Ms. Murlow’s Strawberries

Written by Margaret Delaplane

“Sun’s out m’lady!” Hollered the paperboy as he tossed a rolled newspaper over the

white picket fence periphery of Ms. Murlows’ garden. It landed on the welcome mat at her feet

with a thud; she smiled, gave him a gracious nod, and then stooped to pick it up. He wished her a

good day and rode off on his bicycle to continue deliveries. Humming all the while, Ms. Murlow

gathered the necessary tools and began to tend her garden.

The garden was indeed a sight to see; strawberry bushes filled to the brim with scarlet red

berries and dainty, white flowers. The townspeople liked to stop by to marvel at how pristine and

lovely it was, nestled in the heart of town. Her only rule, “do not touch my berries,” was so

permanently ingrained in everyone’s minds that none disobeyed her. Instead, they picked up pies

or shortcakes for their families, and would on occasion, spark up a small chat with Ms. Murlow.

Housewives liked to inquire about recipes or the upkeep of such an involved patch of greenery,

and Ms. Murlow would laugh the queries off and say, “oh my dears, it’s the color. Have you ever

seen such brilliantly red berries? I attribute both the aesthetics of my garden and the taste of my

fine desserts to such.” This puzzled them significantly.

It’s unheard of really, for a massive collection of strawberry plants to be grown in such a

manner of perfection, but Ms. Murlow could be seen gardening for the majority of each day. She

clipped the branches which began to hang over the fence and twisted wire around stakes to

secure the roots to them. And she watered them, loving to see the drops gather about the leaves

and the tiniest of green seeds in the strawberries. Ms. Murlow often found herself imagining little

rivers and waterfalls flowing over her prized plants, keeping them ripe and hydrated. Because of

this, they were a deep, bold, red. Her neighbors often attempted to think of a name for such a

color.

“It is positively crimson,” said one.

“Don’t be silly they’re scarlet,” another chimed in.

“Ladies, they’re ruby. I’m sure of it.” Piped the last. And so, it was final. Ms. Murlows’

strawberries were a striking ruby red.

This remained undisputed for years and Ms. Murlow was soon known in town for her

wonderful gem-toned strawberries and desserts. However, this reality would be destined to

change. On one summer day, as she was tending to her strawberry bushes, trimming dead stems

and over-grown leaves that hung near the ground with sharp clippers, when a boy strolled down

the lane. He made a deliberate turn toward her and continued to move closer. The blinding

sunlight illuminated him, revealing his identity to her; it was Timothy. She propped up her

clippers against a rock, blades pointed toward the sky. He stopped on the sidewalk in front of her

house and swung his legs up to sit on the fence. He settled in, so perfectly perched atop the

fence-poles, and with a swift movement of the arm, plucked a berry from a bush and popped it

into his mouth. Ms. Murlow was in shock; never had someone so blatantly disrespected the

boundary of her fence and the gravity of her rule. He couldn’t have been aware of her watching

him from below the barrier of leaves, but when she stood, he was calm.

She looked at him, sensing a known unfamiliarity in the way he carried himself. This

boy, a staple of innocence in town, was not himself that day. Regathering her purpose, they made

eye contact as she desperately searched for any explanation. Regathering her purpose and anger,

she slapped him across the face. Ms. Murlow hadn’t any idea what the effects of this could be,

but what she hadn’t accounted for… was his startled reaction to her dramatic confrontation. He

fell. Head over heels into the garden, the clippers piercing through his chest as he plummeted

into the underbrush. At first, there was only screaming, and then, equally as horrifying, he fell

silent.

Ms. Murlow lowered herself to the grass, and before she could lay her eyes on the bloody

massacre of what were now her beloved strawberry bushes, she felt it. A river of blood flowing

from under the leaves, pooling where she sat on the lawn. Gasping, she stood up, drenched in the

scarlet juices of the little boy down to even her undergarments. It truly was a horrifying sight to

see: Ms. Murlow hovering above the mangled corpse slowly tipping into madness. And then she

noticed her strawberries. Glistening an even brighter red than before, and damp with droplets of

blood.

She went inside, not able to breathe, and sat silently watching the garden through her

window until nightfall. She awoke in the morning to an otherworldly sight; her strawberries…

were an even deeper red than before. And the body, it was gone, leaving only the strawberries.

She ran out into the garden and dug around the bushes trying to find timothy, but with no luck,

she sighed. Looking up at the juicy red berries that hung just out of reach of where she sat on the

ground, she couldn’t help but smile, they were even more perfect than before. Ms. Murlow

ignored all signs of danger or foul play: the missing body, the sudden color change, and utter

insanity of what had happened. She thought only of the housewives in town whose jealousies

would only grow, and the little children who would come to marvel at them or to ask for a bite.

Now in a normal sense, it would be cruel to use the term insanity of someone with a

seemingly sane personality, but in such a circumstance it is necessary to evaluate the characters’

actions. And in this particular moment, every feeling of anxiety and psychosis filled Ms.

Murlow’s mind, altering whatever normalcies she had left. So, while studying the berries,

hanging from the bushes, so seemingly suspended in thin air. She snagged one off of the lowest

handing branch… the one most indistinguishably reddened, and took a bite.

Each flavor hit her with more power than the one before; first, she tasted the familiar

sweet strawberry essence of. And then, all the saltiness and metallic undertones of blood made

themselves known. It was unremarkably akin to the taste of a busted lip, or when a loose tooth

finally falls out, but nonetheless, she loved it. In every way, she loved it. The way the outer layer

held a bitterness and the innards were ‘sweet as sugar’ gave all the notions of a dessert of the

utmost sophistication.

The next morning, all the townspeople found strawberry pastries at their doorsteps, and

shared them with families during every meal of the day. They noticed a subtle bitterness of their

treats but thought nothing of it, as they were delicious in taste and beautiful in appearance. Many

of them debated whether the new color of the berries was more of a burgundy or a rose, and

when asked, Ms. Murlow only smiled and said, “they’re more of a blood-red don’t you think?”

and everyone agreed.