by Kate Mahony

I met Keeley in the psych ward. We were both staying there at the same time. She had been found wandering the streets and yelling obscenities at people. A passer-by had phoned the police. We found this out by our usual means: listening in to the nurses when they were talking.

Keeley had these tattoos all over her neck so if you looked quickly at her it was like she was wearing a polo-necked top, before you realised it was a tattoo. She could be quite scary if you looked at her too much but I knew how to sneak a glance here and there. Sometimes I’d look up and find her staring at me, as if she couldn’t work me out. It wasn’t the meanest of stares, just the kind of stare that would make you think why would you look at me like that? I never said anything. I never said much anyway.

We’d have a weekly group meeting. You hear all kinds of stories at this. You get used to it. You don’t even pass judgment—why should you? Everyone in the room has experienced some kind of weirdness.

I didn’t like the way the psychologists and the nurses tried to get stuff out of you. I did like Keeley though in a funny sort of way. She could be really rude to the staff, she’d imitate them behind their backs, and she made me laugh sometimes. I wasn’t sure if she liked me though. It was hard to tell.

After a while, the doctors sent me home, back “out into the community” as we used to say. It was like we had our own language that was common to those of us who had been confined to Ward 17. We were, as one of the fluffier nurses said, like family. The day I left some of us exchanged phone numbers. That’s what we did. We said we would call each other or text. That kind of thing. For support and all that. None of us ever did. Well, no one ever called me anyway. I live on my own, so I just got on with it.

But then two weeks ago, I started bumping in to Keeley. First I saw her at social services when I was queuing for my appointment. She glared at me from across the room. Then when I went to the supermarket, she was in the aisle about four over from me, but I knew it was her. I could see her acting innocent as if she were reading the packaging of the cereals in that aisle. She pretended not to know it was me.

I saw her next at my bank, coming out as I was going in. She stared at me again. I didn’t say hello or anything.

Then I saw her at the library. It was quiet in the library but she called out to me from across the Young Adults section.

‘Hey, you,’ she shouted. ‘I know what your problem is.’

I could see the librarian look up with an annoyed look on her face. Except she was looking straight at me. I wasn’t doing anything.

‘Your problem is you don’t have anyone.’ Keeley’s voice was even louder. ‘You’re on your own.’

I turned away, dumping the book I was reading back onto the shelf.

I went outside and stood at the bus stop. A guy wearing a beanie and carrying a guitar case was waiting there also. I moved to one side of him and started talking, waving my arms about in a friendly fashion so if Keeley came by, she would see me and think that I did have a boyfriend. I wondered if she would stop following me then.

Or maybe she would want to be friends.

Kate Mahony’s fiction has been published in numerous publications and anthologies including among others, Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, Canterbury University Press, 2018, Mayhem, Waikato University, New Zealand, 2019, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, 2019, The Blue Nib, 2020, and Blink Ink, 2020. Her fiction has been shortlisted in international competitions. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.