Three months before we got the eviction notice, the president killed an American citizen with a remote-controlled combat jet called a drone. That’s what the TV said. Since then my dreams were wrought with blunt-shaped drones blasting Hellfire missiles at me, my limbs flailing in the air like a cherry bomb exploding in a Mr. Potato Head.
J.T. and I lived together. After four hits of LSD, I’d grit my teeth to prevent myself from professing my love for him. I was afraid he’d stop selling me his Promethazine if I did. I scribbled my desires in these cheap multicolored spiral notebooks I bought. They littered my bedroom. No one could understand the writing, the manic chicken scratch of a psychonaut.
J.T. and I would get high. Before work, J.T would shotgun Afghan Kush into my lips, our smoky breath intertwining into lounge singers making love. Chip never noticed me high. I was on the outskirts of the dining area, in my isolated dishwashing station, doing drone work. Spraying sink-hose water on pots and pans and plates. Shoving overcrowded dishes into the spritzing hot water machine. Standing soaking wet in soap water. Repeat. Repeat.
Chip never noticed when J.T. was high, neither. His eyes would look like branding irons. As a server, he got orders wrong all the time. Some lady bitched at him one day for getting her order wrong. She pointed and snapped her fingers, accusing him of sabotaging her food. She spilled her drink on the table, on purpose, he told me, and wagged her finger at him. Ordered him to get his shit together. He snatched the paper tablecloth, the dishes shattering into shards on the ground, and launched the crumpled wad at her face. “Lady,” he said, “you wouldn’t last a day in Iraq.” Chip fired him on the spot. J.T. shot two middle fingers at him, like dual pistols, and walked out.
He earned money in other ways. His favorite was selling scrap metal. He broke into abandoned houses and tore them apart. He said each house had its own story. Like hieroglyphics depicting the fall of a family.
One day I woke up and shambled into the living room and found a ten-year-old girl on our couch. For a second, I thought I was still dreaming.
“That’s my sister,” J.T. said. He sauntered over to me and sparked his engraved Jack Daniels Zippo lighter. He was shirtless. I almost blushed. He blew out a puff of smoke. “Watch her for me.”
“Watch her for what?”
“Watch her while I’m gone.”
“Where you going?” I said. He took a drag and started coughing a tire iron. “Careful,” I said. He waved me away and disappeared, hacking and gagging to his room. I plopped down next to his sister and dropped two jolly ranchers into my drink. “Want a jolly rancher?” She didn’t notice me. I felt like a grandmother offering hard candy.
“She’s deaf,” J.T. said. He wrapped a jacket around himself. “She likes to draw.”
Then he was gone.
I took a sip and placed a jolly rancher into her hand. She smiled and sucked on it, and I smiled even wider. I was all smiles today. I smoked and drank and she didn’t even care. We watched the news together. Everything began to feel numb and sluggish. I wanted life to stay this way forever Eventually the TV said, slowly and choppily, the president killed an American citizen with a drone. Why would he do that? The president looked ugly and boxy. I forgot he looked like that. Video of the drone drooped by the screen as if it were submerged in water. I forgot what we were watching then I passed out.
I woke up on the brink of vomiting. Nausea tickled at me for the rest of the day. I baked a couple of weed firecrackers and took one. J.T. wasn’t back yet. I bought a box of sixty-four crayons, with a little sharpener in the back, and his sister spent the rest of the day coloring in my blank notebooks.
He wasn’t back the next day either. It was a little worrying. But I ate another firecracker and my worries were gone. I took another before I left for work, leaving her alone for the day. I barely did shit at my job, I was so high. The machine ran everything. I was just another part of the assembly, another piece of machinery. If we got busy, I could end up racing around the station and scrubbing frying pans. But that never happened. I mostly did nothing. Now that J.T. was gone, no one talked to me. So why not be high? I came home reeking of dead fish.
He was the only number I saved on my phone. The only contact I had. My only drug connect, too. And he wasn’t picking up. I downed a lot of acid, the LSD packed into two hits per sugar cube. I re-upped on the notebooks. Bought enough to last me a year, especially with my constant scribbling and Teresa’s constant coloring. She took care of herself well. Cooked her own food. Boiled sink water for us to drink. Any time alone, she spent drawing or coloring. Her first drawing was a self-portrait, I could tell. She was lifting dumbbells on a wedding cake. At the bottom she signed Teresa. “Teresa?” I pointed to the name. “Your name’s Teresa?” She pointed to herself and nodded. I loved her. She was like a miniature Tarzan.
The week came and went and he still wasn’t back. I ran out of the firecrackers and hated every second of my job. Every second of washing those stupid fucking dishes. I needed the high. The high got me through this, but without it, I was another slave droning on at work, forever. God forbid if Chip came along, offering his brand of “positive” body language. Massaging my shoulders. Patting my head. Beaming his phony-ass smile. “Josiah!” he said. “How’s life treating you?” Horrible.
