The Tale of Mulberry Orchard

The Tale of Mulberry Orchard

A Story by Judy
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A young girls experience

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The Tale of Mulberry Orchard

By

Judy M. Crouse

 

Lily spent hours in the y branch of her favorite Mulberry tree. It was situated in the vacant lot, which boarded her yard.  She and the other children called the lot the Mulberry Orchard.  The five or six Mulberry trees growing in a row at the edge of the lot were just the right size for twelve year olds to climb. The main branches were only about three feet from the ground.  Once Lily got up into the tree, the branches were round enough to sit upon comfortably.  Scattered about the secluded area were maple trees, pink dogwoods, and cedar trees.  The ground was covered in huge palmetto leaf plants, the type fairies especially like to live under. 

Lily sat in the shade of her branch enjoying a glorious late summer day.  She had brought her latest book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn along to read.  Here in her tree she could escape her nagging mother and tiresome little brother, Robert.  The Mulberry trees no longer had the dark squishy sweet berries to eat.  Lily particularly loved the white mulberries; they were even more sticky sweet.  Now there were only the dried up clusters’ left on the branches.  Even the birds had tired of the sweet berries.

Sitting in the tree gave Lily a 360 degree view of the entire countryside around her.  The orchard was situated at the top of a hill.  The only house nearby was a cottage at the edge of the vacant lot.  The cottage was one of the few homes in Lily’s neighborhood that was a rental.  This year the people who lived there had moved in during the spring.  Lily had seen the family from her vantage point in the tree.  Mr. and Mrs. Zink was a young couple with two very small children.  She had only seen Mrs. Zink hanging out her wash or sunbathing in the back yard.  She usually put the two little ones in an old wooden playpen under a shade tree in the yard. Lily thought she was very pretty, even from a distance.  She had never seen Mr. Zink, since he wasn't home during the day.  

Lily had overheard her mother, and Mrs. Bosley gossiping about the Zinks.  They were sitting at the kitchen table drinking her mothers famously strong and sweet eight o’clock coffee.  Her mother said Mr. Zink kept his wife barefoot and pregnant, and she was expecting another baby very soon.  Mrs. Winters went on to say that when she stopped in to visit and invite them to join their church Mrs. Zink had been quick to set the record straight.  She told Mrs. Winter they went to Methodist Church in Baltimore and were not interested, thank you very much.  Lily’s mother went on and on about how Mrs. Zink looked cheap and trashy in her short shorts and a halter top being eight months pregnant.  Mrs. Winters ended the conversation with her observation of Mr. Zink. When she had walked up the steps to the porch Mr. Zink was sitting in a chair attired only in boxer shorts and a white sleeveless t-shirt, surrounded by empty National Bo bottles, and he had one in his hand.  She related how he leered at her and said, “Hey Hon, want a beer?” 

Lily’s mother went on to say, “He is just a Dundalk Drunk”.  It seemed no one knew much more about the family.

Reading her book and dozing in the heat Lily was in her perfect place.  No noise of cars passing by or Robert playing Cowboys and Indians with his little pesky friends.  Here in the tree her mother could not find her and scream, “Get in here and put that book down, help with this”, or that or whatever else her mother demanded.  The summer was quickly coming to a close, and school would be back in session.

Lily hated school, the other girls were bullies, and she did not fit in with the children her age.  Lily refused to write her last name on the pocket of her gym outfit.  Mrs. Burwager, the gym teacher, made fun of her and called her Absorbean Jr. in front of the other kids.  She was not one bit athletic and detested playing baseball, dodge ball, or tennis.  She was always the last kid picked for teams.  She hated playing as much as “they” hated having her on their team.

All of a sudden, the peacefulness of the day was shattered by the shrill sound of her mother’s whistle.  Mrs. Winter had gotten a Baltimore City police whistle from a friend of her father’s, Charlie.  When Mrs. Winter blew that thing, you had better get your butt moving.  She would give one blast the first time.  If Lily and Robert were not in the house within fifteen minutes she was back out blowing that whistle with a vengeance.  Lord help you if she had to blow that thing three times.  Lily begrudgingly slid down the tree and with her head hanging walked through the Orchard back to her house.

