From the story, When Murray Met Helen
Murray Rierson Genault died during his breakfast on a rainy Thursday, in mid-November. He had only recently turned 88. The paramedics found him that afternoon after Glenn, the postman, paused when he heard a repeating phrase of music coming from inside the house. The needle was bumping back from a scratch on an old record: Wynton Kelly and Wes Montgomery’s beautifully melancholic treatment of “Oh, You Crazy Moon.” 1965. When no one answered the door, Glenn, sensing what had happened, called 9-1-1 on his cell phone.
The paramedics found him on the floor, on his side. There was a cleanly cut fried egg on his plate between two pieces of rye toast. The edges of the toast had channeled the egg yolk into a small pile of corned beef hash. A glass of orange juice had fallen, or been knocked, onto the floor. Murray died with his dress shoes and his best green sweater vest on, as if he were planning to go out after breakfast.
Helen was 91 miles away, at her mother’s home in Oshkosh, when the phone rang at 4:11 that afternoon. It was Rick, the young paramedic she’d met when Murray had fallen off the roof months earlier. The two of them were becoming more than friends and one of the small secrets they shared was their plan to surprise Murray on Thanksgiving. She brightened when she heard Rick’s voice, thinking he was about to share a detail for the dinner with Murray, and that this would open the way to a tender and humorous joust over whether to go with jellied or whole cranberries, or whether sage or mushrooms, or both, should go in the stuffing.
When Rick told her about Murray, Helen lost her willingness to stand. She backed into the kitchen wall and slid to the floor, moaning and dissolving into tears. She’d been making the streusel topping for a Dutch apple pie and the mixture was all over both her hands. She rubbed it into her face, so that her grief at Murray’s loss was injected with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. If there had been piles of dirt or ashes on the kitchen floor, she would have rubbed those in as well.
She was just days away from being able to try to undo the shock and deep sadness she’d seen in his eyes when she told him she was leaving her house next door. Delivering that news had been so awful that she’d barely been able to get words out about the why part, about her mother’s failing health.
In the grim days of a darkening autumn that followed she would be left to wonder whether it was it the stroke, or whether it was a broken heart that did him in. Helen being Helen, she quickly blamed herself.
Among the gifts Murray left behind was enough evidence to release Helen of her feelings of guilt. He’d kept a journal. He also ensured that Helen would receive other valuables, even including the recording he was listening to when his end came. He’d told her how much he loved her, and of what she knew of his life, his spirit, his humor, she knew she loved him. Yet, the thing that would surprise her the most is that she was actually only just beginning to get to know him.