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.
Another Day at the Office
By Paul Beckman
A voice tells me it’s all been solved but I’m not willing to take Voice at face value. Pastimes Voice gave me a sure thing on a trifecta and it cost my Lexus to pay the book. Voice also misled me on Diana, a co-worker who was supposedly interested in me. I followed her into the supply room and told her how sexy she was and she went straight to HR.
Diana’s been promoted to vice-president and I report directly to her. Her second day in her new office she had me show up at one which is my lunchtime so I had to decide if I was going to walk into her office eating my pastrami (lean) on rye or walk in hungry. I chose hungry.
Her door was open so I went in and sat. She eventually showed up eating an egg salad on white bread, mayo oozing out the sides of the sandwich and her mouth. “My lunch is at one and I had to grab something. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
I started to apologize and she told me to forget it—my instincts were right but she had to set some rules knowing she was getting promoted. She proposed a friends with benefits deal. “Who knows, it might even help your career?”
I was too mesmerized watching mayo run down towards her neck to answer and since I hate the taste and smell of egg salad I prayed she didn’t want to start right away.
By Jonathan Cardew
A voice tells me it’s all been solved. I swivel in the booth: Madame Kim is standing behind me, tall as ever. In one hand, a bottle of Soju. In the other, two ceramic cups.
“He won’t trouble you now,” she says, sitting down.
I imagine Mister Kim’s hot breath on my neck, his spidery fingers moving over my body. I feel my chest compress.
She pours Soju into our cups. Her eyes are full of pupil. I watch as the liquid wobbles at the top. I listen to the hubbub of the restaurant and sense the numbness in my right leg from sitting too long. I feel Madame Kim’s heat like a warm fog.
“It’s all been solved,” she says again, tipping the cup into her mouth, letting out a long breath.
The noise level in the restaurant increases as a waitress places a cake with sparklers on the table opposite ours. A woman, no older than I am, claps her hands together and puts the tips of her fingers to her lips. Her friends sing her the birthday song. The woman closes her eyes as the song reaches its close.
I look at Madame Kim. She seems to read my mind.
We watch the sparklers burn down to nothing.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Paul Beckman was one of the winners in the Queen’s Ferry 2016 Best of the Small Fictions. His stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Matter Press, Metazen, Boston Literary Magazine, Thrice Fiction and Literary Orphans. His latest collection, “Peek,” weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. His website www.paulbeckmanstories.com.
Jonathan Cardew is a short story writer and editor based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His short [and very short] fiction appears in Atticus Review, Segue, Jellyfish Review, Microfiction Monday, Flash Frontier, People Holding, among other places. He teaches writing at Milwaukee Area Technical College, where he also edits The Phoenix Literary and Arts Magazine. He is from a city in the north of England, known for its knives.