"American Drone Pilot," by Zach Lisabeth

Zach Lisabeth

Zach Lisabeth

Zach Lisabeth is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Writers Workshop at UCSD and a current MFA candidate at Iowa State University where he teaches composition and rhetoric. He is a former media strategist and the current managing editor of Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Defenestration, Liquid ImaginationFreeze Frame FictionFantasy Scroll MagazineMirror Dance, Pantheon Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal and others.

American Drone Pilot

Brown hair that his father cuts until, eventually, he cuts it himself. Heterochromatin: one eye green like kelp on a beach, the other one blue like the gulf waves that dropped the kelp. Good at Halo, Halo 2 and Halo 3. Born January 1987 in Oakland, Nebraska, a town of only 1,120 persons, after twelve hours of labor that leaves his teenage mother with an episiotomy scar and an affinity for pills. Has a father who never fucks his mother the same as he did when they were young. Thinks his mother is still young. Moves to Corpus Christie. Learns to ride a bike. Watches PBS on a twelve-inch black and white with coat hanger rabbit ears and slowly learns to count. Plays baseball well enough that he gets to go to State, might even play in college, until a groin tear sidelines him in the third inning of his first game on the varsity team. Watches from the dugout as the team loses 12-3. Doesn’t play as well or as much next year and doesn’t do so well in school neither. Does well enough to pass. Walks across the stage at graduation to shake clammy palms with a principal in an ill-fitting suit. Sees the principal tugging pleated pants too narrow along the inseam and high around the ankle. Wonders if the people fanned out across the floor in rented plastic seats can count the rolls in the principal’s bunched up socks. Hears his name pronounced imperfectly from a page. Gets to keep the maroon cap and the gilded tassel that says zero-five, but loses both when his dad sells the house and excavates the attic, discarding baby clothes, polaroid photos and other broken things. Has a phase in fourth grade where he’ll only eat turkey and cheese on wonder bread with yellow mustard, a little, not too much. Has a mother who makes it for him every day. Likes it when she draws happy faces with the yellow mustard, just a little, not too much. Decides he doesn’t like turkey sandwiches anymore. Never has any siblings. Writes a letter to Santa in grape crayon asking for a baby brother in his stocking. Gets a new wooden bat like the pros use instead. Breaks his father’s windshield with the bat, but on accident. Finds a switch in the woods and gives it to his father. Picks something not too thick, but not too thin, neither. Picks a switch that is just right. Cries when his father reaches inside his denim waistline and tears down his Fruit of The Loom underpants in one handful with his elastic-waist jeans. Stops crying and sobs after twenty lashes. Has to stay home from school for a week while the three inch-long lacerations on the back of his scrotum scab over and heal. Doesn’t play ball in the driveway anymore. Joins Cub Scouts because Freddy Riley’s joining Cub Scouts and Freddy Riley is his best friend. Learns to use an iron so he can keep his uniform pressed. Makes a tent in his front yard from a bungee and a tarp and stays up late with Freddy thumbing through a used Scout’s Handbook and plotting all the merit badges the two of them will earn. Shivers because even though it’s Texas it’s still damn cold in the middle of the night and he’s not exactly used to sleeping outdoors. Sells candy bars from his bike basket so he can go to Jamboree. Earns $126.40, which is $13.60 less than he needs. Gets the rest from his mom because she says it’s the effort that counts. Cries when $40.00 disappears from a shoebox under his bed. Hides under his covers and sings Garth Brooks while his parents fight. Smiles when $40.00 mysteriously reappears the next day. Rides next to Freddy on the bus up to Jamboree and sleeps through most of Oklahoma. Doesn’t like the way Scout Master Samuels looks at him during mess. Doesn’t like being followed to the can. Doesn’t like the way Scout Master Samuels squeezes his prick and shows him his own which looks thin and hairy like an earthworm caught in a wren’s nest. Doesn’t matriculate to Boy Scouts. Doesn’t stay friends with Freddy anymore, neither. Gathers wildflowers from the neighborhood and presses their purple, pink and azure petals between sheets of construction paper with Elmer’s glue. Gives them to his mom when she gets sick. Lies next to her in bed and watches boring daytime TV. Gets a valentine made from foil and doily and written in perfect script from a girl who sits three seats behind him in sixth grade class. Wants to thank her, but his friends say she’s fat. Rips up the valentine and leaves it on her desk. Never gets another valentine in class. Stops telling his mother how he’s feeling at the end of the day. Answers normal or fine when she asks. Agrees to give the eulogy at her funeral. Doesn’t have the nerve to actually get up and speak. Visits her footstone once to show off his admission letter to school. 

