FICTION: Anatomy of a Musician by A.L. Kersel

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The Institute is prestigious and stretches skywards accordingly, white walls and grey slate against pebbles and shorn grass, on one side a bramble twist of bracken, on the other, the sea.

I have a whistle, humming low and sweet under my breath, and I have a bodhran, skin stretched taught to be pattered by hand and stick. Above all, I have my clarsach, which I heft in its case from the boot of my car and wait, itching round my forehead as the midges swarm, unsure what to do next.


As day breaks, I begin my study as I will do every morning for a year until I graduate or I fail. I lean my clarsach on my shoulder and pluck pure, vibrating bells from the strings. My fingers feel jointed with crudest wood, a puppet girl playing with a harp, but the sound is clear and true. Is it enough?

The old calluses on my fingertips wear thin and fray. I play for hours, and my tutor sits and says nothing. I grow angry. Why won’t you say anything? I intensify my playing, and anger turns to boredom to despair to bloody fingers limping fractured melody. A bead of blood wells and trickles down my wrist where it drips to the floor next to my shoe.

Say something.


A year of nights is lonely but it is the only time I have to call my own. Amid the darkness of the moon-swept hours, I cloister myself under fluorescent lights and I practise, wringing from myself every drop of music until I have leeched the blood from beneath my skin.

This year of nights and judgement days changes me. I grow thin and hard, sound-dulled flesh becoming resonant bone. Skin sloughs from my fingertips and my arms, shredded lace wearing through to expose a mesh of harp string tendons that hum with more guts than my clarsach ever could. I open my throat to sing as the gulls wheel on wreathing air and as the wind blows, I catch every note of their flight. I have no more need for my whistle; the wind playing upon my throat sings for me.


I bleed, I play, I sing. I pray, I practise, every nerve thrumming in pained harmonics, and finally, it is the day of reckoning. I enter alone into a room and the first thing I do is open the window. I mount the stage, and the sea wind moans through my throat, thieving rippled counterpoint from my singing tendons. Under the skin of my belly throbs a drum of rapid heartbeats, and beneath it all, my blood howls.

The wind stops. The music ceases, and I collapse, exhausted. I tear my breath, catching harsh notes of air in a ragged trill. Was this enough?

In silence now, I seek my tutor and face, in return, a cracked smile, nothing more.



A.L. Kersel


A. L. Kersel is a writer from the west coast of Scotland. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Tranquillity Publishing, Tales of Tremendous Tragicide and Halcyon Days and Cyanide Nights and online at A Million and One Magazine. She is currently working on her first novel, a chaotic dark comedy featuring extraordinary inventions and the inept navigation of human relationships.

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