She was about eleven years old, gangly, freckle faced with a button-nose and brown hair snapping in the sea-breeze.
She stood with feet apart, fists on hips, chin thrust forward, starring eye to eye with a squad of Navy SEALS seated around a wrought-iron table on the patio of McP’s Pub.
Her gaze fixed on each man for a moment before settling on the Lt. Commander.
“Mom wants you home now,” she told him.
He smiled at her with affection and more than a trace of pride. “I’ll be along in a bit, Pumpkin,” he replied.
She shook her head. “Mom said, NOW!”
A few of the men sneered or hid their expressions. The rest sat stone-faced while their officer drained his beer and walked his daughter out of the bar.
Outside the pub, the girl backed a red bicycle with a brown wicker basket out of the bike-rack. Crossing her legs, she set one foot on the left pedal and pushed off with the other, swinging onto the seat.
Her father jogged easily beside her.
“So how did I do?” she asked.
“You were a regular thespian,” the Lt. Commander said.
Stunned and more than a little hurt, she said, “You know I like boys.”
He laughed. “A thespian is an actor – not what you’re thinking.”
“Oh,” his daughter said.
“Now tell me exactly what you saw,” he said.
They reached a cross-walk and stopped. The girl balanced on her bike for a few moments before dropping her feet to the pavement and straddling the frame. “That one guy with white blond hair,” she said.
“Yeah, that what his name tag read. He looked at me like ‘buzz-off kid.'”
“Yup, that would be Lynch.”
The light turned green and the Lt. Commander gave his daughter a gentle push to get her going.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Yeah, the one next to him kept looking around to see what everyone else was going to do.”
“You mean Morzinski?”
“The two guys sitting by the fence… one was really friendly. I liked him as soon as I saw him but the other one acted like I didn’t exist.”
“And the last three guys in the squad?”
“Nothing really, they just smiled.”
“You did good, Pumpkin.”
“Do you want to know why I asked you to stage that little drama?”
The Lt. Commander said nothing for half a block. They were near the beach, and the street was dusted with sand. Across the dunes, the surf crashed like soft thunder and overhead gulls wheeled in and out of the sunlight breaking through the clouds.
“It’s the final evaluation,” he said, “all of those recruits are determined and capable but the command is looking for more than that. We are looking for confidence, the kind that runs deep. So deep that nothing could shake their commander’s authority, even watching him take orders from an eleven-year-old girl.”
“It’s a good thing to learn, honey, how to judge character.”
“One day, you’ll find yourself doing it.”
“Judging men, I mean.”
He laughed and quickened his pace. She strained to keep up then broke away, calling out, “Is it okay if I go over to a friend’s house?”
“No problem,” he said, “but be back by 16:00, we have supper to cook before mom gets home.”
“Okay,” she said, her brown hair flying and wheels spinning in the sand.
Hat tip and salute to an old, dear, departed friend: Len Maxwell.
This story was in response to a photo Len posted of a little girl’s bicycle parked outside McP’s Pub on Coronado Island (San Diego). Len was a Writing Essentials Group editor on the now defunct website: Gather.com
43 thoughts on “Final Evaluation – A short, short story”
Nice short read, I enjoyed it.
I loved the ease of reading this. Spare with detail but vivid where it needed to be. I wondered from what happened, who will the Lt. Commander choose. Or will that be determined by later reactions?
There was a gentle humor there. I loved it too!
I don’t know if I could write without humor.
I enjoyed this I think you’re exactly right about social capital, too. As for judgment, too many think of it in terms of judgmentalism, when ‘discernment’ often is what’s meant.
During the late 80’s, I went for a ride-along with my sergeant in the Minneapolis Police. We went into a crack house on the heels of a raid, soon after social services had removed the children who lived in the house.
“Tell me what you don’t see,” Tim said.
I looked around and checked the refrigerator, which was about empty as it could be without being completely empty. I pointed out a few things and he acknowledged yes, but that was not what he was getting at.
“Find me a printed word…anywhere,” he said.
There was not a single school book, children’s book, novel, newspaper or magazine…nothing.
Here is the point, the popular model of social justice addresses systematic oppression. I won’t argue with that – but oppression creates dysfunction and even after you completely remove oppression, you still have dysfunction – because dysfunction has a life of its own and only those who suffer from dysfunction have power over it.
