From the story, When Murray Met Helen

When Murray was recovering from his fall off the roof the previous June he sought Renard’s advice on what to do with the four wooden crates he kept in his basement. They were each the size of a long piano bench, pine boards with maple strapping. Three had been nailed shut, and one was open to collect the remainder of the papers, recordings, momentos and artifacts that Murray would be selecting to preserve.

Murray had put off the discussion for years, inasmuch as the whole point of it was to decide, finally, who would inherit this unusual collection once he was gone. He was still enjoying life too much to squarely concede to his eventual demise, but the fall from the roof, the stay in the hospital, and what he sensed as the remorseless pull of gravity and time had finally focused his mind.

He invited Renard over on a Sunday afternoon and the two of them watched a Brewers game on the tube while drinking the recently-improved Schlitz and absorbing ample doses of an Irish stew featuring walnut-sized chunks of potato, pearl onions, carrots, and browned mutton, all bathed in a Guinness-based broth that played bagpipes to the taste buds.

The Brewers had loaded the bases in the top of the eighth, with two outs, down by a run against the Padres, when Murray announced that he was having trouble deciding what to do with his collection.

“Yeah,” Renard said, as a lazy fly ball was about to end the inning. “I wondered about that. I’m not getting any younger either.”

And in the curious way that men can be at times, this was all that was said.

They both knew what was in the boxes and, by then, so too did Harry Michaels. It was a poignant and epic capsule of the American century, or at least one warrior’s path through it, concentrated in all its brass and contradictions. Still, it wasn’t the kind of thing you could give to a museum. It was too personal, too beautiful on some levels, too goddamn painful on others.

It was the sort of compilation that you could only trust to a person who was strong enough to take custody of it. Someone who’d proven himself.

Or herself.

Someone like Helen.

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Header image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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