Pond People 19

Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings

Home Improvements.

Each day, flakes were scattered on the water’s surface and the children’s father would watch the fish feed. One afternoon he brought home a carrier bag which he placed on the table. It bore a picture of a strange fish which had a smile that Molly thought wasn’t at all fish-like.

‘You’ve been to the pet shop again,’ said his wife.

‘It’s an aquarium shop near work,’ he said. ‘I just went in to have a look around.’ From the carrier bag he produced a small box. ‘These are brine shrimps. We can feed them these two or three times a week.’

He’d never fed those to the pond fish. Molly wondered how they’d taste.

He dipped into the carrier again and brought out a clear bag of water with two fish inside, one orange and one black. They were short, fat fish with big fins.

‘These fantails are better for an indoor aquarium.’ The bag was floated on the tank’s surface.

His wife came to look at the fish in the bag. She was close enough for Molly to hear the strange tutting sound she made. As she moved away, she raised her eyes to the ceiling, but Molly couldn’t see what she might be looking at.

Back at the table, Father took out another clear bag, this time with plants in. Mother shook her head and went back to the cooker while he took out the last item: a roll of paper. Unrolled, it became a picture of rocks and pond plants, which he slid behind the tank and fastened to the edges. There was something reassuring about the dark waterscape. Molly felt less exposed.

She watched from under the log while Father’s hand invaded the tank several times. He removed any clumps of water weed that were looking ragged and positioned the new plants.

After he’d admired his handiwork and taken his tea into the other room, the mirlings discovered that one of the new plants was good to eat, and that two brine shrimps would make a meal for them all. It was a welcome addition to their diet of flakes and weed, along with the algae they were finding on the stones – another tasty snack if Mother forgot to feed the fish.

……

Molly was relieved when Andre gave up searching for baby fish. Father remarked one day that baby fish would be big enough to spot by now if they were still alive and said they had probably been eaten by the goldfish.

To cheer the boy up, he revisited the aquarium shop and arrived home with a bag of small silvery fish that darted together around the aquarium like a single shape-shifting fish. Father told the children they were mountain minnows.

The tasks of feeding and tank cleaning passed to Mother, since Father would sometimes be away for two or three days. It was she who cleaned the filter every week and scraped algae from the tank walls, although she didn’t scrub the stones. It was she who vacuumed the gravel with a syphon – a fat rigid tube that attached to a thinner flexible one and tumbled the gravel, sucking out debris. The mirlings learned to keep their distance from this after Eddy got too close and was trapped inside, to be tossed with the gravel before being sucked up through the syphon and emptied into a bucket with the sludge.

Flo and Amber were inconsolable. Flash swam up to try to see what was happening in the kitchen, but all Molly could do was listen to Flo tell Amber that of course Eddy would find a way back to them. Maybe even get back to the pond. Her eyes met Molly’s across Amber’s head, seeking similar reassurance that Molly wished she could offer.

It was some time before a spout of water topped up the tank’s water level. They heard a shout from Flash, and Eddy reappeared, unceremoniously poured back into the tank.

‘I thought I was done for,’ he told them when he had got his breath back. ‘It took me a while to breath properly, partly because of the tumbling and partly because the water was thick with muck sucked out of the gravel.

‘After a while, the sludge settled on the bottom of the bucket and I was sitting on it – certain I was going to be a snack for a sewer rat – when the bucket started to tip. I realised the top layer of cleared water was being tipped into a big plastic jug.’

He shuddered. ‘I couldn’t be sure the water was going back in the tank, but I knew the muck wasn’t, so I swam for it.’

……

After that, Molly looked for Amber whenever the vacuum tube appeared, but Eddy’s ‘Come on kid,’ was always there before her, and she knew Amber would be kept away from the vacuum.

She only hoped Flash’s little fan club were keeping well hidden from Mother while she vacuumed. They didn’t want Andre resuming his hatchling hunts.

……

……

If you missed earlier posts, find the story so far among the links on My Writing.

Or start from the first episode.

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