Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
It was a relief to be out of the bowl and no longer exposed on all sides.
Behind the tank was a wall, so the mirlings could walk behind the stones without fear of being seen. Molly thought they should stay under cover anyway when the family were around.
She addressed this advice to Amber but she hoped the others were taking notice.
As the morning brightened she was relieved to see Shadow rouse herself from the gravel and join the other fish. Bethany was the first of the family to notice and shrieked the news to the rest of the house.
In spite of the improved cover, the mirlings were uncomfortable with the attention the tank received. As well as Bethany there was Andre, who resumed his search for the ‘baby fish’ that didn’t swim like other fish.
Flo confided to Molly that she quite liked Andre, even if he was human. ‘But his eyes are m-making me nervous. I wish he’d stop looking for us.’
Even Flash was more careful when Andre was in the kitchen. The boy would search the tank until the whites of his eyes were tinged with red. Nevertheless, there were times when Andre was called away to other tasks, and Bethany found other amusement. As the intervals between the children’s visits lengthened, the mirlings began to relax and look around.
Molly thought they should use such times to practice swimming on one side until it felt natural. Grandad couldn’t get into the habit, but he didn’t swim much anyway. The others were soon swimming almost as fast on their good side as they did normally.
Flash, of course, swam equally well on either side but clearly resented Molly telling him that he should. He rolled his eyes or shook his head sadly whenever she voiced her concerns. Each time, she vowed to keep her mouth shut in future.
But if one of them were spotted it would put them all at risk. Unwillingly, she felt responsible for the younger ones. Grandad was still recovering and Flo was busy nursing him. Flash only ever thought of himself, not that he was ever around anyway. His time was spent swimming with the fish, recklessly risking discovery and leading Eddy into danger.
She had never felt so alone.
She missed the sky.
At least here, in the tank, they could breathe properly and recover. Each of them was coping with the changes in their own way. Amber was delighted with everything in the tank and Wally was trying to keep track of her. Flo was looking after everyone else, as usual. Sylva had found an area of the glass wall that threw back her reflection and her first task each morning was to stand before it, combing out her hair and arranging her appearance. Molly wondered if Walter noticed any difference. Or Flash.
Molly got to know the fish well. Not the carroty dodger-fish – he was too busy being angry with everything to have anything to do with them – but the black one Beth had named Shadow. She was an affectionate little fish who would come for attention. Some evenings, she would settle for the night close to Molly’s sleeping quarters.
Goldie, the fairground fish swam doggedly around the tank all day. She was unresponsive to the mirlings and didn’t interact much with the other fish. If one of them took her flake she would stoically move off in search of more elsewhere.
Nobody spoke of the pond.
Grandad hadn’t regained his chirpiness, but his bronze colour had improved. His favourite spot was a clump of weed set behind a stone at a corner of the tank.
‘You see more if you’re still.’ He gestured out to the empty kitchen. ‘You don’t notice things if you’re zooming around like mayflies.’ Unfortunately, Flash and Eddy weren’t there to hear it.
For the rest of that afternoon, Amber sat humming to herself as she watched a water snail creep up on a scrap of squashed flake. Molly thought she could have concealed herself better, but it had to be safer than trailing around after Eddy and Flash.
Eddy would call, ‘Come on, kid. Come for a swim,’ and Amber needed no further encouragement to follow.
Most of the time, Walter didn’t know where his sister was. At first he had tried to stop her, until Eddy said he ought to come too. His eyes had brightened at the invitation.
But Sylva was on hand to remind him of something she wanted him to do. Amber had sung out, ‘I’ll be all right, Wal,’ as she paddled after Eddy, and he hadn’t tried to stop her again, even though he clearly wasn’t convinced.
Neither was Molly. Walking or swimming, Amber weaved from side to side as if buffeted by currents no-one else could feel. She looked as if a careless tail could flip her out of the water. But Molly saw Eddy was waiting for the tiddler whenever she swam with them and staying with her while Flash amused himself dive-bombing the goldfish.
She felt useless. How could they stay safe? What would they do here?
Next time she saw Amber swimming after Eddy, she couldn’t stop herself reminding them to be careful and stay out of sight.
She was beginning to sound like her mother.