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The Chicken and the Prickly Pear

By Cleo Wodehouse

Published by Cleo Wodehouse at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 Cleo Wodehouse

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this book. It remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you would like to share this book with another person, please encourage them to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. This way, the author receives feedback on how many people are enjoying their work. Thank you for your support.

Table of contents

Chapter 1: Friends and girlfriends

Chapter 2: Doomed to solitude

Chapter 3: A high-handed greeting

Chapter 4: Want to be my…?

Chapter 5: Teasing the beast

Chapter 6: Fall-out

Chapter 7: Sports

Chapter 8: Fall-out and fall-in

Chapter 9: Information hunger

Chapter 10: Little gifts

Chapter 11: Diction addiction

Chapter 12: Too much

Chapter 13: Preparations

Chapter 14: Recap

Chapter 15: Physical ideals

Chapter 16: Discoveries

Chapter 17: Changed atmosphere

Chapter 18: A second look

Chapter 19: Confidences

Chapter 20: Who would have thought it?

Chapter 21: The L-word for alexithymiacs

Chapter 22: Germ-any

Chapter 23: The best-friend test

Chapter 24: Ready for a change?

Chapter 25: No time for training wheels

Chapter 26: I don't HAVE to do anything

Chapter 27: Dare I take the step?

Chapter 28: A new life

Chapter 29: Changes

Chapter 30: No regrets but a tear or two

Chapter 31: Start over?

Chapter 32: An outstanding reunion

Chapter 33: Story of our life

About Cleo Wodehouse

Chapter 1: Friends and girlfriends

Wednesday, 11th of January, morning

You have trespassed repeatedly onto adjacent parking spaces of which there is but a scarce quantity available to begin with. Kindly consider acquiring a more appropriate amount of automotive-stationing prowess, or spare your fellow motorists your negligible presence. Otherwise I shall see the matter attended to by less lenient parties.

Claire, look at what I just found on my windshield. I guess it says: learn how to park or I will report you. Right?

7:55 AM

Right. What a jerk! Did you see who left it?

7:56 AM

No, and I don't know if I want to. They sound terrifying. I think I'd better do as they say.

7:57 AM

He. I think it’s a guy. It should be easy to find out who it is, there can't be too many people parking in the same small lot as you that write like that.

7:58 AM

You’re right but I don’t think it's worth it. I'll just park somewhere else. He's right about my parking skills after all.

7:59 AM

I agree ;) Still, I hate this. He'll feel justified and keep on terrorizing other innocent people. Forget him, he'll probably die alone.

8:00 AM

Thanks, now I feel better. Gotta head in now. Talk to you soon.

8:01 AM


Thursday, 12th of January, early afternoon

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Hey Toni-girl,

Can you guess how warm it is over here in St. Paul's Bay? 16 degrees! Aaaah, don't you just love Malta? No, hang on, you can't because you’re still in cold, damp Germany!! :P Sorry, I couldn't resist but as we both know you love me and will forgive me ;)

Also, sorry it took me a week to write a PROPER email but you know how there's no chance for that while I'm with my family. Then there was all that hassle with the flight, then I had to unpack and do some exploring around my aunt Marianne's house – you know how it goes.

Monday will be my first day at the law firm. I still don't know what they expect from an intern, Marianne's friend mentioned something about general office work. I just hope I won't be sorting paper clips for the entire 6 months. But until then I get to explore this sunny island for a few more days!

The buildings here are charming but you wouldn't believe the amount of trash people just throw on the streets or into the front yards. Compared to Germany, Malta is so backward in a lot of ways. Speaking of differences, the Wi-Fi here is not the best either. Marianne tells me that most of the time when she Skypes with our family, she lags or gets kicked out. Great. I guess we'll have to make do with writing, but that’s probably no “make do” to you, huh? We both know how much you love to write long emails.

Whoops, gotta finish this later. Lunchtime! (Late lunch because of late breakfast :D)

[ ]


Same Thursday, 12th of January, evening

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Hey Heidi,

If I didn't know you as well as I do, I would nominate you for worst best friend of our era, but seeing how you still have to work another two semesters for your degree after your internship while I have had mine comfortably tucked away for five years, I actually find it in my heart not to begrudge you those measly 16 degrees :P

But seriously, I'm happy for you that your aunt and her friend gave you the opportunity and that you are staying with a person you know and appreciate. I could have used that kind of support during my 6 months in the US.

Did you have a good flight?

(Did you know that, in English, you can enjoy a good fly, too? Also a good read, a good sit and even a good eat ;))

Speaking of eating, I may not envy you the weather but I do envy you that late breakfast because I’m working the early shift this entire week. Incidentally, as much as I love English, I have never cared for their clinical term “breakfast”. Our German “early piece” is so much more straightforward and denotes our hard-working, early-rising culture, don’t you think?

Although in your case you’d be better served with the English term since yours is a “late piece” more often than not ;) Let me ingest my even-later-piece then, after which I’m off to my sports group. I’m looking forward to the rest of your email.

[ ] (Although I love this digital hug, the square brackets always remind me of staples.)

Toni, who has just realized that she needs staples

+ staples

+ printing paper

+ insoles

+ post-its

Same Thursday, 12th of January, an hour later

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Hey Toni,

“early piece”

“a good eat”

Honestly, I don’t think there’s anyone but you who thinks about that kind of questions. Just because I looked to you for an example and chose to major in business and English, too, it doesn’t mean that I’m good at either. It was a process of elimination, that’s all.

But you? I've told you so many times, you should have majored in English; literature or linguistics would have been right up your alley. You're wasted on DIY retail. You should be a writer and you know it, too, but what will it take to make you realize that?

Anyway, the flight was good but the staff on board so hard to understand – you wouldn't believe their English! I wonder how I'm supposed to improve mine with this kind of accent. It’s sort of like Italian and their words look like a mix between English and Arabic. I wonder how long it'll take me to get the hang of it.

