Moonlight Serenade: A story by Seán de Grá

Fighting Words 2019: Seán de Grá is 18 and a student at Coláiste Eoin, Baile an Bhóthair, Co Átha Cliath

Seán de Grá (age 18), reads an extract from his story'Moonlight Serenade'


Dusk softening the sky, she sang to herself. A quiet hum, backed by the steady beat of drumming fingers. Rough, low, only for her ears to enjoy and savour. Her boot started tapping then, crushing the filthy straw beneath to the rhythm of her song.

She imagined the sun setting slow outside. Painting the clouds with fire as it slipped away blazing. She craned her neck upwards, trying to glimpse it.

And for a moment she was lost in memory. Long, lazy days spent free among the trees and hills. Glorious sunsets, dazzling stars above and pulse-pounding sky-rocketing music-

The dim ceiling loomed low above, grim and mundane. An ever-present reminder of the reality of her situation. That, and the chain around her ankle. It’d had been so very long since she’d been free.

Sometimes she couldn’t even remember what she’d stolen. A locket, a loaf of bread, a heart? The still dreariness muffled it all, bleached everything of importance eventually.

It hadn’t taken her music from her, not yet. As long as she it, she had hope. Music kept her soul afloat. It kept her going, even in the winter. Especially then.

A dull thud reverberated against the heavy door keeping her imprisoned. “Keep it down in there, will yah? Bad enough I have to watch over you lot, I don’t need your warbling as well.”

Her song dropped lower, her fingers slowed, but it did not die. Every song had a story to tell, and this one was not finished.

The guard saw it differently. Another kick shook the door, and then he was gone, moving deeper along the corridor to his own off-tune whistling.

Head rested against the cold stone behind her, she settled down for the fast approaching night. A ratty blanket pulled up to her chin, she dozed off.

She awoke to the light twang of a guitar. Teeth chattering, she almost thought she was hallucinating, still caught in a leftover dream. Where was the musician bringing its dulcet tones to life?

Then another melancholic bar drifted through from above. Whoever was playing was good, passionate. Minor chords and slow strums were building something sorrowful, beautiful.

Incomplete. There was a void lurking beneath those uncertain notes, inexperience betraying intent. Already her mind was running through harmonies and accompaniment. Her mouth was already open before common sense kicked in.

Sing too loud, and the warden would wake. A dangerous risk to take; her gaoler had little patience or sympathy. To leave such a work unfinished would be a greater crime than any she’d ever committed.

She needed to add to this music, make it sublime.

What choice could she make? Rationality warred with stirred up, dusty feelings. Logic and emotion caught in a war over survival of the body and survival of the soul. Only a fool would rouse the guard to anger.

Perhaps that was why she sang. A deep bubbling rage gave her confidence, pushed her hoarse tones to their limit. Mournful, she let the entire world’s injustice flow through her for an instance, cradled in a half-remembered folk song.

The guitar stumbled into silence. Ashamed, she followed suit. Why on earth would the guitarist want to play with a prisoner like herself? The free did not consort with the bound, after all.

Her guilt grew, mired in anguish. She had driven the music away, for what? A chance to upstage someone else, a moment to forget. Clearly her selfishness knew no bounds.

Than another twang sounded, and the lament began anew. Stronger, more focused, pouring into her ears. So she lilted in response, more sound than lyric.

This was not a duet that needed words. It was too raw, too unfiltered to fit into stiff phrases. This was fluidity given form in steely string and gruff crooning.

Unpolished, unpractised, it was perfect as far as she was concerned. Hours seemed to pass, lost in that intimate bliss of discovery. She was free, released by the music echoing all around. Than it was over, and her accomplice slipped away, only a muffled “tomorrow” shared between them.

So she closed her eyes, let sleep take her as she waited for another moonlight serenade.

This story took shape at one of the workshops run by Fighting Words, which was founded by Roddy Doyle and Seán Love in 2009 to nurture young writers around Ireland. It is now in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Mayo, Wicklow, Galway, Donegal, Kerry, Wexford and Kildare.