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Breakfast with Myrna
"Well of course you couldn't blame whoever did it," she says. A story of betrayal and murder over fried eggs.
I have spent most of my life on the Great Plains, a region full of stories that rarely filter to the outside world. In one of those towns, at one time, I knew a woman named Myrna (not her real name.) She and I had breakfast one morning in a local café and she told me a story I’ll never forget. This is Myrna’s story…
I have asked only if she knows Don Baker.
“Baker?” She peers at me seriously. “Does he have relations in this area?”
I shake my head. No. He’s from Nebraska, near Grand Island.
“Are you sure, dear?”
Yes. Or I think so. Pretty sure.
“It’s only that I knew some Bakers once. They were here in town. Sandra Baker. Sandra and Garreth Baker. I wonder whether he might be related?”
I doubt it. His whole family was up there by Grand Island.
“Well, I didn’t like those Bakers. Or, well, that Sandra. She was an awful woman.”
Myrna spins her fork in her eggs.
“She died, you know. A while later. Probably killed, they said.”
Sandra Baker was? I ask. When did that happen?
“Well of course you couldn’t blame whoever did it.”
Myrna looks around the café. Behind me, the café door chimes open, carrying a draft across the tables. She pulls her coat a little closer.
“You should know what she did to me. Sandra. When I was pregnant, you know. Almost nine months pregnant. I had some trouble with that baby—”
She stops as an ancient couple totters by the table. The woman smiles at Myrna. She reaches out to steady herself on Myrna’s shoulder. “Myrna,” she manages tremulously. Myrna pats her hand and says, “Lorraine, how are you, dear?”
“Oh, you know.” The woman’s eyes are dancing around the room to see who else she might recognize.
“Oh, I do know! Yes, you’re right about that. Oh, Lorraine—” Lorraine focuses back on Myrna. “I saw your boy in the grocery the other day. Your little David. And isn’t he grown up now? My word.” The two women chuckle.
“Yes, yes,” says Lorraine. Two booths away, Lorraine’s husband has settled with some effort into his seat and is glowering at the menu. “Oh yes,” Lorraine murmurs again. A last squeeze to Myrna’s shoulder as she departs.
Myrna looks back to me, then to her food. She picks up her biscuit and nibbles at it.
“Anyway, dear, my baby—that’s right. It all went wrong one night. They took me to the hospital. My poor baby. He was gone.”
You had a miscarriage? I stop eating. That must have been awful, Myrna.
“Oh, it was, honey. They kept me in the hospital for days. And you see, this Sandra Baker—my friend, so she says—she was pregnant too. A couple months behind mine. She came to the hospital with all those kids of hers and my two—my Emily and my little Rusty—she brought them into the room where I was recovering.
“And that horrible woman. She said to me, she’s staring at me in my hospital bed and she said to me, ’It’s for the best, Myrna. Don’t you think? You don’t need another one.’”
She said that?
“She did. I had no idea, of course, what she had been up to while I was in there.”
Myrna reaches up to pat at her hair. I take the moment to nod to the waitress, who pours another cup of coffee. Myrna waves her away and continues.
“I came home from the hospital the next day, you know, and found out Sandra had moved right in with my Big Rusty while I was gone. She had moved all my things, she—my furniture, everything in the house was different. I told her to leave. I told her right away. But I didn’t want to believe that he’d been with her, of course.
“She said to me that she was taking care of my kids. That someone had to. And she said I should be grateful. She’d made my house better. Well, no one had ever spoken to me like that. And didn’t she have a husband in Vinita she should be worried about? Of course—” Myrna quiets. “Hmm, I should tell you about Garreth.”
I begin to butter a piece of toast. Garreth?
“It was months earlier, you see. I was just a couple months pregnant. You couldn’t even tell yet. And Sandra and Garreth came out to the country with their kids to visit Big Rusty and me, little Emily and Rusty. We had a visit, just of an afternoon, and then they were leaving.
“He was driving this big truck and it had a long trailer on the back. Garreth didn’t really know how to handle the truck yet. It was new. And those big trucks, you just can’t see anything. The poor man.”
Myrna has been fidgeting with her fingers, rubbing one fingernail and then the next. She stops. Then lifts her fork. Then she sets it down again.
