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Out of Loneliness: Murder & Memoir
The Humble Essayist Press

          Memorial Day, 1962. Bev Waugh, a twenty-four-year-old laundry worker, stepped on the gas, rounded her Chevy around a corner, and rammed into Myron Menzie’s car, smashing its wheels against the curb and crumpling its back fender into the other car’s front wheel well. Menzie, a young Lakota man, gripped its steering wheel, still pushing his boot against the brake. Clinging to him was Gina Lee, his pretty, teenage fiancé and Bev’s lover.

Just minutes before the collision, Myron had sped down the Highway 16 hill into Chamberlain, South Dakota, a small town nestled in the banks of the Missouri River. In the last few months, he had grown used to Bev waiting until he and Gina left the drive-in movie theater or the Rainbow Café then trailing them back to Pukwana, Gina’s little hometown east of Chamberlain; used to her habit of circling the block and blinking the lights when she drove by the two of them parked in front of Gina’s house. He hoped to ditch Bev somewhere to avoid another scene with her. He was tired of her games. But he didn’t fear her. Although Bev was three years older than Myron, her age gave Bev no advantage over his easy masculinity—thick, black hair, dark Lakota skin, broad shoulders, and powerful hands on the steering wheel. Underneath her short hair, western shirt, and the rifle in her car, Bev was just a girl, at least in Myron’s eyes.


          Bev was exhausted. She had spent the day circling Gina’s house. The cardboard skunk swaying from the rear window did not hide the odor of tobacco and motor oil on her fingers wrapped around the steering wheel. She clenched the stick shift with her right hand, pressed the knob into her palm as she thought of the lies Gina told. “I have to wash my hair,” she had said that morning when Bev asked to see her. But she was never home when Bev called.


Bev thought about hunting jackrabbits, tromping through the tall grass on the river bluffs with a rifle over her shoulder. She had even loaded her borrowed gun and leaned it barrel down against the passenger door just in case. But she was too nervous to hunt. Bev leaned over the steering wheel, glassy-eyed yet focused, distracted but determined. Her chest tightened when she pulled closer to Myron’s car and bumped his fender with hers, just to scare him a bit. Or make him pull over so she could talk to Gina.


          Myron pressed the gas pedal to the floor board, stepped on the clutch, and shifted into second gear. He made a quick turn off the highway, into a driveway, and parked behind a cluster of bushes. He listened for the rattle of the muffler on Bev’s car but heard nothing. He looked in the rearview mirror. No sign of her. 


Dusk was falling as Myron pulled back on the highway and drove to Main Street still littered with candy wrappers and crepe paper streamers, remains of the Memorial Day parade. He drove north past the flower shop and the Rainbow Café where high school kids gathered after school for cherry cokes and cake donuts. He continued down Main Street past Peggy’s Dress Shop, City Hall, Casey’s Drug Store, and the Brown Derby Café. Old ranchers lingering after a round of beer at the Silver Dollar


Saloon smoked cigarettes and chatted on street corners. Dogs ran wild, barking and snapping at the heels of other dogs. Boys with basketballs under their arms jogged toward the gym, the long days of pick-up games ahead of them. 


Myron merged onto the truck route, angled south past the Fleet store, the Mussman Hotel, and Swift’s Body Shop before looping back to Highway Sixteen. He made a quick turn left on Sanborn Street, a placid neighborhood of four-square houses with screened porches and bicycles scattered in the grass. The Post Office of red brick and white pilasters sat kitty-corner from the Melcher Law Office. A block away the steeple of the United Church of Christ was a pyramid rising through the treetops. Leaves rich with the promise of spring were butterflies fluttering in the breeze. Potholes, remnants of a particularly brutal winter, peppered the streets.  Myron swerved around them.


          On Sanborn Street, men leaned against cars parked on the front lawns, beers in their hands. The smell of charcoal smoldering on grills rose from backyards. In the houses, mothers shaped hamburger patties, filled bowls with potato salad, and squeezed lemons into water pitchers. They gossiped about high school girls “in trouble” and whispered about men who drove down country roads with women who weren’t their wives. Some speculated about friends who spent their days in bed with “migraines,” coded word for drunk.

          Seeing no sign of Bev, Myron relaxed and fiddled with the radio dial until he found WNAX, the country music station in Yankton, a town downriver. Myron turned up the volume and slipped his fingers under Gina’s skirt massaging the flesh above her knee as he hummed, “Crazy for thinking my love could hold you.” Did Gina squirm at his touch, her breathing growing soft and rapid? Or did she stiffen and hold her breath waiting for him to stop? Was he so focused on the feel of her smooth skin he didn’t see Bev’s vehicle round the corner to ram his car against the curb? The sound of engines groaning, tires grinding against pavement, then silence. And three lives mangled by desire and despair.

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