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Lawrence Weston

Ro McNulty

Ro McNulty has published a handful of short stories in various zines and anthologies over the last few years; His novella The Lady of Carterhaugh was published in the now defunct Haunted Magazine, and two of his short stories (Extinguishing the Flame and The Salt Garden) were published in James Ward Kirk Fiction’s anthology Songs for The Raven in early 2013. More recently He  had his debut novel, Sleep Still, Charnel Horse, published by up-and-coming small press 18thWall productions. He is currently guest-editing an anthology with the same company, and is due to release a short story collection at the end of this year. When not writing he works for adult social services, which is a big influence on his work.


Lea woke up, and found that she didn't want to get out of bed. She stared up at the ceiling light, and managed to relax for a few minutes before she remembered the fight she’d had with Louise. After that, all she wanted to do was phone Louise and talk about it. She couldn't, and once she realised this, it was impossible to go back to sleep.


She went downstairs and switched on the TV, knowing as she did so that she didn't really want to watch anything. She got angry with herself and switched it off a moment later, then, swearing loudly, switched it back on again. She felt like she couldn’t keep still. Time seemed to be slowing down. The boredom was like cramp.


 She got up and went into the kitchen and made herself some toast. She wasn’t hungry, and it felt like chewing cement. Her mouth was dry. She stood over the sink and made herself drink water until her stomach hurt.


 "Mum?" Lea called out. "MUM?"




 "What's for breakfast?"


 "What do you mean, What's for breakfast? whatever you bloody make yourself for breakfast." Lea's mum growled, from upstairs. "And don't keep bawling at me, neither. Come up here if you want to ask me something."


 "Mum," Lea spat "Why are you putting on that stupid voice for? You're so fu... You're so annoying, mum. It's like... you're supposed to be my mum. You need to grow up."


 "What did you..." Lea had been putting on her shoes and jacket while she had been talking, and she timed leaving the house perfectly so she could slam the door half way through her mum's next sentence, for maximum insult. The TV was still on in the background, loud enough that Lea could hear it from outside the house.


 It was hot outside. Everything looked glassy, where her eyes hadn't adjusted to the sunlight. It felt like being in a fish tank. Lea turned left and began to walk down the empty, yellow street.




Sophie heard the door scrape open and Lea's voice ringing out from the porch.


"Soph? You in, babe?"

In the back room, the two dogs began to bark. Sophie sighed.


 "Alright, sweet? hang on." She knew Lea's habits like clockwork, and had been half expecting her to walk through the door all morning. "Just in here."


 She stood up to greet Lea as she came in, and wrapped her arms around Lea's bony shoulders. She’d decided not to fuss Lea, when she was playing through the meeting in her head that morning, but she was also aware of what exactly their friendship meant to Lea, and it involved at least a certain degree of hugging. When she saw Lea walk through the door and stand there, as if waiting for an inspection, she found she couldn't help but get into character. "Come here." She muttered. "Come on. I feel for you, babe. I really do. Not saying what you did was right, mind," She said, breaking off the embrace, and squinting into Lea's hard eyes. "I ain't saying it's not your fault, either, ‘cause you know you done wrong. But I do feel for you as well."


 "I don't want to talk about it." Lea slumped down on the sofa, looking sick with disappointment, and Sophie began to think she'd said the wrong thing.


The dogs in the back room had begun to pace around and whine. Sophie sat down next to Lea, in silence. After a while, Lea said. “You going to put the TV on, then, or what?”


 There was nothing on. Sophie flicked through the channels, and watched Lea’s face as she did so.


 “I fucking hate that Nigella Lawson. Bitch.”


 “Yeah me too...” said Sophie, quickly and quietly, and she changed the channel.  “What about... do you want to watch this?”


 “Yeah, whatever.”


There was loud, electric guitar music, and people with American accents talking bombastically into the camera from leather chairs. In the next scene there was a line of women, all smiling nervously, while two more women and a fat, manicured man argued about their clothes and hair.


