Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Here we go again thought Molly, but this time Mother noticed straight away.
‘Henry, can you take a look at the aquarium pump? It’s vibrating, but there are no bubbles.’
It took Father most of the day to get the pump working properly. Mother kept out of the way until it was fixed.
‘What was wrong with it?’
‘Hanged if I know, maybe there was a blockage. It seems OK now.’
The gravel’s due for a clean-out but it’s getting late now; I’ll do it tomorrow.’
When tomorrow came, a fantail was floating on the surface. It floated into the drifting plant, so Mother didn’t notice it when she came to feed the fish. The carrot-coloured goldfish from the pond was struggling to keep itself upright, and the darting cloud of minnows seemed smaller. Molly saw two of them skulking under the bridge when she went to visit Flo.
‘Eddy’s restless but he’s g-getting out of breath very quickly.’
Molly thought Flo seemed jittery too, as she poured out her concerns. ‘Walt says Amber c-can’t stand up without losing her balance, and Grandad doesn’t try to stand. He doesn’t want to worry me, but he l-looks exhausted. They haven’t had time to get their strength back and the pump’s d-dying again.’
Molly glanced at the back of the tank where tiny bubbles had slowed to a sad trickle. Sylva swam over.
‘Can the two of you come? Walter’s in a state. Amber’s gasping and he’s convinced she’s dying.’ She turned and hurried back ahead of them.
‘I don’t know what they think w-we can do,’ confided Flo as they followed.
‘Don’t worry,’ replied Molly. ‘Walt always thinks Amber’s dying.’
But this time Walt wasn’t exaggerating.
Fish fed on the decomposing fantail. Flash had swum up to dislodge it from its plant after the family went to bed. The foul water stuck in his gills and Molly heard him coughing all night trying to clear it out.
By morning, the former dodger-fish was floating on the surface.
‘Mum, two of the fish are dead. The p-pump’s stopped working again.’
‘Can you fish them out Andre? I’ll come in a minute.’
‘What should I do with them? I think there’s less minnows than there used to be too.’
Mother came to see for herself.
‘Henry! The pump’s stopped working again. Fish are dying.’
Father appeared, muttering something Molly couldn’t hear.
Andre said, ‘The other fantails don’t look well either. How come that fish from the fairground’s still swimming around?’
Andre disappeared. Father sighed. ‘I’ll get my tools.’
Mother said, ‘What if it packs up again while we’re away?’
When Father returned with his toolbox she said, ‘Why don’t we put the fish back in the pond?’
Father grunted. ‘After all the money I’ve spent on this aquarium. . .’
He unhooked the pump, pulled the tubing out of the tank and took it all to the table. Mother brought him a mug of coffee.
Bethany came through on her way to the garden and saw her father at work. ‘My friend Keisha loves our fish tank. She asked her Mummy if she can have one just like it.’
‘Well she’s welcome to this one if she wants it,’ said Mother, but Beth had gone.
‘How’s the repair going?’
He shrugged. ‘Father’s muttering a lot, if that’s any clue. The children are keeping out of his way.’
She was about to leave again when Father put down his screwdriver.
‘It’s no good. We need a new pump.’
Mother said, ‘When you go to get it, can you pick up a couple of bottles of milk at the corner shop?’
Father sat looking at the bits of pump on the table.
‘Did you want another coffee?’
‘Uh – no. Thanks. Where’s Bethany?’
‘She’s in the garden with Mojo,’ his wife said.
Father got up and Molly heard him calling from the back door. ‘Beth, can you come here a minute?’
On the table he showed her the wreckage that used to be the pump.
‘Honey, this pump is broken, and the fish are going to die while we’re away on holiday. The only way we can save them is by putting them in the pond.’
‘Can’t you buy a new pump?’
‘There won’t be time to… um… order it and fit it in the aquarium.’
‘The fish would so enjoy being back with their friends in the pond.’
Molly would have liked to point out that it was too late for the pond fish, since both were dead, but however fiercely she thought it, no human heard her.
‘They’d have all that space to swim in.’
‘And you’d be able to see them anytime in the garden.’
Mother said, ‘We’ll do it now then, shall we?’
‘OK.’ Beth skipped back out to the garden.
‘Before she changes her mind,’ said Mother.
‘Too late now if she does. I’ve decided!’
Molly looked at Flash beside her and read in his expression the same hope that was growing in her. They went to tell the others they would be going home.
But it was too late for Amber.
Sylva’s cries reached them first, followed by Walt explaining there was no point wailing because Amber couldn’t hear her. His tone was mild, but she recoiled as if slapped. Now the worst had happened, Walt was calm.
While Flo comforted Eddy, Grandad led Walt away from Amber’s lifeless body. Nobody thought to comfort Molly. She hadn’t spent time with Amber or seemed fond of her.
But they were going home. After all this time, they were going home.
She couldn’t quite believe yet that Amber wasn’t coming with them.