Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Flash hadn’t told anyone about his nightmares. When he first joined the pond, he would dream every night that he was back in the pet shop. Over time, the dreams came less often and, although his confidence was dented by his encounter with the cat, the nightmare hadn’t returned.
He could tell himself he would have won the tournament outright if he hadn’t been weakened by his adventure. He had been looking forward to posing in his long-shot prize and had seen Grandad’s carved reed-crown as a hint of things to come.
Now he was living the nightmare, back behind glass walls.
He shared the frustration of Flipper, the dodger-fish, powering through the water only to meet his own reflection in the glass.
In contrast, Father’s new fish – fantails, he had called them – were happy to bustle around the tank. Bethany had named the fat orange female, Finny and the piebald male, Fanny. They didn’t buck like the pond fish, but they were too wriggly for Amber to ride.
Since leaving the pond Grandad had aged to match his outward appearance. Flo spent a lot of time with him and hardly noticed when Flash was around. She always had fussed over Eddy, but now she took Amber into her shoal, and she insisted everyone should come together to eat at least once each day. He didn’t object. Some days, it was the only time he saw her.
He and Ed, and sometimes Molly, would bring Flo the food they scavenged, and she assembled their daily meals, ensuring the weakest had their share and gently bullying them until they ate.
The tank was safe, and the water was breathable, but Flash was homesick for the community he had belonged to so briefly in the pond.
He missed his team, he missed his supporters, he missed mirlings he hadn’t got to know yet. He missed the challenges of the pump and yearned for the freedom to swim as far and as fast as he could.
It was Flo who dared to ask one day, ‘Do you think we’ll ever g-go back?’ Flo was braver than they gave her credit for. At the time, they were feasting on fern leaves and a brine shrimp that he had seized almost from the mouth of a fantail.
Grandad’s eyes were grey as winter skies. ‘I don’t know, lass. My world’s got smaller as I get older, but maybe it’ll grow again for you. Who can tell?’
Had Grandad felt like this when he was dragged from his river? How must the old codger be feeling now? ‘Never say never, Grandad. You told us that. Remember?’
Amber stopped humming to herself and looked up from her shrimp. ‘I like it here.’ Flash wondered if the ungainly tiddler had been bullied in the pond.
Sylva stopped eating. ‘We have to stay together.’ She looked to Walter for support. ‘It’s better we all stay together, isn’t it, Walter.’
‘It’s nice enough here.’ He sounded unsure, but willing to be convinced. ‘Tidy… and clean.’
Grandad’s quiet thought was almost lost. ‘It isn’t home.’
Flash had begun to think Grandad was comfortable here. He hadn’t complained. The water was warmer than the pond, food appeared daily and there wasn’t far to walk. The bronze colour had returned to his skin, if not his eyes, and he seemed recovered from the goldfish bowl, but something was missing. In the pond his body had been stiff and slow, but his thoughts had been lively as any of them.
Eddy caught Flash’s eye before turning to Flo with an apologetic expression. ‘We’ve been thinking about ways to get home.’ He hung his head. ‘We wouldn’t have gone without you, but we didn’t want to get your hopes up by saying anything.’
‘Hopes?’ Sylva looked from Eddy to Flo, and then to Grandad.
Flash steeled himself for Molly’s disapproval. He had been keeping out of her way. They only crossed paths at mealtimes, which they could just about manage without getting on each other’s nerves. Now Flo was smiling at Eddy’s discomfort.
‘Molly and I have been talking about it too. We didn’t mention it because anything we thought of has been so… impossible.’
Sylva was speechless, which was a nice change.
Grandad looked chirpier than he had for ages.
‘Now don’t you youngsters try anything daft.’ He paused. ‘But if we do come up with anything that we all agree on,’ he looked around with a stern expression, ‘don’t expect me to be tagging along to hold you back.’
They all felt Flo’s shock.
Eddy protested. ‘Don’t talk daft, old mir. We’re not going anywhere without you.’
‘In fact we’re not going anywhere at all,’ added Molly despondently.
‘That’s all right then!’ Sylva ended the discussion. ‘Can you pass me some more of that shrimp?’