Crossing the Threshold in Rites of Passage

Old fashioned wood burning stove
Old fashioned wood burning stove | Source


The kitchen was drab. All the love and sense of family had long since left this small alcove at the back of the house.

An old-fashioned wood stove dominated the room. A young mother, worn beyond her years, stirred the pot of stew while cooking carrots and beans. Her oldest son, now 12, was sitting at the rickety table reading a newspaper while keeping his mother company. But fury and fear raged inside him. Fury at what his mother painfully endured for the sake of her family, and fear of the cruel punishment he would inevitably receive if he intervened. The roiling bile rising in his throat choked him to the point of silent helplessness.

They didn’t speak; it had been a hard day for the mother. She had been permitted to lie down for a short time following a cold lunch and a hard beating from her second husband, a tyrannical Scotsman. The beatings were mercifully short and usually confined to the parts of her body covered by clothes.

She no longer felt the physical pain. Her tears were shed only in the privacy of her room, away from her children. It was the shame she felt that gave her the most pain; the shame of not being able to provide a better home for her four children. Her inability to change the situation deepened her sense of defeat.

Lillian was from a large, happy Welsh family known for its glorious singing and unshakable faith in a merciful and loving God. She had married Robert Lawrence, a strong, loving Englishman who had given her a daughter and two sons, along with a small but safe home in the Welsh countryside. When her husband died from wounds suffered in the ‘war to end all wars’, it had taken every bit of her courage, strength and determination to survive on the small pension left to her.

The tall, lanky Scotsman looked so safe and reliable when he proposed 3 years later. And so he proved to be – for one lovely year. But, coal mining was not a benevolent livelihood. It made the men hard, tightfisted, and sometimes mean. For an already tough laborer, brought up in a stern, unyielding and authoritarian home, the combination of unforgiving work and rigid character forged the Scotsman into a harsh, unjust disciplinarian. He had given her one more son and now, four years of pain and agonizing regret.

Lillian could see by her oldest son’s rigid back and clenched jaw that, although he was sitting quietly, he was fighting an inner turmoil that threatened to erupt all over the barely controlled emotional scene. She knew one wrong word or gesture from her only slightly-restrained husband would serve as a match to a tinderbox.

Her hopes for a silent meal were dashed by the cruel expression on her husband’s face as he darkened the kitchen doorway to complain about the lateness of his evening meal. Had he punched his wife one more time he would have been found dead on the floor. The son’s barely contained fury would have finally overcome his overshadowing fear of punishment and pushed him to the point of blind murder.

But the Scotsman didn’t punch. He closed his black calloused hand around the back of his wife’s neck and squeezed harshly enough to raise a whimper of pain from the persecuted woman. The sound from his mother’s lips, even more than the grim scene, enraged the son beyond his endurance.

“Let my mother be,” demanded the boy in shrill tones of barely disguised hatred mingled with the chilling fear he had for his stepfather.

The husband whirled from mother to son, hovering menacingly over the boy’s shorter but sturdier frame. “Mind ye own business, boy,” he growled, “this be none of your concern.”

But the boy stood his ground, so close to the man he could smell his foul breath as he heaved his bitterness and impotence at the younger male.

“You will submit to my authority as head of this house,” hissed the Scotsman, “or ye shall know the business end of my stick.”

It was the threat of a beating from his walking stick that had proven to cower the boy in the past. It had never failed - until now. The usually cringing boy tried not to flinch. With all the strength he could muster, he drew himself up to his most commanding height. With clenched fists at his side he said evenly to the old man, “We take this outside, now!”

Man and boy glared at each other in mutual hatred. Both knew beyond a doubt whoever walked back into the house first was indeed the ‘man of the house.’

Lillian recognized the life-changing ritual about to take place. She understood she had no place in the ancient rite of dominance determined by physical superiority. As she stood quietly in the doorway of her kitchen and watched, she prayed that neither man would be destroyed by the outcome of the ritual about to be played out in her backyard. She knew if her husband won this battle she would suffer continued, possibly escalating abuse. But was her son too young to wear the mantle of ‘alpha male’ without it destroying his ability to acquire the more civilized experiences of a full and successful life?

Now outside, the boy stood with legs planted three feet apart, his arms at his side and his fists clenching and unclenching to the rhythm of his rapidly beating heart. “You will not hurt my mother again, not by word or deed. Do you understand, Mr. McGowan”?

