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.
It breathes between our fingers
by Antonia Crane
Prone to leaking, the red open sore on Piper’s rib cage was infected with puss. She asked me to clean it. I grabbed the soft green washcloth from the towel rack in the bathroom. Unfolded it. Ran warm water in the sink. “Rinse, rinse,” she whispered. I pressed the wet cloth onto her naked skin, which was yellow as a highlighter, like her eyes. Rivulets of water dripped down her tattooed hip over black, swirly letters and images marking boisterous times before the cancer: a small whisk. Tomatoes. “Salty.”
“Sweet.” A fat, lavender marshmallow peep we got together one Christmas while seated at her shiny, living room table. She’d filled crinkled plastic bags with candied walnuts and fudge, tied with red ribbons. She pointed to the sterile pink hospital soap on the edge of the bathroom sink. I pumped until it foamed like cotton candy. She covered my hand with hers and pressed harder onto the hole where the tubes were removed from the place where breast cancer ravaged her lungs, liver and lymph nodes. Soapy water dripped onto the floor. I caught some of it with the washcloth, but not all of it. I asked if the water felt good. She nodded. She leaned on me for support then stepped into the tub. “I can’t believe it’s been this long since I’ve touched you,” I said. I put my arm around her to hold her steady.
“This is happening really fast,” she said. I washed her back like it was the most natural thing in the world, between sisters, both of us standing clean, in a half-hug. A menacing oxygen tank sat by the door. Popsicle sticks littered the silver trashcan lid. Solid food was done. So was the farm-to-table cuisine she diced and mixed and served. Frozen fruity popsicles were the only thing she ate. It was happening too fast. I considered punching a hole in the wall. Shrieking. I blew on the open sore instead and then stopped, afraid to spread germs with my breath.
“Don’t be scared,” she said.
Let Us See
by Steven Dunn
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Antonia Crane a writer, instructor and Moth Story Slam Winner in Los Angeles. She is the author of the memoir “Spent” (Barnacle Books, 2014). She has written for The New York Times, The Believer, The Toast, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Salon.com, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, DAME, The Los Angeles Review, Quartz: The Atlantic Media, PrimeMind, Buzzfeed and many other places. Her fiction has appeared in the noir anthology, The New Black, edited by Richard Thomas. Her screenplay “The Lusty” (co-written by director, writer Silas Howard), based on the true story of the exotic dancer’s labor union, is a recipient of the San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Grant in screenwriting, 2015. She is at work on an essay collection.
Steven Dunn is the author of the novel Potted Meat (Tarpaulin Sky Press 2016). He was born and raised in West Virginia, and after ten years in the Navy, he earned a BA in Creative Writing from University of Denver. Some of his work can be found in Columbia Journal and Granta Magazine.