The Moorings of Mackerel Sky

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky

by MZ
The Moorings of Mackerel Sky

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky

by MZ

Hardcover

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Overview

Debut novelist MZ marries fantasy with the everyday in her contemporary novel of a Maine lobstering town whose local myths come to life.

"Arresting, lyrical, and deeply emotional, MZ’s debut will captivate readers of Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019)."
—Booklist (Starred review)

“An enchanting tale of grief and hope… as powerful and sparkling as the sea.”
—Emily Jane, bestselling author of On Earth as it Is on Television


They say Mackerel Sky was founded when Captain Burrbank first saw Nimuë the Mermaid and forgot the sea. Stricken by love, he moored his tall ship and made camp on the highest cliff, hoping to forever gaze upon her beauty. That camp became a settlement, the settlement a town, the town a community both blessed and cursed by their tempestuous affair.

Three hundred years later, the legend of the Mermaid and the Captain who loved her still invigorates and haunts the inhabitants of the small Maine lobstering town. Take gruff widow Myra Kelley, who finds herself the de facto guardian of Leo Beale and knows his drunken antics are really attempts to escape an opiate-addicted mother and her boyfriends. Or Derrick Stowe, the town’s star pitcher, who wants nothing more than to read his mother’s musings on mermaids, write poetry to his secret boyfriend, and come out to his father, though he will learn how devastatingly small small towns can be. Or the oft-institutionalized Manon Perle, whose gorgeous, detailed quilts of the Mackerel Sky legend belie the terrible pain of—as she claims—having given her only child to the women in the waves.

In this close-knit town famous for its infamous mermaids, community is built through love and lore—willful elements that the townsfolk will have to harness if Mackerel Sky is to endure for another three hundred years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781368097260
Publisher: Disney Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/27/2024
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 268,252
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

MZ (Emily Zack) is a choreographer, a classically trained ballerina, and a contemporary and burlesque dancer. She lived in Alsace, France, during her childhood, and earned her BA in French from the University of Southern Maine and the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France. Over the twenty years she joyfully taught the French language to middle school students, her style was a unique blend of storytelling, creative arts, and hedgehogs. She studied theater at the Tisch School of the Arts and received her MFA in creative writing from Lancaster University in England and now lives and performs in Portland, Maine, where she can feel the sea, with her husband, two daughters, and pet menagerie.

Read an Excerpt

(Note to readers: the following excerpt contains discussion of the loss of a child)
 
 
Mrs. Manon Perle’s school day as a teacher could be summed up in three thoughts: 
 
1. There is not a nurse at the shelter. If there were one, she probably would not know the French word for migraine.

2. We are relieved and glad your son is at school, but he has lice again (or still). And, he has really big hair.

3. My daughter is dead in the sea.
 
When this thought came in, unbidden, as it was wont to do, Manon always imagined her daughter as a mermaid, the sea different shades of green, its own forest of different darks, her daughter’s hair like kelp. Those fantasies brought eyes to her hurricanes. 
 
Before her daughter was born, Manon’s favorite part of the town’s mermaid legend was how Burrbank and Nimuë first embraced, underwater, as battle waged above on his ship, the Bellaforte. Burrbank, gouged in the gut by a saber and bleeding badly, had been tossed into the drink. Nimuë came upon him then as he floated down, a fog of blood billowing around him.
 
The mermaids had been dogging his boat, driving his men insane. Then the pirates came in the night. Burrbank had seen Nimuë in bits and glimpses, a tease of skin, pale like starlight, a flick of her tail, like lace, the curved indent of her lower back like a violin. Suddenly here she was, full and rapturous, as clear as he could see her through the weight of water. She kissed him, filling his mouth with her tongue and the salt sting of seawater. Then she exhaled deeply, and filled his burning lungs with hot air from her body. Manon loved that image, the Mermaid’s Kiss, replicated many times by many artists, including Manon herself. She had stitched it as an image in her quilts repeatedly. Manon always imag­ined that when Nimuë first kissed Burrbank underwater, her flowing hair and tail curved around Burrbank like the arcs of a crescent moon.
 
They say then, when Burrbank crawled back from the dead and back over the side onto the deck, his crew rallied and defeated the pirates to save their ship. They set up their moor­ing off Mackerel Sky to rest and recover, and the next night Burrbank explored the land and found High Cliffs, and when he looked out and saw the mermaid that saved him lounging lusciously on her perch, he fell in love fully, completely. 
 
Now, after her daughter was dead, Manon found that she preferred the last part of the legend where, twenty years after he built the lean-to and founded Mackerel Sky, Burrbank walked away from everything and vanished off of High Cliffs. No one knew if he committed suicide, or jumped to be with his love, or boarded the next vessel and sailed away. That morning rose a sunrise weak but filtered through the clouds enough that it could to shine on the town in mourning. Manon liked this part of the legend, she liked to know that the world went on through tragedy and that she too could disappear, especially on days when she was stuck in her head in a memory on repeat, a memory where her hands went into the ocean holding her daughter and came out wet and empty.
 
