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The price tag of over two hundred and fifty pounds on those Nicole Farhi leather brogues would have urged lesser women to admit defeat, but there was a certain severity to Ellen Stewart’s way of thinking. By her reckoning, if one indulged oneself and was then knifed dead by a teenager, the disappointment would be significantly less than if one denied oneself and lived on in cheaper shoes. Those brogues consequently stood as splendid as a golden eagle on Ellen’s kitchen table. When her cronies arrived for morning coffee, however, she was forced to concede that her logic was amiss and that the shoes were actually unworthy of a stabbing.

“They make little farting noises,” she complained.

“Are you sure?” Arlene Pepperpot asked, “because sometimes only you can hear the noises – they are a sort of hallucination.”

“The noises are definitely real. I was walking around Marks and Spencers with my husband yesterday, and he was growing quite merry over them.”

But just as farting shoes will transform grown men into sniggering adolescents, they may conversely render a housewife as resourceful as a Polish hunk with a toolbox. Beatrix Barton had always been very practical, and she reasoned that the farting noises could be rectified by boiling the shoes. Smiling with amusement, Ellen extracted her biggest pot from under the kitchen sink, and they had soon consigned the brogues to its bubbling waters. Beatrix recommended boiling the shoes for about a quarter of an hour.

They returned to the living room and when they had finished their coffees, Mrs Pepperpot said to the empty cups, “I have always been fond of you, cups, and we’ve told all the neighbours that there are not cups like you anywhere. I am sure that if you really wanted to, you could trot straight over to the kitchen sink and wash yourselves up.”

And the cups ran to the sink and jumped in.

The shoes were dry by mid-afternoon and Ellen decided to take them for an airing. She lived in a cottage in the Pentland hills, and her favourite walk took her several miles over the heather to where the landscape opened like a magnificent blighted flower, and the hills soared bare and plain around a lake which gleamed like a nasty little piece of glass stuck in the dirt. And walking today in her new shoes, listening suspiciously for the resumption of the farting noises, and careful to step around the gashes of mud in the path, Ellen arrived before the lake and unexpectedly experienced a vision.

In the huge cloudy sky over the hills, her husband was making love to the au pair. Ellen took a step back. Her husband’s thrusting buttocks were suspended in the sky as big as a city. His droning cries and the au pair’s breathless squeaks filled the valley, and scraps of the sounds detonated from hilltop to hilltop. Ellen stood transfixed until the vision had flickered from the sky and the landscape was plunged once more into silence.

Ellen knew that her love for her husband had an established territory or a sort of jurisdiction, and that there were dark, uncolonised regions of his life from which she remained excluded. In the past, she had reasoned with herself that these areas were not worth the conquest – that the few secrets which her husband had left were small and unremarkable. Yet on the morning after her vision, Ellen summoned her cronies to coffee and dutifully reported his betrayal.

A great fury rolled up into the heart of the room. Mrs Pepperpot barked at the coffee cups and they dispersed in panic, leaving the table bare. All three women rested a forefinger on the coffee table, which commenced to rock and lurch violently. Soon the table was on the move. It galloped out of the cottage and the women ran with it, each ducking to keep their finger in place. The table’s adventures in their early days had been rather inconsequential. It had rattled aimlessly around a supermarket and it had tried to attack the dogs tied up to the railing outside the library. But now the table was aware of its priorities, and in a trice, it had arrived at an unsettled spot under the brow of the hills, where the mistress of their charms strolled out from amongst the ash trees to greet them…

At breakfast, Ellen had suddenly announced that she wanted to be rid of the au pair. It seemed that the girl ate an abnormal amount of food. A whole tub of ice cream and a packet of cookies had disappeared in a single afternoon. If a hippo had the run of the house, it would eat less.

“She’s cheap!” Rufus snarled. “And you were always complaining about not having a reliable girl.”

Ellen’s eyes gleamed. Despite herself, she felt a vague sense of solidarity with this au pair. Women were all the same to Rufus, as long as he had one to hand when he was bored. To Ellen’s mind, the au pair was harmless – merely a senseless implement which he was beating her over the head with – and she just wanted to thwart him by throwing his tool out of the window. “I’m going to phone and tell her not to come tomorrow.”

Fine!” Rufus hissed, puffing out his cheeks with exasperation. “I dare say we can manage without an au pair.”

“Rufus!” Ellen was outraged. “How can you say such a thing? Joshua can hardly be left by himself – he requires constant attention.”

Joshua seemed to be aware that they were talking about him. He looked up blankly.

Rufus left for the university. He was lecturing at ten, and he was then at lunch for the rest of the afternoon

At the urinal during lunch, the world screeched to an abrupt halt. Looking down, Rufus was not pleased by what he saw. Indeed, he was a little alarmed. He scrutinised his penis and gave it a couple of shakes as if to revive it. Every wrinkle’s an inch, he tried to reassure himself.

The incident passed out of his mind until the next time he was at a urinal – in the changing-rooms after squash – when he grimly observed that his penis was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, quite definitely smaller.

It was as if it had withdrawn into his body by about half an inch.

