Excerpt from Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith X
Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith
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  • Published:
    Nov 2016, 240 pages

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Norah Piehl
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In the face of Market-Shipton, I watched my aunt clamp her mouth into its tight line and fold her scarred brown arms across her chest. She bargained hard and was fair and honest, but she tried no market friendships. She never drank with the women, and we left as soon as trade was done. Everybody thought her too proud by half and just asking for a fall, but if she heard any of the barely hidden talk, she never mentioned it.

Not me, though. I heard most things. It's in me to listen, and I don't see why I shouldn't. How do you ever find things out otherwise? I overheard Mr. Owney in the pub say that Pa was a drinker who'd killed Mam by mistake. One year, he said, a year of the Hunger, Colm plowed her under with the dead greens after putting away two bottles all by himself. She'd fainted in the bottom field, and, all unknowing, he went right over her, horses and plowshares and feet and all.

Well, he said, it was twilight, when the eyes are easily fooled. Everybody smiled. And she was always a little brown woman. Easy to miss, flat on the ground and in that light. Everybody laughed.

Then Colm Breda drowned all right. Mr. Owney sighed, shaking his head. Poor fella fell in a whiskey vat — and died trying to drink his way out! It took some time after this for their merriment to die down.

I despised them. They didn't even try to make a good story. This one was just plain wrong; Pa drowned a whole year before Mam disappeared. Men from Merton found his boat and his woolen in the Breda weave still in mostly one piece and brought them back to us. I don't understand people sometimes. They can be dumb as dirt and crueler than any creature.

Some folk say Pa married a merrow and that, being able in the water and full of jealousy, Mam went after him and was drowned by his new wife and her minnows. They say Carrick's men have always bred with the merrows. They say that's why they live in such numbers in our waters; they all have family ashore.

Others say Mam lost her mind from the grief after Pa died. They say she walked the island without stopping, half-dressed and skeleton-like, for an entire year, and then disappeared. There are people who say they've seen her in the tunnels and caves of the cliffs; they say she's white-haired now, and perfectly pale and transparent in the body, so as you can see her heart, and it's broke clean in two. Some saw her boarding a missionary boat for the mainland, alone and pitiful.

Each story is worse than the last.

Scully Slevin is a different sort of fish, though. He was sixteen and lived with his mam over the rise of Shipton-Cronk and up the moaney. They were our closest neighbors but still a good afternoon's walk away. Of course, Ushag didn't hold with mixing. To her, friendship brought bother, so we didn't see them much, but during the last Hunger, people helped each other as they could, and Ma Slevin has never forgotten the Marreys. She speaks jewels of Mam's kindness and of my aunt's great heart. That Hunger was long past, though, and I couldn't see signs of any great heart in Ushag, as hard as I looked.

Anyway, I don't remember that Hunger. It's ancient history. It doesn't mean anything to me.

Scully's blind, and he plays his fiddle for money on market days and on all the other days for free. He plays tunes that catch you. Everybody dances as they pass Scully's jig. I once saw a man and woman stop right in the middle of a brawl and start spinning each other around. The music took the fight right out of them. Of course, he also plays tunes that drag the heart right out of your chest, but he doesn't do that so often. I don't think he's sure what to do with people's tears.

At that last fall market, just before winter set in and we all closed ourselves in against the cold, he grabbed at my hand as I passed him. Out of the blue, he told me that I should be proud to be Neen Marrey. Not only did our family have the merrow blood, but the Marreys were one of the few families left on Carrick that once had our very own banshee. He told me I was truly lucky. He said he'd give his sight to see a banshee.

Excerpted from Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith. Copyright © 2016 by Ananda Braxton-Smith. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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