Just a Little Bit Crazy, Chapter 5

This entry is part 05 of 19 in the series Crazy

Chapter 5

It was almost twelve o’clock when Jim pulled up in front of the two metal signs.

Elly May stared at them for a moment then read out loud. Dead Horse Gulch. Rotten Ranch. She smiled at Jim. “Funny names aren’t they?”

“Yes I would say they are quite unusual to say the least. I thought maybe you would remember them.”

“Should I?”

Jim closed his eyes, searching for the right words. He remembered the monogram on her luggage. She thought her last name was Rooten. Someone had changed it for her; probably Uncle John and Aunt Nelly.

Jim began to perspire. Surely there was some gentle way of telling her.

Her hand was on his shoulder; her eyes were bright.

“What’s the matter darling? You look so serious.”

His mouth felt dry. He took her little hand in his. There was no other way out he must tell her.

“Elly May,” he gulped. “your name isn’t Rooten it is Rotten!” The girl looked dazed. A slap on the face would have been easier for her to take.

Jim swore under his breath. “Damn Elly May. It is just a name. Thank God someone had brains enough to change it for you.”

Her face was white and she bit her lip. “Oh Jim. This is awful!”

He slipped an arm around her and gave her a squeeze. His voice was low. “I am afraid that you are in for more surprises, and like this one, some of them will be quite unpleasant.”

She smiled bravely. “Elly May Rotten! I guess I might just as well get used to it.” She turned and faced him. “Kiss me Jim and may the good lord give me strength for what might lie ahead.”

He kissed her gently. “Don’t forget little gal. I am going to be right there beside you. And don’t worry. Everything is going to be just fine.”

She opened her purse and took out a little mirror and powder puff. She dabbed at her nose. “I may be Rotten,” she muttered. “But I’ll be darned if I want it to show.”

She sat up straight and stared out the window. “We might as well get going. Something tells me I’m not going to like what I see but I am as ready as I ever will be.”

The scenery changed as the jeep wound up the dusty crooked road. There was litter everywhere. Old car bodies were scattered about the bleached bones of dead animals that decorated the landscape. A giant buzzard soared overhead and a pungent aroma filled the air.

It had been a long time since Jim had been to the Rotten Ranch. The place was worse than he thought. The Rotten family had been there for about seventy five years and the place certainly looked it.

The new highway, which was under construction below would come up through Dead Horse Gulch. It had already been surveyed.

Seth Rotten had held up the project for several years, wanting a big price for his land. He had the State over a barrel for there was no other feasible route.

Finally they had reached an agreement. Next month construction would start here. The Rotten family would be paid off in full and would be forced to move. Dead Horse Gulch and Rotten Ranch would only be names to remember.

As the Jeep rounded a bend in the road they could see someone walking ahead of them. As they drew closer Jim recognized the Rotten twins, Jeb and Zeb.

They were carrying something between them. Each had hold of a grain bag. They were half dragging, half carrying it and it’s contents.

A big brown hound was following close behind. He was definitely interested in what was in they bag. Occasionally, he would lunge at it and bark loudly.

Whatever was inside the bag was very much alive. The barking of the dog caused it to wiggle and squirm.

The two boys seemed reluctant to move to the side of the road.

Dewey

They acted as though they didn’t hear the approaching vehicle. “The little brats,” Jim muttered. “They act like they want to get run over.”

“There’s something in the bag,” Elly May whispered. “It keeps wiggling.”

Jim nodded and gave the horn a blast. The twins moved slowly to the side of the road. They stood shoulder to shoulder staring out between the stringy strands of hair.

Elly May gazed at them for a few seconds. “Who are they? do you know them?”

Jim flushed, “Yes, I know them. They are your Uncle Sam’s boys. They answer to the names of Jeb and Zeb “

“Then they would be my cousins.”

Jim nodded.

She turned a shade paler. “They could certainly do with a haircut.”

“A good currying’ would help.”

The Jeep was approaching the old log cabin. Jim pointed with his thumb. “That is where your Uncle Sam lives. Those two back there are a couple of his offspring. There are a half dozen more around here somewhere.”

The door swung open and they came pouring out. They were all sizes. Two of them were little boys about four or five years of age. They had long stringy hair covering their faces.

There was no doubt about their sex as they were stark naked. There were two teenage boys, shirtless and barefoot. The eldest of the lot was two girls. Both fat and stringy haired.

Then the mother. filled the doorway, and it was really filled! She had put on a lot of weight, Jim thought.

All of them stood staring as the Jeep passed by. Jim wondered how they could see with all the stringy hair hanging down over their faces. He stepped on the gas. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Now it was only a couple of hundred feet to the home of Seth Rotten, the former home of Elly May.

