Free Short Stories:
The Trapping of Ms. Belmont
By: Jae El Foster
Ms. Estelle Belmont was an eager woman with an eager spirit. She believed in treating people equally and graciously, as if each soul was a member of her own family. If a friend ever needed her help or assistance in anything, practical or not, she was more often than not there with a warm smile and a helping hand. Her ripe, old age of eighty-three hadn’t begun to slow her down, either. She was sharp as a pin and quick as a fox.
In her earlier years, she had dedicated her life to helping the less privileged. Food was given to the poor, shelter was given to the homeless, and clothing was donated to the needy. She was a kind, wealthy woman of sophistication and southern elegance. This was mostly inspired by her upbringing. Her family had been rich with ancestors all the way back to surviving plantations before and after the Civil War. When she had married, she did so wisely, snatching up a handsome and intelligent stock market broker. Her husband, John Belmont, moved on to politics, and before his death in nineteen ninety-three, he had been elected Mayor of Chariot, Tennessee.
Yes, Ms. Belmont was a good, fortunate woman. But in her old age, people seemed to have stopped relying so much on her. There were fewer hungry neighbors, and the town had only one homeless man named Steven.
Ms. Belmont had the undying need to help people – it was simply what she did. When her own children had grown and moved on, she seemed to become stuck in a mysterious new rut. She relied more and more on the orphanages and shelters to keep her active, but there were none in town and she often had to travel outside of the town, simply to feel good about herself. The caretakers and owners of these institutions seemed to worry that it was all too much for her. Although they needed her money, they no longer required her physical support. She was told that it was better for her to help by staying home, donating and praying. In other words, they didn’t need her; they needed her fortune. After a few years like this, her own children had started making daily visits and caring for her, which they had taken upon themselves to decide she needed. They loved her and to show it they would tend to her every whim, whether she wanted them to or not.
Ms. Belmont was thankful, truly, but that wasn’t the lifestyle that she desired. It wasn’t what she needed.
The day eventually came when her phone no longer rang. Her doorbell went unused, and even her massive bank account went untouched. The world had finally reached the point where it no longer needed Ms. Estelle Belmont.
They say that when the elderly become inactive they die. That was her fear. She despised death, as it had taken so many people she loved. She needed the steady, constant activity with humanity to keep afloat. Death was one option she did not anticipate. It was one she did not allow.
Still, no matter how often she protested and how much she stood up for her own independence – “I’ve been taking care of others my entire life; I can surely take care of myself!” she had said – her children still insisted on what she most dreaded. They had paid the deposit and the first three months up front for a space at the Anterville Rest Home – the most exclusive of Chariot’s senior citizen centers. It was also, by chance, the only rest center in Chariot. Still, it had cost a small fortune to reserve her room, and her children would be damned before they would let her refuse.
Now, here she was, staring from a beige easy chair at the hideous watercolor of fruit in a basket that hung on the immaculate white wall. It was the only decoration on the wall, and the fruit was the only bit of color in the room. Everything was tan or white or off-white or beige or nondescript… It reminded her of Pepto Bismal when it comes back up.
On another wall, a white-faced clock in a tan frame slowly ticked the seconds by. Ms. Belmont could hear every one of them as they sounded, and she felt she could actually see time slipping away. She wondered what time it was, and she assumed that it was a quarter after three. Looking at the clock, she saw that she was only about thirty seconds off, but she had been awfully damn close. She wondered… had she counted every second that had passed since last checking the time? Was that even possible?
In this terribly lonesome room, there was one tiny window that looked out onto the east grounds of the many acres of land operated by Anterville. There were a few – three or four, maybe – residents sitting out in a sunny porch area. One man read from a magazine as he slowly sipped tea from a tall glass. Two others were involved in a game of checkers. The angry one was the one Ms. Belmont assumed was losing. The forth was an old woman, sitting alone in her wheelchair with a blanket over her knees. She appeared to be nodding off, but every once in a while she would jerk up, as if expecting a visitor. Ms. Belmont had been watching for hours now, and there had been no visitor. There had not been a visitor for the old woman in the wheelchair, and there had been no visitor for her….
Days, perhaps weeks, had passed since her children had last visited. Her daughter had brought her granddaughter by to see her only once, and then the child had been afraid of all the other ill and old people around. She had cried from the moment she arrived to the moment when she left.
“What did I ever do,” Ms. Belmont wondered, “to deserve a fate like this?”
Around five, supper was served on a cold steel cart under a black plastic cover. It was the same thing as it had been the last three Fridays. There were unsalted green beans, butter-less potato mush, an over-cooked chicken breast already cut up into tiny pieces, and a side of gelatin. The gelatin was different this evening. Instead of being green, it was orange.
The orderly that served it had been rather kind today. It was always someone different than the Monday through Thursday person. On Fridays, the new soul was always kind and would ask her how she was doing. Then, after supper, that person would leave and she would never see them again. Next Friday, it would be someone completely different. She did not understand why this was, but she had already learned to accept it as normal.
