This week’s post is my take on an ending for Kara McKeever’s “The Mulberry Tree” after the original ending was not printed with the story. This ending picks up right where the original story ends. Did it meet your expectations? Let us know what you think of it!
With growing discomfort Elliot remained in the Mulberry tree. He had been comfortable, hours ago when he had climbed up into the branches of Mrs. Mulberry. Now the flies had found him, and the branches scraped and clawed and numbed his limbs. Kate had come out several times, and once threatened to climb up the tree. Grandpa had come out and talked with Elliot, as calmly and routinely as if they had been talking across the kitchen table about species of bird.
As the day faded, and darkness crept onto the farm, the family left Elliot, and returned inside. Elliot sat in silence a long time. He remembered climbing to the top of Mrs. Mulberry, long before Kate could scale her branches, in order to escape the younger cousins. Back then, he would steal away and come to Mrs. Mulberry, wrap his hands around her branches and hide in her canopy. It was the only time he could get away from the younger cousins. Now, the bows sagged beneath his weight and the bare branches failed to hide him. He could see the farmhouse’s lights through the dead branches. He could see the hospital bed through the window, could see Grandpa holding Grandma’s hand. He could see the adults gathered around the hospital bed, see Donald crying in behind them, the other cousins growing uneasy from the quiet. Slowly, Elliot climbed down the tree.
“Mrs. Mulberry, if you don’t fall on the house, then we don’t have to cut you down, so just don’t fall on the house ok?” Kate’s voice wavered in the darkness. Grandma used to voice Mrs. Mulberry during picnics or when the other kids weren’t around. Mrs. Mulberry’s voice was kind and calm.
“Mrs. Mulberry why did you have to get sick?” Don’t go away Mrs. Mulberry, please don’t die”
“Are you talking to Mrs. Mulberry?” Kate hadn’t heard Oscar walk into the room.
“No!” Kate said too quickly. She turned away from him, hoping he hadn’t seen her wet eyes or red face.
“I used to talk to Mrs. Mulberry too. Grandma did voices for her when we played outside”
“Yeah, Mrs. Mulberry always sounded so, wise”
Kate turned back to Oscar. “Why does Grandma have to be sick? Why does Mrs. Mulberry have to be cut down? Why can’t things stay the same!”
A movement up the stairs made them both turn. Elliot passed by the doorway, he was sheparding Donald and the younger cousins to bed.
“I should go help him” Kate said, starting to walk past Oscar.
“I still talk to her too, Kate. Just like the adults talk to Grandma, I think she can hear us”
“Maybe” Kate said before leaving.
The next day Grandpa and Oscar’s dad got out a big saw early in the morning. The kids were still in their pajamas in the kitchen when Donald spotted it.
“They’re going to do it!” He burst into tears, knocking over his cereal. The rest of the children jumped from their chairs and raced outside. The first few cuts had already been made.
Grandpa and Oscar’s dad were sweating with effort, the cut growing with every stroke. Kate felt something leaking from her, like she was losing something with every cut. Donald was screaming now, as Oscar tried to quite him. The rest of the adults were inside with Grandma, only the children stood watch over Mrs. Mulberry.
Already Mrs. Mulberry was sagging away from the house. The motion of the saw jittered the tree incrementally. No one turned as the door to the house slammed. Kate and Elliot’s mom can running from the house. She was screaming. It was grandma, something was wrong. Grandpa jumped, the saw vibrating from where it sat deep in the trunk of Mrs. Mulberry.
He was on his feet and running towards the house before the door slammed behind Kate and Elliot’s mom. Oscar’s dad soon followed. As the children turned to face the house a crack shook the ground. They turned back as Mrs. Mulberry’s trunk snapped, her branches shook as she came crashing to the ground. Splinters shot from her trunk as branches snapped. A splintered stump arched from the ground, as the rest of her body lay dead on the ground.
Oscar’s dad came back out through the door, and called everyone inside. Oscar, Kate, Elliot, and the children came into the house to gather around Grandma’s bed.
As Kate and Elliot got into the car to leave the farmhouse for the last time that summer, long after funeral plans had been arranged, and the remaining stump of Mrs. Mulberry had been long cleared away, Kate would remember looking out to the patch of empty dirt where Mrs. Mulberry had stood. She would remember the hum of the car’s motor, and dust thrown into the air from the screeching tires. She would remember later, long after the summer had faded into autumn and then winter and then spring, she would remember seeing a sprig of something growing from that patch of empty dirt. Though she could never say why, she knew it was not a part of Mrs. Mulberry. Mrs. Mulberry was dead and gone. That sprig was something different: the start of something new.