I was doing the internet dating thing, looking for love, sex, distraction, not knowing what I was looking for. His profile said he played guitar and football. He had beautiful long black hair. I showed my friend Shideh his picture, and we admired his pretty, sullen face. Shideh cautioned, however, that unsmiling mouths meant bad teeth.
I don’t remember who messaged first, but it was probably me, as my profile had been more or less expressly designed to frighten men away. For example, in The First Thing People Usually Notice About Me section, I had written “Massive Penis.” I listed the Six Things I Could Never Do Without as “Scented Tampons, Genuine Fox Tail Butt Plug, Smooth Groove Camel Toe Preventer, Dream Man Arm Pillow, Privacy Scarf and Banana Slicer.” Under The Most Private Thing I’m Willing to Admit, I had answered, “Gosh, it’s a toss up between my mild anal prolapse and the dead person I keep in my bathtub.”
In addition, my photos were pretty armpit hair centric.
I still found it easy enough to get dates. This is because the queer girls love all that mad shit, and boys are just delighted when a girl messages them at all. That, and, as Shideh once helpfully suggested, men will stick it in anything. What? Persians call it like they see it.
Anyway, we exchanged some messages. He gave me his number and I texted him one day to say I was going to play guitar in the park for the afternoon and he could join me if he liked.
The men of Emain Macha wanted Cúchulainn to be married. For he had grown into a beautiful young man, wont to tempt their daughters and their wives. They offered him the fairest of women, and promised that his bride would arrive at the wedding feast laden with so much gold and leading so many cattle that he would be wealthy as a king. Cúchulainn was like, “Nah – I want a real girl. Someone on my level.”
He heard tell of Emer. Under the Six Gifts section of her My Single Friend profile, her foster sister had written, “She possesses the gift of beauty, the gift of voice, the gift of sweet speech, the gift of needlework, the gift of wisdom, and the gift of chastity.” Now, Cúchulainn liked a girl who could sing, because iTunes didn’t exist at the time, but the promise of wisdom was what really attracted him. He wanted someone smart. He dolled himself up real nice, then set off with his charioteer Laeg to find her.
Emer was amongst her maidens in a field, pretending to sew but actually just having a laugh, when her foster sister saw a chariot riding towards them. She said, “don’t look now, sis, but there’s wheels coming this way with a lanky red-head driving and easily the hottest dude I’ve ever seen riding sword-side.”
It took him a while to find me, because he’d never been to Parc Laurier before. He didn’t have a guitar with him, but he brought us some beer. We shot the shit. Found out about each other’s histories, families, countries of origin. He was nice looking in person too, although he could certainly have taken better care of his teeth. But when you’re the gal on the first date with the hairy legs and the drunkenly bestowed undercut it is wise not to be to be too strict about adherence to beauty ideals. He asked me what I was learning on guitar, so I clumsily played it for him. I asked him to play something too, but he said he was way out of practice, he hadn’t played in years.
There were no awkward silences. After a few hours, we agreed it’d been nice and we should do it again.
On our second date we went to a board game café. We played a game called Timeline, where you put historical events in order. I was good at this. Then we played one called Coup where you manipulate and bluff your way to power. He was good at that. It was fun.
On to a dive bar, where we got drunk and made out. It’d been months since I’d kissed someone and it was very pleasant. As we smoked outside, batting away an “as-tu une cigarette pour moi?” drunk a minute, he told me I should take him home.
I contemplated this. The making out was quite arousing. My flatmate Colleen was away. There was no reason not to. No reason. Except I really wanted to bike home. It was one of those sweaty summer nights when the wind feels amazing on your skin. The dive bar was right beside a Bixi city bike stand, and those rows of pedals were calling to my hungry thighs. (And, yes, I know I shouldn’t bike tipsy, Mom, but it was cycle lanes all the way home – so I was unlikely to be squished by a truck.)
I said: “if you bike home with me, you can come home with me.”
Cúchulainn approached Emer, grinning broadly, and she remarked to herself that he had a fine head of teeth on him. “And who are you?” asked Emer, “That is not hard to tell,” Cúchulainn replied, “I am the nephew of the man that disappears in another in the wood of Badh.”
Laeg looked on despairingly. He loved Cú, but the guy had no idea how to talk to chicks – fact. Emer’s girlfriends gave each other discreet side eye. Who was this smokin’ loon?
But Emer liked place name punnery. She smiled at the raven-haired youth. “And what’s your story?” asked Cúchulainn. “That is not hard to tell,” said Emer, “for what should a maiden be but Teamhair upon the hills, a watcher that sees no me, an eel hiding in the water, a rush out of reach.” Oh she could play the riddle game all right, and it was Cúchulainn’s turn to smile. This was fun.
He decided to take a risk and add a little sauce to the discourse. Looking at her boobs, he said, “That is fair country. A man might wish to rest his spear there.” Now Emer knew a tit-wank joke when she heard one, and, truth be told, she quite liked the idea of Cúchulainn’s spear resting wherever it wanted to be resting. But she also knew the wild warrior was not going to be a hit with her Dad.
She said: “No man will rest his weapon there until he can leap three great walls, destroy three groups of nine men in one blow, leaving one man alive in each, and subdue a hundred warriors at each of the three fords between my father’s house and Emain Macha.”
Cúchulainn said it would be done.