 “OK, She’s really cute but do me a favour? When you get home, burn that dress. And would you dye your hair for me? OK. OK. You can come on Saturday if you go blonde. Could you do that? Our guy is really into blondes. Wear your A-game.”


 “OK! Thanks!”


Lea snorted.




“Nothing, Soph.” She looked at Sophie, with an if-I-have-to-explain-it-to-you-you’re-too-stupid-to-understand look on her face.


In the next scene there were two men in suits, and more women. They were outside, somewhere that looked sunny and Californian. The men moved in between the women and asked them questions, while other women looked on and watched. Occasionally someone would pull the men away from the conversation and tell them to ask different questions. Another, older woman seemed to be presiding over the event; she stood at the back of the room with her arms folded, looking unimpressed. The woman in charge said something quick and critical to one of the suited men, leaving him blushing. Sophie began to laugh.


  “God, she don’t mince her words, does she?”


  “Fuck her.”


On the sofa, back in Lawrence Weston, Lea was beginning to fidget. Sophie got up to go to the kitchen, and noticed Lea jumped as she did so. When she came back in the room Lea had slumped so far down on the sofa she was almost led flat.


 “What’d I miss?” Sophie asked, nodding at the TV screen


 “Ah, I don’t know. It’s just bullshit, ain’t it?” Lea gestured at the TV. Sophie thought she was about to throw the remote. “It’s like, this fucking bitch Patti there has made this whole fucking series just about her being horrible to people, right? Look at her. She’s so fucking... like... prissy and stuck up. These guys just stand there and take all this shit from her ‘cause they reckon she’s this matchmaker, right? And they reckon they’ll get some pussy out of it if they do what she says. It’s bullshit, though, ‘cause they ain’t allowed to do anything with each other or they get kicked out of the matchmaking club anyway. It fucks me off.”


 Lea stopped talking to catch her breath, as the younger women on the TV screen called out, in unison


 “No! Sex! Before! Monogamy!”


“See?” said Lea. “It’s like, if you want to have sex with someone then just fucking do it. You don’t need her. Fuck her.”


 “Yeah...” Sophie tried to talk but couldn’t think of anything to say, as if Lea had used up all the words in the room. “She’s a right cow, ain’t she?” she said, lamely. Lea looked at her, and Sophie blurted out “They’re all millionaires as well, aren’t they? Is it... are they all like Hollywood stars and that?”


 “Nah, can’t be. It said at the start of the program. That guy in the suit’s a rich doctor, or something. Like, a plastic surgeon, I think. And the other one owns, like, a company, or some shit.” Lea got to her feet and started pacing around the room. “That’s the other thing, right. That prick at the back who keeps yelling at everyone, the only reason she does that is ‘cause all the guys on here are soft as shit. She reckons she’s fucking solid, right? Can you imagine her...” Lea had begun to raise her voice “Walking ‘round Long Cross, going up to people and saying Oh my gahd? Can you do me a favour? Can you, like, naht wear that dress? She’d get her fucking head kicked in.”


Sophie laughed, thinking Lea was joking, and then stopped when she realized that she wasn’t. It wasn’t working. Whatever Sophie had wanted to do, to cheer Lea up or to take her mind off the fight that had happened or to give her some sort of solace, she hadn’t been able to do it. Lea was more wound up than ever. She looked like she was on the verge of screaming.

It was time to try something else. Sophie sighed, stood up, and said, bluntly


 “Lea, sweet, no offence, but you’re pacing around like you got a stick up your arse. You need to chill out. Look, do you want to go out, or something?”


 Lea sniffed, and looked down at the ground.


 “Yeah, alright. Sorry, Soph. It ain’t... sorry.”  





Lawrence Weston is made of blocks of flats and houses in straight lines, low wire mesh fences and big, flat green spaces. It is a neighbourhood of right angles. The houses were pink, blue and yellow, tacky in the bright sun. 