Like an old friend who has suffered a mental breakdown, his penis was now something of a stranger to him. It remained the same width, but… there was simply less of it. Rufus was not very satisfied with what was left, but he was grimly aware that this was not something he could place before a doctor. He would be told that, yes it was all very curious, but he should really consult an aromatherapist to have it treated properly.

Rufus worried for the rest of the day, occasionally retreating into the privacy of a bathroom where he would gaze helplessly at his retracting member. He was reminded of the feeling when, as a boy, he had built a snowman and watched it gradually shrink away over the following days.

At home, there was a note stuck to the fridge which said that his wife and Joshua were shopping in Livingstone. On such occasions, they typically spent the night with Beatrix Barton rather than return to the cottage. And as he did when his wife was away, Rufus established himself on the living-room sofa, like King Henry on his royal barge, and, surrounded by his retinue of crisp packets and beer cans, he fell into a deep sleep.

That night he had a horrible dream. An old crone had spied the stalks of a carrot amongst her vegetable patch and, licking her lips greedily, she began to tug away. Yet this was evidently quite a big vegetable, for she could not dislodge it from the soil. She called over Rufus’ wife – who was preparing a cocktail on the patio – and Ellen and the crone pulled away, but to no avail. Beatrix Barton and Arlene Pepperpot were also called over to lend a hand, and gradually the four women and all their might managed to wrench the carrot free. But as the thing slid from its earthy slumbers, Rufus observed to his horror that it was not a carrot but his own penis, and awaking in a panic, his hands fell to his genitals and groped with desperation, until they found a tiny little stump which was smaller than the butt of a cigarette.

Feverish with terror, Rufus jumped into his car and screeched off to the hospital.

He was sent away from the Accident and Emergency unit several times before the duty receptionist was persuaded that the only way of calming him down would be to allow him a few minutes with a doctor. A doctor was found and he examined the penis without interest.

“It’s very small,” he ventured finally. “That’s probably the smallest penis I’ve seen during my career.”

“But it’s shrinking,” Rufus sobbed. “It’s getting smaller.”

The doctor blinked.

“Watch it!” Rufus implored.

The doctor sat and looked at Rufus’ penis for as long as he considered polite. “I can’t see anything,” he concluded. “Perhaps I should get a microscope?”

“What should I do?” Rufus screamed.

The doctor became practical. “Are you going to use your penis over the next few days?”

Rufus looked as if he could cut that doctor’s throat.

“It requires some form of corrective surgery, which is probably best done by a cosmetic practitioner – the sort of people who send out those odd emails, you know? There’s nothing that we can do here. If you only use your penis occasionally, I would recommend a little patience until the problem is sorted out.” The doctor looked thoughtful. “You know, I have heard of historical cases in which a structurally insecure penis has inverted naturally – so that, in effect, it becomes of its own accord a vagina…”

The car rolled through blank spectral streets. Rufus was already resigned to becoming a eunuch – an abomination whose shrill squawks would cause all normal men to give thanks for their health and masculinity. Rufus suddenly needed his wife’s strength and practicality. Yet scrambling into the cottage, he found Ellen and her cronies  awaiting him in a row of armchairs – each lady immaculate at morning coffee – and when his wife looked up at him, it was with that pointed formality and coldness which were once the stormy weather of their courting days.

He was suddenly certain that Ellen was behind this mutilation.  Without thinking, Rufus crashed to his knees, and fell at his wife’s feet like a barbarian king conquered by Rome.

“Hello Mr Stewart” cooed Mrs Pepperpot. “Would you care for a mini bagel?”

“Don’t!” Ellen warned. “They are fattening and he has to remember his cholesterol.”

The ladies murmured at the thought of this peril. “The cholesterol!”

“Do you wish to learn something which may not have occurred to you?” Ellen asked her husband.

“No,” Rufus cried.

Ellen raised an eyebrow. “No?”

Rufus moaned with resistance like an infant at the school gates. “Because it will be horrible…”

“Tough cookie,” Ellen chided. “But not so horrible. Although your willy was getting smaller and smaller, it was all the time perfectly safe. I was keeping it in a very special place.”

“Where?” Beatrix Barton gasped.

“I’ll tell you. On the forehead of that poor au pair girl.”

“On her forehead? Oh the poor child!”

“Yes, whilst it was disappearing from him, it was reappearing… well… sprouting between her eyes. She had such a pretty face and it was quite spoiled by your great willy flopping about in the middle of it.”

Rufus was racked with sobs. “Please make it stop!”

“That poor girl is almost completely out of her mind by now and I cannot see her living until the end of the afternoon. I don’t know how she will kill herself, but it will be something which obliterates the face and spares her family the mortifying embarrassment…”

“Oh imagine!” Mrs Pepperpot screeched. “Her unfortunate mother turning up to identify the body… and saying “I never noticed a willy there before!””

The ladies cackled.

“But the point is…” remembered Ellen, “that once this bit of fluff has destroyed herself, your willy will be back as good as new.”

“You’re demons!” Rufus exploded. “Fucking bastards!”

“Darling!” there was no longer that playfulness in Ellen’s voice. “I think there is a little something which will bring this unhappy episode to a conclusion.”

“You fucking burn in hell!”

“A little thing, but still incredibly important…”

Rufus wiped the spittle from his chin. The ladies were looking at him expectantly.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.