Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Even in the hottest weather, the pond would cool down at night, but in the bowl the water temperature hardly changed. Molly rested in the darkness. Although all were exhausted, she could sense the others were awake too.
She listened to the bubbling of the tank nearby. This was a kind of torture to those drooping in the tepid stillness of the bowl. The only other sound was Mojo, the dog, snoring softly in his bed somewhere beneath them.
To take her mind off the gurgling tank Molly asked Sylva and Walter how they’d met, and learned their families were neighbours. Walter was more interested in learning about Flash, who didn’t stay still for long to answer questions. He kept swimming to the surface and then around the bowl again, as if an escape route might have appeared since he last looked.
When Eddy followed him up, Sylva nodded towards Grandad, who had fallen into a doze. ‘You all call him Grandad. Whose grandad is he?’
‘N-nobody’s,’ replied Flo. ‘N-none of us, anyway. He had a family before he was taken from the river, but he n-never settled with anyone from the pond.’
Molly had wondered why not but had never asked. Her grandmother told of how the newcomer had kept to himself for years after he arrived. There were few in the pond now who remembered that far back.
As day came and the room lightened, two of the fish drifted up to swim around the bowl but the carroty one – the former dodger-fish – remained on the bottom.
The parents were first to appear in the kitchen, but Bethany soon joined them.
‘Daddy, Flipper isn’t well,’
‘Which one’s Flipper, Beth?’ asked her mother at the sink.
‘Flipper’s my flippy orange fish.’
‘The one from the fairground?’ asked her father, coming to the bowl.
‘No, that’s Goldie, he’s more yellowy. The black one’s Shadow. Can I feed them? Maybe Flipper’s hungry.’
‘Maybe he’s homesick for his pond. Just a little pinch of food then, let’s see if he comes up to feed.’
Coloured flakes appeared on the surface of the water. Their aroma drifted, reminding Molly how long it was since she’d eaten. Two fish rose to the food, but the one Bethany called Flipper stayed on the bottom. As the flakes were disturbed some floated down through the water and one lodged in the weed.
Molly waited until the humans turned away, although she feared Bethany never would. At last something else attracted the girl’s attention and Molly broke off some flake to try it. It was tastier than the pond pellets, which mirlings rarely bothered with. Pellets had to be hauled down from the surface and soaked to make them soft.
Molly and Flash dragged the flake deep into the weed, and Flash swam up to bring down another one before anyone could tell him again to be careful.
The day dragged on, noisy and uncomfortable. The mirlings huddled in the weed, afraid to venture out in case they were seen. Even Flash grew listless as time passed. With no pump to carry away water for filtering, uneaten flake and fish waste was polluting the bowl. The warm, still water absorbed little oxygen from its small surface area, and the creatures were breathing it quicker than it could be replaced.
By the end of the day Goldie from the fairground was the only fish still swimming. She circled the bowl as the two pond fish rested on the bottom, gills pumping desperately.
‘Daddy, Shadow’s sick too. Are they going to die?’
‘Probably,’ came the voice of Joel, who looked in and tapped on the glass.
‘Joel…’ his father growled a warning. ‘They’re sleeping honey. It’s their bedtime, and yours too.’
‘But their eyes are open.’
‘Have you ever seen a fish with its eyes shut? Go get ready for bed. Mummy will come up for your story when you’re ready. Joel! Homework.’
After they had gone her father spoke to his wife in a low voice across the bowl.
‘Make it a long bedtime story. I’ll move them over while she’s out of the way. They’ll have a chance to settle before the kids come tapping on the glass. It’s got to be better for them than the bowl whether the filter’s ready or not.
‘You said the pet shop gave you something to start up the filter bacteria,’ said Mother. ‘Didn’t you use it?’
‘I did, but it still says you should wait before you put fish in.’
‘The water was from the pond anyway. It’s not as if you used tap water.’
Flash had swum to the top of the bowl to listen, although Molly knew he couldn’t understand much. ‘He’s going to put the fish in the tank,’ she broadcast to the mirlings.
Would he net them, or tip the bowl in?
A hand reached in to pull out the bunch of weed. The mirlings clung to it instinctively, tightening their grip as they left the buoyancy of the water. Their weight, slight as it was, dragged down the fine filaments they clung to and Molly felt Sylva’s terror like a scream in her head. Walter was wrapped tightly around his sister as well as their branch of weed. Flo had an arm linked through Grandad’s as they both clung on. Eddy’s eyes followed his sister, but he was too far away to help them.
Only then did it occur to Molly that the weed might not be destined for the tank.