The Right of Passage

Photo by Cristina Anne Costello on Unsplash

The Right of Passage

By

CJ Jerabek

Michael wiped a lone dripping bead of sweat from his freckled forehead as he kicked a crumpled Coke can along the sidewalk in front of him. It was August and the sun was hot in Dallas, Texas. But the heat barely phased the eight-year-old. He was born and raised in Texas so he was practically immune to sweltering temperatures.

Besides, Michael was on a mission. He was headed to his friend, Jake’s house. Micheal saw it as a right-of-passage event, the first time ever his mother had allowed him to walk the three blocks by himself.

“Be back for dinner and I mean it!” his mother had strictly instructed. “You go straight there, you understand me?” She was a bit nervous letting her son walk alone. But, the dishes, dusting, and dirty laundry were calling and it was her one and only day off from the hospital where she worked as nurses’ aid.

“Pinky promise!” Michael swore, sticking his pinky finger into the air. 

His mother locked pinkies with him and Michael dashed out the door.

Michael gave the can another swift kick, this time with more force than he intended. The can skipped off the sidewalk, danced onto the curb, then tumbled into the street. 

Knowing he shouldn’t, he looked both ways for oncoming cars then darted to pick the can up.

Out of nowhere, an old red Cadillac drove up, slowed down, and finally…stopped. It was a red-headed woman who looked about the same age as his mother.

“Great,” Michael mumbled, sure that the stranger was someone who worked with his mother and was about to scold him for stepping into the street. 

Worse, he figured with his rotten luck, she’d tell his mom and he’d be grounded for the rest of the summer.

The woman pulled up to the curb, put the car in park, and rolled the passenger window down by hand.

“Have you seen a little white fluffy puppy anywhere around here?” the woman asked in a quivering voice. She took out a tissue and dried her eyes then blew her nose.  

Michael was taken by surprise, happy he wasn’t in trouble, but sad for the woman and the puppy too.

“Uhhhh…no…I mean no ma’am,” he managed.  

The woman sniffed. “You look like a sweet boy,” she said. “Do you think you could help me look for him…for Snowball?”

Michael couldn’t turn the forlorn woman down. He didn’t want her to be sad and certainly couldn’t bear to think of Snowball getting hit by a car.

“Sure,” he answered.

The woman motioned for Michael to get in…and he did.

Michael sat frozen on a lump-ridden sticky fake leather black couch. 

It was dusk. The house was dimly lit and cluttered. It had taken half the day for Michael to realize there was no Snowball. Now, he was sick, knowing his mother was worried. He was sure Jake was too.

“You look a might like my son did,” the woman told him from the torn green recliner chair where she sat across the room. “Well, he had dark hair like you…and brown eyes. He looked more like his dad…God rest their souls.”

The Woman reached out, she touched Micheal’s head and then pushed his hair back away from his eyes. Finally, she brought her fingers under his chin and tipped his face upward. She examined him.

Michael was horrified. He didn’t know what to say or do. He felt bad for the woman, but he was also deeply concerned about his own situation. 

What did the woman want from him? 

He shuttered to think about it.

“Oh…how very rude of me,” the woman said in an almost evil laughing voice. “My name is Ruby…and you are?”

“Michael,” Michael whispered.

“Well, Michael, that is a lovely name,” Ruby rambled. “My son’s name was Kaleb. He was only four when he died. He caught a bad fever after we had been swimming in the lake. The doctors said he had Spinal Meningitis. It happened so quickly. I didn’t even get to say ‘good-bye’. My husband just died…of cancer. But it ate him slow…so there was plenty of time to say ‘good-bye’.” She smiled.

Michael didn’t know what to say. So, he said nothing at all. He clenched his arms and began to rock, trying to soothe his worried mind. It didn’t work.

The night was long and dark. Michael hardly slept and when he did, he dreamed the woman was eating him for dinner. A noise startled him and he awoke.

“Oh my heavens, I bet you are starving,” Ruby said in a crackly morning voice.

Michael heard his tummy rumble. “Yeah…sort of,” he replied.

“Well, I got some stuff, come sit with me in the kitchen,” Ruby suggested. 

Michael obeyed, he sat at the dining table in the kitchen. It was small, Ruby went about making breakfast. She had broken eggs into a bowl. She dosed a couple of pieces of bread in it. She tossed it in a pan. Ruby suddenly turned around. 

“Bacon or Sausage?” She asked

“Bacon!” Michael said forgetting his circumstances. 

“A man after my own heart!.” She smiled and kept cooking. 

Within moments the French toast and bacon were on a plate in front of Micheal. He ate ravenously. Ruby sat beside him at ate slowly. She was watching him. 

“What?” Micheal said. 

“I’m sorry to stare, I just thought it’s nice to have company.” She smiled. She raised her hand to touch him, but then she lowered it. Micheal didn’t notice. 

“I gotta go to the store, I forgot to get batteries last time I was out.” She said.

Michael was on autopilot. He felt like a zombie as he put one foot in front of the other and obediently got into the red car. Ruby drove to the grocery store and motioned for Michael to get out. “Choose something you like, I’ll get it for you,” she whispered as they walked inside. They walked into the store. Ruby got some batteries. 

“See anything you like?” Ruby said.

Three policemen grabbed Ruby, out of nowhere. She screamed as they slapped handcuffs on her. A fourth officer appeared and scooped Michael to safety. 

Within minutes, Ruby was carted off. She was screaming. Her eyes met Michael’s. He was sure she was trying to tell him she was sorry.

Michael’s mother arrived in no time. After they talked to the police and the news reporters who appeared suddenly, Michael and his mom went home. They never spoke of the incident again.

Michael was thirty now. He had a son of his own and a daughter too. The memory of his kidnapping had burned in his mind for decades. It was time to put it to rest.

He pulled up to the dilapidated old house. He thought it would feel creepier than it did. He had imagined having to force himself to go inside. That was not the case though. It was more like a magnet, beckoning him to come and visit.

“If these walls could only talk,” Michael thought to himself as he stepped onto the weathered wooden porch and crept through the opening where a door once was.

Michael found it odd that he never once thought of trying to escape from the home. Neither did he ever really feel his life was in danger.

A dusty picture hung on the wall, crooked. The glass was cracked. Michael drew closer. It was Ruby with her husband and young son. They looked so happy.  

It hit him like a punch in the stomach. What would he be like if his children and wife were gone? Would he too lose all sense of reality? He dared not imagine…it was too much to even think of.

“I hope you are alright, Ruby,” Michael whispered to the woman in the photo that hung haphazardly on the wall. “I want you to know I’m ok…and I hope you are too.”

With that, Michael walked out of the house. He got in his car and drove away without once looking in the rearview mirror.  

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