The girls walked side by side with their hands in their pockets. Their postures were almost identical although their appearances, Sophie was painfully aware, couldn’t have been more different. Lea was as thin as a whippet, and Sophie felt like a hulk next to her. She looked down at her feet, afraid that she might trip over.


They sat down on a bench in front of some flats. Despite the heat, the streets were almost deserted, like no-one could be bothered to go out. A guy who looked like a junkie walked past the girls, limping, and Lea and Sophie laughed.


Sophie bought them a can of sprite each from a corner shop, and they sat in silence, listening to the nearby motorway. Eventually, without Sophie saying anything, Lea began to talk about the fight. 


“It just... I don’t know what happened.” She said, muttering into her hands “I know everyone says that, but I honestly don’t. I can’t remember.


“Louise was this... I knew something was going on. I always knew. Brett always told me all this shit about how him and Louise was just mates. They used to chat, like, or they’d go to have coffee together. You know, like Brett ever had coffee in his whole fucking life before he met her. They had fuck all to talk about has far as I can see. There was no way they had anything in common, you know? Louise was this really posh, stuck up, student bitch over at the college. Fuck knows what she was doing going around with Brett. She was so fucking arrogant, as well. Every time she saw me and Brett together she’d come over and start waggling her arse around and giggling and all the rest, you know, with her posh accent, and that. It made me feel about that fucking big. You know what I mean? So when Brett starts going on about how them two are best mates all of a sudden, it really fucked me off. I always fucking knew they were at it.”


“How’d you find out?” Said Sophie


 “I don’t know. It’s complicated. Remember when I rang you up that night, after it had all gone to shit, and I told Brett to fuck off and he went and stood outside my house and he wouldn’t leave, and he kept telling me he was going to get his mates round if I didn’t let him in...remember? A few days after that, Louise texted me. She text me like Oh, let’s talk about it. I’m sorry. Let’s be friends. I’d only fucking met her once, right? Honestly, she was such a bitch, Soph.” Sophie said nothing.


 “So I go round her house, and when I get there, right, I couldn’t fucking believe it. She suddenly starts telling me about how... how Brett still wanted me in his life because of how much I’d meant to him, and that she didn’t mind if me and Brett were still in touch because she didn’t get jealous. And I’m there like, I only fucking broke up with him two days ago.”


 Lea began to sob. “I don’t remember the rest. I mean, I remember going for her but I don’t remember actually doing it... I fucking tried, you know. I only went round there in the first place ‘cause I fucking cared about them both...”


 Sophie put her arm around her, and said


“Look, Lea, it’s like I said. You shouldn’t have done it, yeah? You know that. But, at the end of the day, I’d rather I was here for you and you had someone to talk to than if you had no-one. Whatever you done, you’re still my mate, yeah?”


 “Yeah but it’s not like...” Lea pulled away from Sophie’s embrace. “You looking at me like you were earlier, like I’m a fucking bomb that’s about to go off, that doesn’t help, Soph. I don’t... I ain’t changed, you know? Just ‘cause of what happened. I’m still me. 


"I mean... It’s not like I planned it, is it? I didn’t... I tried to say something but then I just lost my temper and...then there I was. I can’t remember. It just... just happened."


 Lea sat with her head down, not thinking about Louise or Sophie but about Brett. She hadn’t seen him since that night with Louise. She remembered one night, before all of this had happened, she’d gone to Brett’s flat angrily, thinking that she was going to catch Louise there with him, but Brett had been with his friends instead, and Lea had looked ridiculous in front of them. He’d made his friends leave when she got there, and she’d stood in the doorway while they wolf-whistled at her from the stairwell. Brett had invited her in, and she’d sat on his bed while he’d stroked her hair.


