They fell silent while she observed the lifeless Gilbert. Then she said, thoughtfully, 'I remember Goldy once behaving just like that. And my father gave him a tot of whisky, and he started swimming around again. Besides, when fish are dead, they float to the top of the water.’
Bill ignored this last observation. 'A tot of whisky?'
'Have you got any?'
'Yes. I have one precious bottle which I keep for my closest friends. I suppose Gilbert qualifies, and if you want you can certainly try a reviver, but it seems rather a waste to pour the stuff over a dead fish. Like casting 1pearls before 1swine.’
Clodagh did not reply to this. Instead, she rolled up her sleeve, put her hand into the tank, and touched Gilbert's tail with a gentle finger. Nothing happened. It was hopeless. Bill went back to the pan of sizzling bacon. Perhaps he was being a bit mean about the whisky. He said, 'If you want, you can . . . '
'He's waggled his tail!'
'He's all right. He's swimming ... oh look, darling.’
And, indeed, Gilbert was. Had righted himself, shaken out his little golden fins, and was once more on his regular circuit, right as rain.
'Clodagh, you're a miracle worker. Look at him.’ In passing, Gilbert's fishy eye met Bill's. He knew a moment's annoyance. 'Stupid bloody fish, giving me a fright like that,’ he said to it, and then he grinned in real relief. 'Emily will be overjoyed.’
'Where is she?'
He remembered the funeral. He said, 'She's in the garden with Anna.’ For some reason he did not tell Clodagh about the plans that had been made. He did not tell her what they were doing.
Their mother smiled. 'Well, now that that little problem's been resolved, I'm going up to have a bath. I'll leave you to break the happy news,’ and she blew him a kiss and took herself off upstairs.
Minutes later, as the bacon sizzled and the coffee perked, the two little girls reappeared, exploding through the open back door in a whirlwind of excitement.
'We've found a lovely place, Bill, under the rose bush in Mummy's border, and we've dug a huge hole . . . '
'And I've made a daisy chain . . . '
'And I've made a sort of cross out of two bits of wood, but I'll need string or a nail or something to hold them together . . . '
'And we're going to sing a hymn.'
'Yes. We're going to sing "All Things Bright and Beautiful." '
'And we thought . . . '
'Let me tell him . . . '
'We thought …’
'Now, just listen.’ He had to raise his voice in order to make himself heard over the din. They fell silent. 'Just listen for a moment. And look.’ He led them over to the fish tank. 'Look.’
They looked. They saw Gilbert, swimming around in his usual pointless fashion, his fragile, translucent tail flicking, his round eyes looking no more lively than when he had been presumed dead.
There was, for a moment, total silence.
'See? He wasn't dead at all. Just having a kip. Mummy gave him a 1tickle, and that stirred his stumps.’ Still silence. 'Isn't that great?' Even to himself, he sounded quite sickeningly hearty.
Neither little girl said a word. Bill waited, and then, finally, Emily spoke.
She said, 'Let's kill him.’
He found himself torn between horrified shock and uncontrollable mirth, and for a second it was touch and go as to whether he actually struck the child or dissolved into laughter. By a superhuman effort he did neither of these things, but there was a long and pregnant pause before he finally said, with monumental calmness, 'Oh, I don't think we want to do that.’
'Because . . . it's wrong to kill any living creature.’
'Why is it?'
'Because life is given to us by God. It's sacred.’ Even as he said this, he felt slightly uncomfortable. Although he had been married to Clodagh in a church, he had not thought about God, in this everyday sort of way, for a number of years, and now knew a pang of guilt, as though he were taking the name of an old friend in vain.
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