So, what's new with you? Any new mishaps from my favorite klutz?

I would tell you that I miss you but I haven't had time yet :P

[ ]



Friday, 13th of January, morning

From: Janine Klevkovic, 7:32 AM

Hey Toni u on ur way yet? ive just arrived and i need tampons! Could u bring some PLEASE?!

From: Antonia Schwan, 7:33 AM

You’re in luck on this unlucky Friday the 13th, I’m already on my way but I always have some with me. Would you like me to bring some commas and apostrophes as well? ;)

From: Janine Klevkovic, 7:34 AM

Smartass get whatsapp then we’ll negotiate. And now please hurry!

From: Antonia Schwan, 7:35 AM

Hurry the trolley? Am I supposed to use my nail file to threaten the conductor? Seriously, it won’t take long, don’t worry and sit tight. Literally ;)

From: Janine Klevkovic, 7:36 AM

Not funny.


Same Friday, 13th of January, noon

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Hey Heidi,

Greetings from lunch break!

I know, you have been pestering me about venturing into the realm of scribehood ever since that convoluted post-it of mine. It’s not like I don’t agree with you; in fact, I do, and mostly in the shape of a suppressed sigh. But, the trouble is that I’ve got nothing to say. I may be swept up in a whirlwind of activity every work day but nothing worth writing about has struck my fancy so far.

Let me therefore shove that bothersome topic into some dusty corner for now because I’d rather apprise you of a piece of retail news instead:

You know how the higher powers of DIY enjoy whimsically moving and interchanging the little tokens that are the store managers? Our current one, Michael Jäger, has been with us for a week now and I hope that we will get to keep him for a while. He’s in his late thirties, a little taller than me and has the friendliest face I have ever seen a person wear. And the best part: he’s from Stuttgart.

Why is that the best part? Because whenever he opens his mouth, my quote file welcomes a new entry. Did you know that where he comes from a foot runs from one’s hip bone to one’s big toe? They have no word for “leg”! I wonder if their pants have feet, too, if their thespians break a foot or if women there wear footings ;)

Let it be made clear right here and now that I will pointedly ignore any insinuations on your part about my alleged emotional involvement. I will, on the other hand, most objectively admit that we like each other. If not for the German custom of cementing differences in hierarchy by the use of last names, we would already be on a first-name basis. I miss that about the States sometimes.

You know, my stomach refuses to be pointedly ignored; in fact, it seems to have no reservations whatsoever about speaking its mind. It just started out as a low grumbling and built up into the call of the wild. I must appease the beast immediately.

[ ]

Toni, the master lion tamer

Sunday, 15th of January, late afternoon

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Hey Toni,

I see, a new hot boss... and I dare say the lady doth protest too much (are you proud of me for that one???) If they keep changing store managers, maybe he won't be your boss for much longer and then you can have a go!

Seriously, girl, you need to get out there! It’s been almost two years since you and Christian split up. Not that that wasn't a wise decision on his part, you two were on the same wavelength but it was the most boring wave I’d ever seen. And he never got your sense of humor. You need someone who does, someone who appreciates not just your endless legs and gorgeous curls but the true, nerdy, brilliant YOU.

I'm just glad Lars and I broke it off before I left Germany because this way I get to flirt shamelessly with every hot Maltese or British guy here! There are tons of Brits over here, actually; most of them are retired but, luckily, not all of them ;)

Another awesome advantage is that we could actually look into moving in together when I get back! I mean, we practically used to anyway – with the annoying addition of our now exes – and it broke my heart when you moved out to live with your sister after your breakup.

I mean, it made sense since it was Christian's place to begin with but still. How convenient was it that I only had to drag myself down one flight of stairs after a night of drunken girl talk – well, drunken in MY case. I never got why you don't like the taste of alcohol but then again I could always count on you to drive us home safely when we went out ;)

Anyway, if the guy I sublet my place to for these 6 months hasn't completely trashed it, I will welcome you with open arms. Luckily those apartments are affordable even for one person but for us two it would be just perfect.

With YOUR help, I will actually get a decent GPA on my diploma and with MY help, you will finally get a decent love life. While I like your sister, she is useless when it comes to romantic advice and that other roommate of yours is never around anyway. Aaah, it feels good to be needed.


P.S.: “Appease the beast” – THAT is what I'm talking about!


Monday, 16th of January, early in the morning

Good morning sis,

Could you bring some duct tape with you tonight? How convenient that you work at the source. Thx!

BTW: Will be home a little later today, gotta train a new coach.



Same Monday, 16th of January, a few minutes later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Hey Heidi,

Yes, I'm sitting at my computer at 7:30 in the morning – I'm an addict and intend to change nothing whatsoever about it. Besides, how else am I supposed to wish you good luck on your first day? ;)

About your email:

a) You make me sound like a supermodel. However, I have the ears and various other body parts to prove that I'm not. You know the subject makes me feel uncomfortable, so please stop saying things like that, OK?

b) I also miss our nights of one-sided drunken dissipation and I can’t say I'm averse to the cohabitation scheme. (Ingenious expression, isn't it? As is your "doth protest". I wish I could travel back into some past century and learn from its people, I'd secretly study them and record their every word. You know I have been collecting those high-end expressions for a few months but it’s taking me forever to craft such a sentence myself. Am I still in brackets? Dear me, I am, high time to close it.)

But back to the topic of rooming: I just don't relish the idea of packing my bags yet again. And what about if you meet somebody? Besides, the twenty minutes we live apart aren’t too bad, don't you think? Let's talk about it towards the end of your internship again, OK?

However, irrespective of our future living arrangements, I will put myself into your capable matchmaking hands when you return. You know how difficult it is to even date with my erratic working hours, let alone maintain a relationship, so I’m indeed in dire need of assistance.

