From the story, When Murray Met Helen
The first time Murray confronted death was in ’42, at Guadalcanal, in the long days after the blunder that sent the Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes and Canberra to the bottom of the Pacific. He was trying to move a badly wounded marine in the waning hours of the battle of Edson’s Ridge, in early September, when the Japanese bullet that would have otherwise pierced his heart shattered the elbow of his already wounded compatriot. It was a helluva mess to be sure, except that in resolving the threat he’d erased any doubt he’d held about what he would do under such harrowing circumstances.
Now, here he was, 65 years later, swinging from a bracket on his garden-side rain gutter, hollering for help, scared only because he finally understood that he was no longer invincible and no longer able to nimbly extract himself, by himself. The bracket held just long enough for Helen to get into position to break his fall. Even so, the inward force of the collapse sent his head smacking into the siding before Helen, with a healthy whoop, caught him by the torso and broke his fall.
And, yeah, she did want to smack him. What the hell was he thinking? Going up on his roof, without help, without telling her? But her first overwhelming need was to know he was safe and alive, because he was dear to her and she didn’t want him to be dead in her arms, at least not until she’d strangled some sense into him.
The early indications were not so encouraging. The head smack to the siding had knocked him unconscious and when he began to come around he was already in the ambulance with two paramedics and Helen peering down at him. The paramedics were alert and dispassionate. Helen had tears in her eyes.
As he returned to his senses it seemed as though his mind was floating upwards, through enlarging rings of consciousness. The first thing he really noticed is what a lovely face Helen possessed even as she was teary-eyed and distressed. For moments, at least, he felt as though he was looking up at her with a mind that thought he was 35, not 87. But then this delusion began to fade and a melancholic awareness took hold, that he was old, that he was hurt, and that he was not nearly the man he used to be.
Well, that was that then, he thought to himself. Now he really was only a vessel for his memories of what invincibility felt like. Now there was so much evidence that he was just a stupid old man who’d fallen off his roof.
The paramedic with the glasses was shining a pen-light into his left eye. So Murray shut both his eyes and thought back to how beautiful the Coral Sea had looked in 1942. From the depths of a Wisconsin winter, which is where he’d found himself on Pearl Harbor Day, you couldn’t imagine colors like those found in the Coral Sea. It was an azure paradise. At least until all the shooting started.