Mom won a year’s supply of Dr. Pepper. She earned it. After drinking hundreds of liters she managed to save every cap, turned them in to the address on the label, and won. I came home from school and she was sitting at the kitchen table, blinking at a creased letter in her hands, her mouth a tiny bow of surprise. “I’ve never won a damn thing in my life, Petey.” She only called me Petey if she was happy. Petey was my name between the ages of two and twelve, back when I still ate her thumb printed PB&J sandwiches. We watched Bugs Bunny together and snorted out our laughs.
Two weeks later the kitchen was filled with empty soda bottles. They consumed the kitchen table, the countertops, and the dog’s water bowl. It had been a week since I had seen Dinty, our dotted terrier. The refrigerator door wouldn’t shut. The bottles had taken over and mom and I couldn’t keep up with disposing of them. The recycling truck only came once a week. They put a warning note on the big purple bin telling us that we were over our allotted amount. Mom wasn’t sure what the allotted amount was. She didn’t know what allotted meant either, so I had to explain it to her.
I was already sick of the taste of soda, but mom refused to stop drinking. She told me if she stopped they would just send more to make up for the fact that she wasn’t drinking enough. I imagined my mom on an assembly line in a soda factory, grabbing each bottle’s neck as it sped by and gulping down the fizzing brown liquid. The conveyer belt would pick up speed. Soda bottles would smear past her as she grabbed for each one, her hands squeezing air like lemons. He could see Lucille Ball in the background imitating his mom and a laugh track would erupt. Lucille’s mouth would collapse into a pouty vermeil frown.
But the delivery man kept coming, like clockwork, every Friday at 2 pm. There was never enough time to answer the door so he started piling up the boxes of soda like ancient man-made statues. One day I saw a British Columbian Totem Pole peeking in, leering at me through the hallway window. I heard my mom call out from somewhere in the back study, but I couldn’t be sure. I think she was asking for her monkey slippers.
The bottles reproduced their way into the living room. Their young came in the form of one liter bottles, flopping and bouncing on the carpet. They formed small piles and helped each other climb on to the couch. One got savvy and learned how to operate the TV remote. Their favorite show was “Bonanza.” They would bump against each other like they were clapping whenever Hoss made a joke.
The bottles and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring had filled the entire house. They were like overpopulated bird life on a minikin island: herding together in patchy groups and making guttural plastic noises with their capless tops. They had popped their caps off two weeks prior like a rite of passage, puffing out their hollowed bodies in a show of bravado.
One month after winning, mom disappeared. I could barely make it out of my room by then. The house started to smell like the time I left Sugar Daddies in the back seat of mom’s Chevy. By the time we noticed, they had melted together like abstract art-decaying caramel weeping in the sun’s slanted grin. There was a dispute between Diet and Regular. They didn’t like how their labels were different colors. The bottles started to collapse on each other, swaying and twitching as they squared off, the unchoreographed plastic version of West Side Story. I managed to escape out the bathroom window, imagining I was a jet because “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way” just as the bottles began their uprising. I crash landed on my knees and palms, dog paddled in the dirt until I managed to stand and run. I heard my mom scream as the sound of plastic kabooms ruptured the air, like ducks shattering in the sky.
Hillary Leftwich is a native of Colorado and currently lives in Denver with her son. She is co-founder of Denver Shitty Writers, a local writing group, and is also a fiction editor for The Conium Review. In her day jobs, she has worked as a private investigator, maid, and pinup model. Her writing appeared recently in NANO Fiction and her flash fiction story, “Free Lunch,” is forthcoming in Progenitor and was also nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Follow her on Twitter at @hillaryleftwich.