The Redcross Shop and the Codpeice
Updated: May 12
A wee story for you to help chuckle away the Lockdown blues...
George’s codpiece is a magnificent piece of expanding equipment which, with the aid of a long-life battery, pulsated to music.
The straps are studded with green and red baubles. The tip (or “main event,” as George likes to call it) sprung forth like a jack-in-the-box, presenting a bloodred, jewelled disco ball at the end with an almost ta-da–like quality, spurring a woman to forget her “darling, I’ve a headache” as soon as she saw it.
George had first spied it in the Red Cross charity shop.
He walked past on his way to the butcher’s and there it was in the window passing itself off as abstract art. He stopped and stared at the red tip just shy of the mannequin’s askew wig and soon forgot about his pork chops.
The charity shop was run by Elsa and Karin, two women who had spent their lives making scones for the Women’s Rural Instute, (WRI). The only codpieces they had seen, apart from ballet on Television, were Henry VII’s armor during a school trip to London (which wasn’t yesterday) and the amateur dramatics society’s one and only attempt at Shakespeare—as Hamlet as camp as Liberace who wore his codpiece like a hairpiece and, according to the local paper’s witticism, had “as much acting ability as a glass of water."
The codpiece was hanging on the doorknob in a Marks and Spencer bag when Elsa and Karin arrived.
Elsa, with a quick glance, thought it was a joke coat hanger, which started her off on a rant that Karin had heard many times. In fact, the mere mention of “hangers” often led to her plugging in her headphones and nodding like a Chinese cat doll.
“What’s this,” said Elsa, “another of those friggin’ crochet-covered coat hangers?”
Karin, shop keys poised, huffed a silent “here we go.”
“I mean who came up with that idea?” said Elsa. “They are about as much use as one of those crochet toilet roll covers.”
Karin opened the door.
“Surely there are better ways to use up spare wool than crocheting pointless covers,” said Elsa.
Karin marched into the dark shop and switched on the lights. She sighed. “Must we go down that coat hanger road again?”
Elsa thumped the bag on the counter. “A toilet roll is a toilet roll, a coat hanger’s a coat hanger—they’re not genitals that need covering up,” she said.
“Must we move on to genitals as well?” muttered Karin.
Elsa watched as Karin switched on the till and opened up the back door.
“They should be banned,” she said to herself.
Karin flicked the Closed sign to Open and then stopped. "If you really feel that strongly about it, why don’t you write to the WRI —or better still leave, join the Women’s Guild?” “Guild?”
Elsa jolted. “Have you seen their bottle stall? Not a wine in sight. They have no idea what the public want.”
Karin fingered her mp3 player, wondering what she had downloaded recently.
“One as bad as the other,” muttered Elsa. “As for her who runs the Guild . . . I see enough of her in here.”
Karin lifted the bag from under Elsa’s clutches and peered in.
Elsa flicked on the kettle.
“She’s living in the Dark Ages”—she checked the fridge for milk—“saving the world with homemade jam.”
“I don’t think Her from the Guild believes in jam saving things,” said Karin.
“Her last bottle stall was full of ’em,” said Elsa. “As if anyone is going to spend a tenner on raffle tickets for a jar of strawberry jam.”
Karin muttered about “homemade” as Elsa ranted on about the bottle stall.
“She’s been warned,” said Elsa, “if her next bottle stall doesn’t make any money, she’s out . . . for good. I mean who gets sacked from the Guild?”
Karin, feigning listening, pulled the codpiece into the light.
“I don’t think it’s a coat hanger.”
“What?” said Elsa.
"I said I don't think it's a coat hanger."
Elsa looked up from the fridge and stared at the apparition suspended from Karin’s hand as the morning sun twinkled on its baubles. She whistled through her teeth.
“Talk about genitals—that’s big enough for an elephant’s.”
Karin read the note attached to the belt. “It’s from that belly dancing teacher.”
“Well, that explains it,” muttered Elsa. “Anyone who talks about pelvic tilts and TENA pads in the same sentence as a latte is bound to be a bit, well . . . free with things.
” “Hmm . . . she’s written, ‘Have fun,’” muttered Karin.
“Told you, as free as a nudist colony,” said Elsa.
