You'll find the mermaid of Zennor inside Zennor Church, if you know where to look. She's carved from old, hard, dark wood. The church is dark too, so you have to bend down to see her clearly. You can trace the shape of her tail with your finger.
Someone slashed across her with a knife a long time ago. A sharp, angry knife. I touched the slash mark very gently, so I wouldn't hurt the mermaid any more.
"Why did they do that to her, Dad? Why did they hurt her?"
"I don't know, Sapphy. People do cruel things sometimes, when they're angry."
And then Dad told me the mermaid's story. I was only little, but I remember every word.
"The Zennor mermaid fell in love with a human," said Dad, "but she was a Mer creature and so she couldn't come to live with him up in the dry air. It would have killed her. But she couldn't forget him, and she couldn't live without him. She couldn't even sleep for thinking about him. All she wanted was to be with him."
"Would she have died in the air?" I asked.
"Yes. Mer people can't live away from the water. Anyway, the man couldn't forget her either. The sight of the mermaid burned in his mind, day and night. And the mermaid felt just the same. When the tide was high, she would swim up into the cove, then up the stream, as close as she could to the church, to hear him singing in the choir."
"I thought it was mermaids that sang, Dad."
"In this story it was the man who sang. In the end the mermaid swam up the stream one last time, and he couldn't bear to see her go. He swam away with her, and he was never seen again. He became one of the Mer people."
"What was his name, Dad?"
"Mathew Trewhella," said Dad, looking down at me.
"But Dad, that's your name! How come he's got the same name as you?"
"It's just by chance, Sapphy. It all happened hundreds of years ago. You know how the same names keep on going in Cornwall."
"What was the mermaid called, Dad?"
"She was called Morveren. People said she was the Mer king's daughter, but I don't believe that's true."
"Because the Mer don't have kings."
Dad sounded so sure about this that I didn't ask him how he knew. When you're little, you think your mum and dad know everything. I wasn't surprised that Dad knew so much about the Mer.
I stroked the wooden mermaid again, and wished I could see her in real life, swimming up the stream with her beautiful shining tail. And then another thought hit me.
"But Dad, what about all the people the man left behind? What about his family?"
"He never saw them again," said Dad.
"Not even his mum or his dad?"
"No. None of them. He belonged to the Mer."
I tried to imagine what it would be like never to see Dad again, or Mum. The thought was enough to make my heart beat fast with terror. I couldn't live without them, I knew I couldn't.
I looked up at Dad. His face looked faraway and a bit unhappy. I didn't like it. I wanted to bring him back to me, now.
"Can't catch me!" I shouted, and I ran off, clattering up the stone aisle of the church to the door. The door was heavy and the fastening was stiff, but I wrestled it open.
"You can't catch me!" I yelled back over my shoulder, and I ran out through the porch, down the stone steps, and into the sunshine of the lane. I heard the church door bang, and there was Dad, leaping down the steps after me. The faraway look had gone from his face.
"Look out, Sapphy, I'm coming to get you!"
That was a long time ago. Dad never talked about the Mer again, and nor did I. But the story lodged deep inside my mind like an underwater rock that can tear a ship open in bad weather. I wished I'd never seen the Zennor mermaid. She was beautiful, but she scared me.
It's Midsummer Eve now, and when it gets dark, they'll light the Midsummer Fire on Carrack Down. We go up there every Midsummer Eve. I love it when they throw the wreath of flowers into the flames, and the wreath flares up so that for a few seconds you watch flowers made out of fire. The bonfire blazes, and everyone drinks and dances and laughs and talks. Midsummer Night is so short that dawn arrives before the party's over.
Dad's up there now, helping build the fire. They pile furze and brushwood until the bonfire stands taller than me or Conor. Conor's my brother; he's two years older than me.
"Come on, Saph! I'm going on up to see how big the bonfire is now."
I run after Conor. This is how it usually is. Conor ahead, and me hurrying behind, trying to keep up with him.
"Wait for me, Con!"
We wait for the sun to set and for the crowd to gather, and then it's time to light the Midsummer Fire. The first star shines out. Geoff Treyarnon thrusts his flaming torch into the dry heart of the bonfire. The fire blazes up, and everyone links hands and begins to dance around it, faster and faster. The flames leap higher than the people, and we have to jump back.
Conor and I join the ring around the fire. Mum and Dad dance too, holding hands. It makes me so happy to see them like this, dancing and smiling at each other. If only it was always like this. No quarrels, no loud voices . . .
The flames jump higher and higher, and everyone yells and laughs. Conor drinks a bottle of ginger ale . . .
Excerpted from Ingo by Helen Dunmore Copyright © 2006 by Helen Dunmore. Excerpted by permission.
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