Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
To Flash’s amusement, the boy set up tests to try and determine how intelligent the fish were. He devised different casings for the brine shrimps to see if the fish could get into them. After baiting his tests, he would sit for ages watching them, which was a worry for Molly and a nuisance for Flash.
Eddy longed to confuse matters by solving all the puzzles overnight, but Molly forbade anyone to touch them. This, of course, tempted Flash to move them all, but that would have led to even more attention from the family. Still, he couldn’t resist laughing with Eddy about how they could confuse Andre, until Flo got cross and told them to stop sneering. She insisted Andre meant well.
Flash didn’t want to upset Flo, who always listened to him and even asked his advice. Instead of worrying about everyone else, she should take more care of herself; although he wouldn’t have minded if she worried about him occasionally. Sometimes, when he swam overhead, he’d see her gazing out through the glass, eyes fixed, brow creased in concentration, and he wondered what she was thinking about.
At supper one day, he found out. ‘If Andre did see us – properly, not when we’re pretending to be fish – d-do you think he would help us if we asked him?’
After a stunned silence, Flash asked, ‘How?’
Flo’s shoulders drooped. ‘I don’t know,’ she admitted. ‘I keep trying, but his mind doesn’t hear me.’
Grandad was gentle. ‘If they did know about us, they might want to keep us here so they can watch us.’
‘Yes,’ said Sylva. ‘Like Beth with her fairground fish,’
That closed the discussion. Even Flash wasn’t desperate enough to risk becoming an exhibit in someone’s aquarium.
By the time the children broke up from school again, Andre had given up his experiments. Flash’s relief at this loss of interest was probably the first time he had agreed with Molly on anything.
They were equally relieved when the family didn’t go away at half term. And again, when the children’s Easter holidays were spent at home. Weeks passed without incident.
Through the summer term, the weather grew warmer. The children had tests or exams and, outside the tank, tempers rose with the temperatures. And then they were breaking up for the summer holidays.
Flash listened in to the family’s breakfast conversation.
‘Whew, it’s hot, Dad! Can we have money to go swimming?’
Father grunted. ‘Naturally, the year we book to go abroad is the year Britain has a heatwave.’
‘The newspaper says it was hotter here yesterday than on Costa Del Sol,’ said Mother.
Father pushed his empty plate away. ‘I could have saved our money!’
Mother picked up the plate. ‘It’s sure to rain while we’re away,’ she said. ‘It always rains on Bank Holidays.’
The water in the fish tank was warm. Too warm.
Flash remembered how the pond always had cooler pockets in the deeps and among the waterfall’s bubbles. Even in hot weather the pond would cool overnight, but no evening breeze rippled the tank’s surface.
The water in the tank had many fish to support, and warm water holds less oxygen. A fish is more active when its temperature rises and metabolism speeds up. These fish raced around like children at Beth’s birthday party. They ate more, which meant more mess and the tank quickly fouled up. With the children home from school, Mother sometimes lost track of how long it was since she’d last cleaned the gravel.
When Father brought home a new fish that died on its second day, Mother pointed out they already had too many fish for a tank that size. Neither suggested they buy a bigger one.
The children rarely paused to look in now. The fish had become as familiar as the wallpaper.