The Death of Nu-Nu

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Appeared in the millennium issue of TriQuarterly; nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize; named one of the “100 Distinguished short stories of 2000” by Best American Short Stories 2001.




No one at the Café Lucca knew the man’s name, so you will not learn it from me. No, none of us, neither the regulars nor the waiters, knew his name, though all of us knew him; or at least we knew who he was.
He would enter the café, glancing not so much at as over the regulars, who looked, or glanced, or did not look back at him according to our own habits. He appeared to have little desire to see us, and none to be seen by us.

He was about sixty, more tall than not, more bald than not, more handsome than not. He was thin and his face was thin, with tanned skin stretched to an unglossy tightness around prominent high cheekbones and slightly sunken cheeks and temples. I believe that his eyes, through gold-rimmed bifocals, were blue. He had superb and unvarying posture. All his movements were executed with a firm premeditation that suggested good health, but nothing left of youth.

He dressed in a way that would pass him through New York City anonymously, recognized instantly and only as being of that social class which must subscribe to, but not necessarily enjoy, the ballet and the opera. There was never any scuffing, nor too much shine, on his black penny-loafers; there was never any lint or loose thread on his navy blazer or creased charcoal trousers. I disliked him slightly because it was impossible to have strong feelings about him.

He would establish himself at Table 8 — and if it were not available, he would shift uneasily and soon depart, leaving a tip that was even smaller than usual — fix his eyes to the headlines of his clean unfolded copy of The New York Times, accept his cappuccino and baba au rhum with such modest word or gesture as the waiter required, then turn to the crossword puzzle and rapidly complete it, in ink. Only then would he read anything else in the paper, and he seemed to read everything else, from the first page of the news to the last of the classified. He never stayed less than an hour or more than two. When, after years of faithful attendance, he took an extended absence from the Café Lucca, I did not notice he was gone. And now I will withdraw from the story, though I am still telling it. I remain at the Lucca, if you wish to picture me there, at Table 1, in the corner by the radiator. My drink is double espresso, hot in winter, iced in summer. I am usually writing.



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