The Mermaid of Zennor

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3.

By sunrise, she had already tripped down the hills, finding a staircase and waterfall. Glancing both ways, she decided to follow the water. The trail appeared lengthy, and her stomach pleaded for an easy meal. Turbot or mackerel sounded delicious. Morveren climbed as far down as possible, scraping her shins against weathered rocks. As she fringed the precipice, she told herself knees were not to be trusted. They locked in the presence of strange men and great heights. Massive waves licked the bottom of the cliffs; this was home, but it looked monstrous from where she stood.

After a few minutes and long winded pep talk, she dove, forgetting to inhale. Bracing herself made the daggery blow no less painful. Frosty needles pricked her up and down and the salt stung her eyes. She burst up and out in utter confusion, choking for breath. Flailing around, she kicked awkwardly and did her best to keep her head above water until she got the hang of it. She treaded water and unsuccessfully tried to grab any fish she didn’t spook.

Swimming with legs proved to be a challenge. They tired so easily and weren’t propelling her forward as her tail had. With fins, fish catching by hand was an easy feat. She gave up and shakily dog paddled back to the rocks. Her gown, which she could’ve sworn dissolved completely, replaced itself with a similar teal one. It streamed down her knees as a waterfall would and rippled like real waves.

She climbed like a drunkard, chilled to the bone. Luckily, she came upon bushels of blackberries and wild bilberries. She devoured them, disregarding the juice staining her fingers. The clock struck noon.

A woman playing a fiddle broke the stillness of Zennor. Her warm ups brought Morveren to the exterior of Tinners. Minutes later, the percussionist arrived with an already tipsy guitarist. At the beginning of the setlist, people got up to dance in bouts of felicity. Matthew was laughing and drinking with two men flanking his side. Before any of the men gathered courage to address Morveren, the young girl from the previous day introduced herself,

“I’m Addie!” She flashed her fun smile.

“Hi,” she replied, wide eyed. “My name is Morveren.”

Addie pulled her up, fixed her short hair, and grinned spryly. The English rose glanced over at her granddad, then started bouncing and swaying with gusto. Morveren absorbed her confidence. She undulated and spun, dancing with every part of her body, almost slithering in a serpentine way. She moved unlike anyone else and had an eccentric sort of grace. But everyone found it convivial. Matthew thought she moved in slow motion, electrifying his sight. One of his friends peered through his glasses into a camera, capturing every movement.

Thankfully, a party invited her to sit with them. They introduced her to Cornish foods; the pasties melted wonderfully in her mouth. The cream tea with plum jam was divine. But the stargazy pie, something the natives feared she’d get sick at, made her mouth water. The locals didn’t eat the petrified fish, so she abstained. She dug in and was at a complete loss for words at the rich punch of flavor.

Matthew’s gaze lingered at the table. Morveren pretended to not notice.

Once more, Morveren headed to the bluffs.

A composed golden retriever baltered up to greet her. She almost screeched with glee and fear. The dog pushed her head beneath Morveren’s hand. She hesitated.

“That’s Jaimie,” Matthew said and came into view. “Hi. Would you-Do you want to come over? It’s just-tonight’s going to be cold. It’s not a long walk.”

Her knees trembled as she entered the doorway. She took in the dim little ranch. The living room, spotted with blue seating and rugs, seamlessly meshed with the cook’s room. A driftwood table and stools sat in a kitchen, framed by white and beige walls. In fact, driftwood furniture speckled the whole house.

“Matthew, I love your home.”

“It isn’t much, but thanks. My mom’s good with her hands. She made most of the wooden furniture.”

He didn’t want to mention his mother was also a tailor, but Morveren’s dress looked atrocious. Because of the past few day’s adventures, the sea spun gown was torn and mangled, freckled with dirt.

“Is that the only thing you have to wear?”

“Yes,” she replied and looked up innocently.

“Do you want something drier?”

“Okay.”

He led her to his room and rummaged through a drawer. A painting of the Atlantic hung on the naked stone wall, which was right against his bed. Navy fleece blankets and a mass of pillows adorned the tall bed frame. A small piano and cedar guitar were juxtaposed. A nightstand with empty bottles and books that were so worn out they toppled over each other sat at its left.

“Where are you from?”

“Overseas,” was the quick response.

“Nice.”

Figuring she wanted something nice, he chose a formal pinstripe shirt and dark jacket. “The bathroom’s across the hall.”

Like the rest of the house, the bathroom was mostly simple. Sink and shower, mirror and john. A plastic model ship tilted on the back of the toilet. A towel embroidered with turquoise merfolk was thrown over the sink. The soft fabric came to her knees, but felt heavy. She threw the jacket on just because he gave it to her. Morveren ignored her reflection in the rattan mirror, knotted hair and all.

Matthew poked around on the keys while waiting. She sailed in and spun.

“Very nice,” he laughed.

She settled on his bed and he wobbled on the piano bench. Jaimie entered, tail wagging. “Hello, you!” She scratched her ears.

“I don’t often have visitors. It’s nice to have a guest.”

“Neither do I. Will you play?”

Matthew dove headfirst into a folk song of nightingales. Morveren laid her head on the dog as they both listened, bewitched by his hands. His voice was no less magical in a home. Their eyes met and faltered and met again; both held it this time, mesmerized by each other. She’d never seen brown eyes before and found them lovely. When he finished, he took a bow. She laughed. Jaimie laid her head in his lap.

“Do you play anything?”

“No, but I’d like to.”

“I could teach you,” he practically exclaimed. “You know, sometime.”

“I would love that,” she grinned. She fiddled with one of the lined up tubes on his dresser.

“Oh. Paints. They were a gift I’ve never had much of a chance to use.”

“We should take them to the beach.”

He thought it over. “Maybe we should.”

“When?”

“If it’s not too late, I don’t mind going now,” he ventured. “I don’t know if you have any plans.”

He wished he had some way to capture her exuberance, so he tried on the canvas. She often stumbled while chasing the ebb. Then her killer legs hauled her away from the icy tides, giggling, with Jaimie mirroring her. Her eyes lit up like lanterns at the sea and even more so at him. She forgot about the paints and drew in the damp sand. The dog almost galloped after the twigs she’d thrown and never faithfully brought them back. Jaimie waded in and rushed out, shaking off cold drops on a yelping Morveren.

“Morveren, how does this look?”

He’d only done the sky, oranges hazing together. They drew close over the drying canvas. She colored in the sea with one of the flat brushes, adding water from her hands to blur the horizon. The painting turned out callow and impressionistic, but Morveren expressed it was the greatest thing she’d ever seen.

When he offered to walk her home, he came to the conclusion she was a runaway who didn’t have one. And where were her shoes?

“Where have you been sleeping?”

She didn’t respond.

“I thought I saw you on the cliffs the other night. Why don’t you stay at an inn?”

“I don’t have English money and I’m not staying for long.”

“Did you run away?”

“No.”

“Then, why can’t you stay with your family?”

“I only have my dad. He isn’t in town right now,” she admitted. “I’ll figure something out, Matthew.”

“I’d let you stay, if you wanted.”

“Matthew, I couldn’t let you keep me. I’ve only got a week anyways.”

“I wouldn’t mind it a bit.”

He lended her a pillow and blanket for the couch; he even gave her a novel and tea, to which she thanked him a dozen times for everything. She dozed off in the blink of an eye.

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