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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing May 2023
The neighbour, flash fiction by Kate Mahony
The police officer gets out of her patrol car and approaches us.
Eileen, who I have been helping load some rotten tree branches onto her trailer, stops work. She keeps hold of a long branch as she waits for the police officer to reach us. Eileen used to be in the armed services or that is what she has told some of the other neighbours. Now she drives a taxi.
The police officer asks about the man who lives next door to Eileen. The officer says that he has been reported missing from Brazil. That is, he was expected in Brazil last week and he had not arrived. Someone has phoned the police here.
Eileen shrugs. She tosses the branch down onto the trailer, flexes her arm muscles for a moment and says she hasn’t seen him.
The officer asks me if I know anything about him. I say no. ‘I don’t think he is ever there,’ I explain, to be helpful. The man is a mystery to me although I do sometimes see him walking along the street with a shabby briefcase. When we pass each other, he always stares through me as if he has no idea who I am, or that we might have met before.
After the officer leaves, I notice Eileen is pink in the face. I remember how she often complained about the same neighbour. She had to live next door to what, she said, looked like an abandoned house. It dragged the value of her house down, she said. Most of the paint on its wooden timber had long since worn away and the roof was rusting but the man refused to do anything that would improve his property.
She had asked him to contribute to the costs of a fence between their properties because the man left his side in a mess of weeds and rubbish. But the neighbour had been loath to spend any money. In fact, he became angry at her request and said there was no need for one. He added that when she dug up some of the drain on higher ground between their properties it caused flooding, forcing dirty water down onto the front of his property. She was to blame, not him. He got angry at Eileen.
When Eileen told me about it, it seemed to me he had all the say in the situation. Myself, I never got involved in their dispute. That is how I am. Which is why I am helping Eileen with the branches on my one day off work. As if I have nothing better to do.
We watch the police officer drive off. Eileen looks at me with a frown as if wondering why I am still here. She tosses another stray branch onto the trailer where it lands with a heavy clunk. She wipes her brow and then claps her hands together, dismissing me. She goes back inside her house. I stand on the pavement on the street for a while. There I carefully study the lie of the land on the side of her house. I try to make out where the drain had been.
The one that has now been filled in.
© Kate Mahony
Kate Mahony’s short fiction has been widely published in New Zealand and internationally and been shortlisted and longlisted in international competitions. These include the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award, 2008 in which her story was a top 10 finalist, the Fish Publishing International Short Story competition, 2015, the Bridport Short Story Competition, UK, 2015, the Commonwealth Short Story Competition,2022, the Cambridge Autumn Festival Short Story Competition, 2022, and a number of National Flash Fiction Day competitions. Her short stories have appeared in literary journals including Litro New York, Meniscus (Australia) Blue Nib (Ireland) Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Fictive Dream (UK) Takahē, Best New Zealand Fiction Vol 6, Bonsai : Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand 2018, and Blackmail Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Cloud Ink Press will publish her contemporary/historical novel in September. https://www.katemahonyauthor.com/