To the outside eye, Grandma Belle’s popsicle is melting across the book in her lap again, though she sits in her wicker chair under the shade of the peach tree behind her cottage.
To the inner eye, Grandma Belle is dying, and she dies a little more each day.
Grandma Belle’s eyes are closed, and her hands are limp in her lap, but one finger strokes the cotton of her red dress and remembers.
Grandma Belle is Belle again, young and beautiful, picking roses to decorate the kitchen table in her hungry house, for George is coming over for dinner and, indeed, Andrew and Rick have promised to stop by within two hours of each other for dinner or an evening walk. It will be a good day for the house to feast.
Belle’s cottage is thatched and round, and she keeps curtains of white lace across the windows because children pass by on the road outside her garden on their way to and from school, and farm girls skip past with eggs to sell at the market in the village five minutes away. No eyes are invited into Belle’s house save the ones she permits.
Belle picks her roses and tears her dress on a thorn. The house seems to laugh at her, fluttering its curtains. After all, it is hungry, and no young men have visited lately to paint the walls with their passions. That will change today.
Belle walks inside to mend her dress. Men love this scarlet dress and she loves it to when she wears it with white heels. Belle’s home is a scented bower of love and Belle smiles at the memories in each piece of furniture as she passes through the parlor.
The love seat is Andrew’s place of choice, while George prefers the armchair. Rick likes Belle in the kitchen while strangers soon learn to make up their minds.
Belle mends her dress. Before she can answer the ringing of the doorbell, old Grandma Belle wakes up, her fingers posed over the subtle stitches in her dress that she put there long ago after the roses tore it.
Grandma Belle gets up. There is not much the house allows her these days, so popsicles are a last remembrance of her freedom. Belle knows she must soon make way for a new young one to fuel the house’s need for love, just as she took over from the old crone who lived here three hundred years ago.
Grandma Belle rises from her wicker chair. She plants her popsicle stick at the base of the peach tree before she enters the house. She smiles as fresh comparison to the past and present tell her only, she has changed in this eternal home. She enters her bedroom to select the dress for tomorrow. It is a blue dress with puffed sleeves.
Grandma Belle wears the dress with white stockings and shoes that buckle with flamboyant clasps. It still fits her, even after two hundred years. She has shrunk, rather then grown, begun to collapse in on herself as old age takes its toll and the house sucks away the rest of her to fuel itself.
The dress is blue and young Belle loves it. She found it at the back of the bedroom closet, hidden behind layers of taffeta and silk, perhaps the dress of the first woman to fuel the house. Belle knows the house has stood for thousands of years from the different tools in the kitchen draws and the strange paintings on the walls that slowly change to hint at the passing centuries. Standing in the closet, Belle thumbs through the dresses packed onto the silk-padded hangers, looks through boxes of shoes. Here are clothes to please any gentleman, from the rich man down to the sad fellow who likes ancient yellow colors.
Grandma Belle sits in her wicker chair in the dress and licks a blue popsicle. It is a frozen blueberry treat, made with the largest blueberries picked from the row of bushes behind the rose plot. She sits until she holds a stick and remembers the secret thrill of slowly peeling off a pair of white stockings, of kicking her shoes across the room.
The next day is Sunday and Grandma Belle sits in her wicker chair, dressed in the pink silk she wore when a Prince came to visit her over seventy-five years ago. He was a passionate man, Grandma Belle remembers, who wanted to fill the house with his praises, but he begged when Belle left him slighted of her love.
The pink silk is still flawless as Grandma Belle strokes the cloth on her knee and wonders what girl will take her place when she is dead. Unlike the women who have occupied the house over the centuries, the house lives on, its hunger growing, its need for love never satisfied. It is not a bad life feeding the house part of the love Belle has experienced over the centuries. Belle has enjoyed it.
A girl comes to Grandma Belle’s cottage on Mondays to cook and clean. It is on a Monday that Grandma Belle dies, secure in scarlet memories of her past and free in the knowledge she no longer has to fuel the house’s need for tainted love. When the servant girl finds Grandma Belle, she is dead with a blue popsicle stick stuck between her fingers.
When the girl takes the popsicle stick and buries it at the base of the peach tree, she slowly smiles because, like Grandma Belle in her youth, she too knows the smile of half a dozen gentlemen and, unlike Grandma Belle, her heart is still young and pulsing with love. Her body still needs passion.
The girl knows she must fill the house with twice as much love as Grandma Belle fed it to reap its reward of long-lasting life, but she has no doubt she will succeed and live to be six hundred, twice as old as the dead woman before her.
Times are changing and even women come looking for love.