By Michael Steuben, Shoulders

By Jason Heller
Published Issue 003, March 2014

It was the kind of summer that sent dust swirling up in the dry sky, stinging throats and gluing tongues to roofs of mouths. The kind of summer with nothing left to do but ride bikes until we couldn’t ride bikes anymore. When we couldn’t ride bikes anymore, we stopped.

We went to the 7-Eleven soda fountain and made suicides.

It was Jimmy who first figured out that two long shots of Mountain Dew—itself an eldritch elixir—followed by three quick squirts of Fresca formed a broth of oblivion when suspended in a neutral base of Diet Mr. Pibb. The exact ratios of the remaining flavors eludes me. What I remember is that it foamed softly over the top of the Super Big Gulp cup (no larger or smaller would do), like a love potion in a mad scientist movie.

“You sure this’ll work?” Tony said, his eyebrow arched beneath crooked brown bangs.

Jimmy grinned, his lip curled to expose a missing incisor. It made him look feral. “Just ask Scott. He saw it.”

I shrugged. “Sure. What Jimmy said.” I didn’t like talking, even when my tongue wasn’t shriveled and stuck to the roof of my mouth from riding bikes while panting in the arid prairie air. I didn’t care much about Jimmy’s soda fountain experiments. I just wanted something fizzing and sweet to wet the rasp in my esophagus.

“Here,” Jimmy said, thrusting his suicide at me.

Tony’s eyes widened.

I grabbed the cup from Jimmy’s grip, sloshing a bit of the dry-ice fog onto the sticky convenience store tile.

Jimmy said the suicide made you forget. Forgetting was something I had a hard time doing. I remembered too much. What dad did. What mom didn’t do. What people in their small town said about my family. And the things they didn’t say that spoke louder than what they did say.

But most of all he wished he could forget Amelia. His big sister. Red-haired, wicked, his champion. Was she even still his big sister? He was thirteen now, the same age she’d been when she found a way to never get any older.

Before I knew what I was doing I’d set the lip of the Super Big Gulp cup against my lips, sweet as a kiss. I titled it back. It tastes like everything and nothing, numbing my tongue as it slid down my throat like a knife swallower’s knife.

I drank.


It was I think a week later that we went back to the 7-Eleven and Jimmy made another suicide. This time it tasted different. It was as if the alchemy of cloying syrup and soda water had been altered, as if the machine that dispensed them had become testy, like a peeved cow with soured milk.

That wasn’t all that was different, though. The Super Big Gulp cup wasn’t so large in my hands. I didn’t even need two hands anymore. And Jimmy and Tony, they looked different. Their heads were longer somehow, with more bone poking through their cheeks. Tony even had a hint of dark hair on his upper lip to match his bangs, which now covered half his face. I felt the same way, only with words. Mine were bigger somehow. Longer.

“Slow down, Scott,” Jimmy said with a laugh, his voice deeper than before. “Don’t hog it all.”

I grimaced sheepishly. “Sorry.” I handed the cup back to him.The 7-Eleven grew quiet. The only sound was the ghostly echo of the electric bell that tinkled when someone came in. That and the ambient hum of the air conditioner. The draft caressed my bare neck, prickling my skin.

Jimmy looked at Tony. Tony looked at Jimmy. “Here,” one of them said to me. It’s difficult to recall which. They might have even been the same boy. “You take it. It’s… it’s that day again, isn’t it? You need it. Go ahead.”

I squinted in concentration, trying to figure out what they meant. Then it hit me. Amelia’s birthday. It was today. She would have been… She could have been…

I shook my head, trying to dislodge the membrane of cobwebs that had suddenly blossomed there. My mouth grew sticky with a sour mucous that only Jimmy’s potion could quench. I held the suicide to my lips and tipped it back again. And again. And again.