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 Tara Laskowski
I sent a postcard to a stranger and he sent one back. He used to live where I now live. I told him I’d found his jar, and he wrote back: DESTROY IT, PLEASE. I have always taken kindly to folks who ask nicely, but instead I kept it under my bed. I sent him another postcard telling him I had burned it. But how could I? The trinkets inside were delightful, like very fancy McDonalds toys. Glass beads, seashells, a dog that danced on an invisible wire, an exquisite ballerina, and even a leprechaun with tiny pockets of gold. Tomorrow, I would tell them, and the leprechaun would cry. Today, he pleaded. As the days passed, he would just moan. The ballerina did not want to die. She said there was so much more joy in her life. The man sent another postcard: STOP AVOIDING YOUR DUTY. The leprechaun had told him—I found tiny postcards from the man in his pockets—HOPEFULLY SOON and I’M SORRY. I opened all the windows in the house, hoping someone would steal the jar. I became so agitated I couldn’t sleep. I moved into the kitchen, sucked ice cubes. The postcards came daily, flooding the mailbox. I stopped responding. One night I crushed the dancing dog under my boot and vomited for days. I’m still not over it. I’ve sold the house now, waiting any day for the postcard from a stranger, telling me they found my jar.
The Ecstasy of Communication
by David Steward
I sent a postcard to a stranger.
When the police pull me in, they ask how I know him. I don’t, I say. It has to be a stranger: that’s the point. So why would I write to him? Just to spread some love. An unexpected message can give joy, and that lifts my mood. We’re all connected: what’s a stranger but someone we know a little less well than family and friends? There’s a baggy man in a suit, who only listens.
Have I written to others? Yes, over the years. Not always postcards: often letters, a greetings card, maybe just a doodle. Some people sign up for it. I mention a website, and they make a note. Do these people write to him too? To lots of strangers, I say.
They point to the Telemax Tower, magenta blocks stacked under its antenna. They want to know what’s planned for Hanover. I was on holiday in Germany. To me, an experience is richer if you share it. Why not share it with people you know? I did that too.
Their experts are looking at the language. They’ll work it out, they say.
At home, in the night, I’m grasping for fresh contacts. I invite them to Facebook, follow them on Twitter, open an account with Snapchat. I hadn’t intended to use social media: people accept too casually, often with no consequence. But suddenly I want all the love I can get, like sugar and fat, to gorge on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Tara Laskowski is a native of Wilkes-Barre, PA, and now lives in Virginia. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as “a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills.” She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Since 2010, she has been the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly.
David Steward is a regular contributor to Flash magazine and has also written short fiction for, among others, Under the Radar. He lives in Norfolk, England, and plays jazz saxophone, unprofitably.