From the story, When Murray Met Helen

In the letter she received from Harry Michaels on the first day of December, he did not overtly disclose to Helen that he was the executor of Murray’s estate. Before she even opened it, she’d come very close to mistakenly throwing it in the recycling pile, as it looked like one of those cheeky junk mail offerings that feigns authenticity by using fake handwriting in the address. But then she remembered the name on the ivory envelope and connected it to the lawyerly-looking man who approached her after the funeral.

It was an invitation for Helen to visit Harry in MIlwaukee, per Murray’s request. The invitation included the remarkable offer of sending a driver all the way to Oshkosh to retrieve her.

“Wouldn’t be necessary,” she replied, as she was already planning a trip into town to see to some work that needed to be done on her house which she was now renting to a young couple from Beloit.

The afternoon before her trip, an arctic front moved in. In the early darkness, before dinner, she went for a swim and was struck by the overwhelming contrast between the bitterly cold, dry air outside and the warm, humid, and chlorine-edged air in the confines of the pool. It made her think of Murray, and what it must have been like leaving the winter-pummeled earth tones of Wisconsin for the brilliance of the tropics, where the fragrance and graces of warm air also carried so much horror on account of the war that took him there.

To Helen’s surprise, it was Harry Michaels himself who met her at her house in northwest Milwaukee to drive her downtown. Odd that a lawyer would run such an errand, she thought. But he was cordial and soft-spoken, a ruddy-faced, middle-age man, efficiently bundled in a black overcoat, green tie and scarf, wearing a dark gray Dobbs hat.

On the way, he asked about her drive, her mom, her house, and the winter in Oshkosh.

But then there was a pause, at least enough of a pause for Helen to fill it with a question of her own.

“So, Mister Michaels, just give it to me straight. What’s going on?”

He smiled and bounced his head back, as if dodging a punch toward his nose.

“Your old neighbor was a remarkable guy,” he said. “And he thought you were special too. So he gave us a list of things to do for you, one of which was to bring you here, for lunch.”

By “here” he meant the Wisconsin Club which was situated in a mansion built in the 19th century by Alexander Mitchell, the owner of the Milwaukee Railroad. A valet parked the car and in short order Helen found herself being greeted by the gently-smiling Renard. The three of them were seated at a table in the Mitchell Dining Room with its chandeliers, plush carpet, red velvet-backed chairs, and its yellow stained-glass panels depicting blooming orchids instead of saints.

It was if Murray had ordered for her. Without even speaking to the wait staff (in their whites they reminded her of the wait staff at the castle in Beauty and the Beast) she was served crab stuffed mushrooms, an impossibly fresh tomato salad, a large bottle of aranciata San Pelligrino, and a lobster that had been flown in from Boston that morning. In fact, Murray had ordered for her. It was quite literally in his will. There were other things he’d bequeathed to her. In time, they would delight and challenge her in ways she could not have expected. But those would come later.

She drove back to Oshkosh that evening, after joining Rick for coffee near his fire station. What a place to be, she thought. Not just leaving Milwaukee on a bitterly cold night, but with so much mixed emotion in her heart.

She well understood that she was not nearly through mourning Murray’s loss. And yet the way the day unfolded–the surreal lunch with Renard and Harry Michaels–it left her feeling as though she were still actively enjoying Murray’s presence, even though he was gone. Then there was her budding romance with Rick. This had its own tender comedy to it and she was keenly aware of the developing chemistry and how it flushed pure joy into some part of every wakeful minute of her days. He was such a godsend, she figured, especially given her past experience with the aching peculiarities of men, or at least of the sort of men who’d heretofore been attracted to her, and she to them.

In this way, she found, one can drive alone down a highway in the dark, experiencing both the loss of a dear friend’s voice and the joy of a new love, and feel as though both were mixing in the tears running down your face.

WWoB slice

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