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In All Innocence

She's back! Nicky Murphy who dazzled with last year's terrific (and oft pimped) "Daddy's Girl" returns and miraculously avoids the sophomore slump.

In a piece steeped in literary tradition and hardboiled heartbreak, Nicky traverses the fractured and familial, and leaves you with all kinds of fucked up. Just how we like it in the Gutter, where no good deed goes unpunished...

In All Innocence by Nicky Murphy




Soon after Billy was born, too soon, too quiet, it became clear that he wasn't 100% there. The docs didn't know why, whether it was Sylvia drinking bourbon for breakfast while he was in her belly, or whether it was just one of those things. His big brother Reece didn't care. He certainly didn't care that they didn't have the same daddy.

When other teens were out drinking and having sex, Reece was looking after Billy. He patiently rocked him through the long nights of teething, wiped his nose and ass. Soon Billy would raise his arms for Reece only, screaming if his mom came anywhere near. Reece read to him, clapped at his first steps, taught him to write his name in carefully scrawled letters. He walked him to school, and dried his tears when the other children made him cry.

***

“Happy birthday, Billy,” Reece said. He held a large box, loosely wrapped in newspaper. “You're a big boy now, ten years old!” He gently pushed the box over to Billy. They were both sitting on the floor eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sylvia was snoring in her room. She would be out for hours. They preferred it that way.

Billy unwrapped the box and opened the lid. Inside was a small calico kitten. It looked up at Billy and meowed.

“He's saying hello,” Reece said. 

Billy lifted up the kitten and it immediately settled into his arms, purring.

“He'll keep you company when I go to live at Lucy's,” Reece said. “You OK with that, Billy? You OK with being an uncle soon?”

Billy was silent for a moment, then buried his face in the kitten's soft fur.

“I'll call him Paws,” Billy said. “He's the best present ever! I love you, Reece.”

“Love you too, kiddo.” Reece put his arms round the boy and kitten, and they were all happy for a time.

***

Reece came over one Sunday morning to pick up the last of his gear that was loitering in the garage. He went upstairs, being careful not to wake the comatose figure of Sylvia sprawling on the couch.

“Hey, Billy!” He pushed open the boy's bedroom door. Billy was sitting neatly on the floor staring at a coloring book. The kitten lay on the bed. It wasn't breathing.

Reece picked it up. The little body was cold, and there was a smudge of blood around its mouth. 
“Billy? What the fu— What happened here?”

Billy looked up with tears running down his face.

“He was crying 'cos Momma kicked him, and I held him real tight to show him that I loved him and that he was safe, an' he wouldn't stop crying, then he did, and now he won't play with me.” Billy started to sob. “Am I in trouble?”

Reece took a deep breath.

“No, Billy. I think—I think Paws was sick, and he's gone to kitty heaven now.” He knelt down by his little brother. “But let's tell Mom that he ran away.” He hugged Billy and kissed his head. “No more pets, OK?”

***

Reece and Lucy, along with toddler Josh, stopped by on their way back from a tense trip to Lucy’s parents. A thick-set man, bald with roughly inked arms, came out the front door as they were walking up the path.

“Mornin’,” he said, flicking a butt onto the threadbare lawn.

Billy was sitting at the kitchen table carefully eating a bowl of cereal.

“Hey, big guy.” Reece sat beside him and ruffled his hair. “Who was that just left?”

“That was Uncle Aidan,” he said. “He gave me a quarter for being a good boy and staying in my room last night. Can I play with Josh?”

Reece glanced at Lucy, who nodded.

“Sure,” Reece said. “You give Josh some juice, and me and Lucy will just have a little talk with Mom.”

Billy was plying Josh with cookies when the argument broke. At first he couldn’t tell what they were saying, but then it became all too clear.

“Who the fuck was that?” Reece shouted. “How many uncles does Billy have?” At the sound of his father’s voice, Josh started to whimper.

“I gotta earn some dough somehow,” Sylvia whined. “What else can I do? I’m not well—”

“I don’t give a flying fuck!” Reece said.

“Reece, please don’t shout,” Lucy pleaded.

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do—”

Their voices faded as Billy quietly shut the kitchen door. Josh was now wailing with fear, his face covered with tears and snot.

“That’s better, Josh, isn’t it?” Billy said. “Come to Uncle Billy for a cuddle.”

Billy opened his arms, and Josh leaned in for some comfort. Billy held Josh real tight to show him that he loved him, and that he was safe. He held him until the sobbing and struggling stopped, and the screaming began.


Nicky Murphy lives in England and writes stories when the inspiration imp bites her on the arse.