LATE AUGUST • by Rebecca Payne

His headphones were on when it happened. Which matters because it couldn’t have been the sound of the boy’s voice that aggravated him like he told the officer. It wasn’t premeditated, he told the judge, he didn’t even know the kid though he had been carrying the gun for over a year. And when I say carry, I mean everywhere. He took it to church for god’s sake. But that day, the day it happened, he had just been walking the streets of his suburban home. It was late August, so there was that. But that wasn’t the real reason. The HR guy at work had told him that he needed to learn the new software, or he would be losing his job, but it wasn’t the job either. There was his wife, who hadn’t heard him say where he was going that morning during breakfast because she was scrolling through the images of her nieces and nephews. She set the yogurt down in front of him, strawberries sliced thin, laughing at the video that showed the two-year-old learning how to stand on one foot for the first time. And his daughter, she had raced into the room and flashed her phone in his face. He glanced over to see a pair of sneakers with fluorescent yellow lines. It was eight a.m. He was in Vietnam when he was her age, for Christ’s sake, but she wasn’t the reason either. He had been listening to Simon and Garfunkel in those headphones when it happened… The Boxer. He was just as alone as any of the rest of them. But the boy, the one walking toward him, had been texting and hadn’t even looked up. He just slammed right into him. It could have been anyone. We were all doing it. Just an accident. The boy’s mother would be seen on the evening news crying later that night. Behind her, three young boys snapped photos of themselves, proof that they had been there.

Rebecca Payne is an MFA candidate at Northwestern University. Her debut chapbook, The Seawalker’s Flame, was published in February 2021 by Sword and Kettle Press. She is a reader at TriQuarterly, and currently working on a short story collection. She lives with her wife and son in Chicago.

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