“‘Open your mind and give your pelvis a good seeing to,’” Karin read aloud.
“Completely pelvic obsessed,” said Elsa.
“‘Fulfill your fantasy,’” read Karin.
Elsa flicked the tip of the codpiece; it sprung into action.
“It’s not one of those vibrators, is it?”
“‘Build a bonfire, dance al fresco, and discover that goddess within,’” Karin read. “
She’s been on the home brew,” muttered Elsa. She looked at her pal. “Why don’t you put it on?”
“What?” said Karin.
“It’s Monday,” muttered Elsa. “No one comes in on a Monday, even Her from the Guild.”
Her from the Guild was the new Red Cross store manager. She had only been in the role for three months and had managed to lose every volunteer apart from Elsa and Karin. She’d been given the job without any experience beyond a few hours in her daughter’s coffee shop. Some say the daughter pulled a few strings, couldn’t bear another hour of her mother’s lukewarm lattes served with a temperance sermon that turned even the most loyal of customers away.
“Why don’t you?” said Karin, handing the codpiece to Elsa.
Elsa shoved it back. “Me? My size? Where am I to put it, around my neck? No, definitely you.”
Karin jangled the codpiece. “It looks contractable.”
They stared at the so-called “one-size-fits-all” pelvic apparition swaying before them.
“Not that contractable,” muttered Elsa.
Karin said nothing.
“And you’re the one with superb hips,” said Elsa.
Karin muttered a “hmmm.”
“Even that belly dancing teacher said you were a natural,” said Elsa; she could see she was winning her pal around.
Karin threw her a half-hearted pfff look. “
She said you could make hessian flow with your hip moves,” said Elsa.
Karin looked at her pal.
“She wanted to know why you didn’t come back to her class. Had plans for you.” Elsa caught Karin’s eye. “Imagine that thing—with those shimmies you love to do.”
“Oh all right then,” snapped Karin.
Elsa flicked on the kettle as Karin slid into the changing room. Elsa’s phone pinged a text.
“It’s her from the Guild,” shouted Elsa. “She’s wanting something for the next bottle stall!”
“Should I take off my jumper?” said Karin.
“No, seriously, she does,” said Elsa. She scrolled down the Queen’s Speech of a message, skimming quickly through the “how to improve things” sermon.
Her from the Guild managed from a distance, occasionally calling in to rubbish Karin’s latest color-coordinated clothes rack or Elsa’s innovative window display; she even Skyped once, until Elsa switched her off mid rant.
“What about my shoes?” shouted Karin. “Should I take ’em off too?”
Elsa stopped. “Jesus.”
“What was that?” yelled Karin. “Shoes too much?”
“She’s coming here this afternoon,” shouted Elsa.
“Who?” said Karin.
“Guess,” yelled Elsa.
“I thought she was on holiday, taking in the ballet somewhere hot,” said Karin.
Elsa sighed. “Not anymore.”
“Jesus,” muttered Karin. “Apparently, there’s an issue with our ‘so-called window display. "Something to do with our out-of-date . . .” Elsa stopped.
“Out-of-date what?” said Karin.
“Err . . . mannequin,” muttered Elsa.
“There's nothing out of date about my mannequin,” snapped Karin. “I used it for years before I brought it here.”
Elsa waited; she knew there was more.
“It’s retro, evocative, quiche.”
“Don’t you mean niche?” said Elsa. “
That window would be nothing without my mannequin,” said Karin, “and if that’s the thanks I get—”
“I know, she can shove it,” muttered Elsa to herself. “—we should give her something to choke on,” said Karin.
“Exactly,” said Elsa. “Something as outrageous as her stupid demands.”
“I know,” shouted Elsa. “Something to . . . you know . . . stop her in tracks—shut her up.”
“Something to put her right in her place,” said Elsa.
“How about this?”
Karin swished the curtains open.
Elsa stared at Karin’s pelvis decorated like a joker’s hat as the kettle, bubbling unattended, filled the shop with steam.
“Jesus!” she muttered.
The codpiece jumped to life, making Elsa feel a bit funny.
Childhood memories flashed back to a ballet concert in Glasgow where Elsa, sitting painfully on a hard seat, wondered (between bouts of boredom) what all that Rudolf Nureyev fuss was about. To a sporty ten-year-old, men in tights were as stupid as her mother’s hairstyle, and a bulge between the legs was as intriguing as a pickled egg recipe.
