Published August 23. 2009 4:00AM Updated August 24. 2009 9:49AM
The seals were not impressed. They laid their heads back down and blinked.
I climbed to the low wall dividing the seal pond from the duck pond. I laid a ramp from the seal pond up the wall. Minerva laid her ramp down the other side.
"Gimme a fish!" Minerva said.
She leaned over the wall and waved the fish in the air.
"C'mon, you guys, let's go!"
The seals didn't move.
"What's the matter with them? C'mon, you idiots! It's a fish!"
"Wait," I said. "I just remembered how they feed them." I banged the bucket against the wall.
The seals yelped and flashed into the water. In an instant, one had wriggled halfway up the ramp. Minerva tossed the fish into the duck pond, and the seal went after it. Seals, snorting and snuffling, crowded up the ramp after him. Another fish, another seal. Soon we had half a dozen swimming in the duck pond.
"Minerva, we can't get any more in the car! Let's get them out of here!"
We pulled back the ramp from the seal pond and clambered down into the goldfish pond. Now we had to get them under the bridge to the goldfish pond.
Minerva banged the bucket, but the seals didn't come.
"What's the matter now?"
I bent down and peered under the bridge.
"Cripes! There's a screen! They can't get through!"
"We'll have to get them over the bridge then," Minerva said. She climbed back up onto the walkway. She grabbed a ramp and leaned it up between the railings of the fence. The seals wiggled up the ramp and onto the bridge. They were wide awake now and hungry.
I banged the bucket, and the seals plunged in after me. But no sooner had they spilled into the goldfish pond than they started chasing the goldfish, gulping as many as they could catch.
I thought my heart would stop.
"What? No!" I banged the bucket wildly against the bank until, somehow, I lured four of them up the bank.
I stumbled to the car and threw open the door. I made a path of mackerel from the pond to the car. The four seals slithered through the split rail fence and across the parking lot, gobbling mackerel and leaving a shiny trail behind them. But when they got to the car, they stopped. Four whiskered faces gave me a bewildered look.
"A ramp! Get a ramp!" I cried.
Minerva, halfway across the goldfish pond, turned and splashed back to retrieve the ramp. As she churned back across the pond with the ramp held over her head, the seals turned back toward the water.
"Oh no! Wait! Come back!" I banged the bucket on the pavement.
They turned and cocked their heads: Who? Us?
Minerva tumbled over the fence and ran to the car. She threw the ramp down so the seals could climb into the back seat. She grabbed a handful of fish and held it out to them.
"C-c'mon, s-seals," she coaxed breathlessly.
The seals hesitated, a frightened light in their deep black eyes.
"Please, please, c'mon!" Minerva pleaded.
Sirens! Coming this way!
"Let's get outta here!" I yelled. I heaved the bucket of fish into the back seat. The four seals shot after it, squirming wildly up the ramp into the car.
"Quick!" I yanked away the ramp and slammed the door.
As I turned to jump into the car, I glanced back at the aquarium. Mr. Perkins! He was at the window, his red face shouting soundlessly behind the glass.
"Oh no! He's back!" I dived into the car. "Drive! Drive!"
Minerva jumped in and grabbed the wheel, and then she stopped. Just stopped. She sat, frozen, staring at her knuckles white on the steering wheel.
"What are you waiting for?" I screamed. "Drive!"
A tiny voice came through the stocking on her head: "I can't."
"Can't? Can't what?"
Slowly, Minerva's face turned to me, a horror-movie mummy face beneath the nylon stocking. Her mouth moved, but no words came out.
"Can't what?" I shrieked.
Then Minerva spoke. Very softly. Almost apologetically: "Drive."