When Greta vanished that night, she did so inside a glass of red wine.
I was with her at the time, alongside many of Greta’s other friends. Greta often held small gatherings and parties at her house, and that Friday night we had all congregated at Greta’s house as the sun went down.
There was Samantha, who only ate food with her pinky finger raised towards the sky. And then there was Zara, who didn’t ever eat much at all and yet no one seemed invested enough in her friendship to ever say anything to her about it. Whether she was wanting people to notice or not, I’m still not sure.
There were a few others who I didn’t know, and from the little attention that Greta gave them, I gathered that there probably wasn’t much to know about them.
None of us were surprised that night when Greta glanced down into her glass — filled almost to the brim with expensive red wine — and was swallowed right up inside of the liquid. She was delightfully odd like that. The girl was a collection of limbs that wove in and out of our lives. One minute, she’d be dancing beside you to no music. And then she’d be gone. Poof. Out the door and across the road and into someone else’s evening of mischief. Sometimes she’d say to me I’m going to love you and leave you before rushing off. Sometimes she’d say nothing at all.
Greta was seated at the time, with her glass resting atop a chipped wooden table. I shudder to think what would’ve occurred if Greta happened to be standing when she vanished. That glass of red wine would’ve dropped to the ground and poor Greta would have soaked herself right into her mother’s carpet.
The glass shook a little bit on the table, but otherwise the entire spectacle went rather smoothly. And if I hadn’t seen it happen, we’d probably all still be wondering where on earth Greta got to. She was fluid like that — no pun intended.
There were only a handful of us left at the party at this point, and since I’d known Greta the longest, it was decided unanimously by the others that I would be the one to hold on to her. Just until we could figure out what to do.
“No drinking allowed,” Shannon said, and then she trotted back through the house and left me sitting there.
For the briefest of moments, I thought about resting my lips on the edge of the glass and tipping it up ever so slightly. Would that mean Greta and I were kissing? What part of her would I be touching? I wasn’t even sure she was still alive in there, but nevertheless, I clutched her to my chest and carried her home with me. I clung to her like a child does to a teddy bear — scared of dropping it and terrified someone might take it away.
Greta and I lived next door to each other. We always have. There was a big old oak tree in her backyard and the plump branches had grown so tall and so wide that they were now hanging out over the top of the fence and into our yard. You could see Greta’s house from our kitchen, and there has been many a night when I’ve plonked myself down on one of our kitchen stools and glanced across the black night and into that place. But she was never there. Not when you wanted her to be, anyway. She comes and goes, our Greta.
When I got home and walked through the side door, my brother Ben was stumbling around in the kitchen muttering something incoherent.
“Hey,” I said.
He turned around at the sound of my voice. “Oh hey. I’m putting a pizza in the oven. Want some?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
I rested Greta on the kitchen table and sat down. It felt weird to have her here with me and know that she wasn’t able to up and leave me at any moment. Because of her transformation, she was now stuck with me. She would go wherever I would go. I sensed some sort of weird power in me. Happiness.
“You still drinking?” Ben said.
“No. That’s just a friend.”
He ignored my comment, and then took some juice from the fridge and drank the rest of it straight from the carton. “How was the party?” he said.
“It was okay.”
“Who went?” he said.
“The usual. Shannon, Zara, Greta. A new group of randoms.”
“How was Greta tonight?” he said, eyebrows raising. He swivelled around and peered out the window into the darkness.
“She’s fine. Her usual self,” I said.
“I can’t see her,” he said.
“She must’ve slipped into her bedroom when you weren’t paying attention,” I replied.
In fourth grade, Greta grasped my hand and led me to that big old oak tree in her backyard. She told me that she wanted her first kiss to be with a friend. With me. And before I’d known what was happening, she had pecked me on the lips and then gone twirling around in the long grass, cackling and cackling like her throat was broken. Finally, she had laid down on the grass and spread out her arms and legs like a starfish.
“We dated you know,” Ben said.
I rolled my eyes. I did know. He mentioned it a lot. It was his pride and glory, dating Greta. The wonderful Greta, he often called her. Their fling wasn’t long, just the first few months of high school. And neither of them really ended it. Greta just stopped talking to him and then Ben was too infatuated with her to try and convince her to stay with him.
“I know,” I said. Silence ensued for a few moments, and I was sure that we were both thinking about the same thing. Wonderful Greta.
A long while ago, I got embarrassed that I was looking over at Greta’s house all the time. I could never even see her — she was never home. And sometimes I would glance across and catch her family members in a moment that was not mine to see. Her brother often entertained girls in his room with his blinds open and the lights on. Her parents liked to argue in the living room, with one of them always reaching for the television remote and turning up the volume to cover their screams. I could never hear what they were saying, but their baring teeth and reddened faces gave their anger away.
It was never her family members who I was looking for in that house, and I did try to stop. But I found it hard. It was like they were my family too. It was like I was the daughter they didn’t really have. I was always home. Greta wasn’t. I could’ve slotted in perfectly in that house.
“Do you reckon you’ll stay friends?” Ben asked. “You know, after school ends this year?”
“Of course,” I said, without the slightest hint of doubt.
JESSICA SEABORN lives in Sydney and works in book publishing. She is the co-creator of The Regal Fox, a website showcasing fiction and non-fiction from writers all over the world. She has been published in Daily Life, Feminartsy and Milk Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @Jessica_Seaborn
Image: Aline Ponce