From the story, When Murray Met Helen

One hard thing about losing an old friend is that the world moves on anyway. And in Helen’s mind, after Murray’s sudden death, her planet was circling the sun for no obvious reason other than the inexorable mechanics of creation. So whether it was divinity or just physics, it was now spring in New Zealand while, in Oshkosh, it was snowing lightly as Helen stirred her Grapenuts while sorting pills for her mother.

Among her mother’s favored drugs was television and she liked it loud, especially in the morning. That by itself raised more questions, including how long Helen could last without throwing a hammer through the screen.

Today was Murray’s funeral and while she struggled to get spiritually centered, a preternaturally happy tv weather jock on WBAY was going on and on and on about the snow (as if snow was somehow new to Wisconsin) and then posing with an impressive construction paper turkey that a third grader in Green Bay had sent in.

“Oh God,” Helen thought, “please just shut the hell up.”

Being on the road to Milwaukee helped, even though it was icy, and even though the snow reduced visibility to a quarter of a mile. At least she could hear herself think. The funeral was downtown in the cathedral at Old Saint Mary Parish. Rick, the paramedic with whom she was enjoying a budding relationship, had met up with her outside the church. She hugged him and playfully brushed snow off the shoulder of his coat. The two of them were among only a few people under the age of fifty.

Yet, still, there in the front row were Sid, Fitz, Vic, Chili and Renard, all in uniform, all wearing their tent-like, black & gold American Legion hats. Chili had a new scooter and was now connected to oxygen. Renard was the only one mobile enough to join the other pall bearers, among whom were three Vietnam war veterans, two Gulf War veterans, and a young woman who’d had served in Afghanistan.

Father James gave the homily, extolling Murray’s faith in ways that, Helen knew, the old Marine would surely have rebutted if he still had a breath in him.  And then the priest offered the lectern to the side of the alter to testimonials from friends. It was hard for Fitz and Vic to find the wind and the words to describe Murray. Renard did better as he relayed Murray’s heroism at Edson’s Ridge in ’42. The speaker with the most words was an aspiring politician whom Murray had actually despised and voted against. He was a big-shot in the local VFW who talked about Murray’s heroic service to his country in the Philippines, even though Murray didn’t fight in the Philippines.

“Today we bury Murray Trager,” he concluded. “A great patriot, a great warrior.”

People throughout the cathedral nodded their heads, knowingly. And that was going to be it. And Father James brought his hands together, as he was about to introduce the honor guard and taps.

And then a young woman, shouted, “wait!”

Helen knew the voice. Because it was her own.
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