Playing in a Brass Quartet Even While Dying

any similarities to any persons dying or dead is entirely coincidental

It is made of beaten gold, soft and mellow as butter, except for the spikes, which are of bronze tipped with steel and curve gently inward. At the back a fan shaped blade hangs down, wicked and beautiful, inlaid with figures of peacocks and dragons. There is a clasp in the front, and a series of notches, so that the collar may be drawn tight against even the slenderest neck. Stephen has a large neck, which pleases the Maestro, whose fingers are weak and crabbed with age, liver-spotted, hairy, graceless. When the collar is drawn tight, the spikes run into his neck, so sharp that there is almost no pain, but suddenly he is weak, so weak, and the white silk of his shirt is incarnadined. He is barely able to lift the french horn to his lips; they must help him, their faces reverent.

The maestro stands aside and the lead trumpet player breathes deeply. They play, and he knows he is surpassing himself, that this performance, never to be repeated, is superlative. He feels the music, even as his vision fades, plays on and on, his fingers sure and swift on the valves, effortlessly, marvellously, without end…