Karin twirled a few times, the codpiece swaying like a jewelled palm tree, expanding and contracting.
Perhaps I should revisit Rudolf Nureyev? thought Elsa.
Karin finished with a robust pelvic thrust.
Or even some younger dancer? thought Elsa.
Neither saw Harry, an elderly gentleman, pass by. He, in the middle of pondering the butcher’s latest leek-and-mushroom sausages, stopped as he caught the pulsating burble shoot past his side vision. Harry turned to catch Karin mid pelvis thrust.
Harry, like a stunned Labrador, was mesmerised, sausages as far from his thoughts as last night’s toenail trimmings. Karin, who according to many was still a catch, had the sort of pelvic thrust that could set a man’s heart thumping. Especially a man whose only contact with a woman was having his blood pressure checked.
Karin wiggled with a giggle.
“I saw one in the war,” he shouted. “
Aye right,” she shouted.
“I did,” he shouted back. “There’s a lot to Hitler folk don’t know about.”
Elsa’s phone lit up, and a Dolly Parton ringtone echoed through the shop; the codpiece bounced into action. Harry chuckled, setting off a round of coughing, as Karin twirled with her best I’m looking for a shag look. Elsa’s phoned stopped, the codpiece flopped, and Karin, mid pose, tried not to look silly.
Elsa fumbled to find more music.
“Hurry up,” muttered Karin as Harry tapped on the window and pulled out his phone.
“Do it again, they’ll never believe me at the butcher’s.”
Elsa found a Status Quo song and, mid cursing her husband’s lousy taste in music, flicked it on.
Down, down, deeper and down . . . The codpiece went mental.
A couple of hours and several Status Quo albums later, the codpiece was swinging from the window like a pornographic wind chime just shy of a seventies mannequin dressed like something out a sex shop, and Her from the Guild was livid.
Elsa and Karin had spent all morning redoing the window with Harry videoing (or “helping,” as he called it). They figured if Her from the Guild was coming for her usual get-rid-of-the-volunteers lecture, then they may as well get their money’s worth . . .
They were going out in style.
The girls threw everything they could at the window: leather belts disguised as whips, boots, bras, underpants, aprons—they went to town, relying on Harry’s knowledge of all things pornographic, as the only dubious things they had seen were Barbara Windsor’s breast in a Carry On film and the odd nude in the local art show. Karin and Elsa learnt many things: mainly that when it came to sex, Harry’s memory was as clear as Highland Spring water, while theirs was as muddy as a cappuccino.
Finally finished and satisfied and Status Quo switched to a Seventies Greatest Hits album, the three stopped to admire their handywork with a coffee.
“It’s a work of art,” muttered Harry, tucking into a scone just as Her from the Guild flounced through the door. By the time George passed by the shop, Her from the Guild had been inside long enough to not only throw a wobbly but also destroy much of the window ambience by covering the mannequin with a crochet blanket, causing a coughing fit from Harry.
As Harry recovered with a glass of water, George stared at the codpiece. The crochet blanket slung over the mannequin gave it a more avant-garde look, and his Beatrice could be very avant-garde. He had known Beatrice since the black-and-white TV days, and she was a woman easily pissed off.
This piece just might tip her over the edge from platonic to . . . well . . . He stared at the bloodred knob. It’ll make her weak at the knees, he thought. It’s making me weak just now.
He spotted the elderly gentleman by the shop counter recovering. Then he heard Her from the Guild, a woman as pious as the Pope and as sober as the temperance movement. In fact, if there were a local temperance group, she’d be running it; she was so against alcohol she had even refused George’s offer of a malt whisky for her latest bottle stall. And that would have made a bucket of money, but then again, thought George, maybe it was because she recognised me . . . from another time.
George eyed the codpiece.
It had as much chance of surviving under her clutches as her bottle stall did of making money. He had to do something. He knew the Guild had nearly sacked her, given her one last chance to run the bottle stall . . . and he also knew of a time, years ago, when Her from the Guild was anything but pious.
He smiled to himself.
That codpiece was all but his.
