Drone Drone Drone
by Harold Stallworth
Pete spends most of his time in the garage. He solders wires, welds propeller blades, and salvages parts from different junkyards across the city. For weeks he toils, hunched over his father’s workbench, working toward an optimal design.
On the evening before the day of the race, Pete’s mother cooks stir-fry, his favorite, and before digging in his father leads the family in prayer. They join hands, the three of them.
Later, Pete lays in bed staring at the ceiling trying to fall asleep. He can’t stop thinking about his father’s prayer. Strength and courage? Given a choice in the matter, he would’ve preferred that his father ask God for something a bit more practical, like, really good hand-eye coordination.
After placing second, Pete is presented with a giant cardboard check. He shakes the hand of every judge. He poses for pictures that will later appear in the pages of Popular Mechanics. The real check won’t arrive for a while, but Pete figures that his father has already made bets with the money.
Pete is only 16, and he looks his age, baby-faced with tiny ears that struggle to accommodate most low-end headphones. During his first year as a professional drone racer, he found a pair of Bose headphones while digging through the junkyard on Telegraph Road. The cord was frayed at the plug, but after a bit of tinkering they were working as good as new and actually fit well. But when the gangsters came to collect, as they always did, his father offered up the headphones, along with a few other things, as a sign of goodwill. Pete loved those headphones.
It’s at about 4 p.m. Pete hops off the front porch and greets the mailman at the end of the driveway, as he has every day since winning the race. There’s a calm yet sour expression on the mailman’s face. He says he wants to speak to Pete’s father about a bet they’d made on a ball game the week before. The mailman tries to make it seem like just a friendly conversation, but Pete knows trouble when he sees it. He had seen the same look on the faces of the guys who always invited themselves in, and sometimes threatened to break his father’s legs.
“He’s not home right now,” Pete says.
The mailman stands on his tiptoes and looks over Pete’s shoulder, trying to see inside of the house. He sighs. “Well,” he says, “let him know I stopped by.” Before leaving, he gives Pete a stack of letters, mostly bills; the check is there, too.
The line is short because the people with money are all still at work. Pete has his choice of three bank tellers. He chooses the youngest, prettiest and most smiley of the three, operating under the assumption that beauty and youth and especially kindness go hand in hand with naivete.
The check is made out to Pete’s father, but since he and Pete share the same name, it’s made out to him, too. The bank teller smiles through the transaction, unconcerned.
When he returns home from the bank, Pete does a double take as he walks by the couch. “What happened to your eye?”
His father mutters something, and Pete, not catching the words, just nods in agreement. The bruise is distracting. It blots the left side of his father’s face like a big wine stain
That night, after dinner, Pete sneaks inside his parents’ bedroom and then slips the prize money in the front pocket of his father’s church pants. Tomorrow he will begin work on his next drone for the next race. It will be the sleekest and fastest drone that the league has ever seen.
Harold Stallworth lives down the street from the Pentagon. His reporting, reviews and essays have been published by The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Hobart, WAMU 88.5’s Bandwidth, and Passion of the Weiss, among other places. His short stories can be found or are forthcoming in Alexandria Quarterly, Seven Scribes, District Lit, and Politics and Prose’s third annual District Lines fiction anthology about Washington, D.C.