Derrick Stowe wrote poetry in Manon Perle’s creative writing class. He wrote: 

Red sky at morning
Sailors
Take warning
There are few maids upon the waves
They have gone under
Tendrils of kelp and hair in their wake
A lone bird
Breaks into some phoenix’s lament
If you hear it, sailors
Notes to sky
Notes to ground
Heed it,
For they come
 
She enjoyed reading her students’ work. Manon had only just returned to teaching this fall, after a three-year hiatus. She honestly hadn’t thought she would ever return. She was originally an elementary school teacher, but Mackerel Sky only had one elementary school, and Manon could not bear to set foot under that roof again, with its smells of snack time and posters with sweet, stumbling script and echoes of little laughs, the school her daughter would not ever attend. So she was moved to the high school, and was put into a quiet-corner sort of position, one on the fringes of the mainstream so that if she fell into an all-consuming depression again she could easily be extracted. She taught creative writing as an elective to a mix of middle and high school students and was the Gifted and Talent liaison for the entire school system, programs that were luxuries in the mostly forgotten rural high schools on the coast, programs that ebbed and flowed with the budget tide.
 
Many days at work this winter she found herself staring into the snow, wondering what it would be like to be suffocated by white. When she saw ghosts reflected in the window, and storms whipped up internally like in the hollows of mountains, she turned away. She did some correcting, some planning, told off the Townsend twins in class for some foolishness or another, scraped off gum under desks with the edge of a ruler, anything to avoid remembering.
 
Winter in Mackerel Sky had many layers of quiet—snow like a muffling blanket, the streets during a snowstorm, freezing nights. Mornings before a blizzard, the sky sometimes ripped and bled where it met the ocean and a lovely layer of pink rose with the sun, the church steeple spires silhouetted by sunrise. If they were smart, mariners heeded and knew to avoid the water on those days.
 
Years ago, Manon’s baby, Nimue, was breeching in this precious pink time before a blizzard, when the quiet was like all the world was holding its breath, when all the town marveled with a sparkle of fear at a pretty morning moment in defiance of the impending clouds. The week had been days and days of spitting and squalling snow, but the morning Jason and Manon Perle drove to the hospital to have their baby, the weather split like the Red Sea, an intake of breath between snows and storm. Manon would have preferred a home birth, but with a blizzard on the way and both of her midwives down with the flu, a home birth was clearly not in the cards. Jason was just fine driving to the hospital, thank you very much. It gave him something to do besides worry, for his life was in the passenger seat next to him and he’d rather they be surrounded by warmth, doctors, and walls. And Jason was a lobsterman with a few solid superstitions who knew how to read a sky. 
 
If they had not gone, the baby and the mother would have died immediately. Manon would have bled out; her daughter would not have been able to breathe. 
 
Her daughter had been born to die. 
 
Manon thought about that, years and lifetimes later, and somehow it brought her comfort, knowing that nature would have taken mother and child together. She could have died with her daughter.
 
Since he was nine, Jason never had eyes for anyone else except for Manon. Before helicopter parents and helmets and iPads, they used to ride bikes in a pack of children all over the Paths, roaming Mackerel Sky like the coyotes that stalked the house cats. Jason’s heart flopped over into Manon’s lap after he took a digger on his bike and she bandaged his split knee with a wad of gum, and then proceeded to nail the jump that he had missed. 
 
“You have to trust that the bike will be there,” she told him, “and you can’t ride the ramp on the left side; it’s warped. Get a good line. Starting out wrong is not the way to start.” She spat on the gum. “Try again.” 
 
He kept trying. 
 
Manon and Jason Perle owned the house under the hill from Myra Kelley, a wraparound cape with a big bay window that overlooked an inlet that changed with the tide. There they had fed a murder of crows out back and picked apples and picnicked on blankets on rock crags under the sun. Until it all fell apart, and Manon ended adrift in mental institutions for a time and Jason lobstered far out on the Atlantic, the days had been good. 
 
Although she had moved out of that house over two years ago, Jason still owned it, and still left a key under a plant pot by the door for Manon, should she need it.
 
The night Nimue Perle was born, the power went out in the hospital. This happened so rarely that this historical fact became an irrefutable testament to the severity of the blizzard of ’99. Maine hospitals don’t black out for more than a blink, but in that blink Nimue Perle came into the world with a great gurgling scream. The power shut off, plunging the hospital into a black void, like a trench underwater. All the staff collectively paused in silence. Then, as lightning quickening the dead, the baby Nimue’s first shrill cry snapped the staff out of their reverie and sent them scurrying to find light in the dark. 
 
The generators kicked in and the lights flickered back on in Manon’s room. She took deep, exhausted breaths, drenched in sweat and bleeding out the birth. The orderlies and the doctor had not started moving again; they stood transfixed at the warming table, stealing shocked glances at each other, and at all costs avoiding the eyes of the new parents, who were fortunately momentarily oblivious, relieved as they were. Jason was kissing Manon’s wet eyelashes, and kept whispering, “You did so good, baby,” over and over again. His truck was still parked next to the ambulance, hazards on, lights on, door closed on the seat-belt strap. 
 
Nimue the baby, rosy and wailing. Nimue, the baby with a tuft of black hair poking out in pointed triangles. Nimue, the baby Jason and Manon would one day lose. Nimue the baby, named for Nimuë the Mermaid, who was so loved by Captain Burrbank that he founded Mackerel Sky. 
 
Nimue the baby, their baby, had been born with sirenomelia, her body fused together from the waist down. 
 
Outside the blizzard blanketed and the hospital lights flickered, and the seas raged high, full of frothy teeth.

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