The man, no more than five feet away, swayed menacingly as he took his stand, arms akimbo, and sneered at this boy-man he had never liked and certainly never wanted as a son. “You have no say in this matter, boy. You linger here at my will, not your own. Your mother is my wife – to be handled as I see fit and to discipline as I think necessary.”

To the surprise of both, the boy hit the man hard on his left jaw. The pain in his hand was excruciating. He could hardly imagine the pain the man felt but watched him stagger backwards in stunned surprise.

With a sheen of mist in his eyes and a desperate attempt to keep a squeak out of his alto, turning to tenor, voice, the boy repeated his order to the man, “You will not hurt my mother again, not by word or deed. Do you understand, Mr. McGowan”?

The man’s face now reddening with damage and shame, turned to the boy with murder in his eyes.

The boy still shaking his hand from the sharp pain of hitting his stepfather, recognized the inevitable intent in this callous man’s eyes and, before he could think about consequences, hit him hard again. This time he heard the crunch of bone splintering as he caught the older man’s nose and eye, again on the left side.

The man went down, terrifying the boy into believing he was dead. But with a low groan and a slow staggering to his feet, the man raised a hand as if to strike the boy. In disbelief and righteous anger, the boy grabbed the hand with both of his and twisted it back as hard and as far as he could. Once again, he sent the older man to the ground.

The man rose shakily and stepped back from the boy in cowering defense, his face a mess of blood and spittle. They stared at each other with complete understanding between them. The tide had turned. The mantle had shifted from man to boy. The boy gave the older man his own handkerchief, freshly cleaned, pressed, and folded, from his pocket.

“Clean yourself up before returning to the house,” the boy ordered. “Mother should not see you this way.”

The boy had turned into a man. “And from now on, Mr. McGowan, you will refer to me as Mr. Lawrence.”




This is a scene in a story about a astrophysicist who must use all his wits to avoid death and maintain his sanity before he can save his reputation in a world that is 30 years older than when he left it for deep space only 3 years ago.



© 2013 Marilyn Alexander

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Comments 34 comments

Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

This is a really wonderful short. The dialogue is good and it shows the strife and tension in such a situation. Men were definitely rougher in those days and boys turned into men much sooner.


moonfroth profile image

moonfroth 3 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

A well-tuned piece Marilyn. The man is well-drawn, the boy less so. IMO (been on the planet too long for the "H"), had you said just ONCE that he had backed down in the past, then focused on physical descriptions of his level of tension, you would have given the reader more opportunity to form his/her own opinion. The adage,

Show Don't Tell borders on a Law in poetry, but it's a powerful tool in fiction as well, don't you think? Another point--the TITLE makes the point about the rite of passage. I wouldn't mention it again, per se. Focus on how the mother feels, how she positions her body vis-a-vis the two males etc. Leave it at that. I think the more you LET THE READER INTO THE ROOM, the more willingly he/she will suspend disbelief and become a participant in the world you are unfolding. Please don't misunderstand--the tale is GOOD, just as it stands, but I don't think I've written a thing that couldn't be tweaked into something a little more powerful, and it's in that spirit that I make these little remarks. You write quite wonderfully--just a few thoughts of mine, that's all.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Hi Becky - thanks so much for reading and commenting on my short scene. It was the tension I was trying to establish. And yes, I am hoping 12 is not too young for a boy to take this dramatic step.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Maralexa, I have a son who was 6' tall at 12, stocky as a bull. He was also very protective of me. I think that there is a point even now for that step; with the right provocation. This boy was given the right provocation.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Moonfroth - Thank you so much for your valuable comments. I am so thankful you were willing to respond to my request for feed-back. So, if I understand, you suggest - 1. describe more tension in the boy re his fear of his step-father, 2. don't repeat the 'rites of passage' issue but rather stress how the mother feels about her husband and her son in regard to this issue.

As the boy is the main character in my story (not just this scene) I would like to show him as a strong character growing in several ways. I like your suggestion to make the tension in him stronger. Later in his life he makes his best decisions from this inner tension.

You may make these kinds of comments every time, moonfroth. I can't thank you enough. My best wishes to you, Marilyn.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

That's what I needed to hear, Becky! Thanks so much. I very much want to show this boy as protective of his mother. I also want to show him as respectful of his step-father for the position in the family he holds (because the man is married to his mother) but also the bitter hatred the boy has for this man because of the way he treats his mother. The boy isn't fully aware of his ability to successfully fight this man but, when he feels pushed to the edge he risks it all to stop the man's evil treatment of his mother.

Thanks again. Becky.