J.T.’s stash was in his room. I found it inside his toolbox. His tools were grimy, dirty, and, I imagined, calloused. Probably from tearing those abandoned houses inside out. But the drugs, the sweet, sweet drugs, were stashed in both paper and plastic bags, and every time I opened the toolbox, I felt like a pirate opening a treasure chest. I brought it over to my room and snorted a line of molly. Molly made me so happy. I wanted to grind my teeth into dust. Then I wanted to snort that dust. I didn’t have a bed (I slept on a pile of clothes) so I hopped up and down on the couch in the living room, calling J.T. over and over and over…
His number was no longer in service. I snorted everything J.T. had. Molly. Coke. Diet Coke. Ketamine. I spent more and more time in my bedroom, snorting lines and avoiding Teresa so she wouldn’t see the dry tears on my face.
Her drawings grew a life of their own. She taped each one to the living room wall, sticking like leeches. And they were all works of art. Dinosaurs and volcanoes and astronauts and aliens. She drew the perfect moon. It was a perfect circle. I tried to draw one but the pencil ended up ripping through the notebook paper. I kept my notebooks to myself, rewriting variations of the word DRONE! DRONE! DRONE!
Drones were everywhere. In the skies, shape-shifting into stars. I watched the news. I wanted to know more but then I noticed the blank emotion on the news anchor and the news reporters. They were all drones. And every channel I flipped to were full of drones. Acting like lawyers. Like doctors. Policemen. Racers. Celebrities. Stars. I snorted the rest of the ketamine and drank the last of the Promethazine. The molly was gone but the acid kept going strong. The drugs cleared my mind. When I snorted a line of coke off the bathroom sink, Teresa came in and showed me the eviction notice posted on the front door. I wasn’t surprised. The landlord was a drone. The notice asked for three months of rent payment. I couldn’t go to my job and ask for the money. I forgot the last time I went to my job. If I did, Chip would kill me. Chip was a drone. Then the TV wouldn’t turn on one day. I got angry and broke the screen with my remote. Then the lights shut off across the apartment, and we were shrouded in darkness because I never opened the blinds. Because the light wasn’t safe for Teresa. They’d see her through the slits. She made candles from soap and placed them all over our home. She was like my mother. When my nose wouldn’t stop bleeding, she ripped a pillow open and shoved the stuffing up my nostrils. I encouraged her to draw on the walls. They were now colored from floor to ceiling, and watching her draw while high was like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. The walls melted and moved and the colors bled into one another. She drew everything I used to dream about. Things like knights fighting dragons on platforms floating in the sky. Now I just dreamed of my job. My sleep time I spent bored out of my fucking mind, slothing on the ocean floor, scrubbing piles and piles of dead fish off of plates. Then the drones would droop in, like sharks, and blast me. I saw myself die in my dreams, over and over and over…I couldn’t let the drones damage her like they’ve damaged me. My notebooks scribbled with DRONES! DRoNes! drones! were kept away from her, in my room. I knew how they stole J.T. from me.
I drank the Jack Daniels bottle I was saving for the love of my life and the world whirled around me. I grabbed his ball-peen hammer. This was my sword. I drove to the fish food restaurant, leaving Teresa at home (better she did not see this) and the drones came after me! Red and blue lights beaming! Roaring their high-pitched battle cry! I swerved and swerved and saw the restaurant. All I needed to do was pop Chip’s teeth out with the ball-peen hammer. Then I’d sell them to the tooth fairy. Me and Teresa would live off the money, traveling like hermits and keeping under the radar. The drones would not get to her. I wasn’t going to let the drones hollow out her soul and turn her like us. Like drones. Like all that mattered in the world was killing yourself to make a living. We’d be invisible. The last thing I remember before passing out was driving into the front window of my job, the glass shattering around me like glittering shards of broken dreams.
No one picked me up when I got out. The jail was a Wal-mart-sized dorm room, bunk beds as far as the eyes could see, with failed lives sleeping in each one. Whole armies of hollow men lying in stasis. All of us drones. There was nothing to do but not do drugs. I talked to nobody. I just wanted to be higher than God. Rocket past the atmosphere and escape. I sweated so much my paper shoes were soggy.
The drones found Teresa and took her to a foster home. She was gone, forever.
Nothing for me to do now.
They said they never found J.T. But I did! I did! The drones never got to him. When I’m holed up in an abandoned home, huffing bag after bag of nitrous until my insides hurt and my head feeling light, I crack my head against the dry wall from cackling too hard.
Those abandoned boarded-up row-houses.
I pried open the boarded-up doors and boarded-up windows of each house and found the walls destroyed, the wires sticking out like tendons. The insides of each house look war-torn and scorched, as if a suicide bomber exploded in each one. I grabbed mementos. Old toys and coil springs. And J.T., love of my life, hung dead in one of the kitchens, his ankles draped awkwardly to the floor. On a wall, he wrote his last words. YOU WOULDNT LAST A DAY. Beside it was a shitty picture of a stick family in a perfect house by a perfect meadow under a perfect sun surrounded by a perfect rainbow, and I laughed and laughed and laughed.
RICARDO ANGULO was born in New York, lived in New Jersey, and still claims to be Dominican. He currently resides in Tampa, where he studies at the University of South Florida as an undergraduate. He has written numerous short stories and published none until now.