Madeleine Laing: Key

I’m going to say straight up that I’m aware that a key was pretty much the lamest object I could use for this. It’s an overdone symbol for almost anything; it stinks of cliché. I really wanted to do something edgy like a used condom or a bloody pad or whatver. But I don’t have any stories about those things – none that I wanna tell anyway.

I want to tell this story and memory because it’s a small one, but an embarrassing one for me. The kind of embarrassment that comes over you like FUCK in the middle of the street when you’re thinking about something else. I wanted to confront it.

I’m not usually very good at confronting things – since my ex-boyfriend broke up with me almost I year ago I’ve seen him at least once a fortnight, at shows or parties, but have not said one word to him or looked him in the eye. Actually, that’s a lie, on New Year’s Eve he asked me if I had a lighter and I said I didn’t and he turned around and walked away. Closure.

Then a few months after our breakup when I took home someone who I shouldn’t have and, thanks to misunderstanding or carelessness, was put in a lot of physical pain, I just convinced myself it was a dream. Every time I thought about it I said ‘oh, don’t worry about that, that was a dream’. I said it so much the memory feels very far away, and I can see him at shows and give him a hug and ask how’s things.

So I want to tell the tiny story of the night of this key. About the dude in an interstate band that I loved and had written about, who I’d only met once last time they were in town. He wore it around his neck even though he’d moved out of that house months before. This was about six months ago, and it’s been under some papers on the floor behind my chest of drawers ever since because I couldn’t work out if it was sadder to keep it like a creepy stalker or throw it away in a kind of over the top gesture of freedom from what was actually a nice night with a nice boy.

A nice night with a nice boy that I keep replaying over and over in my head as a symbol of what a irredeemable fuckwit I am. I remember how I wrestled his phone out of his hand, thinking that my internet banking would work on it because it had ‘different internet’ to mine.  Then when it didn’t work making him buy me a drink. I remember him kissing me on a plotplant after telling me the bar that I’d suggested was ‘pretty gross’. I remember apologising over and over and him telling me to stop and I could tell I was being annoying because I know I apologise too much but then I feel worse and have to apologise for that.

 I remember us lying in bed and me seeing that he had a tattoo on his forearm and saying in the most obnoxious voice I could muster ‘oy nice tat what’s the deep significance’ and him saying ‘please don’t make fun of me’. I remember wanting to tell him he was really cute and weird and cool but instead I could only make fun of him because I don’t know how to be sincere. I remember asking him two days later before he left Brisbane if he wanted to meet up to get this key back and him not answering the question.

Small things, which, if they happened to someone else, would seem like a typical drunken night out with a fun, if misguided one night stand. I would tell them it was a ‘good story’ and ‘no big deal’. But to myself I say ‘this is why you’ve never been loved. You look good enough sometimes for someone to suffer through your shit to go to bed with you, but really you’re too stupid, too anxious, too awkward, too mean to ever make a connection. You will be alone forever, and it’s only your fault’.

But even writing this stuff now, it feels a bit less grim and a bit more silly. The story of this key. It feels more like just a key that belonged to a cute boy in a very good band that I like that I went to bed with and that’s all. It’s not as much of a symbol, a reminder of everything that’s wrong with me. So maybe later I’ll be able talk about some of those other memories, the ones that actually matter, and make them hurt less too.  


Madeleine Laing bookseller and non-fiction writer from Brisbane who writes about food, music, fashion, sex and art – and tries to do it without sounding like a wanker. Her memoir and non-fiction have appeared in Spook and Scum Magazines and she’s a regular contributor to Broadsheet Brisbane, and The Music Brisbane. She was previously a contributor to and deputy editor for Four Thousand and runs a website about sharehouse dinners called Foob ( She has no current plans to move to Melbourne.