This story is taken from Dance Move, the smoking hot second collection by Wendy Erskine. As in many of her stories, it begins with a beguilingly simple premise. Drew Lord Haig, a one-hit wonder from the eighties – now just Drew Haig running a successful IT company – is asked by a battalion based in Belfast if he’ll come and sing at their centenary celebration. Unexpectedly, one of his B-sides, a “nihilistic affair” called ‘Nostalgie de la Boue’ – meaning the attraction to what is depraved or degrading – had become the battalion’s anthem. He is flattered, and after a cursory search of the battalion’s history on Wikipedia agrees to perform. Often in Erskine’s stories, it is these small moments of vanity or sentimentality which become the cracks that let in the pain and so it is here. The past – particularly Belfast’s troubled past – has a way of infecting the present. The performance hits a magnificent crescendo with the whole hall – “which resembles a downbeat high school prom” – singing along. They know every word; Drew is genuinely moved by the passion in the room. It is only afterwards, still buzzing as he drinks at the bar, that he learns the true dimension of his mistake. Erskine is the least sentimental of writers and she refuses to spare Drew his discomfort. His pretentious song title becomes self-fulfilling; our sympathy is limited. No one is writing better stories than Wendy Erskine.
First published in the Irish Times, Feb 17, 2022 and collected in Dance Move, Picador, 2022