When she retired as a Deputy Principal, he gave her a slim laptop computer. She typed with two fingers and wrote emails to their children and a small group of friends. Every week she downloaded the on-line edition of the New York Review of Books, printed out the articles that appealed to her and highlighted the text in 3 colours. He said about her: “If you’d been a  spinster, I could imagine you collecting cats.” He was an emeritus professor of Information Systems and, at 75, was still supervising a few research students. She said about him, “If you were a bachelor, I imagine you’d be doing exactly what you’re doing now.” He invariably introduced her as “My first wife,” to which she would add, with a wry smile, “And his last!” Their friends couldn’t decide whether to admire the couple or make fun of them.

Whenever the computer informed her it was time for to upgrade the operating system, she would leave it on his desk with a post-it note “How do I get rid of this message?” He had just finished the OS upgrade to the next iteration, when a ‘ping’ announced an email from It opened on the desktop; he scanned it absently; then stopped, startled, and read it again.

She was dismissive, “It doesn’t mean anything. You shouldn’t have read it if it disturbs you.”

“Who is he?  Or she?”

“I should tell him to stop writing, but he’s harmless.”

A week later, when he was trying to find a file she had ‘lost’ on the desktop, the computer ‘pinged’ again. This email appeared to describe, blow by blow, how his wife had performed fellatio on the ‘Saucisson lubrique’ in the back row of a cinema.

“It’s a fantasy,” she said.

“Do I know him?”

“It was a long time ago. An old boyfriend. Before we were a thing.”

“So it did happen; it’s not a fantasy?”

“Something like that happened, years ago, in the ‘60s.”

“I can’t believe you did it during ‘Wild Strawberries’.”

“He’s embellished the details. To tell the truth, he’s a bit sick in the head.”

“So what you’re saying is, he shares his fantasies… memories… with you as a kind of therapy?”

“You could say that.”

“He’s one of your stray cats.”

“I’ll tell him to stop if it worries you.”

“I’d think it should worry you, being email stalked by a sexual fantasist.”

“He’s harmless.”

“What’s with the cute French sex names?”

“Nostalgia. We met at university in French class.”

“Under the law of crime passionnel, I’d be justified murdering someone who wrote to my wife like that.”

“You? The man who can’t bear to set a mouse trap?”

“I’ll hire someone. Just say the word.”

“I won’t answer him any more. Can I have my computer back?”

The following Christmas, they were holidaying at the coast with their daughter and her family. The six year old had a temperature and he was babysitting while everyone else went swimming.

“Grandpa, what’s ‘o-r-a-l-s-e-x’?”

“I thought you were asleep.”

“Grandma’s computer made a ‘ping’ and woke me up.”

“Goodness! We’d better have a look, then.” It was new email from Wotan, the French sausage.

“Did you read all this?”

“He licked the lady’s vagina. Yeurgh” she grimaced. “Our teacher says you should never let people touch your vagina.”

“Your teacher is absolutely right. Whoever wrote this is not a nice person. We’ll close it up and forget all about it. How about I read you a story?”

When his granddaughter was asleep, he opened the laptop again and read the email in full. This one described in heroic detail how they attempted all the positions in the Kama Sutra (plus a few from the Marquis de Sade) over a marathon ten hours.He noted that ‘Wotan’ made some passing remarks about a painting by a talentless friend, that they had hung in the guest room so as not to offend him. He was therefore able to date the orgy to some time in the last eight years.

He discovered a folder containing a cache of emails from and to ‘Wotan’ stretching back four years. The correspondence covered a mixture of mundane details about mutual friends, children’s weddings, complaints about back pain, sore feet and heart problems; alternating with exhaustive descriptions and fevered fantasies about past and possible future sexual encounters. Not just pounding, grinding, panting, orgasming, “normal” sex, but fellatio, cunnilingus, butt fucking, mutual masturbation, even fantasies of rape and bondage—activities he recalled his wife once pronouncing as “unnecessary.” In one despatch the “Chère tigresse” describes an article she has found in a magazine at the hairdresser about a sexual position called “Going Vertical”, which both correspondents find so stimulating it becomes a code word between them.