Around four o’clock each day Mrs. Winter would begin dinner routine.  Lily and Robert would get cleaned up and Lily was expected to report for kitchen duty.  Robert would retire to his bedroom and read comic books or play with his Tonka toys.  Lily would think of how unfair it was that she had to help with chores and Robert did not, but then she would feel bad thinking such things.  After all he was only six years old.  Robert really was a nice little brother.  He was always pleasant and wanted to share anything he had with her.

Lily would spend the next two hours putting the table in order and following orders.  The Dinning room table would be set with Mrs. Winter’s best china, sliver, and crystal.  The candles would be lighted when Lily’s father pulled into the driveway around six pm.  Sometimes she would iron her fathers white shirts while waiting for the clock to tick down.  Her father gave her twenty-five cents for each shirt, which meant one dollar and twenty-five cents each week on top of the one dollar allowance she had received.  Lily was saving her money for a book she had seen at the A & P grocery store, To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee.  

*****

Saturday was cleaning day at Lily’s house.  There was no sleeping in.  Mrs. Winter would yell from the downstairs hallway, “Get up, what you are going to do, sleep all day?” 

If only I could, Lily would think to herself.  Lily rolled over and the clock said, eight fifteen.  On this particular morning Lily drifted back to sleep.  All of a sudden, she felt a cold, wet, clammy wash cloth slap her in the face.  Lily jumped up as her mother was standing over her screaming, “I said get up and get dressed.  You have to dust the downstairs and vacuum.  We are having company tonight; the Rittenhouse’s are coming over for dinner.”

“Oh yeah” replied Lily, “I’m up, I’m up.” 

Mrs. Winter continued, “Make sure this room is in tip top shape.  Here are your clean sheets. Get this bed changed; we have laundry to hang out.  I need to go to the A&P and pick up a few things.”  That being said Mrs. Winter stormed out of Lily’s room.

The start to Lily’s day was as gloomy and overcast as the weather was outside.  Overnight the warmth of yesterday had been replaced by misty rain and clouds.  Around ten thirty in the morning she heard a car pull into the driveway. 

I wonder who that is.

Lily ran into the bathroom and looked out the window.  There on the back porch stood Mr. Zink.  He was talking to her mother and nodding.  After a short time, Mr. Zink returned to his car and backed out of the driveway and up the hill towards his house.

“Lily, come down here.  I have a job you might want to do, for money. 

I wonder what she has “conjured” up for me now, Lily thought as she walked down the staircase and into the kitchen.  When she entered the kitchen, Lily’s mother told her Mrs. Zink was in the hospital.  She had delivered her baby on Wednesday and would be coming home on Monday. 

Oh, thought Lily that is why I haven’t seen anyone around this house this week. 

Mrs. Winter continued, “Mr. Zink needs someone to clean the house before he brings her home on Monday.  Would you want to help him out?  He told me he would pay you five dollars.  All you have to do is dust, vacuum and straighten out things.”

“Sure,” Lily replied.” When does he want me to do this, Monday is just two days away?’

“I told him you could do it this afternoon while I go to the store. I am taking Robert over to the Clayholt’s for the afternoon.  He wants to play with Carl, so you won’t have to watch him.  Your Dad will be home around four, he went to a Union Meeting at Martins,” her mother explained.  “When you get finished at the Zink’s, call Mrs. Clayholt, and she will bring Robert back home.”

“That is okay with me,” Lily said. With that her mother called Mr. Zink and told him Lily would be coming to help him at noon after she finished her chores here.

Lily walked up the gravel road to the cottage above Mulberry Orchard.  It was not a pleasant walk, even though it had stopped raining.  The day continued to be overcast and chilly.  Lily had changed into clean blue jeans and a plaid madras shirt.  She wanted to look nice even if it was a cleaning job.  How dirty could she get just dusting and vacuuming?

Mr. Zink let her in and proceeded to show her around the downstairs.  He told her she did not need to bother with anything upstairs.  Lily thought, this is going to be the easiest five bucks I ever made. 

Mr. Zink had the vacuum, dust rags and furniture polish ready for her to begin work.  Lily smelled what she thought was dog poop, and upon moving the furniture away from the wall she saw why.  There must have been five or six piles of dried poop behind the couch.  Lily had seen their dog in the yard.  He was a cute little terrier.  Lily did not think he was so cute now.  She could not believe people could live in a house and not clean up the poop daily.  The floors in the house were beautiful hardwood so cleaning and washing up the mess was not too bad.  Lily got busy with the vacuum and dusted the living room and dining area.  She noticed Mr. Zink was sitting on the porch drinking beer while she was working. 

