Wanda was a girl at my school.
We were the Fantastic Four. Me, Brooke, Candance, and Wanda. We were inseparable. We went
to the movies together, ate burgers and sodas together, and took silly pictures together with
Candance’s camera. We never looked at them, you suck 1990s for such cameras, but we did take the pictures.
I wish I would have looked at the pictures. I’d know what Wanda looked like, then.
It was summer. We were on the verge of moving on to high school and leaving behind lame eighth grade. Brooke, Candance and I would hang out in my garden, slurping Ice Shakes and playing around in the shallow pool kept for my baby brother.
And then, Wanda came.
“Maggie, this is Wanda! She’s so amazing, I think you’ll love her. She moved in next door to me just last week. On the verge of becoming the Fantastic Four from the Try Us Trio, eh?”
I thought she was joking. She was introducing me to dead air, the blissful summer heat, or absolutely nothing.
“Stop, Brooke, no time for such jokes”, I remarked before heading into the neighbour’s backyard to steal the watermelons he used to keep out.
Brooke didn’t follow that day.
And then, we became the Fantastic Four. Brooke and Candance would insist that Wanda actually was there, a real, living person. I played their game. I pretended Wanda existed. Why not? They were teaming up to mess with me again. It wasn’t the first time.
They saved a seat for her at the movies whenever we went, and they would buy an extra ice cream for her when we decided we’d love an ice cream in the middle of winter. Rarely, summer. They would tell everyone about Wanda, and no one would rebel their joke. We would play Truth and Dare and give a dare to, well, dead air. But this joke was getting old. We were seniors in high school. This had gone on for four years. Enough was enough. Wanda didn’t exist.
It was summer again, except we had graduated and were going off to college in different states. Our last summer together, me, Brooke and Candance. I would miss them.
When I told them this, they looked at the empty berth beside us, and with hurt expressions on their faces, yelled and shouted and screamed that Wanda was a part of our group, and I wasn’t rightful enough to exclude her.
“Enough is enough, guys! We’ve grown up. I can’t go along with this game anymore! Stop Wanda-ing everything.”
“What are you talking about, Mag? Why would Wanda be a game?”
Boy, they were awesome actors. Dead serious, straight expression. “Because Wanda does not exist! Wanda this, Wanda that. Wanda’s nobody! Guys, just cut it out now. Please.”
They looked shocked, hurt, angry. They looked at Wanda. An empty berth.
“What are you looking at? Wanda? Oh, God, this has to stop now.”
I went over to the empty berth, toppled it, and stamped and crushed the floor beneath me.
“See”, I huffed and panted, kicking the ground. “Wanda does not exist..”
Only when I looked up did I see Brooke and Candance, horrified expressions on their faces, tears streaming from their eyes, and palms shaking with fear.
I kept kicking the ground to prove my point before I tripped on a stone and fell, face-down, onto the ground. I fainted, only to first hear Brooke and Candance’s horrified screams. I saw a blur of tears and heard distant screams, diving into an empty void of nothingness before falling asleep.
When I woke up, I saw my father. I was on a hospital bed, three stitches across my forehead and a lip cut. He told me we were moving away, without any further reason except an unavoidable work situation. I agreed. I was mad at my friends. I was so over with the whole Wanda thing. My friends hadn’t even come to visit me. They watched me as I fainted, and did nothing.
Huh. As if they were friends.
We moved away, and I went to college in the same state after summer was over. I had moved on. Four more years later, I graduated. My single father passed away, and I felt terrible, but, well, life. I got a job, I met my soulmate, and I had two kids.
It wasn’t until I found Candance’s camera while cleaning my attic, that my life changed.
“Hadn’t thought of them in a long time”, I thought, as I wondered how the camera had reached my attic, so many years later. Maybe she had forgotten it at my house those many years ago, and I had just carried it around without knowing in packaging boxes and stuff.
I decided to get the photos developed. I needed closure to that chapter. I needed to see photos, photos we took with each other. And Wanda.
Wanda didn’t exist, and I had to show my friends from high school what a messed-up joke that was. Even if they weren’t my real friends.
I got the photos back a few days later. I sat down on my couch and opened the envelope. The first picture I saw reminded me of how good the old days were. Me pouting, Brooke laughing uncontrollably, and Candance showing off her pretty new dress.
It was a person, next to Candance, although just barely. The side of the photo looked smudged. But there she was, Wanda. And yet I was positive that I hadn’t ever seen this girl before. I looked closer, heart beating.
She had green eyes, and was wearing a cute dress, knee-length and pink. She was smiling, although barely. No. This wasn’t possible.
I threw away the photo, and called Brooke after looking up the Internet for a possible contact. We talked for a little bit, and I told her about the photo and how weird it was, and Brooke didn’t speak for a second before she told me to give her my address. She would call Candance and we would have a dull friend-ish reunion. I didn’t ask her about her silence on the photo- figured she might not have wanted to talk about it.
A month later, they arrived. Brooke and Candance were so grown up. So prettier. So smarter. So mature. But then, all of us had grown up.
“We have something to tell you, Mag,” Brooke said, after my husband and son exited the room after a casual chit chat.
Without waiting for my approval, Candance continued, “You killed Wanda that day, Mag. You toppled her berth, you smashed her head beneath your feet. We don’t know why you did it. Why you wanted to hurt Wanda, or for that matter, why you didn’t ever talk to her, converse, nothing.”
I froze. I knew they were joking. This couldn’t be. My heart was beating quick and quicker.
Because they looked so serious.
“Really?” I tried to convince myself they were still playing. “What did you do, then?”
“We didn’t want you to go to jail, Mag. Even though you killed one of the Fantastic Four. We have to stick up for each other. We buried her. The park beside Candance’s house. A dense forest clearing. It’s okay, Mag. We don’t have to talk about it.”
I thought of the photo. “What did she look like?”
“Green eyes, always wearing a frock. Pink, usually. Don’t you remember?”
No no no no no. I was sweating. Shaking. Terrified. “I NEVER SAW HER! I THOUGHT YOU WERE JOKING ALL THESE YEARS!”
“We told your father too. No one else. We suggested you move away, and pretend this never happened.”
“How is that even possible?”
“I swear I never saw her.”
We didn’t talk for a minute. And then, I spoke.
“Take me to her.”
We were in the forest clearing. Brooke had dug up the earth.
“She always talked about you. How you were so nice, and charming, and wonderful. She did always wish you were kinder to her though, and approved of her existence.”
They both wrenched their noses in disgust and burst into tears and screamed and shouted as they looked down at Wanda.
Me? I laughed, and laughed, and laughed until my eyes tore out and my heart knew no beat, shedding silent tears, looking into an empty grave.
Contains content that may be mildly disturbing for some audiences.