Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Molly revelled in the luxury of waking up in the pond, with fresh water to breathe, space to grow and nobody relying on her. It was over. She was safe. She forgot to be wary.
‘Molly, we were sorry to miss you last night.’
Amber and Wally’s parents had come to find her. She took a deep breath and faced them.
Amber’s mother began. ‘We wanted to thank you for looking after Amber. And Walter.’
She gave a sob and her husband took over. ‘He told us how you organised them all. We know you did your best.’
Molly was hot with embarrassment. ‘Really, it was Flo who looked after Amber when she was ill, and Eddy kept her safe when they went swimming.’
Amber’s mother clearly put her protests down to modesty.
‘Sylva told us how you’d mothered them – those were her words. And how you listened when she needed someone to talk to.’
Her husband continued. ‘Walter is afraid you’re blaming yourself.’
‘He’s blaming himself, poor soul.’ His wife hiccupped and he carried on.
‘The thing is, Amber has always been delicate… She was such a happy little thing though…’
Now it was his wife’s turn to take over. ‘Walter said how you’d done your best to keep everyone safe.’
By the time Amber’s parents left, Molly was almost as tearful as they were.
Until now, she had been in control. When she swam out of the plastic bag yesterday, she had allowed herself, for the first time, to believe it was over. She was safe.
But Amber wasn’t.
Through the afternoon she felt increasingly remote from the celebrations, as if they had nothing to do with her. The more she tried to forget about the tank, the more her thoughts kept returning to it. Every recollection of Amber, Grandad, even Flash, brought another pang of regret. She needed to get away from her family’s constant questions and sympathy and discover how she felt.
She swam again to the shallows to sit outside Grandad’s hollow and watch the waterfall’s bubbles plunge and resurface. Freedom felt unexpectedly empty.
Flo found her there, clasping the horn-shaped trophy that Grandad had polished to a shine for the tournament presentation.
‘Are you all right, Molly? You look glum.’
‘Oh Flo!’ She shook her head. ‘I’m so glad to be back I should be swimming somersaults.’ She gulped. ‘But Grandad should be here. He taught us so much. It isn’t fair.’
She clasped the trophy to her chest like a tiddler’s grass-woven playfish. ‘And Flash. And Amber…’
‘I wish we’d known Amber before,’ said Flo. ‘Here, in the pond.’
‘How is Eddy?’
‘Angry – with himself mostly. He thinks he should have been with Flash, helping to bring Grandad home. He’s gone to the pump this morning.’
‘Is that wise?’
‘I don’t think he’s strong enough yet, but…’ Flo shrugged, ‘I’ve left him to it and come to sweep out Grandad’s place.’
Molly looked around. ‘I suppose the plants will grow through again now.’
‘I thought it might be nice if we kept it cleared, as a sort of meeting place. A memorial to Grandad.’
Molly thought about it. ‘That’s a nice idea. It was our meeting place, wasn’t it – when he was… here.’
She looked down at the trophy she was cradling. ‘We could carry on his annual tournament – like he wanted – but name it after him.’
Flo looked uncertain. ‘The Grandad Trophy? What was his name?’
‘Who knows?’ Molly sighed. ‘Maybe it’s a daft idea… I just need to be doing something.’
Which was odd, considering how much effort she used to put into doing nothing.
Eddy swam into view and Flo sighed. ‘He can’t have lasted long at the pump.’
He touched down nearby and wandered over to them, kicking at pebbles and debris as he came. Molly thought he looked like Joel when he’d been told off.
A ball bounced down the waterfall, skipping every time it hit a stone. It bounced off the last stone that divided the water into two falling streams, and that took it into the pond. Molly watched the ball sink before rising to float just below the surface.
As it bobbed in the wash from the waterfall a vivid orange mirling with a black streak swam out of a slit in its side and zigzagged to the bottom of the pond where he sat looking dazed.