Got to catch the trolley now, another busy day awaits!

[ ]


Same Monday, 16th of January, late morning

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Hey Toni,

Remember that good luck that you wished me? It must have gotten lost somewhere on the way to Malta. It's only after 10:30 and I'm already bored out of my mind here. I thought I'd be introduced around and then would get to know the firm a little but Marianne's friend, Anna, only showed up 30 minutes ago and I haven't seen her since. I don't even know exactly how many people work here because not everyone is in yet. Not in at 10:30?! You know I'm not exactly a hard worker but what am I supposed to do here for 6 months if it goes on like this? Oh, I know, I'll answer your email ;)

a) OK, no more super-model talk. Just regular-model talk :P

b) "If I meet somebody"

I hope so but at only 24 I've got plenty of time. We'll take care of YOU first, granny ;)

c) "how difficult it is to even date with my erratic working hours, let alone maintain a relationship"

Excuses, excuses, you're just afraid of change, you chicken. You’ve never dealt well with change but once change happens to YOU, you adjust quickly and master everything brilliantly. Remember when you told me how your mom practically had to kick you out for that US exchange year and how soon you felt that you could stay there for another year? Or how afraid you were of that 6-month internship in Atlanta with no host family to see you through everything? You wrote that you could have used the kind of support that I have now but face it: you handled it all, girl!

Really, Toni, you still being single? That's just a waste. But not much longer, I promise! I may be 7 years younger than you but you know I make the best love coach ever!

Now, since you don't want to get into details about Mr. Cutie McHotness, how about cheering me up with some mishap of yours? You may have tried to dodge that question but I know you, so spill ;)



Same Monday, 16th of January, late morning

From: Xenia Ford, 11:15 AM

Hey philip just had an idea: how bout meeting at Joyrides Stables next time? If we want to get to know each other better you should see how and where i spend most of my time.

From: Philip Westa, 11:16 AM

Observe you in your natural habitat?

From: Xenia Ford, 11:17 AM

So to speak. You really got a way with words. In writing ;) So how bout the stables?

From: Philip Westa, 11:18 AM

Indoors being MY natural habitat, I do not feel at ease with the equine species.

From: Xenia Ford, Monday, January 16, 11:19 AM

We're a package deal you know...

From: Philip Westa, 11:20 AM

OK. Let us meet there.

From: Xenia Ford, 11:21 AM

Great! I'll check with my friend Marina the owner and call you tonight.

Chapter 2: Doomed to solitude

Same Monday, 16th of January, early afternoon

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Hey Heidi,

I'm so glad to be on lunch break right now, you wouldn't believe my morning. Nothing special, just the usual barrage of complaints, missing price tags and disputes, but this morning was particularly vicious. Therefore I can't possibly pity you as much as I usually would, I have almost used it all up on SELF-pity ;)

Still, I hope your self-inflicted period of boredom will be over soon. Not that I wish you a premature termination of your working relationship but speaking of which, won't you incur your superior's wrath – very fine expression, isn't it, one of my latest acquisitions – by writing private emails at work?

Since I'm on break, I'm allowed to write emails ;) Thank goodness for flat rates, Swype and word suggestions; composing emails on my phone takes a lot less time than it would have ten years ago.

That’s right, I never told you about my latest mishap, so here it comes:

You know how our headquarters never tire of devising changes for our daily routine? Lately they have us announce “specials” of the day – spurned merchandise – via microphone. My friend Janine and I always fight or play rock-paper-scissors over who has to step up. On Saturday her jagged granite happened to crush my very fine pair of scissors and I had to pick up the cursed microphone on our information desk. Well, out it came:

“You have reached Baustein DIY Windingen, my name is Antonia Schwan, how can I help you?”

Telephone, microphone – darn prefixes! Already I could see Janine's eyes bulge and then she actually bit her sleeve in order to keep from convulsing with laughter – as if I wasn't flustered enough already! Anyway, somehow my articulatory system rallied before my brain did:

“Well, first of all I hope I can help you by acquainting you with our special offers of the day,” popped out next, and a second later I found myself passionately advertising the items scribbled down by Mr. Jäger that morning.

Let me send this real quick and spoon some yogurt into my protesting insides, OK?

Swearing she just saw her insides wave a picket sign,


Same Monday, 16th of January, 12 minutes later

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Oh my gosh, I would have loved to see that!! What did Janine say? And what about your boss?

As for writing private emails: everyone here does it and when in Rome, or rather in Malta... Thank God there is no time difference and I can answer you right away.

Same Monday, 16th of January, 10 minutes later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

What did Janine say? That from now on I had to make all the announcements. What’s yet another layer on top of my pile? In return, however, I convinced her to permanently take over reorganizing the shopping carts. Customers are so lazy, they keep adding carts to the most convenient line, thus creating a meter-long basilisk-like monster extending into the parking lot, scaring off arriving customers with its fearsome fangs.

No, seriously, it’s just its sheer size which prevents them from even entering our lot. On busy days, we have to redistribute the carts three times per day and I'm always terrified I will hit a car when I maneuver such a section of the basilisk. You know how much of a klutz I am. Ha, but no more! Janine would do anything to dodge the announcement bullet.

As for my boss: his words were “stroke of genius”, if I may be permitted this unhumble quote. Apparently he happened to overhear a few customers laugh at my announcement and then he added that they actually walked over to the plumbing department to have a look at the faucets I had just been praising.

Heads-up: lunch break is almost over.

Same Monday, 16th of January, another 10 minutes later

From: heidi.berg@web.de

As much fun as you seem to have in your job, I could never do it. All right then, you get back to work while I will get back to FAKING work.


Same Monday, 16th of January, evening

From: Janine Klevkovic, 6:00 PM

Hey Toni u ok? u looked sad when u left.

From: Antonia Schwan, 6:20 PM

Not sad, just a little pensive, but thank you for asking.

