From the story When Murray Met Helen

Helen’s memorable luncheon at the Wisconsin Club with Renard and Harry Michaels had not quite gone according to plan. Oh, the table was perfect and the airlifted lobster had been sublime, as had the warm-from-the-oven, cracked red wheat dinner rolls and the lush tomato salad. But the casually rehearsed presentation of Murray’s wishes for Helen, on account of the awkward nature of the request, had been put off to the dessert course.

Even then, Renard got a bit too caught up explaining the history of cognac to Helen and by the time Harry started to gently corral him back to task, Jerry Slater and his wife Imogene had come over to the table. That changed everything. The Slaters were Wisconsin Club royalty and it was just unthinkable to interrupt Jerry as he was explaining to Helen how he’d nearly lost all of his fingers to frostbite on the last day of 1967 when he was there, in Green Bay, and it was thirteen below zero as the Packers beat the Cowboys.

By then it was time for Helen to excuse herself, so that she could meet Rick during his break from work. As they were already running late, their exit and the drive were rushed and a little tense. As Harry and Renard dropped her off, Harry withdrew an ivory envelope from inside his coat.

“Helen this is for you,” he said. “Murray really wanted you to have this. Just read it over when you get time and call me so we can make the arrangements, okay?”

She nodded politely and tucked the envelope quickly into her purse. She kept it there until later that night, after she’d driven back to Oshkosh.

In the fold of the letter was a $25,000 cashier’s check secured with a brass paper clip.

She was stunned to see that the handwritten letter was dated November 4th, only a week and a half before Murray died.

Her first thought was that it might be a suicide note.

It wasn’t.

But as she read the letter, word by word, she understood more elaborately than she had before that his spirit had been deeply bruised by her departure. Not that this was a surprise. She’d seen it in his face when she told him she was leaving for Oshkosh. But here he was in the shaky blue ink of his hand, clearly trying to keep a stiff upper lip, yet still pouring his heart out about how much he missed her; about how “strange” it was for him to walk in what was left of his garden and hear only dogs barking, and not the sound of her voice, or her laughter. Murray was gone, but his heartache was still alive in his words.

She had to put the letter down at that point. The finality of it all was overwhelming and such a disheartening counter-point to the pure joy of their living banter and conversations, when there was always a loving space for a last dig, or a last laugh. Now it was just over, and these were the last material words of this odd, rich, and beautifully funny relationship.

She left the half-unread letter on her bed and went downstairs to sleep on the couch. It wasn’t until the next morning that she came back to it, and read the part about the four crates. This was followed by a steady and brave narrative about how he’d experienced the rest of his life on earth.

At the very end he wrote, “I miss you Helen,” and something else, which he’d then run his pen through. She held it up to the light of window. With the added illumination she could discern what he’d written before he changed his mind: “I hope you’ll always remember me.” He must have been embarrassed to read that back to himself, she thought. In her experience, it was unlike Murray to erase anything, to have a second thought. His pride must have affected him, she reasoned.

At the bottom, he’d signed it, “love, Murray.”

Geese slice 2

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