Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Flash insisted that he would be well enough to compete next day. Molly was unconvinced, but she was over-ruled. The tournament was rescheduled for the following afternoon.
Eddy won the sharpshooting prize. It was a popular win and Molly could sense Flash doing his best to hide his disappointment. He stood a little taller when he won the long-distance shoot and was cheered by both sides. Prizegiving would take place at the deeps on the next day.
Flo and Grandad were packing up the prizes when Molly joined them in the morning.
‘I’ve come to help – any excuse to get away from fry-watching.’ Someone else could do it. ‘Trying to control those little wrigglers is like trying to catch a sneeze in a spider-web.’
Flash and Eddy lurched past on a young carrot-coloured goldfish that Flash struggled to control. After several attempts to steer their mount towards Grandad’s hollow, the fish decided to stop and graze on pondweed. Its riders gave up and swam over.
‘That reminds me,’ said Flo. ‘I’ve organised a ride for us this afternoon, Grandad. She’s a sturdy old fish. There’ll be room for a couple more if anyone wants a lift.’
‘I’ll ride with you, said Molly. ‘We can have a sing-song on the way.’
‘Not for us, thanks.’ Said Eddy. ‘We’re breaking in this dodger for riding.’ He turned to make sure the fish was still feeding. ‘He’s given up trying to throw me, so we’re riding him tandem till he’s used to carrying more weight.’
Shouts came from the house and emerged into the garden. One of the children appeared at the edge of the pond, fumbling with something in his hand. His sister ran up, screaming at him between sobs. Their father’s voice came from the house and thundered across the garden.
‘But Dad, she can’t keep it in a bag.’
‘Goldie’s mine.’ the girl sobbed. ‘I won him. He’s mine!’
The shadow of their bigger brother fell across them. ‘Don’t be m-mean, Joel. Give it b-back to her.’
‘Now!’ their father barked, getting nearer.
‘Aw, man.’ The boy flung the object into the pond and ran off.
On the surface a bubble floated, enclosed in a clear bag. A small female goldfish flicked back and forth inside its own watery world. Then a net dipped, and it was gone.
‘Here you are, love. But what are you going to do with it? Joel’s right, you know. You can’t keep it in a bag.’
‘I don’t want Goldie to go in the pond. I can’t talk to him in the pond.’ Her voice changed direction. ‘I want him indoors, Mummy, where I can see him.’
A woman spoke, unseen by the mirlings. ‘Oh, Bethany… I suppose it could go in that terrarium the Wilsons gave us last Christmas. I don’t think I threw it away when the plants died.’
‘What’s a tare’um, Mummy?’
‘It’s like a goldfish bowl, for growing plants in. I’ll see if I can find it.’
The child ran with her prize into the house and her mother groaned. ‘Just what I need – a fish tank to clean out.’
‘Is a terrarium as b-big as a fish tank then?’ asked her eldest son.
‘No, but you can’t keep fish in a bowl for long,’ she turned towards the house. ‘Let’s hope she gets fed up with it in a couple of days and it can go in the pond.’ Her voice became fainter. ‘We’ll tell her it’s lonely.’
Molly felt confusion in the water around them and realised Flash didn’t understand what the humans were saying. The pondlings had grown up listening to humans talking in the garden, but in a pet shop people probably didn’t say much more than, ‘That yellow goldfish, please,’ or ‘A tub of fish food.’
Some of the bewilderment was Flo’s.
‘Did she say she won that fish?’
Grandad explained. ‘Travelling fairs used to give away goldfish as prizes, but I thought they’d stopped. Nobody’s brought one home for ages.’
‘What’s going to happen to that poor fish now they’ve taken it inside?’ Flo’s eyes were large in her pale face, but nobody could answer her.