From: Janine Klevkovic, 6:22 PM

ok. u really should get whatsapp u know every text is costing me :P

From: Antonia Schwan, 6:23 PM

I don’t want to use WhatsApp, I’m partial to data privacy. And I’m sorry for being such an expensive friend ;)

From: Janine Klevkovic, 6:24 PM

Smartass c u tomorrow ;)


Tuesday, 17th of January, evening

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Hey Heidi,

And another grueling day is over – thank goodness for hot showers. There are fun parts in my job, I will admit, but there are times when I feel as if I’m having an out-of-body experience, watching myself perform ceaseless, sometimes mindless tasks in a world where I know everything and everyone and yet don't belong. Does that make sense?

Janine said something today after my latest announcement (“Dear customers, this is to everyone like me who possesses a black thumb in botanical karate”) and her words haven't left me since:

“As much as I love working with you, you are wasting yourself on this place. You know so many impressive words, you should be a writer.”

It’s like you two have been comparing notes – hers being deprived of virtually all punctuation and capitalization ;)

Writing may be too unstable a career for a risk-averse individual like myself but I miss surrounding myself with language. Can you think of any employer who would be willing to pay a fortune to me for spewing out convoluted or metaphor-riddled verbiage?

Got to feed myself now. How was your second day?



Same Tuesday, 17th of January, an hour and 20 minutes later

From: xhorses@gmail.com


i will be honest with you and come right out with it:

after countless emails and two meetings i still don't know what to make of you. there is this quirky confident guy i've been writing with for 6 weeks whose not afraid to speak his mind and then there is that real-life version of him who can't even tease. whose the real Philip? i have the feeling that it's the other guy, the shy one and i don't do shy. not anymore.

for 4 years i was with a man who had a lot of insecurities. our relationship became more and more about what he was lacking and what he wanted. in the end he smothered and crushed it to death with his neediness. i could never go back to that.

maybe you just need some time to warm up to people but there is another thing and one that can't be explained away: i'm not attracted to you.

you seem like a good guy and i truly admire your way with words but the attraction just isn't there and if lightning hasn't struck by now it never will. the simple truth is that i've realized that while i appreciate your height i just prefer normal sized men. not athletes but just not big. it's just a personal preference you see.

you’ve come to know me as an honest person and i'm being honest with you too. i just hope i'm not hurting you too much because i would hate to do that. there is such a big community in this area, i'm sure you can find your match here. also i have said it before, if you took classes you could meet even more people, not just through that facebook group like we have but in real life. as clever as your with written words, at the end of the day it’s your real life self that counts. i know it’s easily said from someone who was born here but i mean it. at any rate i wish you the best of luck.


Same Tuesday, 17th of January, 15 minutes later

Username: Byzantine

Password: **********

Login to TheScribe

- Your writing is currently unpublished -

Personal preferences

Long, dark hair confined in a neat braid.

A long-legged stride bespeaking a self-assurance untainted by arrogance.

A sharp, decisive mind.

You are as admirable as unattainable, all due to “personal preferences”. At least your sincere tongue was brave enough to disclose the unvarnished truth in your signature unadorned diction.

Well, I, too, have personal preferences:

Contrary to my name, I cannot abide the equine species with which you prefer to surround yourself.

As much as your strong grip befits a member of the veterinary profession, as heavy-handed is the fashion in which said profession manifests itself in your correspondence. Each contraction, every missing comma or minuscule is like a stab in my linguist's heart.

“At the end of the day it’s your real-life self that counts”?

Let me tell you: the more of your true self one reveals, the more ammunition one will provide.

Inner beauty – hypocrisy.

Friendship – delusions.

Personal interest – feigned.

The conclusion is obvious.


Friday, 20th of January, early evening

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Malta (1).jpg; Malta (2).jpg; Malta (3).jpg; Malta (4).jpg; Malta (5).jpg; Malta (6).jpg; Malta (6).jpg; Malta (8).jpg; Malta (9).jpg

Envy me ;)

I’ll get back to you on your email about my second day but not now. If I did, you wouldn’t envy me anymore :P

Monday, 23rd of January, evening

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de


Those beautiful photographs arrived at the most opportune time, just when I needed some cheering up. You are right, the buildings are charming, and I love the untouristified, rocky coast. Those narrow streets, however, look difficult to navigate. Does Marianne own a car? How good are her left-side-driving skills? She has only lived there for a year after all.


Perusing your pictures makes me yearn for a change of scenery, perhaps we could return to Malta for a vacation together sometime? In case it has escaped your notice, I’m not in the best, second-best, or any kind of single-digit bests of moods and the saddest aspect about that is that it was a beautiful thing that ended up clouding my initially sunny mood today:

As much as I have dreaded the announcements, they have become the highlight of my professional day because that’s when I get to outfit stark information in colorful garments. Up until I turned to face Janine after I had placed the microphone back on the info desk, I was feeling extremely pleased with today's:

“Our experts provide swift and competent aid in the horticulturization of the common balcony.”

However, her blank stare reminded me ever so forcefully that my latest masterpiece – forgive me for this little boast – was wasted on the linguistically uninterested masses. Please don't get me wrong; you know I'm the contrary of being prone to superiority, but there are moments when I just can’t manage to suppress a deep sigh at finding myself so isolated. Not even at university, the most likely spot, have I found a kindred spirit and it’s weighing down on me increasingly.

How sad is it that the “highlight of my professional day” should be something so disconnected from the actual nature of my work? Aside from the occasional foreigner whom everyone else is relieved to be able to foist on me, there is no opportunity to make use of the beautiful thing that is the English language. And those foreigners only last for so long. If I could, I would grab them by their wrists, tie them up – duct tape, wire, chains, I work at the source after all – and have them talk English with me until closing time. On days like these I feel as if my life is nothing but a series of temporary-turned-permanent solutions and untaken steps.

