Exquisite corpse is a technique, invented by the surrealists, in which several players contribute to create a final work having only seen a small part of it. The purpose being to explore experimentation, creativity and just for fun.
Here, we each wrote 200 words, only handing the last 50 words to the next person to build from plus a character and location list.
There wasn’t a man alive whose gaze didn’t fall on Isabelle’s body like sweat down a cool beer in summer. I sat in a café across the street listening to Nick Drake and watched Isabelle buy her tomatoes. Only a few people wandered through the market. I hadn’t slept in nine weeks. More than anything else I felt that music was the only thing that could save me.
I’d picked a café on the sunny side of the square, as when you’re that tired it’s impossible to step out from the rest of the shade. Outside I struck a cigarette. A homeless man sat on the floor in three layers of ragged jumpers and a tattered jacket. His shoes were so worn they looked like two pieces of bread with a foot in-between.
‘Cigarette?’ I offered.
‘Please,’ he said staring at Isabelle. ‘Thanks.’
‘It’s hot today,’ I said looking back to the square.
‘. . . I used to be young once,’ he said and fell to silence.
I crossed onto the square to the little record stall. On the table were ten random vinyls. I ran my fingers past the vertical stacks. Isabelle was exploring the titles among the book stall.
“Have you ever thought about-” Isabelle said. Sick of the past. And how her man’s heart remained inside it.
“Have you ever thought about connecting yourself to the mains? I have, connecting you to it, that is. You’d get that high you want then. And that’d be it. You’d go in a smash.” She said walking over to the curb, disconnected.
Frank didn’t like it when she talked like this. When she talked like him. And she was bored. It was like hearing himself turned inside out, the surreal, lightening.
“Is-” Frank said turning away from the records for a second.
Isa kept her stare on the passing traffic and wrapped her arms around herself like it was cold, even though it was only about 28 degrees in June.
How her chosen mates’ heart remained.
That was the only thing Isa could think of.
They used to be wolves resting on top of each other. Other types of dogs too. Flying dogs at the beggining. Raw, tactile, lead dogs, pulling everything along. They both loved them and Is had mentioned how she wanted a big one when she had her own place.
Isa snapped her face at Frank and kept her lips shut while she looked at him. He could feel it. He could feel her. Teeth. Scent. Rage.
She grabbed his neck and squeezed her mannicured nails into him making his cigarette fall out. Frank kept his arms still by his side, happy for her to do anything on the street, during day light.
“No.” Frank thought, knowing this wasn’t his Isa. And how his love was making her feel.
Suddenly a mariachi band that had been playing all through the square started a fight with a jazz trio who were setting up right next to them.
“This is our square” the mariachis shouted while strumming a quick flamenco. The jazz group retorted with a burst of trumpets that bellowed out soulfully “Our time is now!”
This enraged the mariachi band to no end. Removing their sombreros and carefully placing them on the ground by their feet, they ran at the jazz band, guitars in the air…
Trumpets, saxophones, guitars and blood flew into the air. Noses and strings broke, metal was dented and wood splintered.
The fight grew. Bums and tourists took to throwing blows, silly souvenirs and special brews. A riot ensued. Children lost their parents and babies in cribs were trampled by masses of deranged trying to get away, join the fight or save their buy.
Meanwhile Isa’s hands were still wrapped around Frank’s throat. They resembled an old brawling couple. Her manicured nails dug into his throat, drawing blood. Someone in the square bumped them violently, separating them. Frank gasped for breath and when he looked up Isa had vanished into the chaotic, violent crowd.
Frank put his hand to his throat and felt the warmth of the blood on his stubbly neck. Unthinkingly, he tasted it – something he’d done automatically since childhood.
He felt like he could have killed her in that moment. At the same time he knew this was passing anger, and he could only feel this much hatred because he also loved her. He had read somewhere that love can’t turn to hatred, but that had never been his experience… that idea seemed only possible for angels. He smoothed his hair into his usual side parting, and walked what would have seemed to an onlooker as calmly into the crowd, into the spot where Isa had disappeared. The Mariachi band kept playing despite their bloody noses, and he would keep going despite the pain in his neck. Beyond the crowd an old woman sat behind a stall, her hands moving over a crystal ball. ‘Want a reading?’ she asked, eyes widening. Frank shook his head, and was about to leave, when she asked: ‘What happened to your neck?’
‘You tell me.’
‘I can only tell the future, I don’t know the past.’ She leaned closer.
‘Fingernail marks. A woman?’
“A woman full of passion?”
Frank nodded again. The woman gestured to the empty chair next to him and he sat, intrigued.
“A woman who attracts much attention from strange men?”
Frank thought back to the Mariachi band he’d brutalised earlier, and hid his hands in his jacket pockets. “Is this going somewhere?”
“You tell me.” Her eyes wandered to the wooden box next to her crystal ball. He grabbed a few coins and put them in. “Alright, then.”
She shook her hands in the air, and then swept her arms forward in a slow, soundless clap. A curtain he hadn’t noticed closed behind him. The outraged bartering and classic bustle of the market square vanished. The ball on the table glowed lilac, and a grin spread over the woman’s face. Her bright teeth and dark lips were pretty enough in daylight, but in this strange manufactured night they were just creepy.
“So, um… What can you tell me about my future?” Frank felt so stupid, but now that he’d paid he had to ask something.
“That’s not how this works.” Her smile stayed. “You must ask a question.”
“Okay… Will Isabelle and I have kids?”
“Let’s take a look.”
“Wait…” Frank grabbed the fortune teller’s arm. “Do I… really want this?”
The fortune teller leaned back in her seat, gazing into Frank’s eyes. “There are some questions I just can’t answer.” She grinned. Frank felt the sharp and slow graze of sweat down his forehead. “What would Isabelle want?” the teller asked in a tone Frank would have mistaken for sarcasm if he had been paying attention. He tried to stare back at her but realised his vision had turned blurry, like filters had been placed over his eyes or the whole world was trapped in a wobbly carnival mirror reflection. He managed to make an urght sound but his throat felt tight, trapped, constricted. He thought of Isabelle smoking on a gauloise, except he had never seen her smoke a gauloise and wasn’t even sure if they still made them anymore. And then the lights seemed to go out and he felt the bludgeoning force of gravity and the floor.
The fortune teller spat on Frank’s limp body and lit a cigarette, a cheap local brand, definitely not a gauloise. “No,” she addressed the body, “You and Isabelle will definitely not have kids.” She brought out a knife.
Isabelle trips down the darkening street, her heels clattering on the cobbles. She rounds a corner and nearly walks into the now very drunken group of Mariachis, their sombreros crinkled and tequila-stained. They look Isabelle up and down appreciatively, and the one with the largest moustache attempts to grab her elbow. “All alone are we, lady?”
Pushing past with a glare, Isabelle strides on. She shivers and wraps her fur shawl tighter around her shoulders. Her phone starts ringing and she answers quickly. “Frank! Dammit – where are you?!”
The voice that replies is not Frank. “Frank is at 14 Colt Street. He’s seen better days… I’d get here sharpish dear.”
The door is ajar when Isabelle arrives, and she nudges it open and steps gingerly inside. Beyond is a dimly lit and smoke-stained staircase, with a beaded curtain hiding a doorway below. She steps down, ears straining for Frank, and parts the curtain.
Frank is slumped on the floor, his crotch a mess of creased blood. Isabelle’s eyes flick over the body, wide and white. Beside his torn thigh she sees a tarot card and a crimson-smudged jar. Her shaking hand reaches for the jar and lifts it to the light. Frank’s cock and balls press against the glass. Isabelle drops the jar.