She was getting ready to clean the kitchen and do what dishes were in the sink when she heard Mr. Zink call out to her, “Hey girly, want to have some fun?”  Something in his tone of voice put Lily on alert.  She turned and he was facing her from across the room holding a hunting knife in his right hand. “Hey I am talking to you, answer me,” he said.  Lily froze in place.

Mr. Zink was very drunk and was walking towards her.  Lily moved sideways to the left.  She figured she could get out the back door, but Mr. Zink blocked her way.  She slowly backed away and to the right and got behind the couch.  Now Mr. Zink was becoming very agitated, he kept repeating, “I am going to cut you; I am going to cut you.”  As he was saying this, he was grabbing his crotch with his left hand and making stabbing motions with the knife.  He had a wild look in his eyes and his black, greasy duck-tail style hair cut was sticking out in all directions.  He had her trapped behind the couch. Lily was now terrified.  How could she get away from him?  Her brain was screaming, run, run, but she knew he would be able to catch her.

Then she realized, Mr. Zink had taken his eyes off of her.  He had turned slightly and was looking out the front door at a car passing the house.  Lily took off.  She ran into the kitchen and out the back door.  She ran and ran and ran.  She ran as fast as she could across the lawn.  She could see the vacant lot coming up fast and never looked back.  Suddenly, she was running through the vacant lot, but she had never been in this part and there was no path, but she kept running.  The briers and weeds were in her way.  The undergrowth snagged at her feet, and the briers gapped at her shirt.  As she ran, a wild raspberry branch snagged her hair and scratched her face and neck.  Tears of fear sprang from her eyes as she ran, and burned when they found the scratches.  She kept running, her breathing rapid, and her heart pounding in her ears.  Then her feet hit the lawn.  It was her lawn but she kept on running.  Down the hill she ran, past the old chicken house, past the lilac bushes and across the driveway.  She bound up the porch steps, taking them two at a time and into the house.  She slammed the back door and locked it. 

She flew through the house, locking the dining room door and then to the hallway and locked the French doors.  She even locked the hall door to the basement.  She ran up the stairway and into her bedroom.  Then she stopped running collapsing to her knees. 

I am safe now, I did it, and I made it, she thought and slowly sat down on the edge of the bed.

Lily sat for a time on her bed trying to figure out what had just happened.  She decided to change her out of the dirty jeans and blouse.  Her mother would have a fit, since she had changed three times in one day; well too bad.  Lily washed her face and combed her hair.  She felt a lot better but could not wait for Robert to get home.  She realized she had not called Mrs. Clayholt, and she did not have any money for her efforts at the Zink’s.  Well, that would be a tough sell to tell her mother as to why she had not been paid.  Lily decided to say that she went to their house but no one was home.  For some reason, it never occurred to Lily to call the police or tell her parents what had happened.  She was so scared and was so afraid Mr. Zink would kill her or her mother or someone.  What if no one believed her?  What if Mr. Zink said she made it up, and he did not do anything?  They would never believe her, a kid, and then she would be in bigger trouble.

********

So Lily told no one.  She called Mrs. Clayholt and before long Robert was beating on the door.  “Hey Lil Lil, the door is locked, let me in.”  Robert had always called her Lil Lil.  He could never get his tongue around Lily.  “Lil Lil, let me in!’

“I’m sorry. I’m coming, I’m coming.”  Lily ran down the stairs and unlocked the door.  Robert walked into the kitchen with a perplexed look on his face.

“How come the door was locked?” he asked.  The Winters, like everyone else in Rosy Hall NEVER locked their doors, unless no one was home.

“I thought I saw a man looking in the kitchen window, and I got scared being here alone so I locked the doors.”  Lily regretted this, as soon as she saw the scared look on Robert's face.  “It’s all right Robert, there really wasn’t anyone outside.  My imagination just got the best of me. “

“Okay, I’ m going up to my room and play.”  Robert skipped up the stairs; he looked back at Lily with his winning smile, and said, “I really had fun at Carl’s house today.  His Dad took us on a tour of the Paper Mill. It was really neat.”  He stopped momentary, and looked into Lily’s eyes.  “Are you sure you're okay”?

