The Widows of Shrewsbury Lane

by | February 2021 A (Day 2)

This story was inspired by this image. It is one of a collection housed here:


“Dearest, we can’t leave Henry in the barrel.”

Rachel whispered, even though she knew there was no one close enough to hear. It was a habit Rachel developed as a girl while away at school. She always approached the discussion of difficult situations with hushed words.

Alice didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation. She always had trouble staying focused, but Rachel was always there to help bring her around. It was what best friends were for, after all, to fill in gaps and pick up the pieces. And this situation was an example of a very large piece. As of 3:15 that afternoon, Rachel was no longer the only widow on Shewsbury Lane, but when her Billy died, she wasn’t likely to be questioned by authorities.

“I just don’t understand, Rachel,” Alice spoke right out loud. “How could he have gotten into the barrel?”

“Shhhh! Alice…” Rachel tried to intervene.

“We are reported for our shameful hedgerow every year,” Alice continued. “It’s common knowledge amongst the garden club Henry doesn’t like ladders.”

“We really must call around to the constable, Alice,” Rachel tried a new tack. “Perhaps they can find clues? Like the detective shows? In any case, Henry should be pulled from the barrel, dearest.”

Practicality. Perhaps that would get through. Rachel was sure her friend was suffering from shock, so laying out a plan of action might cut through the fog.

“I wonder if there might have been a bird?” Alice squinted up at the willow beside the patio. “Everyone knows what a heart Henry has for wild things. Perhaps a bird got into the barrel? Or a pussy cat?”

Rachel checked her watch. She’d come as soon as Alice rang, and it was now 5:30. They’d been sitting in the garden for two hours fifteen. She was sitting on a table, because the only chairs  available were never meant to be lounged on by women of a certain age. She’d missed tea. It was time to stop this foolishness.

“Alice!” Rachel rose to her feet and spoke with a full-throated authority that made her flush.

“Alice, we really must be done with this speculation. The purpose Henry had for being in the garden in his pajamas and the reason he climbed the ladder are quite unknowable. The only thing we are left to do now, Alice, my dear, is have Henry removed from the barrel.”

Alice smoothed her plaid wool skirt and cocked her head to look up at her best friend. Rachel had given her the skirt for her 60th birthday a decade ago, and Alice was secretly quite chuffed it still fit.

“Why, of course my dear,” she replied with a smile. “But first, shouldn’t we decide on my alibi?”


  1. sara lippmann

    Laurie! Once again, you prove yourself to be the title master! (Every title is a novel.) And I’m just mad for the photograph that inspired this story. I’m utterly in love with Rachel and Alice. They are so well drawn, the dialogue snaps — from the very first sentence. You’ve got a great scene here and a seriously hilarious (hilariously serious) predicament. In short, there is no shortage of material to admire. The dead husband in the barrel, good lord. Right now the ending functions as a sort of punchline. And I’m just not sure. What would happen if you write past the punchline, write the whole thing out? Don’t censor yourself or force any sort of end but let the story unfold where it wants to unfold.You can let the thing get messy. We can worry about compressing the heck out of it later, if that’s where you decide it needs to be. But right now, these old friends, and the dead husband, with all the possibility and opportunity for subtext, for layers, feels like a story that does not yet wish to be contained. For example. If the takeaway were not “the alibi” — what might you discover next. Alice and Rachel and the guy in the barrel –there is a Thelma and Louise wildness (meets Two Serious Ladies) that could be unleashed. Maybe you’ve only written the first scene. Who knows. I’d love to see where this goes. Often these workshops are conducive to flash because it’s easier to post and share flash in this format online, but sometimes stories need to flap their wings. This may be one of them. I can’t wait to see what you do with it!

    • Laurie Marshall

      Thank you Sara! Yes, I am unlearning my old habit of writing on-the-nose endings, and this one definitely could be drawn out. I will keep playing. Thank you for your constructive notes, they’re always SO good. 🙂

  2. Constance Malloy

    Laurie, you had me at the opening line, and I didn’t stop laughing. Love the picture, love what it inspired in you. You endear Rachel and Alice to the reader immediately. Not only does this feel like a longer piece, it also feels like it has the potential for a series of short stories. I have a feeling these two find themselves in a lot of questionable circumstances. Thanks so much for this!

  3. Trent

    A kind of psychedelic Agatha Christie story! Well, maybe psychedelic – it could certainly inspire a song or two! Funny & imaginative use of the photo.

  4. Al Kratz

    Rachel and Alice are great characters and fun for the reader to follow and learn more about. This is a great example of Saunder’s line about writing sentences that would lead the reader to want to read the next sentence. It engages the reader at every spot. I like Sara’s notes too and the idea of pressing on beyond the reveal of the allibi dialogue. That’s so huge and in many ways moving beyond it will make it even huger and not diminish the power or somewhat surprise of it in my opinion. Great work from that photo prompt and when i went back and relooked at the picture after having read it, the two made it even more powerful for me, and made me wonder about physical descriptions to establish the age quicker and stronger? I had hooked on the line of her learning to whisper when away at school and even with the photo lead, I had to re-ground that they were older which of course is easy at the time of widows being mentioned and is in the title, so maybe that’s entirely me losing that ground temporarily, but I also love the style of those in the photo and it made me wonder about physical desc making the scene pop even more?

  5. John Steines

    Hello Laurie. This is such a funny start. I love the serious banter. And this is a hoot: ‘She was sitting on a table, because the only chairs available were never meant to be lounged on by women of a certain age.’ Very cool, all in all. Thanks for the good chuckles.

  6. Nancy Stohlman

    Love that first sentence! You splash us right into the drama with no apologies…like a car with the engine already revving…

  7. Kate Gehan

    I love so many moments here–“our shameful hedgerow” and the secret pride of still fitting into the skirt. What an excellent story born from the idea of a cross-purpose conversation. I agree with Al’s idea to lean into defining time and age even further. That they are women “of a certain age” is fantastic because of the self-awareness.

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