Have I dared turn my passion for language, the love of my life since 5th grade, into a bread-winning occupation? No. Instead I chose business as the safer option, yet what good has it done me? My grades and my stays in the US were not enough in the face of the global financial crisis.

Have I found an apartment of my own once I had worked through my breakup? Let’s see… nope.

Have I managed to date a man more than twice since then? I may have compelling excuses but the answer remains: no.

Do you remember how you diagnosed me as a risk-averse person more driven by fear of failure than by pursuit of success? You, Ms. Berg, have chosen poorly in your major as well because you are a born psychologist. I know, you abhor statistics, which is a vital prerequisite for this major but it’s nonetheless a deplorable loss for the psychologists’ realm.

You know, being risk-averse does not mean that I just go with the flow, letting the waves have their cruel, arbitrary way with me. Have I ever told you that I wrote more than 50 job applications at the time – all rejections – before I had finally agreed to our store manager's suggestion and officially applied for the position as Cash-desk Supervisor? Since I had been working there as a cashier during my studies and was already familiar with the inner workings of the business, it seemed like the best option. I latched onto this job like onto a piece of floating debris, clambered on top and let it carry me through the worst of the crisis.

For five years now.

I could have kept an eye out for land, thrust out hands and feet and begun to paddle to shore but instead I have kept my gaze on the familiar waters around my float, so that said five years later, I’m still working as a Cash-Desk Supervisor. It’s not that I’m unhappy in my job; in fact, I have made a place for myself there. The job requires precision, tact but also decisiveness and spontaneity, and I have learned them all.

Yet it’s on some days that a fellow trolley commuter speaking English on the phone makes me realize how much I’m hungering for such interaction. It’s a teenage couple kissing in front of the bakery I always pass on my way to work that reminds me of how long it has been since I have dated and how difficult it will remain with my unpredictable work schedule.

I'm so sorry I have rambled on for so long, it’s just one of those days... I wish you were here.

[ ]

Same Monday, 23rd of January, an hour later

From: heidi.berg@web.de


Finally! My mom always says that a person will only make a change when they have suffered enough or something to that effect. What will it take to nudge YOU into action? If you aren’t ready to quit your job yet, at least make a list of what would make you happy in a new job. Also, there is one thing you absolutely MUST do: join an online writers' community. If you think that you have nothing to say, maybe you can get some tips there.

I'd love to talk to you right now but I'm pooped. Pooped from what, I wonder? Whatever they give me to do here that’s supposed to last me all day, I finish in three hours tops. How can the Maltese not die a slow brain death? Well, at least this is going to be an easy, unproductive 6 months and as long as it looks great on paper... Meanwhile, feel hugged!! Let's Skype tomorrow, OK? 9?

[ ]

Same Monday, 23rd of January, 31 minutes later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Yes, let's talk tomorrow. Despite its brevity, your email has made me feel a lot better and provided me with fresh food for thought. Starting tonight I will therefore invest what little free time I have in a thorough research for a writers' community. I'm so glad you are taking the time to write; Janine may text at lightning speed – no wonder since she skips all punctuation – but she is as hopeless with a computer as my parents. If she spent a semester abroad, I would probably get five measly 3-line emails or something. I know why you're my best friend ;)

[ ]

Tuesday, January 24: 8:58 PM: Eutony is online.

Tuesday, January 24: 9:01 PM: HDBerg is online.

Tuesday, January 24: 9:40 PM: Eutony has signed off.

Tuesday, January 24: 9:40 PM: HDBerg has signed off.

Wednesday, 25th of January, early evening

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Nightlife (1).jpg; Nightlife (2).jpg; Nightlife (3).jpg; Nightlife (4).jpg; Nightlife (5).jpg

Hey Toni,

It was good to see and hear you yesterday, and I was glad to see that my cheering up skills successfully worked their magic on you ;)

And now that I know you’re in a good mood, I don’t feel bad at all for showing you what you’re missing out on :P

Saturday, 28th of January, evening

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de


So you cheered me up for self-serving reasons only? I should have known. But seriously, I’m glad for you. Who is the Adonis with whom you seem so unsurprisingly familiar at that bar? ;)

I knew you had to ask when we Skyped and let me tell you right now before you ask again: NO, there is still nothing going on between my boss and myself yet, and now that I reread this, I might as well strike the “yet” and replace it with “ever”!

(Also, remember to remove the “still”, to change the tense to future and to rearrange the word order.)

Like I said, we have a good working relationship and I can sometimes tell that his regard for me extends to a personal level as well but I don’t believe in intra-office relationships, particularly with a superior. In retail, the Cash-Desk Supervisor might be the store manager's right hand but he still outranks me.

I need to get going, Janine is expecting me. By the way, I have just registered at TheScribe, a promising-looking writers' forum!

[ ]

Same Saturday, 28th of January, 10 minutes later

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Oh no, you didn't just call yourself Cutie McHotness's right hand!!! Of all the words you could have forgotten, you forgot "person"???

Same Saturday, 28th of January, 13 minutes later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Remind me never to check my email while dining out with friends. Not only will I never hear the end of that solecism from YOU, everyone else keeps pestering me about why I almost spewed my pizza all over the place!

Irrevocably goodbye,


Chapter 3: A high-handed greeting

Sunday, 29th of January, morning

Username: Eutony

Password: ********

Login to TheScribe

- Today's worthwhile reads on The Scribe -

To the most vexatious oxygen thief of them all

I have almost relinquished the fight against temptation to use fewer fingers than are polite to wave goodbye to you.

I have ceased to marvel at the undeniable similarities between you and the final stop in the digestive system.

I could tell you every single day to engage in an anatomically impossible sexual activity.

Then again I entertain reasonable doubt that aforementioned treatment, even if delivered in its uneuphemized rendition, would produce adequate results. I shall therefore bide my time and sharpen the instruments of your slow demise.