We left the bar together, but when we got to the Bixi stand he made a last ditch attempt to dissuade me. “Come on,” he said, “the metro is just over there.” But who wants to descend into the stinking, stifling regurgitated air of the underground, to the noise and the fumes, when you could glide through lamplit streets, your heart your engine, and arrive home salt-slicked, damp, and exhilarated? “I want to bike,” I said, “and anyway, I live nowhere near the metro.”
“I’ll get us an Uber,” he countered, pulling out his phone, “what’s your address?” But I wasn’t debating. The challenge had been laid.
“Remember that I have an old football injury,” he said. Earlier he’d told me that he hadn’t played football in years because he’d hurt his leg. My heart softened a little. “Okay, well, there’s no pressure. I’m going to bike home, and we’ll just see each other next time.” “Fine, I’ll bike,” he said. So I grabbed us two Bixis.
Cycling a Bixi is like cycling a shopping trolley. And my date hadn’t biked in a while. So it was unfortunate that the first stretch of our journey entailed what I would describe as a medium steep hill. I’d been biking every day since the snow melted, so it was nothing to me, and I zoomed to the top. Where I waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually he appeared, walking beside the bike, his face thunder. “You made it,” I said, “want to take a breather?” “Are there any more hills on the way?” he asked sternly. I thought about it. “Em, not really, not like that one.” “Not like that one, or no hills?” “I mean, it’s a city, it’s not flat, there are up bits and down bits, but that’s the steepest hill between here and mine.” (On reflection, I might have given this more thought, as most of the journey was on a gentle uphill incline.)
We continued. I kept my pace painfully slow, but at a certain point on Rue Rachel I looked back and couldn’t see him. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Until he appeared pushing the bike once again. “You said there were no more hills,” he said, pissed off now. “This?” I asked in surprise, looking at the bike lane, “this isn’t a hill.” “It is a hill,” he said. I looked more carefully. So it was. We were on a hill.
“Is it far to your place?” “About the same distance again.” It had taken us an age to come half way. “Look, I have a leg injury, and this is stupid, where’s the nearest metro?” “Sorry. It’s Mont Royal – I’ll take you.” So we returned the bikes at a nearby stand, then set off for the underground on foot. He chain smoked all the way. Man, he was a slow walker.
Emer’s Dad Forgall heard tell of Cúchulainn’s visit to his daughter and was raging. “But what were they saying?” he grilled her foster sister. “Sure I don’t know!” she sobbed under his fierce interrogation, “it was all rámeish; they weren’t saying anything at all.”
Still, Forgall had shrewd suspicions, and he intended to make a better match for Emer than the half-wild Ulsterman. So, in disguise, he went to Emain Macha with gifts for the King, and casually suggested that the only way to make Cúchulainn the finest fighter in the land would be to send him to train with the ferocious warrior Scáthach in Alba. The King agreed, and Forgall hoped Cúchulainn would soon be killed, for many never survived their training with Scáthach. Before he left, Cúchulainn came to tell Emer that he loved her and would return for her. Emer told him of her father’s role in his exile.
I’m not going to dwell on what happens over in Alba, but suffice to say that Cúchulainn does not die. Rather, he becomes Scáthach’s most prized fighter, then betrays her by running off with her sworn enemy, Aoife. That Cúchulainn. A divil for the ladies. It won’t stop when he’s married either. I wish I could give poor Emer a warning. I mean, she’d probably love him anyway, but at least she’d know what she was getting herself into.
Cúchulainn returned to Ireland, now the finest of its fighting men, ready to meet Emer’s challenge.
He jumped the three great walls of her father’s castle. With one blow he destroyed the three companies of sentries on guard, but left the leader of each standing, for these three were Emer’s much-loved brothers, Seibur, Ibur and Catt. When Forgall saw him, he was sure Cúchulainn would kill him for contriving that Alba stunt, so he tried to leap the first of the great walls, but fell to his death.
Emer cried for her father, but could see, objectively, that it wasn’t her honey’s fault. Cúchulainn took her and her foster sister on his shoulders. He took a bag of gold the weight of Emer under one arm and a bag of silver the weight of her foster sister under the other. Then he leapt over the three walls again, and made for Emain Macha in his chariot.
At the first Ford, Forgall’s sister, Scenmend, and a hundred of her warriors, lay in wait, but Cúchulainn laid waste to them, and it is now called the Ford of Scenmend, where that brave woman got her death. On the white hill of Raeben, he killed a hundred more that would have stopped them, and Emer called the place the Ford of the Sods, for the sake of all the blood that soaked the ground there. At Áth na Imfuait, where they crossed the Boinne, Cúchulainn’s horses leapt so hard that they knocked two great clods of earth back against the Southern shore. There, Cúchulainn killed a hundred more of Forgall and Scenmend’s warriors, and Emer’s challenge was met.
At Emain Macha they were married. And while happily ever after is just a myth, they made many tales worth telling.
We reached Mont Royal metro. There wasn’t great chat out of us, because he was mad, and I felt guilty. He said, “so what station are we going to?” And I was confused for a second, because the challenge stood, unfulfilled. “I’m biking home,” I said, and gave him a last, chaste kiss.
I flew through the quiet back streets. The faster I pedalled, the better the wind slicked the heat from my skin. At three cross streets I slowed, waiting til it was safe to leave the past dead behind me. Weaving round potholes. Manipulating the weight of the frame. Feeling my breath quicken with the burn in my thighs, then slow with the release of a free-wheeling glide. Knowing, I think, some small part of my namesake’s pleasure.