I don’t know if the word “delightful” is a good enough word to describe something you love, but when I first read this story I grinned like a fool from beginning to end. I’ve just read it again and I’m still smiling. Seamus isn’t the exile in this story, but Katherine is – a young woman from Poland working in a cafe in Carrick. They are both lonely and a bit lost, but they work through their awkwardness to accommodate each other’s failings – his weak chin and her lumpy knees – and find a way to make reality live with their ideals. Much of the humour of the story is in the language and the telling, and that’s enough to make it irresistible. But it also plays some very clever games with the conventions of romance, undercutting them at every stage with the rituals of everyday life – shopping in Lidl, stalking an Instagram account. They lose each other of course, and after a modern version of a romantic quest, by google maps and a cheap flight to Wroclaw, Seamus finds her again. When he walks into the last internet cafe in Europe where Katherine is the only customer, she sees him and says, “Oh, thanks be to fuck”, and you know they’ll be alright.
First published in The New Yorker, October 2018, and available to read and listen to here. Collected in That Old Country Music, Canongate, 2020