The Death of Nu-Nu

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His fantasies of returning to the Lucca had come back to him, cat first. They had seemed to have left him, cat last, out of a sense of courtesy, as if not to dangle before his helpless body things it could not have, pleasures that were out of the question for a man in a coma but that were again becoming possible for a man who was improving every day, increasingly possible, likely, inevitable, until the day when the doctors pronounced that his cancer was in remission, that it might or might not come back, and that he might as well go home.


The man wore a navy peacoat, though it was a warm Saturday afternoon in late spring; he got cold easily now. The Café Lucca was busy, and the owner, short-handed, was waiting all the tables himself. Immediately after the man’s arrival a tour bus pulled up outside, blocking out the sun, and disgorged forty Italians who rushed in, filled every available pore of space in the café like water saturating a sponge, upended expressi under which they had placed their faces, and rushed out. The man decided to believe he’d been lost in the flurry, and now that he’d been served no one had reason to stop and notice him. The owner, who had put on some weight, went back and forth, busing the tables, joined by the coffee lady. Five of the regulars were scattered around at their old customary tables, waxworks in their constancy, like some tableau rehydrated from the dried stuff of memory: the recently retired telephone repairman, fat and bearded like a Santa Claus not yet gone gray, with his collection of daily crosswords, his carafe of white wine and the glass he always kept half full; the writer with his ratty manuscript ripped from spiral-bound notebooks, knee jumping to his blaring Walkman; the elderly founder of the café with his enormous belly and suspenders hoisting his pants over it, speaking nasal, staccato, birdlike Italian to his wife, who answered him in English; the muscular ex-cop with his tight black T-shirt, dyed black hair and gradient sunglasses, who read nothing but sat preposterously erect, arms folded across his chest, visually patrolling Father Demo Square. He wondered if any of them had seen him come in. He looked down, plucking a thread off his pants and pulling his coat-sleeves out over his fraying shirt cuffs. The sky over Father Demo was bright blue, and the air so clear that the leaves of the young trees stood out clearly individuated. Puffed-up male pigeons chased females between the legs of the park benches. A couple he knew walked slowly by on the sidewalk — floated by, their legs cut off beneath the wainscoting — arm in arm, almost close enough to touch. His impulse, which surprised him, was to wave to them, but he did not do it. The possibility that they would not return his greeting left him paralyzed.



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