From the story When Murray Met Helen
Helen was so moved by the faded photograph of Murray and Claire, and Claire’s resemblance to Helen in her childhood, that she could go no further into the collection. After staring at the picture for another half-minute she gently placed the album on top of the weathered leather jacket in the crate, pulled the string to turn out the light, and left the room.
The cold she was fighting had moved more deeply into her sinuses and though it had the effect of quieting her brain and dulling her senses, she was also keenly aware that the revelation of this softly kept secret in her relationship with Murray was colored with poignancy and grace. It was also a bit mind-reeling.
She walked upstairs, set water on the stove to make tea, and then leaned against the sink, staring at the cinnamon tiles on her kitchen floor. It had started to snow again, the late afternoon sky a grayish-yellow. But she only noticed the dull pallor of the light coming in the window behind her.
Before the kettle whistled, the phone rang. She could see by the caller ID that it was Rick. She thought for two rings about not answering it, but she missed him just enough to change her mind.
“How you doin’?”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“‘Cause I’m fit as a fiddle.”
“Well, maybe you’re a carrier.”
“Naw, that couldn’t be it.”
“That’s right,” she suddenly agreed. “I didn’t let you get close enough to kiss me the other night.”
“Eh.” he said, “lucky me.”
“Was wondering if I could”—and here he changed inflections, to pose the last two words in the form of a question–“come over?”
The kettle whistled. Saved by the bell, she thought. But the moments it took to remove it from the burner had given her enough time to think.
“Well,” she said. “Three things.”
“Just three?” he asked, playfully.
“Well, at least three,” she continued. “First, you’re a dear and I’m sorry about what happened the other night. Second, I’m not feeling very attractive right now and when I’m not feeling pretty, I get a little bitchy. And, third, I think I really need to sleep.”
Rick was speechless for a few moments as he absorbed this direct and unusual declination.
“Yeah, well, I really don’t want to see you if you’re not feeling pretty,” he deadpanned.
“Thank you for making me laugh,” she said.
“What are you taking?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Green tea and echinacea.”
“Oooooh,” Rick replied, “I was just reading in Time where the new studies show echinacea’s a canard.”
Helen let that sit for a second, as she decided what club she’d use to smack him with.
“It works for me,” she said, in a tone that was purposefully ambiguous as to whether she was being playful, or just sending the message that this was not the time to trifle with Helen.
“Ah,” Rick said, wisely seizing the latter interpretation. “Now that’s a good data point.”