“Just go play, everything is fine.  Mom will be home soon, and we will have groceries to put away.  Maybe you should wash your hands and put on a clean shirt,” Lily replied.  By then she was talking to the air, Robert had scampered up the stairs.  Lily’s mother arrived home not too long afterwards.

Once the table was set and Mrs. Winter had the meal under control, Lily was no longer needed.  Her Dad had returned home and was getting ready for the Rittenhouse’s to arrive.  Lily escaped to her room and settled down with her book.  She heard the car pull into the driveway, but figured it was the Rittenhouse’s arriving.  Then she heard the same car back out of the driveway and drive up the hill.     

Her mother called to her, “Lily come down here.  Mr. Zink was just here.”

Oh my, what am I going to tell her?  Lily knew she had to go downstairs.  When she got into the kitchen doorway her mother handed her a plain white envelope. 

“Mr. Zink said you left before he could pay you.  What happened?” 

Lily’s little lying mind was in full gear.  “He was so drunk, by the time I finished, I was afraid to ask him for my money.”  She was staring at the envelope.

“Well, for crying out loud, girl, open it and make sure he paid you the right amount.”  Lily could tell her mother was disgusted with what she had just told her.  “You have got to speak up for yourself Lily.  No one is going to do it for you. Is the money right?”

“Yeah it’s right.”  Actually it was more than right.  When Lily opened the flap, she saw a twenty dollar bill.  I guess that is what is known as hush money she thought.  Lily went to her room and placed the envelope in her jewelry box.  She never touched the bill even when she decided to finally spend it.  She would never touch it.

The Rittenhouse’s arrived for dinner and everyone enjoyed a festive summer night.  The clouds had disappeared and the sun shone in its early evening, summer brilliance.  Aunt Wynn announced she was going to have another baby.  Everyone congratulated her and there was much hugging.  Lily’s father and Uncle Ashby sat at the table after dinner talking, smoking cigars, and enjoying a glass of brandy.  Robert and the boys, John and Curtis, would get the Tonka trucks out and play in the hallway. Lorna and Lily would read Lily’s movie star magazines on her bed and swoon over Fabian’s pictures in Photoplay.  Mrs. Winter had made an apple pie and had ice cream for desert.  By ten P.M. the Rittenhouse’s packed up their tribe and said their good byes…until next time.  

****

The Zink’s moved away very suddenly.  Lily saw a moving van roar past her house and up the hill on Tuesday.  The gossip at the General Store was that Mrs. Zink, being from Dundalk, did not like living in the country.

The following summer Lily was thirteen.  The first day of summer vacation she walked to the Orchard with a new book. Lily easily climbed up into her tree, but it did not feel right.  Maybe she had out grown trees.  Lily never went back to the Orchard after that day, but Robert and all the younger children would discover the wonders of Mulberry Orchard.

*************

© 2011 Judy


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Featured Review

I enjoyed this. The time frame in which it is set is dear to me, being one I well remember. Though it was a much more innocent era than now, it was still not without its horrors, as you've depicted here. Could there be an element of truth to it? It wouldn't surprise me. You're a very good story-teller, Judy.

Posted 12 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

I rarely review stories, but when I saw Sam Dickens' endorsement, I had no choice.
I thoroughly enjoyed this coming-of-age tale. When, a few weeks after her "incident", Monique decided she was now too old for her mulberry tree, a pang shot through me at the loss of innocence, even though not culminated, thanks be to God.
I feel sure that I will be reading more of you shortly, Judy. Welcome to WC!
(a few trivial edits: "dining", "silver", "father's")

Posted 11 Years Ago


wonderful character monique... the way you have framed the story is very nice and seems like you are a experienced writer...

Posted 12 Years Ago


I enjoyed this. The time frame in which it is set is dear to me, being one I well remember. Though it was a much more innocent era than now, it was still not without its horrors, as you've depicted here. Could there be an element of truth to it? It wouldn't surprise me. You're a very good story-teller, Judy.

Posted 12 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on April 25, 2010
Last Updated on October 9, 2011
Tags: Family, children, growing up