03 Oct I Said It With Flowers
“I Said It With Flowers”Written by John Gibson Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 22 minutes
There’s this little flower shop on the way home from the office. At least, I thought it was a flower shop. The sign on the window says, “Granny’s Yarbs and Apothecary.” I wasn’t sure what to make of a name like that, but since the dirty shop windows were filled with plants and blooms, I figured they sold flowers.
I stopped in there back in February of last year. That was just before Madison started to…change.
* * * * * *
My family prides itself on how down to Earth we are, so it’s a tradition that every Montgomery “comes home” after he gets his MBA and spends a few years running the first factory that our great-great-great-grandfather built. This isn’t really home to any of us anymore—in my case, I mostly grew up in Eastern boarding schools—but the tradition still keeps us grounded.
My wife hated it here from the moment we drove my Jaguar down the dark, twisty, potholed, two-lane road to this godforsaken place, but Madison knew the rules when she agreed to become Mrs. Mortimer Montgomery. The standard Montgomery prenuptial agreement spelled out how she would have to live with me as my wife for two years before she would be entitled to anything at all in a divorce. Montgomery men have been marrying and divorcing trophy wives for a long, long time, and we can afford the best lawyers money can buy, so it’s an airtight contract.
Plus, as I told Madison when she complained about having to live out in the sticks with me for two entire years, it’s not as if I had it any better. The terms of the Montgomery Family Trust are as crystal clear and binding on me as the prenup is on her. I have to run that first Montgomery Mechanicals factory until the next Montgomery in the line mints his MBA, and that’s going to be at least three years, by the look of things. If I don’t stick it out, I won’t get my full share of the family fortune. I told her that living in the hills far beyond civilization was just something we had to endure for the sake of our future. How bad could it be?
And it’s not like I’m a monster. I wanted my wife to be happy if only so my life at home would be more pleasant. That’s why I stopped to buy her those damn flowers.
* * * * * *
A bell jangled when I opened the squeaky door to Granny’s Yarbs and Apothecary. I don’t know why there was a bell because the entire shop was just a single tiny room packed tight with shelves, what looked like a kitchen table, and a rocking chair in the center of the room. The shelves were full of jars and vials and bottles and bits of dried plants. The table was cluttered with bowls, trays, and a mortar and pestle. The rocking chair, meanwhile, contained an old hillbilly woman.
The old woman looked up at me as I entered her little shop. Her long hair was thin and white, but at least it seemed to have been recently washed and combed. Her face was thin but somehow strong, even though she looked to be short of stature and frail of bone. She wore a dress made of a blue fabric with tiny flowers all over it. The cut of the dress was nothing like what women wear outside of the hills. Madison called the style favored by the crones of the area “hill-shack-chic,” but there was nothing chic about it.
The old woman didn’t so much as stand up to greet me as I creaked across the floor’s wooden planks. She just kept rocking as she met my eyes.
“What’s it thet yer wannin’?” she asked me.
Fortunately, I’m good with languages, having spent so much time abroad. By then, I’d picked up enough of the peculiar local dialect to understand her question. Naturally, I answered with perfect English.
“I would like a bouquet of flowers for my wife, the best you have.” She rocked and considered my request before replying.
“Ain’t ne’er had no Montgomery in hare before.”
The smell of dried flowers, pungent ointments I didn’t want to think about too much, and what looked like five dead possums hanging by their tails over the back door filled the place with an oppressive scent. I wanted to leave and never come back. Instead of giving in to my impulse to flee, though, I reminded myself that once I got my full inheritance, I could buy up what little of the town my family didn’t already own. Thus encouraged, I responded with a tone that I intended to communicate to this “granny” person that I was, indeed, her better.
“If your bouquet pleases my bride, perhaps I will return for additional purchases in the future. Be warned, however, that my wife’s standards are quite high.”
It was certainly true that Madison’s standards in matters such as fashion, home décor, and floral arrangements were, indeed, quite high. I was pretty sure that those high standards were the biggest reason she agreed to marry me at all since few other men could afford for her to live up to those very high standards.
The old woman’s piercing blue eyes bore into mine as she rose from her chair and announced, “Even if she’s got mighty perticular standards, I reckon I’ll make a boo-kay that’ll have yer missus sendin’ ya back fer more.”
