Beyond Recovery

The little girl squatted above the metal drain cover, squinting through the half-rusted bars into the murky darkness. Amongst the festering brown-green sludge and almost alien-looking tendrils of sinewy weeds, a light shined up at her like a glimmering beacon. You see, this girl had dropped her quarter down the drain, and she wanted to get it back.

She held no emotional attachment to the quarter, mind you. Nor was it a particularly rare coin, worth just as much as any other quarter you would find lying around. But she had tossed it around in her chubby little hands as she strolled down the sidewalk, and as it had inevitably leapt from her grasp and clattered down the asphalt into the drain, she had made up her mind to get it back. Children at that young age seem to have a habit of stubbornly clinging to their task, even if the time they end up spending is wildly disproportionate to what stands to be gained.

As such, the girl scrutinized the gutter left and right, formulating the semblance of a plan in that tiny noggin of hers. She tried slipping her fingers underneath the bars to give the drain cover a tug, as she felt the slimy sensation of moss or algae oozing along the undersides of her fingers, but the metal grate was unsurprisingly not affected by her eight-year-old strength. Wiping her grimy hands on her denim overalls, she decided to switch strategies.

Plan number two: wooden stick. The girl had to search around the sides of the sidewalk for a while to find a suitable branch for the occasion, but ultimately only found a moderately- sized stick with numerous twigs branching out from the core rod. It would have to do.

First order of business was to break off the excess branches. The girl felt the tiny twigs bend and snap under the stomping of her little foot, until the branch was more or less tidy. It wasn’t a work of art that could be compared to the Sistine Chapel, but it would fit through the gaps in the corrugated metal, and so she was satisfied.

Poking the stick into the ominous depths, the girl strained her body as she leaned forward, as she somehow managed to work the tip of her stick underneath the silver treasure, pressing the coin flat against the concrete wall. The wall was lined with the same slimy layer of nauseously-olive algae as the metal grate, but it worked to her advantage in this case. Sliding the quarter inch-by-inch up the drain wall, the girl bore down on her task with all the concentration of a trained neurosurgeon. But her luck ran out three-fifths of the way up, as the tip of the branch slipped past the edge of the coin, and the quarter dropped back the whole way down. The girl was stuck in the exact same situation as she had been thirty minutes ago.

Now, any reasonable person, even a normal kid her age, would have given up by now. But the girl had not yet grasped the concept of “opportunity cost”, and continued her undertaking through either pure determination or pure stupidity. There is a fine line between the two.

Prod, lift, slide. The coin shimmied its way up, up, up, past the three-fifths point of previous failure. As the sparkling gem came closer and closer, the girl’s heart began to beat fast. But it wasn’t out of nervousness, or of fear, but exultation. Because she knew already that she wouldn’t possibly fail. Her hands were steady, the branch was secure, and the quarter was so, so close. This time, this time for sure, she would emerge triumphant –

“Hey, Jane. Mom says it’s time for dinner,” her brother drawled, and the girl gave a sharp jolt. For a second, there was only the sound of the coin falling down, this time beyond recovery.

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