TheScribe member Byzantine




+ Death by defenestration

+ Ready to ramble

+ The unsung heroes

+ Oxygen thief

+ Superfluity

Google search: Byzantine = unnecessarily and overly complicated as to be beyond understanding

Same Sunday, 29th of January, 2 minutes later

From: Eutony


I happened to come across your dedication to the “Average oxygen thief” through the random “Worthwhile Reads” recommendations.

Whom were you picturing when you wrote that piece? It’s dated three months ago, has the unfortunate object met their premature demise yet? ;) I must say that your phrasing is admirable and that you possess a unique sense of humor. Still, I would hate to find myself at the receiving end of your “sharpened instruments”.

May I ask why you deactivated the review function? I'm sure a lot of us would like to share their views with you. That is, should you aspire to mass casualties, you might have a different take on the concept of “sharing”. In this case, I would retreat as surreptitiously as possible, whistling an inane tune and duck out of your line of vision. I'm partial to my limbs.

Warily impressed,


Same Sunday, 29th of January, an hour and 45 minutes later

Username: Byzantine

Password: **********

Login to TheScribe

TheLark wants to be your friend.


B2B wants to be your friend.


You have a new personal message from Eutony.

TheScribe member Eutony


Eutony = The pleasantness of a word's sound

+ 31 years old

+ German

+ word nerd

+ anglophile

+ so wet behind the ears when it comes to writing that I'm wearing a towel for a scarf

FRIENDS: Yangyin, Hundredwater


Same Sunday, 29th of January, 6 minutes later

From: Byzantine


I have deactivated the review function since I do not seek validation from those incapable of distinguishing between a possessive pronoun and a spatial adverb, nor do I welcome the accolades for mediocrity of which this community appears so fond. The same goes for the deplorable proliferation of emoticons and contractions.


Same Sunday, 29th of January, 11 minutes later

From: Eutony


That high horse upon which you seem to be so comfortably perched? Have you ever checked its color or pattern? You are so far up, are you certain you haven't picked a giraffe?

Yes, I have placed that apostrophe there quite deliberately because what, I ask, is wrong with contractions? Regarding the emoticons I actually agree with you but how else is one to disarm a potentially offensive remark?

By all means, don’t let lesser creatures like myself detain you. We'll be down here, making do with whatever oxygen reserves remain to be thieved.

Slightly anemic,


Same Sunday, 29th of January, 7 minutes later

From: Byzantine

To each their own.

Same Sunday, 29th of January, 10 minutes later

From: Eutony


Am I to deduce from your judgmental reply that you are not only prone to dodging the shower of champagne rained upon you after an accomplishment but to hurling back the bottle into your unsuspecting fans' faces?

I truly meant what I wrote but, since it appears to be your wish, I will henceforth pilfer surreptitiously from the rich buffet you conjure up for my quote file without issuing any compliments to the deserving prick of a chef.

Shamelessly pocketing the best parts,



Same Sunday, 29th of January, evening

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Hey Heidi,

That writers' community I joined? Well, it seems to reflect your average society: talented, talent-free, helpful, selfish, humble and... Byzantine. Yes, both a new word and a member whose acquaintance I could have done without. His works are brilliantly written and I suppose I could learn a lot from the likes of him, were it not for the fact that he prefers not to associate with the likes of me.

While some of my phrases might sound impressive, they stem from meticulously collecting others' words and carefully combining them with my own, crafting until I’m satisfied. For him, on the other hand, it seems to be his natural language. I don't know why I have this feeling, he could be painstakingly arranging and rearranging his phrases just like me but I sense that that is not the case.

His empty profile and friend list bear testimony to his misanthropic attitude and I can still feel the chill of his disdain – brrr! – so I think I’m taking a hot shower now. I would love to be in Malta right now; weather.com tells me you are being spoiled with sun and 17 degrees, while we have to make do with a cloudy TWO :(


Your shivering Toni

Same Sunday, 29th of January, 2 hours later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Huh, it seems that you’re out enjoying yourself as you should be. I will devote some more time to unearthing more forthcoming members of that forum.

[ ]


Monday, 30th of January, morning

Hey Andrea,

No touching the tiramisu! It’s…

a) intended for a co-worker’s birthday

b) booby-trapped

c) a reason to get fired from your job (5000 calories per bite!)



Tuesday, 31st of January, early afternoon

From: Byzantine


Your message arrived at an inopportune time and I reacted more strongly than was warranted. You may indulge your pilfering tendencies with my blessing.


Same Tuesday, 31st of January, about 4 hours later

From: Eutony

My Lord Byzantine,

With your regal – nay – divine blessing? Be still my beating heart! Be still, I say. Be– now there's a good girl. OK, now that I have succeeded in pacifying the unruly organ, let me tell you that I was more than astonished by your reply. I thank thee, lofty benefactor, for bestowing upon my lowly self thy war m rays of thine infinite generosity and shall silently praise you forthwith for the remainder of my terrestrial days.

On her knees,


Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 20 minutes later

From: Byzantine

You are enjoying this, are you not?

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 3 minutes later

From: Eutony

Oh no, what gave me away?

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 5 minutes later

From: Byzantine

According to your profile you are German. How long have you been attempting to acquaint yourself with the workings of our fine language?

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 7 minutes later

From: Eutony

Why are you asking? Is your red pen poised and hovering above my undoubtedly mistake-riddled phrases, and in your unwavering leniency you are actually tending towards taking my nationality into consideration for your otherwise merciless grading process? How shall I ever repay such kindness?

Feeling blessed beyond all measure,


Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 3 minutes later

From: Byzantine

Will you stop it already?

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 2 minutes later

From: Eutony

Aw, already? Another minute, pleeaase, may I?

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 2 minutes later

From: Byzantine

Seriously, will you give it a rest? I meant to compliment you on your style. It is quite remarkable, in particular for a non-native.

