I know – it’s a dramatic title to a blog post. . .
I first came across this brief short story by famed writer David Mamet in the LA Weekly – decades ago.
Back then I clipped it, saved it and occasionally would read it when sorting through files.
Few stories have haunted me like this has – exquisitely poignant.
And for any of us working towards “confidence” – well, we all need someone to hand us a quarter!
by David Mamet
The child sat with his head in his hands, rocking back and forth. “And if you did not want it, you should not have asked for it,” the woman said, “for you do not know what it means to deserve something, for you do not know what it is to work for something.” She paused. “Do you?”
The boy did not look up. And it seemed the woman did not require him to. She rubbed one eye for a moment, and while she rubbed it, her mouth went slack. The boy continued rocking.
“Now,” she said, “when we get home, do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to take your toys and box them. And I’m going to ship them away. Do you think I’m fooling?”
The two other children — probably his brother and sister, the man thought — looked on, not dispassionately, but at a remove. Well certainly, the man said to himself. If they were to intervene, what would they say?
The boy stopped rocking and rose from the bench and began to walk, stiff-legged, looking down.
“Where are you going?” the woman asked.
He raised his head, cow-eyed, to indicate his destination — the men’s room across the waiting room.
“Then why do you walk like that?” the woman said. “I’m talking to you. Why do you walk like that, for God’s sake?”
His mouth moved like a fish’s for a moment.
“You sit down,” she said, “and I’ll tell you when I want you to go somewhere.”
He waited a moment and then sank down on the bench. His mouth was open, and his hands were pressed over his ears. He put his head down, just above his knees, and began rocking again.
The woman addressed herself to the other two. She drew them close around the pile of baggage and spoke softly to them.
Yes, that’s right, the man thought. Yes, that’s right.
She gestured to the baggage and pointed at them, and they nodded; and she gestured at the washroom and she nodded and then she, and then they, looked over at the other boy. She got up quickly and gathered herself together and walked crisply off.
The other children looked guiltily at the boy and then they determinedly busied themselves with their books.
Well, now’s the time, the man thought, and he had this fantasy: He would walk over to the boy and sit beside him. “Do you know who I am?” he would say. The boy would look up. “I am your guardian angel. I have been sent to tell you this: You are not bad, but good. Do you understand? You are not bad, but good. I only have a moment, but you are to keep this.”
He inventoried his pockets for something to give the boy.
“You are to keep this — it’s a magic quarter. Every time you see it, every time you touch it, you will magically remember that you are not bad, but good. You are good. Do you understand?
“Now, listen to me — one day you will lose the quarter. This is part of the plan. When this occurs, it means that each time you see any coin then you will remember that you are good.”
In the fantasy the man pressed the coin into the boy’s hand and quickly stood and walked away.
As he finished the fantasy, he saw the woman walk out of the washroom and return to the two good children and saw the three of them smile and rise and organize themselves around their bags. Just before they left, she looked at the boy on the bench and glared at him as if to say, “Well?” And the boy rose and followed them.
— David Mamet
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