From the story, When Murray met Helen

Murray was a night owl. Still undecided between Leno and Letterman, and still feeling deeply abandoned by Johnny and Ed, he stayed up late, flipping the channels back and forth to see if something, anything, would make him laugh.

On some nights when neither of the network jesters interested him he would wander up the dial into QVC, and Sci-Fi, and History, and Discovery. But it always seemed like a search for crumbs in an empty kitchen at that hour, and as the emptiness mounted he’d become aware of his self-inflicted disappointment. And then he’d just turn the damn thing off and read until 2 a.m. or so. He’d already consumed all eleven volumes of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, and now he was reading it all again, only backwards in time, hoping to get to the beginning of human events before he died.

Tonight he was marching his eyes through the Morals and Manners chapter, in Vol. 9, The Age of Voltaire, and learning, for at least the second time, how “music in France had declined since Lully had outdone Moliére in amusing the Great King” because the new music in France lacked “the same madness” that made Italy forget its political subjection. On this reading it was enough to give him pause to think of how grateful he was that for all the disappointments and heartbreaks he’d applied medicinal quantities of music to, “political subjection” had not been one of them.

He’d already decided that, when he passed, he’d bequeath the whole set of books, complete with his own penciled annotations, to Helen. But the immediate question was how could he re-pay her for taking him to the Brewers game.

It would have to be something really nice. But this was terra incognita, as he’d never before been taken to a ball game by a dame. Just what would the gift for that be? It was a real head scratcher, but the answer came to him the next day when he was chatting with Helen through the fence while she was pulling the very last of her dandelions.

An ice storm had shattered her beloved Japanese maple the week before Christmas and in her grief, she’d left the spot unfilled except for a couple bags of steer manure.

Now all he needed was an opportunity. It came a couple weeks later when she asked him to apply his “magic” and some water to her tomatoes while she visited her mom in Oshkosh for a few days. When Helen returned she wandered back to inspect her vegetables and discovered in the once bare spot that a new Japanese maple had been planted. It was six-feet high, with a silver bow on it, to which was affixed a card in a clear plastic pouch.

“You’re the best, Helen,” it read. “Love, Murray.”

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