The Summer 2023 CABB Challenge
NEW VOICES FROM ABOVE AND BELOW
one rainy day
Author’s Note: This story is actually the third in a series that I’ve written featuring the character Cara.
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Outside, it was a gray, miserable day. A steady drizzle fell on everyone and everything in the city. Tempers flared as men and women fought one another for taxis, while others with umbrellas or newspapers tried to make their way through the crowded sidewalks. Car horns filled the air as traffic was brought to a standstill by numerous accidents.
Oblivious to the dreary day, the residents of the tunnels went on with life as usual. Such a light rain wouldn’t cause any drainage or flooding issues Below. Lanterns and candles filled the rocky chambers with a warm glow and shadows danced on the walls. Everybody went on cheerfully with his or her daily business, except one.
“Watch out, Cara!”
But the warning came too late. As Cara helped Cullen take a set of shelves off the workbench, her elbow caught on a container of nails, sending them scattered across the floor.
“I’m sorry, Cullen. I’ll pick them up.”
“No, I’ll do it. I promised Mr. Kelley that their shelves would be there before lunch. You need to leave now to get there on time.”
Cara took them and headed to the grocer via the tunnels. ‘What else can go wrong?’ she thought. ‘It’s not even noon yet. Father couldn’t find the book I returned last night, I spilled tea on Mary’s quilt, and now I’ve made a mess of Cullen’s workshop.’
Cara was in her early twenties. She had grown up in the tunnels, but left to attend college and was married soon after. Unfortunately, her husband had hidden his true colors leading up to their wedding night. He’d abused her and was eventually convicted of several major crimes. Cara had managed to escape to the tunnels, and was slowly finding her place in the community.
Mr. Kelley was happy with the repairs and modifications Cullen had made to his display shelves. In return, Cara was given several bags of fresh vegetables to take back to the community. Halfway home, one of the bags broke, and Cara had to turn her sweater into a makeshift bag to get everything to the kitchen. She washed the vegetables off for William before heading to the dining chamber for lunch.
After eating, Cara had to search for her math text, then made it to class where the children had been waiting. After fifteen minutes, her day was not improving.
“Cara, this is too hard, and we don’t understand.”
“But we’ve only looked at two examples. It’s okay if you don’t understand it yet. Zach, how many times did Pascal have to show you how to relay a message to the outpost in sector 5? And Samantha, how many times did William help you bake a cake before letting you do one on your own?”
“A lot,” they admitted, “but this is different.”
“Of course it is. Everything we do is different, but the more practice we get, the easier it is, so let’s try another.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t get any better. The children turned to taking random guesses and stopped trying to think their way through the problems. When they were dismissed, she heard Zach talking to Samantha.
“I wish Vincent didn’t have that work detail today. He could have explained it better.”
By late afternoon, Cara had a headache, made worse by the scolding Father gave when she knocked over a pile of books in his study while looking for a text that he couldn’t find, but she knew that she had returned. All she wanted to do was hide under her bed until the day was over. However, there was work to be done, and she headed to the kitchen to help William.
After adding a few spices to the sauce, Cara brought some over for William to taste.
‘Hmm…it needs some salt. Are you sure you put some in? Well, add a little more and it should be okay.”
It wasn’t. Not many noticed the difference, but William did, and Cara felt awful. When she finished eating, she retreated to her chamber. Vincent had just returned from his work detail and stopped by to ask how the class went. They discussed what she did right and what she could improve on.
“Cara, not every lesson works well, no matter how well planned. Also, a lesson that goes well one time, may not work with a different group on a different day. Keep working and learning. It will get easier.”
While she had a degree in mathematics and had intended to teach, Cara had gotten married before getting any experience beyond her student teaching. She worked hard on every lesson and wanted to do well. Vincent’s small disappointment in her stung as much as if he’d been angry and yelled at her. When he left, she sat down at the small desk to revise her plans for the next day, and promptly spilled her tea on them.
In despair, she cleaned up the mess and scrawled a quick note before heading Above.
The entrance near Rockefeller Center was rarely used, but when she got there, another figure was coming down the ladder, so she waited in the shadows until she saw who it was.