“Listen, babe.” he’d said “Me and Louise are just friends, yeah? I know you don’t want to hear this, but she’s a good girl, is Louise. I’m only being honest. I don’t know why you and her don’t get on. You’d be like best friends if you gave her a chance. You’re both really similar, and that. I reckon the two of you, yeah? You’ve got loads in common and everything. You should try and get to know her a bit.


 “I reckon you would, you know. I asked her about it. She told me she ain’t got a problem with you, like. So it’s only you that’s the problem.” Brett had said, as softly as if he was telling her he loved her.


 “But, listen, if you can’t, like. If you don’t feel like you can give her a chance, then just say. Just tell me, yeah? And I won’t see her any more. I promise. You’re the most important thing. I’d give up anything if you wanted me to.”


She’d nodded. Louise had been to Brett’s flat a few times since then. Lea hadn’t even told Brett that she knew. She didn’t know what to say, without feeling stupid all over again.




The girls went back to Sophie’s house. Sophie’s mother was home, so there was nowhere to talk downstairs. They went upstairs to Sophie’s bedroom. The dogs barked again, and then went back to sleep.


They sat on the bed. Lea didn’t take off her shoes, and Sophie had to tell her to. At one point Sophie opened the bedroom door and called out


 “Mum? Mum, Lea’s here. Can you do us a pizza?”


She’d sat back down and Lea, for the first time that day, had laughed.




 “I feel sorry for your mum, Soph. You’re like a big kid.”


 “Yeah, well” Sophie settled down again on the bed next to Lea. “That’s just what I’m like. I’m properly spoiled. Honestly, I can’t even get up in the morning without my mum making me breakfast first. I can’t do nothing by myself. It’s bad, ain’t it?”


 “I’d have kicked you out by now.” Lea giggled.


 The girls ate. Lea fell silent, absent-mindedly working away at a chip in the pink paint on the walls. Sophie looked out of the window. The house opposite was boarded up with a metal grille. She didn’t know why. She breathed deeply, feeling that something else had to be said, but not knowing what it was.


 “Hey, Lea?”


 “What’s the matter, love?” Lea said, without looking up


 Sophie had wanted to make Lea happy, like a cooler or more fun friend might have done. She’d wanted to make her laugh, be careless, and forget, but it hadn’t happened. She felt shitty, suddenly, and inadequate. 


 “Do you... do you know when your court date is?” she asked.


 “Nah, not yet. My mum rang them yesterday and they said they’d posted the letter. It should be here today.”


 “How are you going to plead?”


 “Guilty.” Lea didn’t look up from the wall.




 “Yeah.” Lea muttered “I mean, there’s no point, is there? There’s no point trying to say I didn’t do it.


 “Louise is fucking... she’s dead, Soph. I fucked up, and I killed her.” Lea muttered, and Sophie had to strain to hear. She wished she could see Lea’s face. “She ain’t coming back. What’s the point of lying about it now? Everyone fucking knows I done it.”




The house was dark when Lea got home. The TV was still on, lighting up the room blue and green. She stood and watched from the doorway, and then went upstairs.


 “You came back then?” said Lea’s mum, through gritted teeth, from the landing. “I thought we’d got rid of you for good.”


 “Fuck off, Mum.” Lea slammed her bedroom door. 


 There was a letter on the bed, on Bristol Crown Prosecution Service headed paper. Lea skimmed through a few lines. The charge was murder, not manslaughter, like she’d thought. The court date was set. And, because Lea was under the age of eighteen, she was allowed to have a responsible adult present in court, provided it was not an adult who had been a witness to the crime, was connected to the crime, or was in any way connected to the victim. Apart from that, there was nothing there Lea didn’t already know.


Again, Lea thought about calling Louise. She pictured herself screaming you fucked up my life into the phone. She wanted to punch the windows and smash something.




 In her own bedroom, Sophie’s phone rang.




She heard Lea’s voice, sobbing and making the speaker crackle.


 "I still love him, Soph. That's... I don't know. He's so selfish. He doesn't give a fuck about me. But I still..."

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