Chapter 8. A litany of emails

To: Pierre von Falk
From: Cathryn Espy
Subject: words

Hi, Pierre. A friend just let me know her husband had used “enervated” with bad results. Also “schmaltz.”

Cathryn Espy

Cathryn hit Send and sat back, right arm across her chest, left hand up to her mouth in the no-I’m-not-thinking-of-sucking-my-thumb-why-would-you-ask-that pose. Now. She looked over at the bookmark with the email addresses, which was sitting next to her keyboard. What next?

What was next, in fact, was an almost instant reply from Pierre, consisting of nothing other than his phone number and the word “call.” So she called.

“Hi, Pierre.”

“Hi, Cathryn. Your friend’s husband – is he alright?”

“I’m not sure. It seems he was literally enervated. Without saying ‘literally’.”

“No, ‘literally’ isn’t – that doesn’t seem to be necessary, depending. But…”

Cathryn thought she heard liturgical chant in the background. “Are you in a… Sorry, have I caught you at a bad moment?”

“No, it’s fine, there are no good moments just around now. I’m with the diplomats and they launched into a litany of complaints. I stepped out of the room to take the call but, you know…”

“So they have the dictionary. The new one.”

“Yes, I’m afraid… I was trying to hold them off but no, already registered.”

“You can’t get your head office to suspend sales?”

“Have you seen the movie Jaws? The mayor of Amity Island? And for some reason this isn’t affecting them. I’m not sure they’ve even installed it for themselves. That’s just between us.”

“Well, did you manage to talk to—” Cathryn hesitated. She wasn’t supposed to know Maxim’s name, right? “Have you been in contact with the web updater?”

“No headway there. I can’t get him to see that there’s a problem with what’s happening.”

“Can I help?”

“Oh. No, I’m sorry, no. I can’t tell you who it is. Contractual obligations.” In the background Cathryn heard a loud thump and what sounded like shouting. “Oh—that sounds like trouble,” Pierre said. “More trouble. Try to keep your friends from talking. Sorry. Bye.” And he hung up.

Cathryn looked at her phone for a minute, and then set it down and turned back to her computer. Hands to the keyboard… and then she resumed her thinking pose. Hands to the… thinking… to the keyboard.

To: Maxim Patryshyn
From: Cathryn Espy
Subject: Worcester

Dear Mr. Patryshyn,

Please pardon the intrusion. Are you the person who is updating the online Worcester Universal Dictionary?

Cathryn Espy


She sat back. She didn’t expect a response any time soon. She decided to kill some time by looking at Twitter to see what was going on in the world.

Oh, that’s seldom a calming thing to do.

“Boston man’s head literally explodes,” the first news story she saw said. She gasped as you would on realizing you had just sat on a dead mouse. She was about to click it when an email notification poked into her screen. She went back to her email.

To: Cathryn Espy
From: Maxim Patryshyn
Subject: Re: Worcester

Dear Ms. Espy:

Yes, I am he. However, I am not authorized to speak on behalf of Worcester Dictionaries. Please direct interview and information requests to Pierre von Falk.

Yours most cordially,
Maxim Patryshyn

Well, that was not going to do. She replied (I’ll leave off the header; it stays the same):

Dear Mr. Patryshyn:

I do apologize. I am not with the news media. I’m just an ordinary person who has lately activated a license to the dictionary. I am fascinated by your lexicographic processes and their results. Can you speak with me about them?


Again, the reply was so swift she didn’t have time to find out from her social media feed what other awful things were degrading the world:

Dear Cathryn:

I can speak with you about them. However, I may not.

Yours accurately,

Cathryn read this, cocked her head forward and made the universal “Really?” face. But hmmm. “May.” Permission. But…

She went to the Worcester Universal page (not without that basement-door-opening dread) and typed in “may.” And there it was, after the usual permission-related senses, the other commonly undisputed sense: “possibly or probably” (and plenty of amplifying words on that).

Worth a try.

Dear Maxim:

If you may not, that means it is possible that you will not. As a possibility is not a certainty, “I may not” therefore necessarily implies “I may” as well. So you may speak with me about them. Will you?

Yours specifically,

She giggled a bit apprehensively as she clicked Send. She drank some of her wine – oh, no, she didn’t, it was empty. She looked over to the counter, where the bottle sat, half full of potential. Would she refill? Before gravity had an answer for her, Maxim did.

Dear Cathryn:

Hoist on my own petard! It is refreshing to encounter someone who enjoys words as much as possible. I am convinced, but I am not yet persuaded.

Yours etc.,

Wait – was this some kind of test? She replied almost by reflex.

Dear Maxim:

Hoist with your own petard, I believe you mean to say, given that petards were short-fused limpet mines. Allow me to come persuade you.



She waited.

After a half a minute, she got up and walked over to the kitchen and refilled her glass. And decided she was hungry at last. She extracted a frozen fettucine carbonara from the stack in the freezer, unboxed it, put it in the microwave, dialed it in to its destiny. Then walked back to the computer.

It said:

Dear Cathryn:

I am putting the kettle on. I hope the hour is not too late for you to join me for tea. I am at 26 Prince Street, unit 579.

Yours invitingly,

The microwave dinged. Cathryn was hungry and Prince Street was a little bit of a distance. Allowing ten minutes to eat…

Dear Maxim:

I will be there within the hour.


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