“That will be fine,” I told her, happy to be done with the conversation. The way she said BOO-kay with the strange elocution and the emphasis on the first syllable grated on me. Perhaps it just reminded me too much of the way certain undesirable elements refer to the “PO-lice,” but I reminded myself that this was just how these people talked.
I contemplated the ways in which language reveals breeding as the old woman rummaged through her prodigious supplies. She cut some handsome blossoms off of a live plant with a slender-bladed knife that she produced from a pocket in her dress. Then, with a quickness that belied her advanced age and slow demeanor, the old woman assembled a large bundle of fresh-cut flowers and foliage, added generous clumps of dried flowers she carefully selected from a high shelf, and then tied a black ribbon around all of the stems. Finally, she dipped the cut stems into a jar filled with some kind of an ointment before handing me the non-traditional, but yet somehow still attractive, arrangement.
“That’ll be five dollars, mister. If’n your missus likes it, and I know she sho will, there’s more where that came from.”
I handed over my money and vacated the premises as fast as I could. The bare branches of the trees groped overhead as I drove my Jag as fast as I dared on my way home to Madison.
* * * * * *
In the beginning, living here was harder on Madison than it was on me. I at least had the dilapidated factory half-staffed with desultory hillbillies to go to, but Madison was stuck in the big, gloomy mansion my great-great-grandfather had built to his peculiar tastes. He’d situated the place well outside of town and away from what he termed “the riffraff.” In her prior life, Madison had lived a life of soirees, ladies’ lunches, and upscale shopping with her posh friends. The Ozark hills lack any sort of cultured activities, and they certainly didn’t have any suitably posh women to be Madison’s friends.
Poor Madison went from her honeymoon on the French Riviera directly to the Ozarks. We had a gay time along the Mediterranean. Madison laughed and drank bottles of white wine on the beach, and she even felt amorous a few times after the wedding night. Most importantly, she was a beautiful woman on my arm, playing the part of Mrs. Mortimer Montgomery very well when we met family friends and colleagues on their holidays.
But, like all good things, the honeymoon came to an end and we had to move to where my family is from. I had spent as little time as possible in the Ozarks growing up, and I desperately looked forward to doing that again.
* * * * * *
As I drove home with the first bouquet, I thought that my interaction with the proprietress of Granny’s Yarbs and Apothecary had gone better than I had expected. Locals often refused to have anything to do with us even when we were trying to patronize their businesses, but the old woman had seemed at least somewhat pleased to service my needs. I lost myself in daydreaming that perhaps I would be the first Montgomery to win over the local populace to serve as an appropriately grateful workforce for our endeavors.
It’s not easy living amongst people who hate you for your hard work, intelligence, and inevitable success. The locals have never cared for my family. Montgomery Mechanicals is the only major employer for a hundred miles around, so you would think that the desperately poor people living here would appreciate us, but you would be quite wrong in thinking that.
My great-great-grandfather kept a diary, and even back in the beginning of our company, he wrote about the “ungrateful, lazy hillbillies” who tried to burn his factory down after he brought in strike-breakers. Alas, the situation has not improved in the many years since Maximillian Montgomery first built the factory deep in the Ozarks. Poor Maximillian was only there because the equally ungrateful people of rural Alabama had turned on him in those tumultuous years after the Civil War. Maximillian had traveled from Boston to assist the people of the rural South with their reconstruction, and while my ancestor made a large profit in Alabama, he was not well received by the shiftless local populace. And, before you even start thinking that my forebearer was a racist, I must inform you that Maximillian’s exit from Alabama involved the only mixed-race mob in Alabama history! Apparently, sloth and ungratefulness is common to both races in rural Alabama.
The malice toward us in the Ozarks was so bad that Madison wasn’t even able to hire household help from the local stock. From the look of the shacks these people live in, I expected that we would be overwhelmed with qualified applicants when we took out an ad in the weekly newspaper offering to pay the outrageous sum of $7.50 an hour for a woman to cook and clean for us in the mansion, but there wasn’t a single applicant for the position! There’s no explanation for that lack of initiative other than laziness and overgenerous governmental welfare. We eventually had to bring a woman in from overseas to cook and clean. She was from Slovenia, I think? Or maybe Slovakia? It was some Eastern European nation where the peasants were sufficiently desperate to commit to three years of servitude in order to come to America. Of course, those stupid immigrants never expect that a job in America will be in a backward, accursed place that they’ve never heard of. The conditions of the community came as quite a surprise to our Slovakian peasant woman. I think that she would have left us by Christmas if we hadn’t taken her passport from her when she arrived.