One eye green like moss on a log, the other one blue like his balls after church when Jenny Franklin sticks her tongue in his mouth and rubs the head of his prick through his slacks. Gets to touch the outer foothills of her vagina. Tries to slip a finger in but can’t get past the labia majora. Applies to college on the Air Force dime. Doesn’t take a King James Bible to school. Finds out his roommate’s Jewish and picks up a copy at the campus store. Drinks often and angrily. Thinks pot is for Yanks. Fractures his kneecap jumping off the back of a homecoming float on a dare that was issued in the hearing of six sorority seniors, each one with ass cheeks peeking out from her lavender Kappa shorts. Doesn’t like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hasn’t ever seen a play. Breaks a beer bottle over a gay guy’s face for making eyes at him across a crowded bar. Apologizes in the office of campus security. Wants to puke at the sight of the angry black railroad of stitches seething in the gay guy’s face. Begs the guards not to turn him into ROTC. Gets to keep his scholarship. Stops drinking, but not entirely. Starts praying, but not entirely. Attends a Blackalicious concert at the student union with a girl. Has to admit that hip-hop is pretty good. Looks forward to yelling hoo-ah once he graduates and gets his stripes. Drops his jaw in disbelief when his bunkmate at flight school explains that’s something the Army does. Deploys nine times in five years. Likes bowling. Buys his own ball. Loses it two weeks later in an ill-advised wager with a ringer skulking the lanes. Feels his first naked breast under the baseball bleachers the summer before eighth grade. Gets his first blowjob a year later in the exact same place. Feels guilty that she gags on then swallows all his sticky come. Doesn’t have sex for real until he’s almost twenty-two when he meets a lady in her thirties at a bar outside Fort Bragg who takes him back to her trailer and makes him take her from behind. Stares at a faded and stretch-marked tattoo that looks like crooked antlers crowning her ass. Smells the cigarette butts moldering in the ashtray by her bed. Never can remember her name and doubts she remembers his, either. Helps his mother paint his sippy cup with glitter and puffy paint. Eats Cheetos. Likes cola. Huffs whippets from a black man’s balloon outside a concert hall in the Bowery. Gets picked up on the streets of Jackson, Texas, drunk and stammering at a parcel in the street. Calls his dad to pick him up from the sheriff’s drunk tank. Rides home in the front seat of his father’s Impala, staring daggers at the broken radio that hasn’t caught a signal since ’98. Never speaks of it again. Drops his glass of virgin punch at a Fourth of July party in Austin when the fireworks go crack crack crack. Hears the people mumbling. Cuts his fingers scrambling to sweep up the shards. Runs to the bathroom to wash out his cut and sees his reflection, sweating, panicked and weak. Wraps his hand in a poultice of two-ply and surgical tape. Tells everyone who will listen he’s such a klutz.

One eye green like the threads of sick dangling off his chin when he scents the skin and hair and other people’s eyes burning beneath the Bagdad sun, the other one blue like the air fresheners in the camp latrines aspirating cerulean gas to mask the stench of the day’s egestion. Discovers Alan Ginsburg in a required English class. Orders a used copy of Howl online and never sells it back. Wants to take an English elective, but the government refuses to pay. Takes a math class instead. Skips half the lectures. Pulls a gentleman’s C. Always cuts his nails on Sunday. Drinks grape juice except some days when he’d rather have an orange soda. Loses his train of thought when he’s walking through the quad and imagines a life as a rancher on a bit of land up in Alaska that he purchases at auction for less than two cents on the dollar. Imagines having a wife. Imagines sex a lot, but never with her. Imagines sex with faceless collages pieced together from a zillion free clips of internet porn. Never ventures back behind a pay wall. Has mediocre credit. Plans a speech for his wedding paying homage to his dead mom. Picks out names for a half dozen hypothetical children. Picks fights with students of color in every political science seminar. Likes elections. Never votes. Lives in the same dorm with a different roommate for all four years. Doesn’t backpack through Europe. Doesn’t take a year off. Spends hours raking sand with a plastic beach toy, while his mother looks on directing him from spot to spot. Tuckers himself out fighting against the waves and falls asleep in her arms on the short walk back to the car. Dreams that her heart and the waves beat as one. Learns to drive stick on his father’s rusted Impala. Takes the sideview off a parked car on his second time out. Wants to drive away but his father won’t let him. Leaves a note that says sorry and call me although the owner never calls. Thinks his father will never let him back behind the wheel. Goes out driving again the very next day. Grows slower than the other boys then catches up in tenth grade. Promises he’ll show his friends where daddy keeps his gun. Hates broccoli and cauliflower and other cruciferous greens. Keeps a sketchpad under his mattress and draws in it secretly with a ballpoint pen. Chews spearmint gum in the morning while he runs. Opens two accounts with the local credit union at the base. Gets a drink with Jenny Franklin on leave in Texas between tours three and four. Bends a bronze bow worth of whiskey. Thumbs the cellulite on her thighs. Looks at wrinkled photos of her three blonde kids, zero, two and five. Likes the way her milky breasts bounce against the crest of her postnatal pooch. Doesn’t fuck her. Gets her address. Sends her letters from Bagram Air Force Base and never gets one in return. Wishes he paid for their drinks. Tears up the response to his transfer request that says transfer request denied. Wants to work a carrier in the eastern pacific. Wants to visit Asia at some point before he dies. Doesn’t realize that Afghanistan is part of Asia. Thinks the only two colors in Kabul are green and brown. Joins an arm wrestling league in an expat bar that serves drinks and prostitutes forbidden by the law. Wins a couple matches. Loses many more. Learns to fly the new Predator UAV. Gets a commendation from the embassy. Pins it on his wall. Rides a golf cart to a hummer to a chopper to a tent. 

One eye green on the sensor array, on the crosshairs, on the screen, the other one blue like a freezer-packed corpse wrapped in stars and bars in a pine box on an airplane home. Pretty good at war games. Pretty good at guns. Benches 250. Weighs a cool 210. Grips the flight stick, firm in his palm like the erection in his lap. Bites his lip like he’s about to come. Hears the target’s painted. Squeezes, never pulls, like he’s handling Jenny’s stone fruit breasts not yet ripened on the tree. Fire. Fire. Fire. Puts his pants on left leg first. Keeps his boots dry and always takes care of his feet. Steals mail from his buddies at the base during basic. Flosses once a week. Feeds pigeons in the park scraps of ciabatta from his lunch. Heckles trannies outside Dallas bars. Jerks off onto a picture of his superior’s wife. Smokes mentholated Lucky Strikes. Never learns how to scramble an egg. Target’s painted. Fire. Fire. Fire. Likes cheddar, but loathes swiss. Hopes the bloody cyst clogging his asshole isn’t cancer. Looks up at the Kandahar sky and counts stars, wonders if they ever see it coming. 

Sleeps pretty well, considering.