Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Molly had been lucky. The net was directly beneath them when she put an arm around Eddy and said ‘Dive’. She didn’t let go of him until she felt the net pull them out of the water.
She looked around for Flo. She knew her friend wouldn’t lose sight of her brother, however exhausted she was. Still, she was relieved to see Flo drooping against the netting. She didn’t want to lose anyone else.
Father inverted the net over the pudding basin lined with the plastic bag, and they dropped with the fish into the water below. Sylva hurried to Flo, proclaiming her relief at their arrival, but Walt only nodded. Molly went to him.
‘I’m so sorry, Walt, about Amber.’
‘Not your fault.’ Walt looked up and must have seen her distress. Without warning he hugged her, as if drawing consolation from her as much as offering it. ‘You did your best to keep us all safe.’
Molly grimaced at the memory. ‘I must have been a pain in the gills.’
‘Sometimes.’ Walt released her and put his hands on her shoulders instead. You always seemed so… together. While most of us were falling apart.’
‘It was all a front,’ she said. ‘I wish I’d taken more interest in Amber. She wouldn’t have been so exhausted if she’d stayed with us on the gravel. Maybe, if I’d asked her to help me – made it seem like fun…’
His brows lifted. ‘That doesn’t sound much like Amber. She’d still have preferred fish-chase.’ He almost smiled. ‘It doesn’t sound much like Molly either, come to that.’ He unexpectedly kissed her nose. ‘You did what you could.’
They both looked up as three minnows and some gravel dropped into the water. Molly saw Sylva watching them with narrowed eyes. Like the cat, ready to pounce.
Mother’s voice came from above. ‘Don’t empty all that gravel in there. It’ll weigh down the bag in the pond.’
Molly turned away from Sylva and followed Flo’s gaze. The net above them was a blur to Molly, but when the blur moved away Flo muffled a cry.
Eddy looked up from where he was resting on the bottom. ‘Is that all the fish?’
Molly didn’t answer but their eyes met. ‘They didn’t make it then,’ said Eddy and hung his head. ‘Amber’s gone, and now Flash and Grandad.’
Flo knelt to take his hand, but the bag moved, tumbling them all at the bottom. It was fastened at the top and they were carried through the kitchen to the back door. Molly couldn’t make out details outside the bag, but she recognised daylight when they reached it.
Real daylight. Not just the memory of it through a window.
Their bag was floated on the surface of the pond and drifted at the shallow end. Inquisitive fish came to nose at them. Mirlings swam up to investigate, and as soon as they were recognised the waving and cheering began.
Someone must have told Molly’s family. They all appeared, swimming around the bag until they found her and then waving like idiots. Her brothers swam somersaults until Flo’s family arrived and things calmed a little. Eddy made an effort to smile and wave back so as not to worry his mother.
Molly saw Walt with his hands against the plastic, shaking his head at his parents, smiling and crying at the same time.
It seemed ages before the bag was pulled to the side and unfastened and the fish released into the pond. The mirlings, unlike the fish, knew what to expect and were first to swim out to freedom. It would have been too cruel to be trapped inside a flattened plastic bag after the fish had left, and to be pulled out of the pond to die in a rubbish bin.
Word had travelled around the pond. The reunions were draining.
Sylva told everyone – several times – how ‘triffic’ it was to be back until Walt put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Give it a rest, Syl.’
And she answered, ‘Sorry, Walt.’
Even when their families took them home, friends came to hear the story again, and the afternoon turned into a pond-wide celebration.
Someone told Molly that Amber’s parents were looking for her, and she slipped away.
She swam to the shallows, savouring the fresh water, the cool turmoil of the waterfall and its dancing bubbles with daylight rippling between them.
She should have taken more notice of Amber: looked after her.
She didn’t dare think what Sylva was telling everyone.