I curled up by the window in my room with a book in hand. Gossamer like snow fell softly from the sky. My window overlooked Mrs Maurier’s garden. Even the biting cold weather hadn't deterred the frail old woman from gardening. It was her garden alone that held a profusion of colors within its brick walls and created a splendid contrast against the sparkling white snow.
Flowering quince threatened to spill its red blossoms over the garden walls, orange witch-hazels glowed like miniature suns while the white Christmas roses blended merrily into the background with only their emerald green leaves visible from a distance. That much needed burst of color distracted me from the book I was currently reading. My train of thought circled around Mrs Maurier.
She was a quiet old woman. She wasn't the kind to indulge in gossip or show up at Christmas parties. She kept to herself. Mother said the other neighbors initially held a ton of interest in unearthing the eccentricities of Mrs Maurier’s life. But all anyone knew was she had moved into the sprawling bungalow after her husband’s death. As the years passed by people began to lose interest as they realized she was just a plain old widow who lacked any form of social skill. The only thing remarkable about her was the garden which held a myriad of flora, all year round.
I sympathized with the old lady. I had always been the peculiar kid on the block who'd rather stay home and read a good book than graze your knees playing a pointless and physically strenuous game. I knew what it was like to be judged when your only crime was being an introvert.
Mother always nagged. A constant complaint as to how I never went outdoors like the other kids. I’d sigh and wave her away with my perpetual excuse about not having many kids living in the neighborhood to play with. Besides quite a few of them had gone missing. Is that what she wanted, I’d ask in a nonchalant tone to get her off my back. She’d reprimand me and walk away.
Someone tapped my shoulder, startling me from my random musings. It was mother.
“Mrs Maurier, has passed away. It happened last night. Her executor is downstairs right now. He said he would like to talk to you.”
I was taken aback. A few second ago I was awe struck by the old woman’s green thumb and now she was dead. I had never really interacted with her despite having her as my neighbor all my life. Apart from the courteous nod she occasionally graced me with, there wasn't a single instance I could recall when I’d actually had a conversation with her. I couldn't fathom why her executor wanted to speak to me.
Why?” I asked in a perplexed tone.
“I’m just as curious as you, kid.”
We made our way downstairs. A grim looking man wearing a perfectly pressed navy blue suit stood in the living room.
“I am Mr. Johnson, Mrs Maurier’s executor. And you must be Anna,” he said in a baritone voice.
I nodded, unable to comprehend why this man was standing in our house.
“Mrs Maurier would like you to have her entire collection of books. Calling it a collection would be an understatement. It’s more in the ranks of a library. She said and I quote ‘Anna is the only child who never ran amok in the streets whiling away her time pointlessly. She has her nose buried in a book rather than other people’s business’ I assume the two of you must have been quite close as she held the books very dear to her.”
I was touched. Fifteen years she had been my neighbor. Or rather I had been her neighbor. She had practically watched me grow up. Not a word exchanged between us and she had left her enormous book collection to me — a complete stranger.
My mother and I thanked him. He said he would arrange to have all the books delivered to our house once he carried out the remaining aspects of her will.
Years later, when I came home from college during the winter break my mother was bursting with her trademark form of enthusiasm when she stumbled upon some gossip
“Remember Mrs. Maurier?” she asked.
“Ma, just tell me what you have to. I doubt I’d ever forget her considering the hundreds of books sitting in my room for years now. She is the reason I am not splurging all my money on books and…”
“Yea yea. Books schmooks. Listen up!” she said cutting me off midway. I gestured for her to continue.
“Well, the new owners are tearing Mrs Maurier’s bungalow down since they want to build something more modern in its place. And apparently they found small skulls and bones buried all over her garden. All those children that went missing every few months ended up in her garden. Can you believe that?!”
My mother’s morbid fascination disturbed me. I was convinced my mother was conjuring up a juicy piece of gossip just to tease me. I ran up to my room to get a look at the garden.That is when I saw it. The garden was in shambles. Black and yellow tape surrounded the house. The garden had been dug up in multiple spots. That lively place was devoid of anything but dry brown grass and vicious weeds.
A few weeks later, the newspapers confirmed albeit with a more sombre and appropriate tone what my mother had narrated.
Mrs Maurier had killed each one of those children who had gone missing and buried them in that lush green enclosure. Every media outlet was obsessed with this case but what no one could quote figure out was the motive.
Why would a simple widow kill all those innocuous children?
Mrs Maurier’s motive was clear to me. She really hated children. I had known each one of the missing kids. And all of them had been whirlwinds of trouble. Shattering her windows with their silly games of catch, sneaking into her garden to steal peaches and uproot flower beds just for the fun of it, mock her as she hobbled along on her way to the grocery store. One would probably say that’s just kids being kids. But not all kids wreaked havoc. At least I hadn't been like one of them.
I had been spared the fate she had dealt to them. Perhaps, she saw that I was more like her. The quiet one. The good one.