killer-whale hat moonwalking around us—an orca playing musical chairs.

Forced suicide, that one. Hoss waves his rag at the million oily brushstrokes before us. I see
only eyes. Hoss says, Look closer, little fella. It’s Man’s last moment.

Just a painting, I say. (On Sundays entrance is free and it’s 110° outside.)

Hoss heaves a sigh meant for me.

It’s exhausting. I pan the gallery. All of them.

I hear ya, little guy. He mops his forehead, pats a sweat-print onto my knee.

They stare at me, and I stall, forget who I am. All these naked near-dead men.

Watch this, little fella, says Hoss.

As his boy slides by us, Hoss points to the voluptuous old guy bleeding into a tub of his own
blood. The boy shouts Death of Seneca! like it’s an answer on a test. Hoss shouts Pow! That’s
my boy! And before I can ask where kids these days learn to moonwalk, Hoss shouts Last
word of Seneca?
The killer whale shouts Virtue, whips 180 and moonwalks all the way
around us.


Matthew Burnside keeps a list of his sins at MatthewBurnsideisawriter.tumblr.com

Christopher Allen’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclectica Magazine‘s 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative anthology, Night Train, Indiana Review and over a hundred other fine places. Read his book reviews in [PANK], Necessary Fiction, The Lit Pub and more. He’s the author of the adult cartoon Conversations with S. Teri O’Type, a former finalist at Glimmer Train and the 2015 recipient of the Ginosko Literary Journal‘s award for flash fiction. Allen, originally a Tennessean but now a Münchner, is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.


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