Second Place in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize 2021
The Shooter’s Moment of Mindfulness
The old Pickup travels down the dirt track, kicking up dust. The wiper-blades reveal the mark behind the wheel, rubbing his bald head on his sleeve. Arizona without AC is almost as torturous as the four hours you have waited for him, belly flat in the scrub.
You used to have the same hairstyle but have not shaved your skull since your last tour, shocked when the stubble grew out grey, despite your Daddy’s being coal-black when they buried him, the same colour as his lungs after a lifetime of digging for it.
Your fringe is in your eyes and you sweep it aside for a clearer view of him in the cross-hairs. This was easier in Fallujah. The sand cushioning your weight, your tan impenetrable. Now your arms sizzle and in the days to come they will peel like a rattler, wrist to elbow in a single scaly piece.
You thumb the safety, taking a deep breath to anchor you. Inhale, hold and release. Mindfulness is what the doctor called it, the sessions they forced upon you along with your discharge. You block out all other thoughts, especially the one that buzzes through your head louder than the tinnitus, whether you can take a life when your wages come in a brown paper bag and not with a 401k.
The low rumble of the Pickup disturbs a coyote den near the road. The mother emerges, ears pricked, the pup nestling between her legs so small and wrinkly that its eyes have barely opened to the world. The shot will send the vehicle down the embankment towards them and their death somehow upsets you more, despite the mark’s life being no less precious in the eyes of your Lord and Saviour.
If you do not take the mark down that is the direction you will hide from your employer, where your pension will look no more impressive in pesos, pulling your cap low each time you walk into a cantina to drown your worries with well tequila.
Your finger moves to the trigger. You inhale, hold and release.
Joe Eurell is a writer from Birmingham, who lives in London. His short stories have been published in various anthologies, journals and have been adapted for radio. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first novel, a historical thriller. To find out more about Joe and his writing, follow him on Twitter @JoeEurell
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