* * * * * *
I had to search for Madison when I got home with that first bouquet. I even resorted to asking the peasant woman in the kitchen if she knew where my wife was, but the stupid thing just blanched and shook her head at me as she babbled something in her strange tongue.
With no help coming from the Slavoskian woman, I set off hunting for my wife, my bouquet held firmly in my fist. Madison wasn’t in the library, or the study, or the solarium, or the gun room, or the studio, or the home gym, so I went upstairs. I finally found her sitting on the floor of our bathroom, with the door closed and the lights off, crying and clutching a Nieman Marcus catalog to her chest.
I put on my doting husband voice.
“Hey, Madison, I bought you a bouquet of flowers,” I told her as I held the bundle of plant matter out to her.
Madison managed to look up at me. Tears were streaming down her face and streaking her makeup. She hesitated when she saw the bouquet, but she finally took it and sniffed the flowers with understandable apprehension. Something about the scent must have pleased her because she immediately buried her face into the flowers and began to inhale deeply. After maybe a minute, she lowered the flowers and climbed to her feet.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I need to pull myself together.” “Oh, don’t worry, my dear.” I kept using my doting husband voice as I answered her.
Her rapidly improving mood encouraged me so much that I leaned over and gave her the barest peck on her tear-stained cheek. To my surprise, as I came near to her, Madison threw her arms around me. She pressed herself against me there between the ghastly toilet open to the room and the sinks, her chest heaving as she went from sobbing to…something else I didn’t quite recognize.
* * * * * *
Dinner that night was another peculiar goulash, or whatever it was the peasant considered to be food. Madison and I ate together in the dining room as usual, with the hired woman discreetly out of sight. Madison was absolutely chatty, asking me about my day at the factory and telling me about how lovely the grounds around the mansion looked under the dusting of new snow we’d received that afternoon. She even complimented the food, wretched as it was, saying, “My, I must tell Evulka how delicious this is!”
I scowled at her. “Who’s Evalva?” I asked.
Madison laughed for the first time since we’d arrived in the Ozarks.
“Not Evalva,” she giggled. “Evulka. Our cook. She made a delicious dinner tonight, so I should thank her.”
Madison stood with a flourish. I was confused.
“Excuse me, Madison, are you feeling well?” I asked her. “You seem a bit out of sorts this evening, my dear. Perhaps you need to retire early.”
Madison gave me a smile that I hadn’t seen since the South of France. Then she winked at me and said, “I do believe that I would like to turn in early tonight. Will you meet me in bed in an hour’s time?”
“Ummm—” I stammered. “Certainly? I mean, yes, you need your rest, dear.” Madison winked at me again before she walked off toward the kitchen, calling out, “Evulka, dear, that was a wonderful meal!” I left the table quickly and headed to my upstairs office. We eat late, as befits our station, so it wasn’t unreasonably early to go to bed. Still, I wanted to review some documents I’d printed off at the office that afternoon. Fifty minutes after dinner ended, I was sitting up in bed reading a proposed supplier contract when Madison slinked into the room.
“Good evening, sweetie,” she purred at me.
“Good evening, dear,” I responded without looking up.
“Give me a few moments and I will join you,” Madison said.
“That’s fine, dear,” I said.
I heard Madison rummaging around in the closet and the bathroom, but I paid her little mind. Instead, I was focused on a particularly troublesome clause that would have obliged Montgomery Mechanicals to pay an unacceptably high price for plastic if the supplier’s input costs increased. I was jotting my notes in red ink along the margin of the page to discuss on the phone with my attorney the next morning when Madison suddenly leaned down between me and the contract.
“That’s surely enough work tonight, baby,” she said as she nibbled my ear lobe.
A tingle of excitement mingled with fear shot through me as I realized she was wearing the negligee from her bridal trousseau. I marked my place on the paper as Madison sauntered around to her side of the bed. I’d barely placed the papers on my nightstand before Madison leaped into the bed and threw a leg across my hips.
