The Money Tree

“Aileen MacDermott was a master gardener. Her prize tea roses were admired near and far. She enjoyed the outdoors, the smell of the flowers and the feel of dirt between her fingers,” said the minister. “That was her passion in life and that is why, as you can see, she’s surrounded by flowers in death.”

It was true. There were flowers everywhere. Not just the typical funeral arrangements, but flowers that celebrated the life of this widow.

Her life. That’s why I was here. Hell, that’s why anyone who’d ever lived in our neighborhood was here. We all remembered her life.

Mrs. MacDermott had been a widow for all of my thirty-plus years. When we were kids, there were rumors of her husband leaving her for some “shameless hussy” in a big city. Of course, there were also rumors of him having died in some far-away war. Or of Mrs. MacDermott never really having been married at all. Who knows what the real story was. Doesn’t much matter now, though, does it?

The best thing about Mrs. MacDermott was her grandmotherly-approach to us kids. She always had a huge plate of cookies and a never-ending supply of milk after school. She remembered each of our birthdays and probably babysat every kid in the area at least once. I could still hear her Irish brogue as she taught me to prune the roses one year.

My sister snapped me back to the present as she walked past me. Oh, did I mention she’s the minister? I knew that look. It meant I better be in her office after the graveside service. Sometimes being an identical twin really does make communication easier.

By the time Viviane and I were back in her office, it was early evening. The wind had picked up and it started to rain. It reminded me of an old B-movie.

“Veronica, can you believe Mrs. MacDermott passed away?” Our parents had a thing for “V” names. We have a brother named Vincent, too. Viviane continued. “Do you remember what she used to call those rose bushes?”

“Her ‘money trees’, wasn’t it?”

Viviane nodded and we spent the next few minutes reminiscing about the pennies Mrs. MacDermott would “plant” under her prize roses for the youngest children to find.

“Yeah, but it wasn’t until we were older that we learned she made a living from those roses, what with fair money and selling them to the local florists.” I still wasn’t sure why Viviane needed me here.

“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” my sister started. Must be that twin thing. “Mrs. MacDermot left us the roses.”


“Not ‘us’ — us. The church. She had been a member here for at least fifty years, you know.”

“Gotcha.” As an avid gardener myself, I was a little disappointed Mrs. MacDermott didn’t leave me the roses. Viviane’s thumbs were all black — not a spot of green to them. “And you want me to help transplant them, right?”

Of course I was right. To appease me, though, Viviane offered to tell me about the mysterious Mr. MacDermott.

According to Viviane, Aileen, an immigrant from Ireland, married Sean MacDermott almost sixty years earlier. Sean was a second generation American and fairly well-off financially, his family making their money in shipping. He was stingy, though, not daring to put his money in a bank, or willing to give an extra penny for something frivolous — not even flower seeds for his young bride’s dream of a garden.

Then, after the couple had been married about two years, Sean just disappeared. He’d gone on a business trip and just vanished. Eventually he was presumed dead and Aileen started mourning.

“There were rumors, but since Sean MacDermott was such a mean-old coot, not much was done,” said Viviane.
“What kind of rumors?” My cynical nature was imagining him at the center of a mutiny and being forced to walk to plank at sea. “And how would you know any of this anyway?”

“Monthly women’s lunch. You can hear a lot at those things,” Viviane replied. “The most common rumor now is that Mr. MacDermott was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. Honestly, from what I’ve heard, Mrs. MacDermott was better off without him.”

That just seemed wrong for a minister to say, but I knew what she meant. We had arrived at Mrs. MacDermott’s house.

“So what are you guys going to do with the roses?” I decided to change the subject.

“That’s the odd thing,” my sister started, “Mrs. MacDermott’s will was really specific about that. The church is to transplant her roses to church property within two days of her funeral. Her will even said something like ‘May my money trees bless others as they have blessed me’.”

I had everything ready and started to dig up the dirt around the rose bushes when my shovel hit a metal cash box. I gave it to Viviane and kept working.

“Veronica! Listen to this!” Viviane had opened the box and read from a yellowed page.

“I, Aileen MacDermott, do hereby confess and admit to killing my husband, Sean MacDermott, and burying his body beneath this here rose bush. Sean came at me one night in a drunken rage. I was afraid for my life, you know. I held a carving knife out to protect myself, telling Sean to leave. To go away. He lunged into it. I didn’t know what else to do. I was so terrified that I buried him here where he wouldn’t be found until my own death. These blood red roses remind me of my sin with each new bloom.

God forgive me.

Aileen MacDermott

P.S. What were we fighting about that night? I wanted a dollar to buy some flower seeds.”

“Well, I guess that solves the mystery of Mr. MacDermott,” I said once I regained my voice. I mean, what else was there TO say? “What are you going to do now?”

“I guess we’ll report it and see what happens,” my sister announced.

A week later Mrs. MacDermott’s “Money Trees” were planted along the path leading to the church’s main entrance. The local law enforcement had nothing to prosecute, what with both victim and killer among the dead now.

Oh, inside that metal box was also Mr. MacDermott’s insurance policy. He was worth three-quarters of a million dollars when he “disappeared,” that left Mrs. MacDermott only having to worry about being caught. Those roses may not have sprouted money, but they sure represented it. When it was all said and done, Mrs. MacDermott was worth more than two-point-six million when she died. She left most of it to a domestic violence charity.

Maybe money does grow on trees after all — or at least fertilizes bushes.