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Maureen Aitken

The Haunting

Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

When I was 13, my friends and I strolled the lanes of the Michigan State Fair at night, passing the booth workers who called us out to play Bucket Toss and Balloon Darts. Strings of lights lining the booths turned the lanes golden. The grease from hot dogs and French fries drew us closer, but I’d spent my $5 trying to win a white buffalo. It was a lot of money. I had lost it all. As we walked down the lane someone yelled, “Jenny. Jenny!” We all turned, and a man was staring at me.

“That’s not my name,” I said. “Sorry.” His head tilted and confusion came over his face. He still thought I was the Jenny from his past. He was so shocked that I seemed to reject him now.

Two years later, I was at a grocery store. “Elaine,” a man said. I shook my head no. The smile fled from his face and he said, “Apologies.”

Over the years it happened several more times. Someone called out for a person who was not me.

It was the same look, disappointment mixed with hope and something in the eyes that resembled regret. I couldn’t be sure.

In my late 20s, I rushed the aisles for The Flaming Lips concert. Someone yelled, “Jessie? Jessie!”

This man had broad shoulders, and a smirk on his face. He nudged the guy next to him, before yelling, “Jessie, you still miss me?”

He let out a single laugh before walking toward me.

I knew that smirk, I knew that man. “Look, you treated me like shit. Why should I be happy to see you now?”

His mouth opened but nothing came out. I didn’t know if the shock came from seeing Jessie be honest for once, or if it came from me, a stranger who pierced his being, reached in, and freed the stolen part of the girl who loved him once. How his being deflated. How his eyes fell.

Maybe Jenny, Jessie, and Elaine all looked exactly alike. Or maybe we all shared that expression, the same melancholy, the same adoring eyes, ones that implied we would never leave.

We didn’t mean we’d stay for cruelty. When that happened, we said nothing. Our words slipped away first. By the morning, we were long gone. What remained for those men were mere phantoms, walking a golden lane on a summer night, singing a dream song to a white buffalo still perched up high, forever out of reach.

About the writer:
Maureen Aitken’s collection, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, received a Kirkus star, the Foreword Review INDIE Gold Prize, and made the Kirkus Best Indie Books list of 2019. Her stories have been twice nominated for Pushcart Prizes and the Best Microfiction awards. Her stories have been published in The Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Emerge Literary Journal, The Forge, and the international anthology, The Bering Strait and Other Stories.

Image: Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). Oil on canvas. 89.3 x 109.4 inches. 1862. Public domain.

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