Excerpt from Mercury by Margot Livesey, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Margot Livesey

Mercury by Margot Livesey X
Mercury by Margot Livesey
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 336 pages

    Jun 2017, 336 pages


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My father used to claim we were distantly related to Robert Louis Stevenson, and as a teenager, I had a phase of reading his work. Safe in my bedroom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I delighted in his tales of adventure and wickedness, particularly The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So I can report that Dr. Stevenson did not that evening meet Mr. Hyde at the crossroads, but he did glimpse some dark part of himself. Even as I followed Viv down Green Street, across Herbert and onto Milton, I was turning away from the street of honesty, and heading down the avenue of duplicity.

Inside the house Trina ran to find her mother. From the kitchen I heard her voice, then Viv's, then the sound of the shower. I turned on the oven again. By the time Viv came downstairs, Marcus had laid the table, the pizza was hot, and I had put together a salad.

"I'm so sorry," she said, hurrying into the room, her damp hair falling almost to her waist. "I only just got your message, and poor Drew's. Thanks for making dinner. What can I do?"


She studied me for several seconds and then, although we don't usually drink during the week, went to open a bottle of wine. As we helped ourselves to pizza, she asked her nightly question: "What did everyone learn today?"

Marcus announced that he'd learned he was entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "So you ought to let me stay up late," he said.

Before Viv or I could explain the true meaning of the phrase, Trina said that today was elephant appreciation day. "There used to be millions of elephants in Africa," she said. "Now there are only thousands. I want to dress up as one for Halloween." Marcus sniggered. "You're not even five feet tall."

"So I'll be an Indian elephant," she said resolutely. "They're smaller. They can eat three hundred pounds of grass a day."

I said that when I was her age, I had dressed up as a walrus for Halloween and collected money for Guy Fawkes. Then I had to explain who Guy Fawkes was and how in 1605 he, and his fellow Catholic conspirators, had plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London.

"He was an early terrorist," said Viv.

Even as I wanted to contradict her, Marcus and Trina were nodding—they were familiar with terrorists—and I realized she was right. If the Catholic monarchy had been restored, then Fawkes would have been a freedom fighter, but it wasn't, and he wasn't. His story had all the modern ingredients: dreams of radical change, betrayal by anonymous letter, torture, confession.

After the children were in bed, Viv refilled our glasses and told me what had happened at the stables. Claudia had had to leave early, but they were both worried about Mercury; he'd been pacing his paddock all afternoon. They thought he might kick down the gate if he didn't get some exercise. And then, once she was riding, she had lost track of the time.

"He's just a horse," I said. I was used to her enthusiasms. "Not just," she said. "Imagine if you were suddenly given the keys to a Porsche. I barely touch the reins, and he knows what I want. And he remembers things. The first time around, he clipped the tallest jump. The next time he adjusted his stride and took off a foot closer."

Only afterwards, as she was rubbing him down, had she remembered that it was Thursday, that she was due home. "I'm sorry," she said. "I was bewitched."

She went to load the dishwasher, leaving me to ponder the discrepancy between Claudia's account and hers. Claudia hadn't mentioned being worried about Mercury. It was Viv, I was sure, who had adjusted the truth. At the time it seemed a small subterfuge, the kind of white lie anyone might tell. The main thing, I told myself, was that Mercury had cheered her up.

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From the book: Mercury by Margot Livesey. Copyright © 2016 by Margot Livesey. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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