PDF

How the Monarchs Thrive


by Steven Gowin


Every summer's full moon, Leeanne Lefleur drifts out of the Fairmont Cemetery towards Milkweed Lane plugging the hole in her forehead with a finger.

When we pulled off onto that same Milkweed track Dad said he'd only be a minute. We'd driven out for a bite. I'd had a cheeseburger, and he'd polished off a couple draughts. Well three. Now he had to pee. 

Understand, I didn't like it. The lunar sky was bright, and this was the exact same spot where Leeanne and Billy Weaver had parked on the murder night. Leeanne had just finished high school, but Billy was older, already 24 and a deputy for his uncle, Sheriff Roger Wright.

At the time, Leeanne was meant to be going with Daryll Keyser. She played bells, and Daryll played tuba in marching band. On the bus home from Tulip Festivals, still in their uniforms, they'd do things to one another in 10-minute turns. Daryll believed in fairness and kept time.

Deputy Billy had met Leeanne in June when he pulled over a bunch of girls for underage drinking. He'd let them all go though because Leeanne was so cute, so perfectly put together. He loved that black hair and red headband. And for her part, Leanne told the girlfriends that that Deputy was just plain boss.

Within a couple of weeks she and Billy had begun meeting out here on the down-low. She knew she'd be breaking up with Daryll when Deputy Billy asked her for that headband to hang from the prowler's rearview mirror. She'd given it to him with a long slow kiss. Nothing more, but word got around.

No surprise when she told the girlfriends that a breakup was the right thing. Everyone said that Daryll's dad, the whole family in fact, practiced nudism, and wasn't Daryll crazy anyway? Why'd he keep all those old broken clock springs and crowns and worthless pocket watches?

Maybe they were right. One time, Mr. Davis had us out practicing for the Tulip Festival in February — freezing cold and way too early. Marched us all over town. Finally Daryll'd had enough, and as we crossed, he threw his tuba right off the river bridge. On impact, it cracked the ice and sank.

By mid July, it seemed like everything was going South for Daryll. He said he wished he'd followed his tuba into the Raccoon River, plunged down below the ice, trapped, freezing, never again to surface. He talked suicide all the time. He reckoned that freezing was the best way to go, gunshot the second.

That night though, firearms won out. Daryll stole his Daddy's .38 from under a stack of American Naturalist magazines. He pulled on some clothes, fired up his Dodge, and sweating, rolled into Milkwood Lane exactly 20 minutes later by the clock.

Once parked, he stepped out into the moonlight and calmly walked in front of the deputy's prowler. When he was sure that Billy and Leeanne could see him, he squared up, took slow aim, pulled gently, and shot Leeanne dead through the windshield. The single round caught her about an inch above the bridge of her nose. 

Daryll then leveled the muzzle to his own mouth but froze. The first time I heard this story, I figured that after the line, Daryll leveled the muzzle... the next would be, and finally sucked lead himself. Instead though, he'd just stood motionless trying to figure out what the hell Leeanne had done.

Billy, in a brand-new lawman's uniform, smart with a bow tie, epaulets, and leg stripes, had come straight from work to pick up Leeanne. Although he'd peed his pants just a little, and it was hard to see, it looked like no single drop of blood had spattered his fine outfit. Still, Leeanne sat dead in the passenger seat, and Daryll seemed about to shoot himself. 

Sheriff Uncle Roger'd never gone over anything like this, so without knowing what else to do, Billy flipped on the headlamps and red rollers. Then, in that ruby strobe, both he and Daryll made out what had happened. Leeanne, always fastidious, before passing out, had poked a finger into her skull to stave the bleeding. Daryll dropped the .38.

Billy struggled out of the car and around to Daryll as fast as he could, but with shaking hands couldn't get the cuffs around Daryll's wrists. Daryll'd had to help him with it, but the two finally managed. After Billy called it in, the boys leaned on the prowler's hood silently waiting for Sheriff Uncle Roger and the ambulance. Big moths bumped into the patrol car's headlights.

In the end, the deputy married Leeanne's sister, Laureene, who he'd met at the trial. They have two daughters. The older is Leeanne and the younger, Lafleur. All the Weaver girls, Laureene included, wear red headbands to keep the bangs off their faces.

Most of Dallas County felt bad for Daryll, so Judge Bishop Thornton ruled him insane and sent him on to the Asylum at Clarinda. Daryll studied jewelry work down there, and when released became a watch maker. He moved to Nome, Alaska where he resides to this day.

Leeanne's grave at the Fairmont Cemetery overlooks the Raccoon River. Thousands and thousands of orange and black butterflies flit around the headstones all summer. When she walks abroad at night though, Leeanne sometimes forgets her wound and carelessly soaks the foliage. 

Dad says that's how the monarchs thrive — the desecrated milk weed. It's the blood, he claims, and now and then a little pee.

Endcap