He pulled up in front of the house and shut off the motor. The place was in shambles, junk was scattered everywhere. Chickens were scratching in the dusty yard looking for something to eat.

Jim glanced at Elly May. She didn’t look as though her homecoming had revived any fond memories.

“Does anything look familiar?” Jim asked.

“No. And somehow I am glad. Maybe it is better that I don’t remember.”

Seth’s old truck was nowhere in sight. Probably he and the boys had gone to town, Jim thought. He wondered if Martha was home.

Jim opened the door or the Jeep. They both climbed out and for a few seconds stood staring at the old house.

He took her by the arm. There was one thing he had better tell her. “Don’t mention anything about me looking at your card in the mail box. Just say that you met me in Ontario and I brought you here. They might get all shook up if they knew I took a peek in their mail box. I will explain to you later.”

“Just as you say, Jim.”

“And another thing. We have a nice guestroom at the ranch. You are mighty welcome there.”

“Thanks Jim.”

They picked their way through the chicken droppings to the front door. At one time the house had a big screened in porch. Now the screens were all gone. The place was piled high with old automobile tires.

Jim knocked on the door and stepped back.

There was a rustling sound inside the door swung open. For a moment Martha Rotten stood there staring at them. If she was either glad or surprised, it didn’t show.

Elly May advanced toward her the blue eyes were bright with tears. She extended both hands. “Oh Mother Martha. It is so nice to see you. It has been such a long time!”

Martha took the hands and for a few seconds stared down at her. There was a faint smile on her face.

“Wen well if it isn’t Elly May? And what fancy clothes! Are you going to a rodeo or have you already been?”

Martha swung the door open wide. “Come on both of you. You are letting in all the flys.

They stepped inside. Jim gave the room a quick look. It was long, as long as the house. One end was the kitchen. There was a beat up cupboard and a sink. There was an old wood stove with the name HOME COMFORT. Stamped on the oven door.

There was a table surrounded by several rickety chairs. At one time the floor had been covered with linoleum. Only patches of it remained. The walls and ceiling were covered with wall paper that was cracked and dirty.

The living room was continuation of the same. There were no rugs on the floor and it was full of cracks and dark with age.

The furniture was something to behold. They had taken the front seat from four of the old car bodies and scattered them about using them to sit on.

Beside one of them was a wooden box. It was full of empty beer- cans. By the other three were Hills Brothers coffee cans, partially full of sawdust. These were used as spittoons and ash treys.

Martha motioned for them to sit down at the table. “Make yourself at home.” she said’. “Such as it is.”

Jim’s eyes were on the two women. In no way did they resemble each other. They were about as much alike as a Great Dane and a toy poodle.

Martha had black hair streaked with gray. Her eyes were a brownish green. She had dark skin and course features – large nose and thick lips – in no way did she resemble the Elly May sitting beside her.

And there was something else! Funny he hadn’t thought of it before. Clyde and Oswald sounded lust like Seth when they talked and the mannerisms of their voices were similar.

Elly May had a soft musical voice. Martha’s was loud and harsh. Surely they couldn’t be mother and daughter!

Martha was saying. “This is really a surprise. What brings you here girl?”

Elly May was dabbing at her eyes with a powder puff, trying hard to keep her composure. “Should’ t I come and see you?” she asked.

Martha shook her head. “I don’t know girl. We don’t live like uncle John and aunt Nelly. Look at them fancy duds you are wearing. They don’t exactly match the surroundings do they? You should have at least let us know you were coming. We could have cleaned out a room.”

And another car seat for a bed, Jim thought.

“I did write mother. I dropped you a card about a week ago. I asked you to have someone meet me at the bus station. No one was there. Then I met Jim. He remembered me. He has been very nice he brought me here.”

Her voice was rising. “You ask me why I came here, mother. You pretend you don’t know? Alright I will tell you.”

Jim watched her blue eyes taking the hue of chipped ice. She continued, “Something happened to me four years ago to make me forget fourteen years of my life. What was it mother? I want to know. Her face was as white as chalk. “every time I ask you this question you evade the answer. Why? Also I understand I have a father and five brothers. None of them came to see me. Why? Answer my questions mother. Answer me!”

Martha stared at her and licked her thick lips. Slowly she shook her head and closed her dark eyes. Her voice was low and a bit hoarse.

“As for the first part of your question I am very sorry. I am not free to give you the answer. So please don’t ask again. However there is this much I will tell you. I was in no way responsible for your condition. and I have done everything I possibly could for you. Thank God you are well now. So why dig into the past? I don’t think there are any fond memories for you there.”