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 5 minutes later

From: Eutony


Had you stopped after the first sentence, I would have interpreted your request as a rest in the musical sense, namely a temporary reprieve until it was my cue to tease you again. However, your words after the question mark made me stop in my tracks, and even though I had my next gibe so well prepared, I will set it aside for a moment to be retrieved at a more opportune moment. Waste not, want not, you know.

Even though I'm still examining your unexpected praise and probing it for booby traps, I cautiously accept and thank you for it. Coming from you, that is something to store away for hard times.

Trying Tupperware containers for size,


Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 20 minutes later

From: Byzantine

And the answer to my question?

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 4 minutes later

From: Eutony

Mine first: of whom were you thinking while you were sharpening your instruments?

Already sympathizing with that poor person,


Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 5 minutes later

From: Byzantine

That is of no concern to you.

Same Tuesday, 31st of January, 3 minutes later

From: Eutony

In that case: ditto.

Chapter 4: Want to be my...?

Two days later, Thursday, 2nd of February, early evening

From: Byzantine

A co-worker.

Friday, 3rd of February, noon

From: Eutony

9 years of English at school

+ US exchange year after 10th grade

+ college

+ 6-month US internship

= at least above-average fluency

Same Friday, 3rd of February, evening

From: Byzantine


While extended exposure to and interaction in a foreign language are conducive to linguistic fluency, you can hardly have acquired your style in the common scholastic or occupational environment.

In addition, judging by the age provided in your profile, your time abroad must have been about ten years ago, so how have you managed to preclude your skills from atrophying over all this time?


Same Friday, 3rd of February, 25 minutes later

From: Eutony


I read exclusively in English, all my devices such as my phone or Kindle are set to English and I inflict it in written and oral communication upon whoever agrees or can’t muster a sufficiently vociferous refusal. What about you?

Utterly astonished at your sudden interest,


Same Friday, 3rd of February, 10 minutes later

From: Byzantine

I am a native. Like you, I read and I have practiced my hand at more sophisticated writing for years.

Same Friday, 3rd of February, 12 minutes later

From: Eutony

It shows. They say the pen is mightier than the sword and when I read your oxygen-thief piece, my neck suddenly felt as bared and vulnerable as if the tool of the assassin's trade were flicking its sharpened tongue behind me and every single hair on my scalp was reaching for the celestial.

Judging by your usage of “z” rather than “s” (“uneuphemized rendition”) you must be American but I can't help but wonder at the swiftness of your replies, hinting either at a common time zone, nocturnal working hours or insomnia. Where do you live?

Same Friday, 3rd of February, 3 minutes later

From: Byzantine

Aside from confirming your guess about my nationality, I prefer not to divulge any further personal information.

Same Friday, 3rd of February, 7 minutes later

From: Eutony

Fine with me. Well, actually it isn't but what can I do?

Are you practicing your tongue in addition to your hand as well? If so, I assume you are familiar with these looks that are literally sizing you up in order to outfit you with a fitting straight jacket?

Admittedly still nosy,


Same Friday, 3rd of February, 2 minutes later

From: Byzantine

I thought my opinion of those presuming to criticize without the support of any talent of their own had made that abundantly clear.

Same Friday, 3rd of February, 4 minutes later

From: Eutony

The lesser beings, I remember.

A little despondent,



Same Friday, 3rd of February, an hour later

From: heidi.berg@web.de

Hey Toni,

Everything OK? I guess you're pooped from work – I wouldn't last a week in your job – because I haven't gotten an email from you in a while. Sadly, my workdays haven't become any more entertaining. Thank God it's the weekend!!!

On the other hand I must say that I'm quickly adopting the Maltese work ethic ;) If chatting and coffee-drinking are part of the job, I'm more than eager to learn from my colleagues.

Marianne and I are headed over to a friend of hers. It's so cool having a young aunt; it's kind of like living with your sister, although a better one than yours :P Just kidding.

Anyway, what's new with you?

[ ]


Saturday, 4th of February, morning

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Hey Heidi,

Not much news from here, except I’m working on thawing the difficult guy from the writers' forum. He comes across like a stiffly frozen bear fresh out of hibernation, albeit excellently articulated. Perhaps his tongue was the first thing to thaw ;)

"The Maltese work ethic" – I envy you... :/

[ ]



Sunday, 5th of February, morning

From: Eutony


You spurn all attempts at issuing compliments. You issue sharp reprimands at personal questions. You neither contract nor abbreviate and I require the services of a linguistic hedge trimmer to maneuver through the impenetrable thicket of your convoluted utterances.

Call it masochism but I find that increased exposure to the sardonic lash of your unbridled tongue is beneficial to my diction. Although I have always exhibited the utmost respect for language, with you I take extra care when composing my messages, knowing full well that each word is under merciless scrutiny.

From the start I have sensed that such speech came naturally to you and the swiftness of some of your answers appears to confirm my assumption. I hope that, over time, your admirable speech patterns will seep into my thinking ever more deeply and accelerate the process for me as well. A continuance of our correspondence and its facilitation by an exchange of email addresses would therefore please me very much.

What would be in it for you, you wonder? A reliable party to disparage and vent to perhaps? A correspondence partner with a high tolerance for complacency who will not bristle with indignation at each smug remark? By the way, I hope you appreciate the new status I've made up just for you for I would never dare to send you a lowly "friendship request":

Would you consider me as your preferred despisee?

Waiting in suspense if her painstaking scriptory efforts have paid off,


Same Sunday, 5th of February, evening

From: Byzantine


I, too, will admit that I am finding your language rather stimulating, except for your sparing but nonetheless lamentable use of contractions. Still, the almost belief-defying absence of any grammar, spelling or punctuation errors in your writing as well as your respect for salutation and complimentary close has earned, if not my respect, at least my curiosity, inducing me to agree to your proposal for now. This status idea of yours is both fitting and creative, I may add.



