Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Molly found Flo and Eddy sitting in Grandad’s hollow with backs hunched and heads drooping. The faces that rose to greet her wore identical expressions of misery. It was the first time Molly had noticed any family resemblance.
But she’d never been observant.
‘You’re looking better,’ she said to Eddy. ‘How do you feel?’
She changed the subject. ‘How’s Walt?’
Flo answered. ‘Like the rest of us, he’s relieved to be home. Then he feels guilty when he remembers Amber isn’t. Sylva’s looking after him.’
There was something different about Flo. Her red-rimmed eyes held Molly’s. ‘Where do you suppose Grandad and Flash are?’
She slowly shook her head. ‘Who knows? Maybe they’ll stay in the tank and go to Keisha’s home.’
If the tank wasn’t emptied.
And if it was emptied? She didn’t want to raise that possibility. Instead she said, ‘Flash is a survivor.’
‘Yes,’ Eddy roused, ‘and he’ll look after Grandad.’
Flash was more likely to look after Flash, but Molly didn’t share that thought. Flo must have read it from her expression though.
‘Yes, he will look after Grandad. You didn’t see, did you? When we were in the bowl on the table, Flash was in the net with the minnows. I thought he was going to jump.’
Eddy straightened, shocked. ‘Why didn’t he?’
‘I don’t know. Grandad was in the net too, further back.’ Molly realised what was different: Flo’s stammer had gone. ‘When they took the net away, Grandad and Flash were still in it.’
Flo always wanted to think the best of people. Maybe she had misinterpreted what she saw.
But Eddy was nodding. ‘He looked after us too. He was patient with Amber – with both of us, when we were tired. He helped us build up our strength. When we needed to rest he’d put on a show for us – clowning around the fish until we were ready to swim again. Without Flash, we wouldn’t have lasted as long as we did.’
‘It must have been hard to be patient when he was so wound up himself,’ said Flo. ‘He was like that toy car of Joel’s that shoots off when they let go of it.’
‘Only there was nowhere he could shoot off to.’ Eddy gazed out into the pond. After a moment he nodded at Flo. ‘If anyone can bring Grandad home, Flash can.’
Were they talking about the same Flash? When had he changed? How had she not seen?
It was too late to be sorry now.
Flash woke next morning to a glorious blue sky overhead. Grandad was already up, gazing through the glass wall. Flash joined him in silence. The pond was so close.
‘Looks like there’s new plants since we left.’ Grandad turned from the pond to meet his eyes. ‘Once we’re outa this tank, lad, it’s every mir for himself.’ His hand rested briefly on Flash’s shoulder. ‘You’ve done enough.’
He turned back to take in their view of the garden. ‘At least if I don’t make it back to the pond, I’ve finished up under a proper sky, not some flat ceiling.’
For breakfast they broke a tender fresh shoot from a slow-growing water plant: the one they used to save for special occasions, or to tempt a sick mirling to eat. Over breakfast and through the morning they debated their options for getting out of the tank. A shower raised their hopes but ended quickly. The sun came out soon after. The clouds that passed over it were the white, fluffy kind with no promise of rain.
The door of the house opened, and Mojo bounded past. As voices drew nearer, Flash could make out their words.
‘Thanks for this. Keisha has been going on for weeks about Bethany’s fish tank. My uncle keeps tropical fish and she spends ages watching them when we visit him.’
‘You know what you’re letting yourself in for then.’ Father’s voice answered the unfamiliar one. ‘We can’t offer you a pump, I’m afraid; it’s packed up.’
‘So Abby said. But I can afford a pump if I don’t have to buy all this as well.’
‘I’ll carry it out to your car; is it open?’
‘I’ll go and unlock it,’ said Keisha’s mother.
Flash stood and turned to Grandad, but the old mirling was already on his feet. They weren’t ready for this.
‘I’ll just tip out the rainwater,’ said Father, ‘and I’ll be right behind you.’
Their last chance.
No time to think about it. Flash and Grandad stood ready.
Father tipped the tank to lay flat and water gushed over its metal rim, carrying them with it across the grass.