Once her supper tray had been removed and she had been fed her nightly vitamins – she had never taken them before moving here – her day was basically over. There was no television in her room, and she did not have it in her to try to walk down to the Social Room and attempt at making friendly with a group of people so old and out of it that they made her look like a striking young lass.
Instead, she changed into her nightgown, pulled down the covers of her bed, and prepared herself for another night’s rest in this home that held her captive.
Day after day and night after night, that had been the same basic routine. Slight things changed as time passed. For instance, she no longer even thought about visiting the Social Room. Now, it was wondered if she even remembered it existed. Months had passed since she had seen her children, but she was used to this now and no longer waited for them. They could have both been dead and she never would have known… or probably even cared.
Ms. Belmont cared about very little these days. She had no friends in the home, and she talked to no one but the occasional orderly or doctor during a physical. Once a week, a nurse would convince her that taking a walk would be good for her, and she would go along with it. The walks never lasted long as she would grow terribly tired shortly after they had begun. Every time, she would have to be wheeled back to her room in a chair, as she hadn’t the energy or strength to walk.
She ate the gelatin in the evenings, and she sipped on her oatmeal every morning. That was the extent of her meals. They would always serve plenty more, but she always said it was enough to feed a whole shelter with and she would nibble on a bite and send the rest to the trash. It seemed a bit wasteful, but she knew that was what would happen to it if she told them to send it to a shelter. It would never make it there.
Her next birthday was the first birthday that Ms. Belmont ever spent alone. She had no visitors that day. No one sent her a card or flowers. No one phoned her or even wished her a happy one. There was no cake presented from the rest home, and at one point she told a nurse, “Today is my birthday,” and the nurse’s reply was a simple, “That’s nice.”
There were six more birthdays like this one, every one of them sadder than the previous. During one of these, she had received notice that her son had been in an accident and was in critical condition. She had heard nothing more. That was a long time ago.
Her attorney called once, simply to inquire if she wished to leave her will as was or were there any final changes that she wanted to make.
There were several final changes that Estelle Belmont wanted to make.
She wanted to take away every good thing she had ever done, as they had proven themselves to be no good to her in her old age. Everything had been forgotten by those souls she had done it for, and there wasn’t a grateful one out there.
Then, just as she did every day, she began to cry.
It was just after two o’clock now and there was an odd knock at her door. There was never a knock between after lunch and before supper.
“Ms. Belmont,” the orderly asked, pushing the door wide open. “There is a visitor here to see you!”
She could not believe her ears! Perhaps… perhaps she had already died and gone to heaven.
With a grand smile, she turned around in her chair, prepared to welcome her son or daughter.
Neither of her children was there. Instead, a young woman of about twenty stood in the doorway. She wore a nervous smile on her face, and her hands were crossed in front of her.
“Ms. Belmont…?” she asked shyly.
“Yes… that’s me…”
“Um… you may not remember me,” the girl began, “but I sure remember you! When I was seven, my father lost his job and couldn’t afford to support us. We lived in our car for several weeks before coming to Chariot, and when we arrived in town, everyone treated us very rudely because of the awful shape we were in…” Tears began to creep into the young girl’s eyes as she spoke, and she found herself forced to stop.
“Go on, child,” Ms. Belmont encouraged, curious to where this unusual story would lead.
“Well,” she sniffled, “when Father and I had just about given up hope, you appeared like magic into our lives! You gave us the first warm meals and hot baths we’d had in a very long time, and you even let us stay in your home until we were rested enough to move on. I guess what I’m trying to say is,” she smiled as she walked to the woman and placed a hand on her shoulder, “I probably wouldn’t be alive and well today had it not been for you and your encouragement. Shortly after meeting you, Father gained a new lease on life, and he found a new job that he was very successful in. In fact, Chariot was the last town we ever had to sleep in our cars in again.”
This filled Ms. Belmont’s heart with more warmth than she had felt in many years. She and the young lady talked for many hours, long passed suppertime and into the night. They laughed together and they cried together. They shared stories that neither of them had ever told another living soul. The girl shared her dreams for the future, and Ms. Belmont shared hers, as well.
When the night had turned late and it was time for all visitors to leave, the young girl gave Ms. Belmont a great hug and a warm kiss on the cheek. Both cried as she departed, but the tears were happy tears. Nodding her head now and smiling brighter than she had in a long time, she prepared herself for bed.
In the morning, the orderly gave a rap at the door. Entering, she pushed in the tray of breakfast foods and kicked the door shut behind her. Flipping on the light, she positioned the cart at Ms. Belmont’s chair and went to the bed to wake the woman from her night of slumber.
Ms. Belmont appeared to be very awake, as her eyes were wide and twinkling and she offered the greatest smile on her face. Still, there was no pulse. Shaking her head, the orderly gently pulled the sheet up over her peaceful face.
Copyright Jae El Foster, 2019