I saw a ghost one night, years ago, and the memory of it has haunted me since.
It was around midnight or so, in late autumn, at one of those big rest areas off the Maine Turnpike. There was a woman standing by the big glass window, looking out. Even though it was late, that particular rest area is always pretty busy, but she was standing there, alone, a still figure in a pool of quiet amid the louder river of people, and no one seemed to see her but me.
She wore a black chiffon party dress, patterned with fern green flowers and emerald beads that glittered slightly from the fluorescent lights overhead. In one hand she held a pair black high heels dangling loosely from her fingertips, the strap to one clearly broken. On her feet she wore a well-worn pair of brown hiking boots, and over her fancy dress she wore a faded, blue flannel shirt that was somewhat too big for her. Something about the way she wore it made it clear that it had never belonged to anyone else, instead of something given to her by someone else to keep her warm.
Her hair was long and dark, and hung loose down her back, though it looked like it had been pinned up not long before. At first glance, she looked young – maybe 22 or so – but was more likely past 30. She had one of those faces that are hard to place ages to. Not ageless, per se, but more like Time wasn’t quite sure where she fit, if you know what I mean?
She seemed to be both gazing at her reflection, lost in thought and unaware of the discordance of her surroundings, and looking out into the darkness, past the parking lot lights, at some distant thing only she could see. Her expression was a strange blend of emotions – sorrow, hope, resignation, determination – all at once. It was like she was looking at her past and future at the same time and making up her mind about something. It was a look to break your heart, because you knew there was a deep hurt behind it that hadn’t yet started to heal.
After a moment, she sighed, turned, and walked out, pausing on the concrete landing just outside the glass doors of the lobby. As at the window, no one seemed to notice her as she passed them, or they, her. She looked thoughtfully at the broken shoes in her hand for a moment, as if unsure of something, then placed them on top of the rubbish bin. She stepped onto the pavement and walked out in the darkness beyond the lamplight, the handkerchief hem of her skirt fluttering in the chill autumn breeze and wind from the nearby turnpike. Another wandering ghost resting for a moment in the liminal space of a rest stop in the middle of the night before continuing on down the road.