“Oh, baby,” she murmured as she brushed her lips along my neck, “I loved those flowers. Thank you for being so considerate.”
Then she was on me with a passion that I didn’t recognize, not even from our honeymoon on the Mediterranean. Worried though I was about what was happening to my wife, I did my husbandly duty. Both times.
* * * * * *
After a few surreal weeks during which Madison was pleasantly happy and, of all the bizarre things, took up hiking around the grounds of the mansion, I returned at my wife’s behest to Granny’s Yarbs and Apothecary for another bouquet. The old woman inside was busy mashing something at her table when the bell on the door jangled to announce my rather obvious entrance. Without even looking up, the old crone greeted me.
“Well, Mr. Montgomery, I take it your missus liked them flowers real well?” “My wife liked the bouquet just fine.” I always made it a point to use proper English and careful elocution when I spoke with these people. “I have returned to purchase another bouquet for her, if I may.” The tiny woman nodded at my words, her eyes still on whatever it was she was doing with her mortar and pestle.
“I was figuring’ as much,” she said, “so I’ve been workin’ up sump’an special for you’uns.” I should have known it! The old crone was going to try to sell me some ‘special’ bouquet at an unnecessary higher price! Well, the Montgomeries didn’t become wealthy by giving in to such tactics.
“I assure you, madam, that we do not require anything beyond the basic bouquet.” The old woman hit me with a stare from those terrible blue eyes.
“Don’t you worry, Morty,” she told me. “I ain’t a gonna charge ya any extree for this one. It’s still a-gonna be jus’ five dollar.”
* * * * * *
The second bundle of flowers smelled even more potent than the first. Their stems had been dipped in a pungent salve that smelled so bad that I had to roll down the windows of my Jaguar for the drive home. It was a drizzly, cold afternoon in early March. I dreaded getting my car’s soft leather upholstery wet, but the penetrating stench of the bundle would have overwhelmed me otherwise.
As I drove slowly up our long, meandering driveway, I realized, to my horror, that Madison was marching around outside of the house like some common groundskeeper! She was even carrying a bundle of some sort in her arms. She had a companion with her, and the two women had an air of holiday about them as they took deliberate, long paces along the south lawn of the mansion. Every few strides, Madison would stop, and her companion would take something from the bundle my wife carried—a stake, I saw as I drew almost up to the carriage house—and then her companion would use a hammer to drive the stake into the ground.
I nearly crashed my car into one of those damned oak trees when I realized who Madison was pacing about the lawn with. Her new companion was the Salvian peasant woman I’d hired to cook for us! I slammed on the brakes before I even reached the carriage house and left my precious Jaguar running in the driveway with its windows open.
“What the HELL do you think you’re doing!?” I screamed as I charged across the lawn. The peasant tried to hide behind my wife as I approached. Madison just beamed at me.
“Evulka and I are laying out the vegetable garden, dear!” Madison’s voice bubbled like she’d just found a new color of Birkin Bag. “The sun on this side of the house should be perfect!”
“How are we going to hire a gardener when we can’t even find a decent cook!?” I bellowed.
“Don’t worry, silly,” she said, “I can tend to the garden.” Then her nose quivered as she sniffed the cold, damp air.
“Oh, Morty!” she squealed. “You brought me more flowers!”
* * * * * *
In the days that followed, Madison terrified me with her escalating enthusiasms. As perplexing as her desire for at least nightly congress was, her newfound fondness for both physical labor and the company of the peasant woman made it clear that Madison was losing her mind.
Every morning, Madison was out of bed before dawn and digging in our lawn. Usually, the peasant woman was with her, both of them dressed in frumpy jeans that looked like they came from the gas station in town. Madison even took to wearing some kind of rubber gardening clogs instead of the stiletto heels and strappy sandals she used to favor. It was both pathetic and tragic for her, but I increasingly worried that I might not be safe around my dangerously deranged wife.
Madison even bought a rototiller by mail-order, along with a toolset. When I came home from work one Tuesday in April, she was using her new tools to assemble the tiller right there in the carriage house. I scowled at her and told her that this sort of work was not very ladylike. She giggled at that, a mirthful sound that sent shivers down my spine. The next morning she wielded the tiller herself to dig up two dozen patches of grass under our bedroom window, waking me at an ungodly hour.
