Two unrelated facts: in a recent thread on Mumsnet.com entitled “Why is Dublin so bad?” our capital city was described by many contributors who had visited as dirty, dreary, expensive and with nothing to do. And the demographic of people arriving in Iceland between 874 and 930 AD was almost entirely Norse men and Irish women …
Leif sat at the bar in the Banshee’s Wail, one of fourteen pubs claiming to be Dublin’s oldest, staring gloomily into his drink. Eventually he spoke.
“We’re going home,” he said.
Behind the bar, Maeve’s eyes widened in surprise.
The Vikings had arrived in Dublin a few years earlier intent upon theft and pillage, but had been quickly disarmed by innate native curiosity, fending off not spears and bows but questions about whaling, volcanoes, and whether they had any Irish relatives. Over time they had come to an arrangement where they would refrain from enslaving the Irish and the Irish would stop referring to them as Beardy Bolloxses. They had settled in the city, drinking in the local pubs and joining in conversations about whether football would catch on as a sport, about how the youth of today hadn’t a clue, about whether Brexit would ever be over.
Now, apparently, they were leaving.
“Why would you go home?” asked Maeve, surprising herself at how plaintive her voice sounded.
Leif shrugged. “There was a vote,” he said. “We’re bored.”
“Bored?” said Maeve. “How?”
“There’s nothing to do,” said Leif.
“There’s lots to do,” said Maeve stoutly.
“Such as?” asked Leif.
“Well, the Guinness tour,” said Maeve.
“Seriously?” said Leif. “Here’s where we make it, here’s where we store it, here’s where we send it out the door. Thanks for coming, goodbye.”
“There’s the Leprechaun Museum.” (really, there is)
“True,” said Leif, “which would be well worth any admission price if it wasn’t for its lack of, well, leprechauns.”
“There’s the gift shops.” said Maeve, desperately.
“Yes, on every corner,” said Leif, “selling shillelaghs, which are just sticks, and shamrock-shaped hats, and tunics with ‘kiss me, I’m Irish’ written on them.”
Maeve lowered her eyes. Leif tried to find the right words. “Look,” he said, “you have to remember that we have the Northern Lights, and waterfalls, and glaciers. We’ve discovered America -”
“Exactly,” said Leif. “We’ve seen so many amazing things, Dublin just doesn’t thrill us. And it’s so dirty that even its drink is black.”
“That’s the body in it,” said Maeve.
“Considering it gets its water from the Liffey, that’s probably true,” said Leif. “And it’s really expensive. I thought we were supposed to be the robbers.”
Maeve, who worked in a bar that charged twice the price to visitors as to locals, blushed slightly, then looked up. “And this vote you spoke of,” she said quietly, “how did you vote?”
Leif looked into her eyes. “I voted to stay,” he said softly, “but the other side won.”
“I see,” said Maeve. “And when are you leaving?”
“Right now,” said Leif. “I just came to say goodbye.”
She held his gaze. Unspoken words hovered between them, then faded, unspoken.
Leif finished his drink, turned and left. Maeve stared for a long time at the door, at her future, at nothing.
The door suddenly burst open. Conor, her boss, came in.
“The Beardy Bolloxses are leaving,” he said happily.
“I know,” said Maeve in a low voice.
“You don’t seem very pleased,” said Conor. “Don’t you get it? The Viking Conquest is over.”
Maeve suddenly grabbed her cloak. “Perhaps not,” she said, “because there are two ways of looking at that phrase.”
She ran from the pub to the riverside. The Vikings were climbing onto their longboat, with Leif at the end of line. She touched his arm, and he turned in surprise. She saw the look in his eyes, and smiled.
“Kiss me,” she said, “I’m Irish.”