Shirley’s Big Heart, a short short story

Photo of a big sandwich

Welcome to Brighton Bits, short short stories about the people, places and things in and around the fictional village of Brighton, New Hampshire. A woman with a big heart brings a town together with her loving spirit and her sandwiches.

Shirley’s Big Heart

When an accident at work had cut short Wilbert Burgess’ construction career, his wife Shirley fell back on her biggest skill to keep them afloat until Wilbert recovered: making sandwiches. Everything about Shirley was big—from her body to her laughter to her sandwiches. At every town fair, every fundraiser, every food-related event, organizers begged Shirley for a tray of her loaded sandwiches.

So, Shirley took a chunk of their savings and invested it in groceries. From 11 a.m. to whenever the sandwiches ran out, Wilbert sold Shirley’s sandwiches from the back of their ancient Chevrolet Cruze station wagon while the 8-track player belted out Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Neil Diamond. And when people saw the Woodie turn onto Main Street, they flocked to it so they wouldn’t miss out. The lunch time spectacle blocked traffic often enough, that the police finally asked the Burgesses to stop.

Their neighbors, who’d grown addicted to Shirley’s sandwiches, got together and helped the Burgesses open a shop. The way the shop flourished took them both by surprise, but not the people of Brighton. Too busy supporting his wife’s enterprise, Wilbert never did go back to building houses.

Shirley’s Sandwich Shop had stayed a focal point of Brighton Village’s Main Street for over twenty-five years. If you wanted a lunch that would stick to your ribs, you headed to Shirley’s and you were never disappointed.

Shirley’s big heart extended beyond her sandwich shop. She volunteered at the food pantry. She fed the elderly who had no one to watch out for them. She always carried a bag of sandwiches just in case she ran into someone who looked as if they might need a meal.

Just as their neighbors had been kind to them in their time of need, the Burgesses took care of their neighbors. When they heard Maeve Carpenter needed a way to support her daughter, they created a dessert menu to go along with their generous sandwiches and offered her a job.

“I don’t need charity,” a hormonal Maeve had said, tears swimming in her green eyes.

“It’s not charity,” Shirley insisted. “People have been asking for sweets to go with their lunches. I’m no baker. And the last thing I want to do is disappoint my customers. I’ve heard you bake like an angel.”

“Haven’t you heard? I’m more of a devil.”

“Well, I’ve never been one to listen to gossip. Actions speak louder than words. And your actions speak of a woman who knows the importance of family.”

The arrangement had proved beneficial for both. Shirley gave Maeve the flexibility she needed to take care of her baby daughter. And Maeve’s baked goods added a slew of new customers, especially after Maeve’s hand pies had won the sandwich shop its first “Best in New Hampshire” plaque, then another. The Burgesses treated Maeve like the daughter they’d always wanted, and in return, she made sure to never disappoint them.

Then one night, deep in the dark of a cold winter, Shirley’s big heart slowed and stopped.

The whole town mourned her passing. But even in death, Shirley managed to keep helping others. Knowing Wilbert couldn’t run the shop without her, she arranged for her lawyer to deliver a purchase offer to Maeve, one below market value, one that would allow her dreams of running her own bakery to come true. The proceeds would give Wilbert enough funds to move to Florida so that neither he nor his brother would have to live alone.

Wilbert followed his wife’s wishes but life without his best friend and true love proved too heavy to bear. And not six weeks after Shirley’s passing, Wilbert followed her to the next world.

If you look carefully, on the wall behind the cash register at the Brightside Bakery, you can still find a framed photo of Shirley, Wilbert and Maeve receiving their first “Best in New Hampshire” plaque.

Like Shirley had done, sandwich by sandwich, Maeve finds ways to pay her good fortune forward by helping her neighbors, one cookie, one brownie, one pie at a time.

Want more?

If you want to read more about Brighton, pick up a copy of Christmas by Candlelight, Christmas in Brighton and Summer’s Sweet Spot, or the new cozy mystery, Of Books and Bones. Or sign up for my newsletter.

View my catalog of books

Click here

Share this:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *