The Widow House

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Note: The story has a medieval, historical setting.

PART I

Adelia, the twenty-five-year-old recently widowed lady, decided that she would live in The Widow House, and not with her cruel in-laws.

The women in the society at the time had little freedom and lived under the guardianship of either the father, the husband, or any other suitable male relative. Well, she had none.

The Widow House was government-sponsored home for the widows, where they lived under the management and protection of the master appointed by the authorities. They provided the necessities; the women were taught to knit and do the chores. It wasn’t a prison, but it has some strict rules to abide by.

The following day she packed her belongings, boarded the carriage, and reached The Widow House. It was a simple but enlarged establishment, further away from the city.

“Follow me,” said the stiff woman in a clipped voice, once she read the approval letter. Her name was Estella, and she was the chief matron of The Widow House. Turned out, Adelia wasn’t the only woman joining the establishment. With her, there were two other widows—Evie and Nora.

“I hope you are well-acquainted with the rules, for there are consequences for breaking them,” Estella reminded, to which the ladies nodded affirmatively, including Adelia.

She further added. “Master Victor is very strict and doesn’t encourage uncivilized behavior. There are three things you must remember at all times—the rules, the daily chores, and to attend the church on Sunday morning.”

With that, they were sent to their respective rooms. Adelia was sharing the room with Evie, and another widowed woman, Ruth. There was something very different about her hair—it was cropped short! Usually, ladies wore their hair long, styled in various braids and pinned them up.

A while later, Adelia and the other two women, were summoned by the matron, Estella. Upon entering the room, she saw three large chairs dominated the space.

“Sit down, ladies,” Estella instructed. “The barber will join you shortly.”

“What?” Adelia squeaked, wide-eyed. “A barber?”

The matron, Estella’s lips pursed. “Yes, young lady, the barber,” she confirmed. “He will cut your hair short and keep it manageable. We cannot have so many women in here with long hair and spend the whole day taking care of it.”

“I am not letting anyone cut my hair!” Adelia declared defiantly and refused to sit on the chair.

“This is the problem with you young widowed ladies,” Estella grumbled. “You agreed to abide by the rules when you signed the paper. So sit down without another word of protest!” She pointed to the chair.

“Yes, I agreed to abide by the rules, not some whimsical dictate!”

By now, Estella was fuming. “Either you sit down and have the haircut, or I will have to send you to Master Victor. And believe me, lady—you shall not like the consequences then,” she snarled.

“Fine! Do whatever you want, but I am not getting my hair cut by some barber!”

Adelia was taken to Master Victor’s office immediately, accompanied by Estella. She was expecting some brutish old man. But surprisingly, Master Victor was a man in early thirties—with chiseled features, emerald eyes, and dark blonde hair.

“Whatever is the matter, Miss Estella?” he demanded, without glancing up.

“I apologize, Sir, but the matter demands your immediate attention,” Estella told him, her voice suddenly demure. “This young lady here,”—she pointed to Adelia—” just arrived a few hours ago and had already started creating a fuss.”

Master Victor looked up to Adelia briefly and was mystified. The ladies at The Widow House were mostly in the late thirties or above. Never had he encountered a young, beautiful widow like her at this place.

“It’s a lie!” Adelia protested. “She is forcing me to cut my hair!”

Miss Estella glared and was about to rebut, but all Master Victor had to do was lift a finger. “Miss Estella, thank you for your assistance. You may leave and supervise the haircut of the other two women. I shall deal with this matter.”

Miss Estella smirked a little triumphantly and then left.

Marcus directly addressed Adelia. “Did you consent to the rules of this establishment, Miss Adelia?”

“Yes, Sir, I did,” she replied boldly. “But nowhere did they mention about sacrificing my hair.”

“I am afraid such intricate rules are not laid down explicitly, but it is still a rule. And if you are seeking a place here, you ought to follow the rules. Or you are free to leave.”

She thought of her options for a moment, and then, begrudgingly gave in. It’s just hair, and it will grow out, she thought.

Marcus rose and walked around the table to stand beside her. “Could you please turn out and let me review the state of your hair, Miss?”

Adelia complied. Marcus carefully took off the silk scarf, unpinned the thick braid, and studied her waist-length hair. Clearly, it was a glorious beauty and practically a crime to hack it off. But Marcus was one of those rare men who preferred short-haired woman, even though there was only a handful in the society.

“Come, let me escort you to the barber’s room,” he offered. “And Miss,” he told her sternly. “This is your first time, and hence, I wouldn’t impose a punishment. But should this be repeated in the future, there would be consequences.”

Adelia almost stopped in her tracks. “In the future?”

“The hair must remain short. Every first Sunday of the month, the barber shall tidy up after the Church service. It is a rule here,” Master Victor informed her, making her blanched.

Why on earth did she think it would be a one-time thing?

By the time she returned to the room, the sight shorn hair on the floor made her dizzy. On the chair was her roommate, Evie, wrapped in a starched white cloth while the barber was hacking away at her raven-black hair. The length was already gone, and now the barber was snipping the back, leveling it higher on the nape.

Adelia had never witnessed a haircut like that. Sure, it was feminine, but also drastic. It churned her—both in fear and thrill. Within the next few minutes, the barber announced that he was done, and Miss Estella walked over to inspect the cut. Once she consented, the lady on the chair vacated the seat and left without a word.

“Next,” the barber called out, and Adelia was ushered to the chair by Master Victor. Standing a little further away, Miss Estella smiled wickedly, expecting the penalty for defiance.

Sobs rose from her panic, and Adelia was crying and gasping when the white cloth was flung over her.

“There, there,” the master soothed her. “It will be alright, Miss Adelia. Everyone around here has short hair, anyway.” Taking a pity to her, he turned to the barber and indicated with his finger around her nape. “Keep it till here. We will have it shorter the next time.”

“As you wish, Sir.”

Old, calloused fingers of the barber dislodge the braid and let the gleaming curtain of brown hair cascade down the cape. He gave a good combing and picked up his giant shears.

Grabbing a section, he slid the shears into the hair—below the nape and hacked it off. The Schnick sound reverberated like an alarm, and instantly, Adelia turned around. “Oh, Lord! No!”

“Keep still, lady!” the barber admonished, unhappy with the flinching.

He took the two feet length of hair and tauntingly dropped on her lap, that stilled her movements. And before she could mourn any further, her head was pushed down. The barber happily cut her hair, section after section, at the neck and deposited them before her.

Once he took down the length, her hair was dampened. Another round of shearing began, eliciting more sobs from her, and soon the hair was leveled at the nape. Clippings of hair covered her shoulders. It was comparatively longer than any women at The Widow House, but it was no consolation for Adelia.

“Shorter, Sir?” the barber asked Master Victor. Miss Estella was fuming at the corner, expecting the haircut to be much shorter as a customary penalty for revolting.

“No, it is fine for now.”

When Adelia was finally freed from the cape, she slowly reached out to grab the remaining locks on her head, only now there was hardly anything to speak of. The one-length Bob, barely brushing her nape, made her feel naked.

PART II

Over the next few days, her grief lessened in the company of other short-hair women. But that was not all—Adelia was the object of adoration for Master Victor. He doted on her, overseen all the monthly haircuts she had received, instructing the barber to go a little shorter every time.

A few months later, Adelia was sporting a cheek-length Shingle Bob. The back was tapered a little higher with fuller bangs at the front. By now, she was used to wearing her hair at his will.

“Adelia, we are all summoned to the Great Hall. Be quick now!” Evie called out.

She hurried over and followed Evie. “What is the matter?” Adelia asked.

“Silly girl! Do you not remember? Ruth is to be penalized for stealing,” she informed. “Master Victor wants everyone to be present, to make an example out of her.”

Even though he had always been kind to her, Adelia was quite aware of Victor’s stern demeanor as the master. Besides, Ruth brought it upon herself when she stole the money. She could have landed in jail unless Master Victor stepped in and requested the authorities to pardon the jail time.

In the Great Hall, all the women gathered around the large chair placed at the center and hushed among themselves. Soon, Ruth was led to the chair by Miss Estella as the murmur rose higher. A moment later, Master Victor marched in, with the barber on his heels, and read out her punishment along with the crime. Then, he motioned the barber to begin, without any regards for Ruth’s sullen face.

Capped and combed, the barber grabbed a random chunk from her head, lopped it off, and dropped it in front of her. Loud gasps resonated, but no one uttered a word. Merciless shearing continued as the man would grab-and-chop and reduced the back to half an inch. Her head was yanked up roughly as the barber attack remaining hair on the top and sides.

“The woman’s lucky she’s only getting her head shaved,” the lady standing beside Adelia whispered to her.

“How is this lucky?” Adelia gasped, feeling bad for Ruth.

The lady shrugged. “Well, she chose this among the two punishments.”

“What was the other option?”

“The Pillory,” she informed nonchalantly. “And believe me—this is much better than getting your bare backside tanned by Master Victor. He wields a mean strap.” Adelia could only gulp at the thought. Her eyes traveled to Master Victor, who was intently watching the shearing.

Once the shears did its job, Ruth’s hair unevenly cropped—no more than half an inch. The old man roguishly rubbed her head before grabbing a weird-looking tool with a pair of handles.

“What is that?” Adelia asked.

“I believe the barbers call it ‘clippers’. It cuts the hair really short,” the lady replied.

Adelia saw the barber clamping one firm hand on top of Ruth’s head, shoved it down chin-to-chest and brought the object to her nape. With a deft squeeze-and-release technique, the clippers ascended higher, revealing a stark white scalp behind. Tufts of hair tumbled down when the barber flexed the wrist. Maintaining the same firm hold, he maneuvered her head at his will and ran the clippers all over the head until it was nothing but coarse scalp.

Adelia was swamped with an odd desire. To her, such feelings were illicit, but she couldn’t help salivating at the sight of a woman being shorn like that.

The ordeal continued. The barber covered Ruth’s head with warm, soapy lather and fished out a gleaming razor-blade. This time, he began with the sides, dragging the sharp object down the temple in short-strokes. He would occasionally wipe off the foam on a towel and resume shaving. At times, they heard him saying, “Stay still” or “Don’t move”.

Adelia saw the stark difference between the clippers and razor. The latter left behind nothing but smoothest scalp she has ever seen! It was terrific and sensational.

Once the sides and back were smooth, the top received the same treatment from the ruthless razor. And all this while, after spending every drop of tears, Ruth sat motionlessly and received the shaving. The barber, once completed, customarily nodded at Master Victor, who promptly walked over. With an impassive look, his masculine palm rubbed the shaved dome in a circular motion—the crown, sensitive nape, and the sides.

Waves of envy washed over Adelia. She wondered: how would his hand feel over her head like that? Slow, sensual circular motions, the rough caress of his long fingers against her smooth, shaven scalp…

What is wrong with me? She chastised herself.

“Again,” Master Victor decreed, retrieving his hand. “It has to be smoother.”

The barber instantly got to work. The process was repeated: warm thick lather followed by the deft scraping of the blade. And miraculously so, Ruth’s shaved head was smoother now and gleamed when the man smeared a few drops of oil and massaged the dome.

“Better,” the master clipped out after a thorough inspection. He turned to the crowd of women around him and cautioned them of dire consequences like this if anyone ever commits a crime.

Slowly, the crowd began to disperse as Ruth was released from the chair and quickly ran out of the hall. Adelia dazedly turned to leave when her eyes abruptly locked with Victor’s—and electricity crackled between them.

And when he gave her a meaningful smile, she could only blush red at the possibility.

*****

Thank you for reading the story and I hope you have enjoyed it too. I was reading a medieval article about women when the plot crossed my mind. Would you guys prefer a second part with Adelia getting shaved? Or some other haircut?

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