Her response

After Christmas, on a day when she was visiting one of her ‘stray cats,’ he copied the complete correspondence onto a USB zip drive: 542 from Wotan and 503 to him. Over the following week, he printed them all out and read and annotated every one. He classified them by date, location and sexual position, and entered the metadata in an Excel spreadsheet. He analysed the data statistically and graphically, then filed everything in two large lever-arch boxes and marked particular pages with colour-coded post-it notes.

On a Saturday night, when the TV program showed football on all channels, he cooked his speciality: a chateaubriand en croute with pommes de terre dauphinoise and opened a bottle of Dogrock Shiraz, 1996.

“What’s the occasion?” she laughed. “It’s not my birthday.”

He lifted the two filing boxes onto the table. “Tell me about Wotan,” he said, using his fingers to put quotes around the name.

“He’s the germanic version of Odin, the god of wisdom, healing, loyalty…”

“I mean your Wotan. The god of sex.”

She paused, uncertain about where this was going. “I told you. He’s just an old friend with some strange ideas.”

“You said you’d stop writing to him.”

“There’s no harm in it. He’s just a bit mad.”

“Are you in love with him?”

“Of course not!”

He opened the “To W” folder at a yellow tab and read:

“You’ve been reading my mail? And printing it out?”

“I have a right to read it, if you’re getting ready to leave me.”

“What’s that—a spreadsheet? You’re such an anal retentive…”

“Are you leaving me? “

“Where would I go?”

“To Melbourne… or wherever he lives. Actually, I have the address here…” He rifled through the pages of print-out.

“What, you think I’m going to run off with Errol?”

“Wotan’s real name is Errol?”

“He has a wife.”

“You have a husband. What would his wife think if I sent her this?” He waved the print-out threateningly.

She looked at him, her eyes narrowed dangerously, “If you ever did that I really would leave you.”

“You haven’t answered my question. Are you planning to leave me?”

She fought back, “Do you need to control everything I do? Can’t I have my own friends and my own secrets?”

“We’ve been married fifty years and I have no secrets from you. Who is Errol?”

“If you make me a coffee, I’ll tell you about him.”

He left the two files with her and brewed the coffee. He returned and placed the tiny espresso cup by her elbow.

“First thing,” she said, “Errol is very sick. He’s overweight, he has back problems and heart fibrillations, he’s had his prostate removed and bariatric surgery and on top of that he’s an alcoholic. There’s every chance he’ll die in the next six months.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Errol and I had a very brief affair back in the 60s, before I met you. It lasted… I don’t know, maybe three months.”

“He describes a series of non-stop orgies.”

“He’s a poet. That’s why I fell for him. He seduced me with poetry.”

There was a young man called McNair/Who was fucking a girl on the stair… That kind of poem?”

“Limericks are an engineer’s idea of poetry. Back then, people compared Errol to Peter Porter and John Betjeman.” She finished her coffee and carefully put the cup down on the saucer. “One day he just left me without saying anything. Later, I heard on the grapevine that he was in London, married to a folk singer.”

“And you’ve never recovered.”

“I recovered. I married you.”

“You’ve never seen him again?”

“Don’t try and trap me. We bumped into one-another in Canberra once. We had a coffee, that’s all. Then out of the blue he sent me a birthday card… and we got to writing. I felt sorry for him.”

He selected another tab:

“In emails, all caps signifies shouting.”

“It’s fantasy.”

He stood up, left the filing boxes on the table and climbed the stairs to his study.

It only took a short time to trace the IP address of ‘Wotan’ to Errol Spender, a retired professor of French in Melbourne. Spender had a wife, a cat, a Mercedes-Benz EQ and three grown-up children

He turned on his VPN, opened a web-based email application and logged in using his new proxy

For the next three months there were no more emails from ‘Wotan’. One morning, while his wife was still asleep, her computer ‘pinged’ and an email arrived from one of those long-ago university friends whose business it is to keep everyone up to date on marriages, divorces, progeny, publications, prizes and—increasingly common—deaths.

He walked down the stairs to the kitchen where he brewed two double macchiatos topped by a perfect teaspoon of foam, in the gold-rimmed cups they had stolen from Harrods in 1969. On each saucer he arranged a square of French black chocolate. He carried the cups back up to the bedroom.

“What’s the occasion?” she laughed. “It’s not my birthday.”

© Ian Hart 2018