“It was the end of the afternoon. Garreth, he’d brought the big truck up to the door and collected Sandra and the little ones. They were all in the truck and we had our Emily and Rusty, little Rusty, out to wave goodbye.” Myrna shakes her head. “Emily was so tiny. He never could have seen her. When he pulled away, she ran out into the road. Out under the back wheel and he drove her right over. Just—right over her. That big rear wheel.”
“I was just standing there, holding to little Rusty so he wouldn’t run out after her. I threw him—” She stops and breathes in sharply. “I threw him to the side and ran to my little girl. She was just lying there and the truck was speeding off. Of course, Garreth, he hadn’t seen what he’d done. I scooped her up and I ran after him. I yelled and ran after him until, finally, he saw me and he stopped the truck.
“He took us right to the hospital. I thought—I was sure my Emily was dead. All the nurses said she should have died. It was a miracle, they said. She didn’t wake up for two days. But it was a miracle from God, you know. That’s what they all said.”
I see that Myrna’s hand is shaking against the table. So she was alright?
“Poor Garreth, though. That poor man. It wasn’t really his fault, but he took it hard. He took it so hard. He went out of his mind, after a while. The guilt. And maybe there were other things. But his mind just ruined him. They said he was insane. The police came and took him to Vinita. You know Vinita?”
The mental hospital?
“After that he lived out there in Vinita. And then Sandra, his wife, Sandra Baker—that was when she started hanging real close to my Big Rusty.”
Myrna considers the plate in front of her. “Do you know, I haven’t even finished my eggs?” She laughs lightly and takes a bite.
My plate, pushed to the edge of the table, is scooped up onto the waitress’ wide, brown tray. A nod, another grudging warm-up of my coffee, and then Myrna and I are alone again. What happened to Sandra, Myrna? How did she die?
“You know, I have no idea. I didn’t see her again after—well, I should tell you.
“It was just a couple months after my miscarriage. One morning–it was just after the new year–Big Rusty came into the living room and he threw down the newspaper in front of me. Sandra, she’d had the first baby of the new year—you know, in the county, like? It was the New Year's baby. You know?”
“Rusty said to me, ‘Now, that’s a handsome baby, isn’t it?’ Myrna mimics a hearty, booming voice. “‘Don’t you think that baby looks like anybody, Myrna? Eh? It’s a handsome baby, isn’t it?’”
Then she speaks softly. “It did look like somebody. It truly did. That little baby looked just like my little Rusty had, just like his Daddy. He actually said to me, Rusty, he flat out said, ‘Yep, that’s my baby.’ He bragged about it. That—” Myrna’s voice breaks.
“I finally kicked him out after that. That was the last time. I threw him clean out. And I told Sandra to never, ever come near me or my kids again. I said she’d regret it if she did, and you know she believed me. I was so mad. Finally, I was just so mad.
“Rusty left town. He went out West somewhere. I don’t know where he went. He never came back. Not even when little Rusty—when his own boy died. What does that tell you? He didn’t come. He called me once to ask for money. But he never came back.
“And she left town too. Not with him. She went somewhere. Ended up just a while south, in Texas.”
Myrna glances down at her lap, thoughtful. Then she peers back over her shoulder, scanning the half-empty café.
Then she died?
She turns back to me.
Sandra? She died?
“It was two years later. I heard they’d found her. She was face down in a stream somewhere. Just a little stream down there somewhere in Texas.
“No one could die in so little water, people said. It was just a little creek in the country. They said no one could drown there by accident.”
Myrna is looking down at her plate. She takes a bite of her cold eggs and then sets down the fork.
“The funny thing, too. She was still wearing all her jewelry. Someone told me there was foul play, for sure. But then, you know, they never caught anyone for it.”
She pauses. “I guess I don’t know how hard they looked.”
Myrna pulls her coat tighter. She glances across the table at my empty coffee cup. “You need more coffee? I could—” She begins to look for the waitress. I shake my head and she settles back into the booth.
“Of course, she had all those kids. Sandra did. I don’t know where those kids were at that time. But how could they find a killer back then? This was over forty years ago. Not when she was just some woman in a stream.
“She was just a stranger down there in Texas. You know, she didn’t have any people. And really–” Myrna smiles to herself. “The way she was. She was going to get killed sometime.”
Tonya Audyn Morton is the publisher of Juke.
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