* * * * * *
I foolishly hoped it would pass, but Madison kept falling deeper and deeper into her madness. She even began cooking the enormous amount of produce she was producing in her new garden.
I came home on a Friday evening in May, and I had to search the entire mansion before I finally located my wife in the kitchen using some sort of knife to cut an onion into small pieces. The Selvegian peasant was right beside my poor, sick bride, demonstrating the process with a knife of her own as she gestured and spoke in broken English.
“What is going on here!?” I demanded.
The cook cowered at my voice in a gratifying way, but Madison spun around at my shout and beamed at me.
“Oh,” she said, “Evulka is being a dear and showing me how to dice an onion.” “Why in the world,” I asked, “do you want to learn how to dowse an onion?” Madison giggled at me like a cheap floozy.
“It’s dice, not dowse, silly!” She set the knife down on the counter and walked over to me. She placed a lingering kiss on my cheek. “And why shouldn’t I learn how to cook for you?”
“Because you’re Madison Montgomery? Because we hire people to cook for me?” Madison laughed again, threw her arms around my neck, and kicked a foot back as she looked up at me.
“It’s all well and good to hire help sometimes,” she said, “but I still want to be able to do for my man.” She kissed me on the mouth then, hard, before she pushed me away.
“Dinner will be ready in about an hour, baby,” she told me. “You go relax.” Then she turned back to Evulka and started to cut up what I think was a carrot, only it had something green and leafy coming out of one end.
* * * * * *
Despite my dread for the terrible little shop, Madison’s powerful insistence and my fear of my altered wife compelled me to keep buying “bouquets” from that crazy old woman every few weeks.
When August began with a terrible heatwave that severely tested my automobile’s air-conditioning, my purchase from Granny’s Yarbs and Apothecary was the weirdest yet. It was just a glass jar full of greenish water with petals of some sort floating above twisty tendrils of chopped roots. The jar and its contents were so repulsive that I was terrified of what Madison’s response to receiving it would be. Surely she was not so far gone as to deem a jar of disgusting glop acceptable! Still, she had insisted that I obtain another “gift from Granny” that day, so I feared what Madison would do if I returned home empty-handed. A part of me that remembered Madison from the French Riviera was certain that this terrible jar of foulness would break the spell that horrible woman had put my wife under.
Finding Madison to even give her the jar of disgusting water proved to be difficult. I had to search through the entire garden before I found her and the peasant woman hoeing the ground beneath towering plants that Madison called “okra.” So deep was Madison’s madness, instead of being horrified by the concoction that was in no way a bouquet, she squealed with delight, opened the lid, and started to drink the contents of the jar in eager gulps.
Discretion being the better part of valor, I asked Madison to put the hoe down. She dutifully laid it at her feet as she licked the remaining drops of green-tinted liquid from her lips. Then I took a deep breath and said it just like I’d practiced in my Jaguar driving back to the mansion that afternoon.
“I absolutely am not buying you any more gifts from that granny person.” “Are you sure of that, sweetie?” She winked at me. “I promise to make it worth your while if you keep fetching me gifts from granny.” She winked again.
“I am certain of my decision,” I said. “I don’t know how that old witch’s vaguely floral monstrosities have made you so deranged, but I hope that you come to your senses again once you cease receiving them.”
Madison looked at me with indignation.
“Granny Branson ain’t no witch,” she shouted, “she’s a proper granny!” “Excuse me, a what?” I asked.
“A granny! Granny ain’t no devil worshipers like witches are! Granny Branson’s mama was a granny, and her mama’s mama was a granny before that, and so on, for as long as anybody ‘round here knows.”
I rubbed my forehead as I tried to process my wife’s sudden interest in the genealogies of the local stock.
“I don’t understand,” I said slowly and carefully, “what’s so special about an old hillbilly woman being a grandmother. I had a grandmother. You still have a grandmother alive. For God’s sake, Madison, your grandmother came to our wedding! Maybe you should go visit her and take a little break from this area.”
Madison shook her head at that.
“Absolutely not, Morty! My place is right here, with my husband to do fer you. ‘Sides, I’takes a lot more than bein’ a grandmother to be a granny!”
“And why are you talking like one of them now!?” I demanded.