Same Sunday, 5th of February, 30 minutes later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de


I will admit that you possess the gift of riling even the most phlegmatic of individuals but since I have bragged to be blessed with a "high complacency tolerance", I will leave your self-satisfied remarks uncommented and pocket your gem of a praise with all the more glee :D

By the way, my cheeks are hurting. I have been grinning at your ingenious email address for at least ten minutes and I must say that it fits you to a tee, as does your screen name, although I will confess that I had to look up the term “Byzantine”. Huh, have you ever wondered what a "tee" is?

Anyway, although I would tell you how “nice it is” to officially be your favorite despisee, I’m uncertain whether it is the appropriate protocol here. Given the tone of our initial communication, I pray you will forgive me for temporarily withholding the benefit of the doubt generally granted through those three words by your people in such situations.

Despite her reservations happy about your acceptance,


Same Sunday, 5th of February, 30 minutes later

From: retort@theready.com


I have indeed wondered about the etymology of a “tee” but have never researched the term so far. Perhaps I shall invest some time in the matter in the future.

As to your temporary refusal of the benefit of the doubt, you have my permission to cease praying for my forgiveness for it has been granted. My compliments on your very apt choice of email address as well; however, may I be so bold as to presume that the majority of your addressees fails to grasp its meaning?

Incidentally, why have you not uploaded any writing so far? I would imagine that someone with your passion for language would have a lot to impart.


Same Sunday, 5th of February, 15 minutes later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de

Ow, ow, ow! Gosh darn it to heck! Ah, it feels so good when the pain subsides...

Now that the black spots before my eyes have ceased their mocking dance, let me make up for my pain-induced omission of your deserved salutation:


While I accept your implied praise with both gratefulness and incredulity, you have inadvertently hit a nerve: I have always had a passion for language and I have been repeatedly told by friends and family that I should write but so far I have found nothing worth clothing in verbal garbs. That is, I don't even want to be a writer, I just want to write. I have joined this community in order to find inspiration and perhaps guidance from others. Or perhaps I will meet my counterpart here, someone who has a lot to share, namely brilliant ideas for plots and characters, but is in need of a verbal seamstress?

Until then I will therefore huddle gratefully into the fuzzy folds of your esteemed praise. You presume correctly, by the way, most people believe the "tyranno" part to be missing from my email address. I have learned not to roll my eyes to their faces.

Thank you for appreciating it, it feels so good to finally converse with someone who sees beyond the obvious employment of language. When I began to study English, I believed I was finally going to take up my spot among my fellow odd birds in the not-always-logical but one-of-a-kind nest of the English language but guess what: they were all being disgustingly curricular about it. Not you, however. Thank you again. Have you ever published anything, in paper or as an e-book?

Already on amazon.com, awaiting an ISBN,


Same Sunday, 5th of February, 13 minutes later

From: retort@theready.com


Although I have ceased to consciously lament the phenomenon so pervasive in the scholastic realm, you have my sympathies. I agree that very few people "see beyond the obvious employment of language" as you put it.

No, I have never published anything, nor do I intend to. I am writing for myself, and myself only. Whether a reader might regard my words as rambling or something of importance is of no concern to me. I write because I must and I do not seek anyone's opinion or approval.

As for your seeking guidance and inspiration in this community, I wish you luck in this endeavor but you will undoubtedly realize that too many of them are either self-adulating bunglers or living proof to the ramifications of the proliferating use of smart phones, twitter and other short message services. Their writing bespeaks the irreversible but nonetheless distressing deterioration of the English language and those like me attempting to uphold the already declining standards are disparaged as old-fashioned or pilloried as "Grammar Nazis".

My advice to you is to keep attending to this quote file of yours, to observe your surroundings and to simply begin writing about anything and everything.


Same Sunday, 5th of February, 30 minutes later

From: thesaurusrex@gmx.de


Yes, you have made it perfectly clear that you don’t seek anyone's approval.

"I write because I must" – do you mean you write out of cathartic reasons? Despite my young acquaintance with the art, I have already experienced its therapeutic qualities and can feel it evolving into an addiction. Those little urges and ideas, they grow up so fast.

As to my search for guidance: I have been a member of The Scribe for a little over a week now and read quite a few contributions already. Many of them are pleasing if mediocre and a few indeed penned with a pain-inducing amount of spelling or grammatical errors. However, I have already saved two gems in my "library" as they call it there, and judging by some of the reviews I dare say not all members are prone to self-aggrandizing tendencies unbacked by true talent.

Allow me to remark – or if you don't, skip this passage – that your partially unwarranted scorn for your fellow aspiring authors accounts for your entirely friendless profile, which is why I chose not send you an ordinary "friendship" request in the first place.

Meanwhile, thank you for your advice. Since my job involves a lot of social interaction, I will henceforth put more emphasis on the observation of those people. Perhaps one of them will serve as an igniting spark.

I can very well relate to why you have not fallen prey to the lure of messaging services. In particular the WhatsApp disciples tend to spend more time with their phones than their partners. (Incidentally, I wonder what people who write "u" and "ur" do with all their extra time.) This app has so far failed to cast its spell over me and my two best friends Heidi and Janine are despairing over my old-fashioned – yes, I share your lot – preference for sending text messages. Since, however, they are my best friends, they love me anyway and have adapted to it by calling rather than writing. Still, I do own a smart phone and have made it one of my closest associates as so many of the younger generation but as opposed to them I don’t chase Pokémon but use it to do research and save reminders or ingenious phrases – lately most of them yours.

May I ask how old you are? I find it fascinating how opinions on the digital revolution differ between members of different generations and even within the same generation.

Building digital bridges,


Chapter 5: Teasing the beast

One day later, Monday, 6th of February, evening

From: retort@theready.com

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