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

He showed respect by not screaming at his step-father and by calling him Mr. I think you showed respect of his elders and protectiveness of his mother, very well.


moonfroth profile image

moonfroth 3 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

Marilyn--yes---if for example we read that the boy's first words begain with a slight quiver, gaing in resonant depth towards the end of that brief first combative statement, and that his palms were wet with sweat WE THE READERS would say, "wow! he's scared as hell--but he's going ahead anyway. This kid's got balls!" Seems to me that's a stronger statement than if the omniscient narrator declares all that. Just some thoughts, as I say. . . . .


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

A good story - really enjoyed it.


kj force profile image

kj force 3 years ago from Florida

Maralexa...awesome read..you captured the moment,emotions and the

state of conditions beautifully..how mature of this young man ( merely a child) to have reached the decision to take charge without consideration to the consequences..love his closing line demand..Mr Lawrence !!

very compelling story...


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Becky - thanks for that reinforcement! Cheers


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

moonfroth - That's great. I understand much more clearly now. - again, thanks.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Hi Blossom - thanks so much. I'll be by to see a few more of your articles too. I see you have a number of new ones that look extremely interesting.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Hi kj - I also like his closing line demand. It's is fascinating how characters virtually write their own dialogue. Thanks for reading and your great comments. Much appreciated.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 3 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Great story. Loved it that the boy could defend his mom so well. Some men just don't realize the damage they do when they abuse.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Hi Gypsy! Thanks for your comments. It was frightening for this boy to challenge his step-father. If he didn't succeed he could count on severe retribution and most likely, greater abuse for his mother. Stopping his step-father's abuse was a "once and for all" measure that changed the dynamics of this home and changed the boy's life forever.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Excellent! You are a writer's writer, my friend. That story was just superb. I am so impressed!

I wrote one on the same topic called "The Blacksmith". You might like it.


carter06 profile image

carter06 3 years ago from Cronulla NSW

Really great tension in the story Marilyn, and certainly holds a readers interest..looking forward to the next episode..cheers


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Thanks for your comments about tension, carter06. I was trying to establish strong tension. The next episode will be a little while . . . The scenes about the boy are flashbacks for the man he becomes. Although I could write and write about the boy, I need to make each flashback strong within itself. I really appreciate your reading and commenting.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

WillStarr - I am so happy you read my scene! I admire your writing SO much I hoped you would make a comment. Any criticism is also gratefully received - that is why I shared this with my HubPages friends. I will read your hub on "The Blacksmith" with great interest. Many thanks, your fan, Marilyn.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I shared this one!


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

Really well done--great sense of the characters--


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Hi Audrey - thanks for your comments. I really wanted to show the boy's character while interacting with his step-father. I appreciate your reading and commenting. Marilyn


resspenser profile image

resspenser 3 years ago from South Carolina

I suspected that if Willstar liked it, I would too! Great story, I enjoyed it!


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Good to meet you resspenser - and thanks for the great comment. Isn't it true about WillStar?!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Maralexa,

Check out resspencer's story Target. Wow!:

http://hubpages.com/literature/Target-A-Short-Stor...


resspenser profile image

resspenser 3 years ago from South Carolina

Yes, Maralexa- it is true about Will. Also Thanks, WillStarr: Wow yourself!


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Thanks for the great referral, WillStarr. resspencer's stories are fantastic!

resspencer - I loved Target! and your police stories with Brockman and Tillman. You have a new fan.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Ronnie is a retired cop, who is also a very talented writer. I rank him right up there with Joseph Wambaugh, and I don't say that lightly.

You are also highly talented, and I hope to see much more from you.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Your words give me so much motivation. Thanks Will. I will continue to look to you, Ronnie and others to hone my skills in this area. As I mentioned, Crossing the Threshold is a scene from a bigger story I am writing. I hope to add another 'scene' about the Lawrence boy, soon. I take your comments to heart and appreciate them very much.


Rolly A Chabot profile image

Rolly A Chabot 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

Hi Maralexa ... you have done a great job at not only creating the characters but you have given them life through your words taking us directly into the scene. Well done...

Hugs from Canada


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Hi Rolly - as a published author I appreciate your comments. I like the way that you write, bringing out values in people's choices. Thanks for the hug - right back at you!


klidstone1970 profile image

klidstone1970 3 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

This was a very powerful scene. I was right behind them as they made their way outside to see who would come out on top and the fact that it was the boy was just phenomenal. Thanks for sharing.

Kim


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico Author

Hi Kim - thanks for your comments. I notice you write very interesting articles - I love the era. I look forward to gaining some insight from reading your works! Marilyn.

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