Clara and the Sun From Below

Clumsy wasn’t the right word. After all, Clara fell where it was slippery, turned into roads closed for construction, and left the house only for pouring rain to commence minutes later. Unlucky, perhaps? Real misfortune regardless, it was a hell of a nickname: “Clumsy Clara” had stuck since high school, and when cups break and coffee spills wherever you go, sooner or later, you start believing.

Fired from yet another job for yet another mistake she didn’t make, Clara wandered home through the big park one dark autumn evening, desolate. She was already feeling low, but when her new phone turned off and refused to turn back on, her misery quickly turned into panic. Clumsy or not, a gloomy, deserted park was no place for a lonely lady, and Clara being Clara, she needed directions.

After stumbling around aimlessly for a good 45 minutes while flinching from various noises, all of which turned out to be on the spectrum of bird sounds, Clara spotted a tick-tocking ray of light shooting out of the ground in the distance. Only half-joking to herself, she thought, “Oh great, this is it. The aliens are here to pick me up.” Her body told her to run, but we all know what happens to moths and flames, and so step by step, Clara inched closer to the oscillating light. By the time she could almost reach into it, she bumped into a hip-high construction barrier. “Ow!” Thankfully, in this case, what might otherwise have served as an admonishment to mind her surroundings already marked her destination. Finally at the source, Clara looked down and…at Karl.

“Whoa!” Karl stumbled backwards so suddenly when his phone’s flashlight illuminated Clara’s face, he actually dropped his makeshift bat-signal and ended up uttering his next words in complete darkness: “Are you real? Please tell me you’re real.” “Sure am,” Clara said, and once Karl had found both his feet and phone again, the two could finally talk face to face — albeit at different elevations, for where Clara stood on solid ground, Karl stood in a muddy pit that set them about one adult-height apart.

“What are you doing in there?” Clara asked. “Don’t ask,” Karl said, trying to be cool for a second. “Long story.” But when he saw Clara scrunch her face, he quickly abandoned that plan, afraid she might do the same to him. “I fell in! I fell in!” he confessed. “I’m a doofus! That’s what I’m doing. Stupid pit. Who puts a construction site in the middle of a park without lights anyway?” Clara tried not to, but she couldn’t help it, and her initial chuckle burst into full-blown laughter. Whether it was the relief that her abduction-scare had turned out to be harmless, the hilarity of a non-cartoon character falling into an actual pit, or the fact that, for once, Clara was not the one on the receiving end of calamity, who could say? But in that moment, she felt something she hadn’t felt in a while: Clara was filled with joy.

After she had calmed down and got back to the situation at hand, Clara realized that if she squatted down and Carl stretched, their hands could reach each other, even lock arms. However, the position was no good for her to exercise what average strength she had, so instead of a Hollywood rescue, Karl received a hip-high construction barrier, which Clara pushed into the pit, and thus a good old-fashioned leg-up from a sturdy if quiet friend.

“How long have you been in there?” Clara asked as she watched Karl try to wipe the mud off his shoes. “Not trying to be all mysterious or anything, but…longer than I care to admit,” Karl said. “I think I’ve had my fill of embarrassment for today. Maybe I’ll let you try to guess next time.” “Fair enough,” Clara went, “and don’t worry: It’s my turn now…because I really need directions.” One incredulous look and several minutes later, Clara had filled in Karl on her own little predicament. After the two had double-checked that, from here on out, everyone knew where to go without getting lost or falling into further pits, they agreed to meet for coffee later that week before heading their separate ways.

“Looking forward to the full pit story!” Clara said with a smirk. “But you might want to bring a metal straw, or wear waterproof pants, or something. Filled with coffee or not, cups tend to spill and break around me.” “I just fell into A PIT, Clara,” Karl waved her off. “Trust me, I can get coffee anywhere but my stomach just fine on my own!” “Alright then,” Clara shrugged, “see you Thursday!”

It would be a few more years until she realized the full meaning of their encounter, but even as she watched him disappear through one of the park’s exits, Clara had a good feeling about Karl. She didn’t know it yet, but today had been the luckiest unlucky day of her life — and her future without a nickname was only just beginning.