Martha paused for a moment and wiped her eyes with her apron. “As far as your father and brothers not coming to see you, you will have to ask them. I know one thing it costs money to travel and that is one item that has been mighty scarce around here.” She wiped her eyes on her faded apron.

She got up and went over to the big stove She lifted one of the lids and crammed more wood into the fire-box. She opened the oven door and took out a tray of cookies. Several loaves of bread were baking on the lower shelf. In spite of the surroundings the food looked and smelt appetizing.

Martha forked the cookies on to a big platter. “Seems like I’m cooking all the time,” she muttered. “I don’t know how in the world I managed when all of you were home.”

She turned to a bowl that was setting on the drain board. “I was just starting to make some frosting when you came. See if you will excuse me and I will go ahead and finish the job.”

Elly May had once more gained control of her feelings. “Go ahead mother. We will watch.”

Martha took an eggbeater from a drawer, poked the blades into the bowl and spun the handle. Bits of the stuff flew about the room. After a couple of minutes of beating she picked up a spoon and tasted the mixture. “Need’s something,” she muttered. She selected a bottle from a shelf, measured out a spoonful and dumped it into the bowl. Once more she picked up the beater.

For several minutes she beat the mixture. Then took the spoon and sampled it once more. “Tastes good,” she smiled. She turned to her company. “How about a couple of home-made cookies with some of this to spice them up a bit?”

Both Jim and Elly May nodded.

Martha spooned some of the mixture on a few of the cookies and put them on the table. “Help yourself,” she offered.

Jim and Elly May helped themselves and took a bite. Then for the first time since they had entered the house Jim spoke.

“Boy, these are sure good cookies, and that frosting you just made it is delicious!”

Elly May nodded. “They sure are good. You must give me your recipe mother Martha.”

Martha beamed. It had been a long time since anyone had given her a compliment.

“Have some more.” she smiled. “It’s nice to cook for someone who appreciates my efforts.”

Both Jim and Elly May took another helping.

“Where are the men today.” Jim asked.

Martha shrugged her shoulders. “Gone as usual. They always go to town on Saturday. Go to town and get drunk You can bet you last dollar on that “ She produced a handkerchief and blew her nose.

“Yes they are in town getting drunk. They never take me. All I do is stay home and slave for them. I do all the washing and cooking and try and keep this dirty house clean. All they think about is feeding their faces – that and getting drunk!”

Martha was working herself into a righteous rage. Her face was turning red. Two big tears formed in her eyes.

She picked up one of the cookies, tasted it, then took a big bite. Her wrath was mounting by the second. She glanced dawn at the frosted cookies. “They are good aren’t they. “ Her face was turning dark. “Too damn rood for their worthless hides.”

She took another bite, then glanced dawn at the bowl containing the frosting.” I fix something real good and do you think I get one kind word? Hell no don’t. The better I make it the more they eat and the harder I have to work. I just can’t win!” Martha was furious. “They don’t deserve anything good. They area bunch of pigs.”

A look of cunning crossed her face. She was staring at a plastic bottle, which bore the label, Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid. Quickly she grabbed the bottle and squeezed a generous amount into the frosting dish.

A look of fiendish joy spread over her homely face. Her voice was loud and harsh. “That should make them last for a while!”

A smile spread over Jim’s face. Although Martha had not been born a Rotten some of their ways had certainly rubbed off on her.

Jim was having trouble keeping a straight face. The shock of Martha dumping soap into the food had come as a big surprise. He glanced at Elly May May. One quick look told him that in her four short years of remembering she had never seen anything like this! Her pretty mouth hung open as she watched Martha apply the bubbly mass.

Martha was; evidently enjoying herself. There was a tight grin on her lace. It resembled more of a snarl, Jim. thought. As she placed each frosted cookie on the platter her lips would move as if putting a separate curse on each of them.

Jim closed his eyes. He could imagine seeing Seth Clyde and Oswald each grabbing a handful of cookies and stuffing them in their faces. They would have most of it ground up and swallowed before they realized that something was wrong. There would be foam dripping front their chins. They would froth at the mouth.

The picture in his mind was becoming more vivid by the second. He opened his eyes quick to keep from bursting into a fit of laughter. However he couldn’t suppress the chuckle that emerged.

Martha stared at him for a moment. Slowly a faint smile came to her face. “I guess I sort of got carried away.” she muttered. Anyhow I don’t think a little soap will kill them.”

She opened a drawer and pulled out a white cloth. She whipped it over the platter, driving off the flies. She spread the cloth over the food. “At least the flies think it’s good.” she grinned.

With the cookies out of the way she opened the oven door and took a peek at the bread. Once more she took off a lid and poked more wood into the firebox. The stove was not only cooking the bread but was also doing a fair job on the people in the room.