“Ah, baby, that jus’ happens natural like from bein’ ‘round folks, is all. It was mighty lonely, with just me and Evulka hare all by ourselves, all day, every day, ‘til we started goin’ inta town some to see Granny Branson.” Madison winked at our cook. “And I do believe that our Evulka here’s a-fixin’ to take up with Granny Branson’s grandson Bobby that runs the gas station.” The peasant woman blushed, then nodded.
“Wait, you’ve been going into town by yourself to see this granny person?” “Not by myself, sweetie. I’ve been takin’ Evulka with me. That’s how it was she met Bobby.” I took a deep breath to steady my nerves.
“Madison,” I began in the calmest voice I could muster, “I absolutely forbid you from going into town to see this granny person anymore.”
Madison frowned, but then she sort of looked past me and said, “Well, you are the man of the house. If that’s what ya say, I won’t be a-goin’ inta town to see Granny Branson nomore.” Then she added, more to the peasant than to me, “Good thing Granny Branson gave me all them seeds.”
* * * * * *
By October, I’d made up my mind. It was clear that the beautiful, cultured woman I’d chosen to be my first wife was gone, somehow perverted by something that old crone had done. I couldn’t understand it, but I didn’t have to live with it.
I called my lawyer.
Of course, Allen was a corporate attorney, so he didn’t want to handle the divorce himself. Fortunately, his firm has an office in St. Louis, and one of his partners there was reputed to be the top divorce attorney in all of Missouri. The Montgomery name and fortune was enough to get that partner, William Quantail, to meet me at the factory the very next day. Of course, it helped that I had already wired him a six-figure retainer and was paying him $500 an hour to drive down the twisty, terrifying roads that spend more time going back and forth and up and down than in a more productive direction. Still, it was gratifying to take charge of the situation. His rates were a small price to pay to extract me from the daily terror of my wife’s alteration.
William Quantail arrived at my corner office an hour late wearing an expensive but rumpled suit, carrying a smart leather briefcase and slurping on a straw from an enormous white styrofoam cup. He burst into my office briskly and unannounced, my eighth secretary apparently having gone missing without my leave like the rest had before her. William immediately apologized for his tardiness.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting, Morty,” he said, “but I had a bit of car trouble outside of town.” I flinched at the greeting.
“I understand that the roads are hard on vehicles around here, Mr. Quantail, but I must ask that you refrain from calling me ‘Morty.’ It’s an unfortunate nickname that my soon-to-be-ex-wife and one of the locals have taken to calling me, and I do not care for it at all.”
The lawyer nodded and sat down in a chair across from my desk without so much as an invitation.
“I’m sorry about that, Mor—Mr. Montgomery. It’s just that the boys down at the gas station called you that while they was a-fixin’ my car.”
I was beginning to have doubts about my legal counsel.
“Excuse me, Mr. Quantail, what did you say? In proper English, please.” He took another long draw on his cup before he answered.
“Well, I was a-saying—” he stopped himself, took a deep breath, and began again. “The men at the service station repaired my car, and while I waited, they talked about how this newest Montgomery was, as they put it, ‘a-goin’ ta be diff’rent.’ They called you Morty instead of Mortimer, so I thought you’d adopted the moniker.”
It looked like getting that out in proper English had exhausted him. He took another long drink and sighed.
“This here concoction they had in the fillin’ station sure is mighty good. I should’ve brought you one of ‘em. I’m sho sorry that I didn’t thank to do that.”
“Mr. Quantail, I have no interest whatsoever in the delights of hillbilly gas stations. Please, let us discuss the matter at hand. Based on the prenuptial agreement, we must move quickly with the divorce so that Madison cannot receive any of my fortune.”
Quantail swirled the styrofoam cup in his hands as he chose his words. I was expecting a proposal to file whatever paperwork was needed before the end of the week. Instead, he said, “Morty, I don’t reckon you oughta divorce this gal. She sho sounds like a good ‘un.”
* * * * * *
I threw the lawyer out of my office while shouting demands that my retainer be returned in its entirety.
Both terror and fury boiled within me. Somehow the old witch had even changed my divorce attorney, a man who had only been in the blighted town a few hours!
I knew that it was only a matter of time before something would be done to me, but I also knew that I couldn’t risk violating the terms of the Montgomery Family Trust by fleeing my post. There was only one viable solution, one that had served Montgomeries well for generations: I would have to bully these unimportant people into submission.