“Catherine, what are you doing here? Vincent said you had a dinner meeting to attend.”
“I did, but I slipped out early. Where are you headed?”
“Above for a walk. I just needed to get out for a while.”
“Would you mind taking me back part of the way? I’ve never come in at this point before.”
“Sure. Vincent was working in the lower levels today, so I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you.”
Cara tapped out a message to him then began retracing her steps.
Catherine took great interest in this section of the tunnels, since it was new to her. Most of the chambers in this area were very small and unused, but when they came to one of the larger ones, they went in. Cara explained that it was sometimes used when the children wanted to practice their plays in private, for it had a raised area that acted as a stage.
After meeting up with Catherine, Cara thought her day had taken a turn for the better. But in an instant, she found out that she was wrong.
Cara noticed that there were two or three small puddles of water along the edge of the chamber and made a mental note to tell Vincent. As they were about to leave, Cara looked up at the sound of dirt and small pebbles falling. As she turned to the chamber entrance, larger rocks began to fall. Cara grabbed Catherine’s hand and they tried to retreat to the back of the chamber. A cascade of rocks caught Catherine’s foot. Cara pulled her up, but was knocked down herself by another rolling rock. Her flashlight went dark as everything fell silent, and the dust began to settle.
Vincent was playing chess with Father when he jumped up and ran from the chamber.
Almost two hours later, enough rocks had been moved to allow movement in and out of the chamber. Neither woman was badly hurt, but Vincent took Catherine directly to Father. Cara went to her chamber, and after a bath, went to let Father bandage various scrapes and the blisters on her hands that she got from moving rocks without the benefit of gloves.
“How could you be so careless? You should have left the chamber as soon as you saw water on the floor. Both of you were very lucky.”
When he was done, she left without a word. With tears streaming down her face, she bumped into Mary at a tunnel junction. “Cara, where are you going?”
“Above. There’s nothing there for me to mess up.”
Cara headed to a park bench partially hidden by bushes and trees, ignoring the persistent drizzle of rain. Still there an hour later, she was completely soaked, despite the cover of branches above her. The rain had washed away her tears, but it hadn’t been able to rid her of the ache she felt inside. She barely moved when Vincent ducked under a low branch to join her.
“May I join you?’
“Please leave me alone.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Concerned that she might be giving him a warning that someone was near, he pulled his hood down further over his face and prepared to run. She saw how he had misinterpreted her words and quickly put her hand out.
“No, Vincent. It’s safe. I’m sorry I alarmed you.”
Puzzled, he walked over to her. “Then what did you mean?”
Looking back down, she muttered, “The way my day has been going, if you sit down, lightning will strike and the tree will fall on us.”
Relieved, Vincent sat down. “Has your day been that bad?”
Cara nodded. “I’m sorry Catherine was hurt. I should have brought her straight to you.”
“It’s not your fault. I was there with Samantha, Kipper, and Mouse just the other day and there was no sign of water. I’m guessing there was a water main break Above. Besides, Catherine told me how you pulled her out from beneath the rocks. You saved her life.”
“Father was mad.”
“You know as well as I do that Father didn’t mean what he said. He was terribly worried when the call for help came through the pipes, and is very sorry that he upset you.”
Knowing that two of the people most important to her were not mad at her lifted some of the heaviness from her heart. The last of her frustration began to dissolve as Vincent asked if she was all right, and she blurted out, “Vincent, everything I touched or said or did went wrong today.”
Vincent smiled and put his arm around her shoulders. “Everyone has a bad day now and then. When they come, we just get through them the best we can and move on.”
She leaned against his shoulder and told him about everything that had gone wrong. When she had finished, they sat in silence for a while. The rain slowly stopped, and in the distance, a church bell rang twelve times.
Vincent stood and took her hand. “Your horrible day is over and done with. Today is a fresh slate, with no mistakes in it.”
“No mistakes,” she agreed, “but what will Father say when he finds out we’ve been inviting pneumonia by sitting in the rain?”
Vincent started to laugh and Cara couldn’t help but join him. They headed home, starting the new day with a smile.