Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
The water was settling but her stomach still churned, along with her thoughts. What now?
There had always been someone in the pond to tell her what she should do. And to sort things out when she didn’t get around to it.
The water darkened; this was it. Molly looked up as the jug descended again into the bucket.
Grandad flipped over faster than she’d ever seen him move. ‘Come on lass. Water for the fishbowl.’ He launched from one knee.
Molly passed him, grabbing his hand to pull him with her. Her tail drove as hard as she could to add to his thrust. The jug entered the water when they were halfway up, and Grandad pulled her to one side. ‘Don’t get under it.’
As it came down, the jug was turning away from them…
But as its rim dipped, and the surface water rushed into it, the surge gave Molly and Grandad the boost they needed to dive over the edge, into safety.
Grandad’s sudden thought reached Molly as they tumbled into the jug. ‘I hope they are emptying it in the bowl.’
Belatedly, they shared the realisation that the jug’s water might still be on its way down the drain, to make the bucket lighter before it was carried to be emptied.
But what else could they have done?
They didn’t wonder for long. The water poured slowly from the jug. Below it was more water – bright water with light all around it. They tumbled into the goldfish bowl and were tossed by the water that followed them.
For the third time that day, Molly sat waiting for the world to stop spinning around her.
There was nowhere to hide.
The light on every side gave the illusion of space, but the bowl wasn’t spacious. Even Grandad wouldn’t get tired swimming across it. Or even walking across it.
The fish circled, looking for a way out. The former dodger-fish suddenly flicked and swam across as if to frighten the glass out of his way, only turning at the last moment.
Flo was on the other side of the bowl, bending over Grandad; Molly could see from here how grey his gills were. Flash and Eddy circled with the fish while Walter’s little group huddled together against a curve at the bottom.
Molly looked around the bowl again. There was nowhere to hide.
Flash was accustomed to glass walls, with faces peering through them, but these faces unnerved him. They were closer and distorted by the curved glass.
The face that loomed most often belonged to the voice of Bethany. When she called to her father, she didn’t always move away, and her voice vibrated the water.
He circled with the goldfish. Eddy swam to join him while the others hugged the curved corners of the bowl’s base, staying still as sludge. In the pet shop he had kept his distance from other mirlings in case their clumsiness called attention to him, but he showed Eddy how to swim in the shadow of the fishes’ fins, screened from human view.
From the bottom of the pond, human faces had looked a lot like mirlings’ and Eddy hadn’t seen any close up. He was fascinated.
‘Their eyes are black, like us, but those brown rings are wider, and they’ve got white bits outside that.’ As if Flash needed reminding. ‘And there are flaps of skin that close over them, like frogs’ eyelids only thicker. What’s that about?’
Flash shrugged. It had been bad enough in the pet shop, but these eyes stared in from all sides of the bowl. It was a relief when the children left the kitchen to go out with their father.
When they returned, Father was carrying a large glass tank like the ones the pet shop sold. The children brought in carrier bags and put them on the table.
From one of the bags, Father pulled a bunch of water weed and dropped it into the fishbowl. A band of metal held the stalks together. It sank to the bottom, and the bunch settled against the side of the bowl. The fish swam to investigate, but the mirlings dare not move. It seemed an age before the humans turned their attention away from them.
At last, Father directed the children to clear everything from a shelf by the wall and Walter took the opportunity to push Amber towards the clump. As she fell into its depths Sylva darted in after her, peering out as Grandad swam to join them. Molly followed with Flo, and Flash led Eddy to join them in its welcoming branches.
Flash had never studied the humans – he’d spent most of his energy hiding from them – but Eddy wouldn’t drop the subject.
‘Look at those lumps on their faces that make their nostrils point down. And their gills stick out. All those bits sticking out must slow them down when they’re swimming.’
Flash couldn’t imagine them swimming. ‘Maybe they’re like the cat and don’t like to get wet. They didn’t come in the pond.’
‘They’d need a bigger pond than ours. They’re huge.’
‘Their scales are tiny though.’ He was, after all, their expert on humans. ‘You can’t see them, even close up, and their skin doesn’t shimmer like ours does.’
Out in the bright light of the kitchen, Bethany’s young skin shone smooth.
And she kept coming back.