A great story, Greg, and I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I just adore dad’s who love their kids. 🙂
I think most dad’s are like this in their own way. I’m a boomer and my father was an old school types, who experienced the worst of the depression and then went to war. He could be harder than a rock, yet in the next moment as soft as a puppy. We tended to judge guys like that harshly because of the gulf between our experiences – but as the years roll on, who they were becomes clearer.
So true. I notice a mellowing in my dad as he ages, and I like it. 🙂
This is the sort of story I wish I could tell but doubt I can. Of course, I haven’t worked very hard at it; perhaps it’s a question of character. Well done.
This is the sort of story I wish I could tell too – but that is the thing about writing, every once in a while a story just flows from your fingers onto the keyboard and you are really not sure where it came from. The more I write, the more that happens.
I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. But I loved this story! What a great way to judge someone’s character. And yes, I know we’re not really supposed to judge. But I do judge character, because I honestly think it’s too important no to. Great post!
The greatest line in one of the greatest speeches ever written goes:
Yes, we should judge character and we should raise our children with the expectation that is how they should judge others and be judged.
Great story. And great memories of Gather.
Watching Gather.com fall apart reminded me of the destruction of my old neighborhood. For a few years, it was thriving and vibrant then sadly it became a ghost town.
I really liked it. What would her evaluation be if Stan was in the pub?
She would do what all of Stan’s evaluators have done: give high marks then flunk him.
A very nice salute 🙂 And a good life lesson too!
Len was a crusty old marine with a generous heart and a wry sense of humor.
A lovely salute Greg. Dig into those files more often.
Years ago I was in a writing group in an online, now defunct, community on Redbubble. Those prompts were great as they explored areas not thought about previously.
How’s the horse business going?
Writing groups are the best, especially the ones that offer critique along with encouragement.
I am a little worried about our pasture. I talked it over with a neighbor and he advised against putting animals out there for any length of time. It is too wet and constant exposure to moisture might damage their hooves. It has been in hay since we moved in but it has been four years since we could get a tractor back there to harvest it. We are thinking of tiling it.
Hmmm, yes that’s not sounding very promising, horses do need firm ground. Has Stan got a paddock you could borrow?😁
Greg, loved this story! Vivid setting, crisp dialogue, emotion and a huge building character message. Wow! That’s what makes a stop-in-your-tracks story. 📚🎶 Christine
As I mentioned above, the prompt was based on a photo of a little girl’s bicycle parked outside of McP’s Pub on Coronado Island. McP’s is a hang-out for Navy SEALS. You really have to wonder what the real story was.
Your story’s good enough, Greg! We know there are layers of any story! 📚🎶Christine
What a lovely story! It had twists I never saw coming, brilliant!
Glad you liked it. I did too. 🙂
I remember Len! We had some good prompts and and terrific, inventive leaders (you many take a bow here, Greg), back in the old Gather days!
This is a terrific story of a loving dad who gives his daughter the gift that keeps on giving: discernment!
I wish WordPress had a group feature. It is what drove the community aspect of Gather.com. We have a wonderful community here – but it is regardless of, rather than because of the design.
Really Good! Love the relationship between father and daughter!
Years ago, I was trying on clothes in a department store fitting room when I overheard a conversation with a father and his son. The father was instructing his young son on how to select and wear pants. It was as simple as:
“You should wear your belt here.”
“The cuffs should just touch your shoes.”
There is a term for this. It is called social capital. Parents can transfer tremendous wealth to their children, none of which is currency. In many ways, that is what this story is about.
Great story, Greg. Nothing in here that oesn’t matter. Just the way a story should be.
The story is about building and evaluating character. Even the little details, like the daughter riding her bike and seaside setting, all speak to that. It is why I pulled the story out of the folder and typed it into here.
I’m glad you did.
I like this one a lot. Not what I expected at all. Good one.
Every once in a while I will step off the humor track. I hope people don’t mind.
Never. I really did enjoy this.
Great story because of its characters and depth. You are gifted, and your readers appreciate your sharing your gifts with us on a regular basis.
I can’t claim credit, this story wrote itself. Even my muse threw up her hands. 🙂
Storytelling and dialogue – such gifts that you have, Greg! Enjoyed this one – and loved the surprise element.
I was going through an old folder and found this. I like the way an entire story can be told by spending a few moments with the characters.
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