Jim ran his finger around the inside of his shirt collar. He glanced at Elly May. Tiny beads of perspiration stood out on her forehead.

Martha sized up the situation. “There is plenty of wood in the stove to bake the bread. Let’s go outside where it will be much cooler.”

Many years ago, a row of locust trees had been planted at the rear of the house. They extended as far down as the old log cabin. An irrigation ditch ran close to them giving them plenty of water. The grass on the ditchbank was tall and green. Several rough tables and benches were scattered down the line. There was a teeter-totter and a couple of swings hung from the tree branches. Several children were playing there. They were the offspring of Sam Rotten.

The trio sat down on one of the benches. It would have been quite pleasant had it not been for the slight breeze coming up the gulch. Evidently someone had recently donated some fresh coyote bait to the Rotten family.

Elly May sniffed the air. She turned her back to the wind in an effort to avoid this aroma. She wrinkled up her nose. “What is that awful smell?”

Martha sniffed. “I don’t smell anything.” Evidently she had become immune to this fragrance.

About fifty feet below them the Rotten youngsters were gathered around one of the tables. On the table was a brown burlap bag. Something was alive inside the bag. It kept moving about on the table top.

Of course Jeb and Zeb were there and were the center of the attraction. One of them had a long sharp stick and kept poking away at the bag. The big brown dog barked loudly.

Suddenly someone grabbed the sack and pulled it off the table. Immediately it was surrounded by all the children. The dog was on the inside growling viciously.

Jim glanced at Elly May. She was watching with her eyes wide and the thumb and forefinger of her left hand was clamped firmly over the end of her nose.

Suddenly the dog let out a yelp followed by a series of sharp barks.

“I wonder what the devil they are up to.” Jim muttered. “’Whatever it is, nothing good will come of it.”

Martha nodded. “Those little devils – Jeb and Zeb always like to show off, especially when company is around.”

The dog let out another yelp. Elly May’s eyes were big and round. “Oh I hope they are not hurting the dog!” Her voice trembled. “Oh Jim can you stop them?”

Her hopes were short lived. The dog barked loudly and began to howl! Then all hell broke loose. The children were all yelling and screaming. The dog broke through the circle with a mighty leap. On his back was a big yellow tomcat who had his claws buried deep. The cat’s ears were flat, his back was arched he was hanging on for dear life. He spit his fury

With every leap the dog was trying every trick he knew to unseat this creature on his back. He stopped suddenly and rolled over. The cat turned loose for a second the hound took off in a cloud of dust. But he was a long way from getting rid of the big cat. Their tails were tied together with a short rope!

The trio stood staring at the animals that were battling their way toward them, each trying to get rid of the other.

The hound was furious and greatly confused What had started out to be great sport for him had turned into a disaster. The yellow demon tied to his tail was a tornado: Each time he turned to crush the creature with his mighty jaws his own tail would pull it out of his reach. But not before his nose and ears were ripped by sharp claws.

Jim went into action. He grabbed an old shovel was leaning against one of the trees and ran to the struggling pair.

Both animals saw this new menace coming at them with a shovel. This was too much for them. They quit fighting. The dog tried to go one way the cat the other. The rope was stretched tight. Jim came down hard with the blade of the shovel. The rope parted.

The big yellow tom cat took off in a cloud of dust. Judging from the speed he was going he would be in the next county before sundown, thought Jim.

The hound was headed in the other direction. He had had enough of cats for one day. Without a backward look he tore up the gulch. If he could find a hole he would surely crawl in it.

Suddenly Jim realized that he was under attract. Jab and Zeb were kicking him on the shins and screaming profane cuss words.

Martha decided it was time for her to enter the conflict. She broke a branch off the locust tree. On it was sharp spikes about an inch long. Martha let out an Indian type yell and charged.

One of the tribe shouted a warning. He had seen Martha in action before. The terrible twins turned and fled.

Jim turned to Elly May. She was as white as a sheet, her big blue eyes were wide with wonder. He slipped an arm around her waist his voice was gentle, “Don’t you think you have had enough for one day?”

She nodded dumbly. “Please.” she whispered. “Please take me away from here.” she turned to Martha. “I will be staying at Jim’s place. I will see you later.”

Martha stared at her for a moment then nodded her head.

“Yes I think that will be wise. I am sure that Jim and his mother will take good care of you. If I had known you were coming I would have had a room ready for you.”

“Thanks mother. But I think it will be much better this way.”

Jim took her by the hand and they started walking slowly toward the Jeep.

Series NavigationJust a Little Bit Crazy, Chapter 4Just a Little Bit Crazy, Chapter 6

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