With a friendly tap on the door and his best casual saunter, George entered. No one noticed. Her from the Guild was in full throttle, claiming that the so-called art in the window had as much to do with art as a bottle stall had with alcohol. “
There’s a bonfire with that thing’s name on it,” she yelled.
The others tried to argue, but she, dismissing all arguments of it being “one of a kind,” ploughed through her speech like a minister preaching fire and brimstone to the masses.
“This is a charity shop, not an Ann Summers shop,” she yelled.
“Ann Summers?” mouthed Elsa to Karin and Harry. “How would she know?”
“I know about Ann Summers,” said Her from the Guild. “I know about all these things. I was once like you—a heathen, a lost soul . . .”
“Hello, Carisa,” said George.
She stopped. No one had called her that for years.
The two girls looked at each other with a that’s her name? look.
“I see you moved on from coat hangers and tea sets.” He paused. “Carisa.”
“Well, not exactly,” she muttered.
They looked at each other like they had a past . . . a past that hadn’t ended well.
“The last time I saw you, you were trying to sell raffle tickets for the bottle stall with jars of jam and a bottle of Sarson’s vinegar.”
“Don’t call me Carisa,” sniffed Her from the Guild.
“You made enough to what,” said George, “pay for the rent of stall?” He paused for effect. “Carisa.”
“I said don’t call me that,” said Her from the Guild.
They looked at each other.
George knew that he could say more, he could tell all; he waited.
Her from the Guild fumbled with the till and muttered something about the shop being closed.
George didn’t move.
“I hear you’re doing another bottle stall, for the Gala Day,” he said.
The room was silent, the girls and Harry poised.
What’s next? mouthed Karin. “
And?” she said, attempting to hold her own.
“We’ve been here before, haven’t we?” said George. “Another time, another place?”
“Jesus,” Elsa mouthed to Karin.
Harry chuckled, setting off a round of coughing. George patted his back, making the coughing worse.
Harry waved him to stop.
“I’ve a few tricks up my sleeve this time,” said Her from the Guild.
“Tricks? It’s a bottle stall. Throw in a few bottles of wine and malt whisky and you’re laughing,” said Karin.
“Yes, well . . . there’s more to it than that,” said Her from the Guild.
“But is there?” said George.
“Well, I . . .” She caught George’s eye and stopped.
A few days later, as George surprised, seduced, and entertained Beatrice into bed with his codpiece, Elsa and Karin were celebrating in the Argyll Hotel. They had left the charity shop. Harry had assured them that he had seen plenty, knew what he was talking about, and was happy to help in an advisory capacity.
George had been generous.
“You’re welcome to the codpiece any time for a template,” he said. “Anything to spread the joy of a codpiece.”
Elsa and Karin had a plan that not only would make great use of Karin’s retro mannequin but would lead the two of them into a world far more entertaining than selling under that pain in the arse from the Guild. They were going to make and sell codpieces on the internet, starting with designs inspired by George’s codpiece.
George offered to make a donation to the bottle stall in exchange for the codpiece. It was large enough to impress those in the Guild, and Her from the Guild had no choice but to accept.
She had a past, a past that she wanted kept there.
A time when she drank too much; she got so drunk at a Gala Day she drank the whisky from the bottle stall and danced on the table, hurling the pickled egg jars into the crowd. Some would call it a turning point. It was a lifetime ago, and George had promised never to tell, but as she handed in his donation to the Guild, Her from the Guild realised that perhaps bottle stalls were best left to someone comfortable with a bottle of whisky inches from their hand.
A few months later, at the Gala Day, Her from the Guild stood behind the burger stand, frying onions. At first, she didn’t see Karin and Elsa set up their stand—until the mannequin was erected. Mid peeling an onion, Her from the Guild stopped as a crochet codpiece was wrapped around the mannequin’s pelvis. Elsa and Karin had gone for a more subtle, comic element for the family day out. Not subtle enough, thought Her from the Guild, until she spied George with Beatrice heading for her stall. He caught her eye. But then again, crochet is not so bad, she told herself. It has a certain restrained charm about it.
And she pulled out another onion to peel.
The Red Cross Shop and the Codpiece is part of a book of short stories, A Dress For A Queen And Other Short Stories. If you would like to read more please click on the link below. https://books2read.com/u/49ZB6M