I worked on my speech as I drove into town and careened to Granny’s Yarbs and Apothecary. I summoned up a righteous anger as I stormed inside to find a veritable convention of looniness within the tiny shop.
Of course, the woman apparently known as Granny Branson was there, calmly rocking in her chair. My damned wife was there, in direct violation of my orders, chopping some sort of stems and leaves on the table. Behind the rocking chair, there stood a giant man with arms as big around as dinner plates. The Slavoonian peasant woman was clutching at his biceps and smiling. And there, in the back of the shop below the possums still hanging in the doorway, stood my now fired divorce attorney.
I nearly ripped the front door off its hinges with my forceful entrance. The bell was still ringing as I began to shout.
“I refuse to tolerate this! I don’t care what becomes of my future ex-wife, but I am going to find a lawyer that will help me divorce her, and she’s not going to get so much as a slim dime of my money! And then I will buy every damn square inch of this place and bulldoze it all down!”
Madison stopped chopping as I ranted and turned to look at me. The peasant cook smiled, and the man she clung to flexed his arms a bit. William Quantail stood stock-still beneath the possums. And in the center of it all, the old woman rocked serenely as all eyes went to her. She finally spoke.
“I reckon you may have a hankerin’ ta do all that, Morty,” she began. “And I know this here lawyer man tells me that you’s got one of them thar pre-matrimonial agreements that you thank will get ya off scot-free if you were to divorce this fine lady here.”
Madison blushed at the old woman’s praise. The crone continued.
“Only what I reckon you may not know is that this here lawyer man has taken a look at your last will an’ testament and that family trust thang ya worry about so much, too. It sho seems like Maddie here will make out real well if som’thun was ta happen to ya, Morty.”
My knees began to go weak under me.
“You’d never get away with it. I’m a Montgomery—”
“Boy,” the old woman interrupted me in a sharp tone, “are ya really so stupid as to thank that anythang that happened to ya wouldn’t look mighty natural? I don’t often use my talent for such thangs, but when I do, there sho ain’t nobody knows.”
I gulped and turned to run. I figured that if I could just make it to my Jaguar, I could get away. I was certain that my fine automobile could outrun the hick pickup trucks the locals drove and get to the comparative safety of St. Louis in a few hours. After a step, though, I stopped. There were half a dozen large hillbilly men gathered around my car, standing stern and still and very much in my way if I were to flee. Behind me, the old woman chuckled.
“I reckon you’s beginnin’ ta see the wisdom of my plan, ain’t ya, Morty?”
* * * * * *
These days Maddie, as now she insists on being called, is as happy as a pig in mud, or whatever it is these hill-people would say. Not long after our little meeting with Granny Branson, Maddie started running a still back behind the mansion. She says she needs the liquor she makes for medicinal purposes, and to judge from the raucous parties in the carriage house, Maddie’s medicine is quite popular.
Evulka and her new husband moved into the mansion with us. Bobby drives me to and from work every day in his truck. I had a driver when I worked on Wall Street, but I’d never ridden in a pickup before. Like a lot of things around here, it’s taken some getting used to.
Speaking of taking some getting used to, Maddie tells me that she is, as she put it, “in the family way.” I guess that news shouldn’t be any surprise, what with the way she’s been every night since this all started. I’m still trying to do my marital duty, but sometimes the stress of it all is too much for me. Last time I couldn’t perform in the bedchamber, Maddie put a few drops of one of her so-called tinctures on my tongue, and before I knew it, I was ready for action again. I shudder at the memory.
I’m not eager to stay here, but Maddie insists that she wouldn’t dream of bringing up our child anywhere else. Given that Granny Branson and all of her rather sizable kinfolk agree with her, I’m not sure that I have much choice in the matter.
At least the factory has internet access. It’s one of the few places around here that does. Thanks to that, I’ve been able to call and email my friends to ask for help, but they’ve all laughed at me. Some of them even claim that I’ve “gone native” and that I’m just concocting wild stories to justify it. I guess that I don’t really expect you to believe me, either, but I have to try.
Even if I can’t leave here, I need someone to believe me when I tell them what I’ve gone through. I need someone to know why Mortimer Montgomery is stuck in these damn hills.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A