The truth about Mrs. Mulberry

As if by a touch of magic, an elderly woman offers her spare room to Eve, when she most needs a new place to stay. Mrs. Mulberry is the name of this unexpected saviour and she has led a normal life as far as anyone can tell, but there’s something odd about her and when mail starts disappearing and visitors leave without even saying hello, Eve begins to realise that she’s no longer completely in charge of her own life.

Competition entry for 'Between the Devil and the deep blue sea'

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1. The truth about Mrs. Mulberry.

I first met Mrs. Mulberry when I was on my second year in college: 22 years old and ready to move on from a recent break-up, brought on by one of my ex-boyfriend’s indiscretions. 

Sadly moving on wasn’t an option as long as my living arrangements included sleeping on his couch. So I had been eagerly searching for a flat the past several months.

The initial enthusiasm had soon worn off, to be replaced with frustration when one landlord after the other turned me down, because someone else had gotten there first.

The morning I met Mrs. Mulberry, I had almost accepted that I was going to spend the rest of my college years sleeping on my ex’s couch while he was in the next room doing one of the many girls he brought home from his nights out.

 

I had early lectures at the university that day but the kitchen was occupied by some girl whose name I hadn’t quite caught on to, so I decided to stop by the coffee shop for my daily fix of caffeine before heading for campus.  I had grabbed the morning paper on my way out, hoping to get to the flat listings before anyone else had had a chance to call the landlords.

By the time I stood in line, waiting for the barista to take my order, I was on hold for the second time while a landlord checked to see if he had anything available aside from the flat that someone else had just taken.

My attention had drifted through the small shop and I had noticed an elderly woman sitting in the corner, chuckling into a cup of tea. I tried to figure out what she was laughing at, but when her eyes met mine, I quickly diverted my attention back to the barista.  I was waiting for her to complete my order, when the landlord returned to the call with the message that he had nothing available for the time being.  Disheartened, I asked him how it could be that there were no flats available anywhere. He had simply apologized before hanging up the phone, leaving me in the coffee shop, thoroughly embarrassed about my outburst.

When I had turned away from the counter to leave, the elderly woman I had noticed, suddenly stood right in front of me, smiling at me in a way that made me want to take a step back.

“I couldn’t help but overhear,” She had said, scrambling through her purse for a pen and something to write on. “As it happens, I have a spare room that I’ve been meaning to put up for rent.”

 

That is how I met Mrs. Mulberry. Of course it would take arriving home to the sight of my ex on the couch, with his tongue far down the throat of his latest conquest, for me to call her and ask if I could come see the room.

 

Two weeks later I was moving in. Mrs. Mulberry had offered to help me unpack and despite my polite refusal, she somehow ended up doing so. Although I got the feeling she wasn’t so much unpacking as she was snooping through my things right under my nose.

Before I had accepted the room, I had run Mrs. Mulberry through a thorough Google search, as it had all seemed a bit too good to be true, and in my experience things that seemed to good to be true, usually were.

On the first page of search results, I was met with several articles about Mr. Mulberry’s sudden disappearance several years earlier, he was long presumed dead and I accepted the thought that Mrs. Mulberry was a lonely widower in need of company. That soon appeared to be the right assumption as she happily cooked dinner for me several times a week, brushing of my niceties by assuring me she enjoyed my company.

It should be another few weeks after moving in, before something began to seem strange. I was expecting an invitation to a spring ball at the university, but even though my fellow students had already gotten theirs, mine had yet to arrive. It didn’t strike me as odd at the time, as things sometimes did get lost in the mail, but when other letters failed to arrive I became suspicious.  

 

One day when Mrs. Mulberry was out, I went through her office. Just as I suspected, I found a bunch of letters addressed to me, gathered neatly by a rubber band and hidden in the top drawer of her desk. I confronted her with it, and she assured me that she had meant to give them to me, but I had to understand that her memory wasn’t at its best anymore. I believed her; I even apologized for going through her desk without permission.

The disappearing letters became part of everyday-life at Mrs. Mulberry’s. I believed in her good intentions, even when I found my mail already opened. She was always able to convince me that she had mistaken it for her own. It became something for my friends and I to laugh at when we were out.

My friends rarely visited me while I lived there; they said Mrs. Mulberry gave them the creeps. If they did visit, they claimed I wasn’t at home, even though I didn’t go out that often. My need to go shopping was minimal, Mrs. Mulberry insisted to do the grocery shopping and cooking herself. I didn’t mind, I always had lots to do.

On a sunny Monday afternoon, when I was studying for my exams I discovered why my friends always thought I wasn’t home. I sat in the window, trying to focus on the reading I had to do, but for some reason my attention kept drifting to the street below. I saw two of my class mates head for the front door, but before I could jump downstairs to answer, Mrs. Mulberry had already opened.  I didn’t hear what she told them, but they left without even sparing a look at my window. I shrugged it off at first, but I confronted her about it that evening. She acted like she had no memory of them having even been there.

After that, I began secretly looking for a new place to live. Even though Mrs. Mulberry did a lot of nice things for me, I was beginning to share my friend’s feeling about her.

 

In the meantime, my ex-boyfriend had gotten back in touch. He often called me at any hour of the day, proclaiming his love for me in any way he could think of before hanging up, only to call back the next day. Whenever Mrs. Mulberry overheard one of his calls, she’d make a comment about how men were nothing but trouble. One time she even told me she was glad her own husband had bolted long ago.

A week after her mention of her husband, my ex still hadn’t given up on winning me back, but I had found a new flat that would be available within a couple of months. It was also that day, when I came home from school with a dozen missed calls from my ex, that I learned the truth about Mrs. Mulberry.

 

Content to take a walk in the sunshine, I got off the bus a few streets over from where I lived. I didn’t even reach our street before the optimism I had felt all day, was replaced with apprehension; a sudden feeling that something wasn’t right gripped me and tightened its grasp with every step towards Mrs. Mulberry’s house.

The only feeling I remember, from the moments after entering the house, is dread. I went in to the living room, where Mrs. Mulberry sat in her armchair, reading the paper as if everything was as it should be. For a second I was fooled, until my eyes fell on a pair of men’s sneakers that had been left by the couch. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized they were still on someone’s feet.

My first impulse had been to laugh at the sight of two legs sticking out from behind the couch, but I soon realized it wasn’t a cleverly planned practical joke. It was my ex-boyfriend’s legs lying behind the couch, a pool of blood slowly growing by his head.

I stumbled backwards and landed on my butt on Mrs. Mulberry’s neatly carpeted floor, she looked at me with an overbearing smile and simply told me “Careful dear.” Before turning her attention back to her paper. Chuckling in the same mysterious way she had done in the coffee shop when I first met her.

After I recovered from the initial shock, I called an ambulance and then the police. My ex-boyfriend had taken quite the blow to the head, but he would be okay. Further investigation of Mrs. Mulberry’s house revealed her husband’s fleshless corpse in a suitcase in the attic and several letters all addressed to women who had at one time or another rented the spare room.

 

I sometimes still wonder what led Mrs. Mulberry to do what she did, to her husband and to my ex-boyfriend, but I think I’m better off not knowing.

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