The Death of Nu-Nu

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Had he changed so much? And yet he felt the same inside. The same as the regular who’d returned to the café four times a week from an apartment on East 81st Street, the same as the dreamer who’d returned to the café every day from a hospital bed thirteen hundred miles away, returning as a pigeon returns, mangy and addled, to the place where its keeper lived and died: he felt not only the same urge to return to the café but felt the same, the same as the one who had, the night before he’d been taken to the hospital, sat beside his sister on her overstuffed floral love seat under the fluted green glass shade of their Aunt Lil’s bridge lamp, leafing through family albums that glowed faint chalky green, through the crumbling, flaking, peeling, paling, dissolving turn-of-the-century albumen prints of the posed and seated ancestors, through the decades and through the generations to the 20’s, the 30’s, when there had appeared in the small square Brownie prints an infant which had looked nothing like he looked today — nothing like him except for the concave temples, the blue of the eyes, the inward turn at the corners of the mouth — a baby, a child, a boy only three feet tall, four feet, five: he felt himself today, as he sat in the Lucca, to be the same person who had, eighteen months before, sat beside his sister, paging through the 40’s and 50’s, paging through the greenglass black-and-whites on into faded into fading color, on into the 60’s into the 70’s, telling his sister stories that, no matter how small the child in the pictures, always began with “I,” calling that boy, that child, that baby “me,” as if there were nothing — no years, no changes, no lost teeth or lost time — between himself and that unrecognizable infant; he felt himself today, now, in the café, to be the same person who had cried for milk, taken naps, resisted naps, listened to the talking box, watched the blue light, watched the colored light, walked on leaves, crossed words, taken naps again, sat under green glass, smelled cherries, smelled ocean, had an aneurysm, had an astrocytoma, had an amputation, had an Andes Mint. He reflected, finally, on all the old people he had seen come into the Lucca, who shuffled instead of walked, wheezed instead of laughed, who had lost their color, who had lost their moisture, who had withered as a leaf withers from spring to fall and then had withered more, from green to brown to brown-gray, from flexible and stained-glass luminescent to rigid-dry and brittle and opaque, who had withered as a spring leaf turns to a fall leaf turns to a winter leaf turns to flakes, to dust, crushed by the heel of a man who walks on unnoticing, who walks on unknowing into seasons beyond knowing, whose shoe rots off his foot, whose skin rots off his bones, who walks on, stalks on, staggers on, past vigor and volition, who falls on, bowed and curled by gravity, who falls on, falls down, falls; he thought of the old people, and how he had become one of them. And how the younger observer, looking at the washed-out colors, the reined-in steps, the stopped-up gestures, the tics and tremors, listening to the parch and phlegm, to the phrases that must be repeated to them and the phrases that they must repeat, assumes from what he sees and hears that the disappointments of the old must also, internally, take on this thinned, diminished quality, and how the younger observer cannot know that he is very wrong.



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