The Death of Nu-Nu

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T he man was in Florida for the eighteen months when he did not come to the Café Lucca. The day after he arrived for what was to be only a week with his sister’s family in Boca Raton, he fell ill at her dinner table and was taken to Roosevelt Memorial Hospital. He had an aneurysm — a kind of overfilled water balloon — directly over the motor strip in his brain, and the doctors warned that the necessary surgery would risk paralysis. He was knocked out, drilled and sawed like a wood-shop project, chopped up, screwed down, sewn up, pronounced as good as new. His motor strip was intact, and after a week of observation at Roosevelt Memorial, he was farmed out to a private room in the Coconut Grove Nursing Home.

The Coconut Grove was on one of the busier streets in Boca, and although there were no coconuts, he could see, if he opened his fourth-floor window and bulged his face hard left into the screen, a wedge of Ocean Avenue on which there was a traffic light that was rarely triggered by crossing cars, a bus-stop bench and a Benetton store. Wakeup was at 7, lights-out at 10. Meals were served at 8, 12 and 6; at least once a day a Jell-O Surprise would be placed before him, with a maraschino cherry staring up out of it.

He missed the coffee first, or rather the smell of the coffee, or rather all the smells of the Café Lucca back in New York. As he got stronger, gave up the wheelchair, took solid food, these smells carried back to him, the way desert dust drifts on a high wind to a distant city: the smell of the freshly ground coffee beans, or not quite, but that smell mixed with the general and pervasive smells of cooking, basil or garlic or wine and always onions, with the specific, nearby, intimate smells of his rum-soaked pastry, the steam from his cappuccino, the vinegary scent that arose when he unfolded the Times, or not quite, but all these smells mixed with fresh air, for the Lucca’s front door and the transom window above it would remain open at this time of year. He had never thought of the air in Manhattan as fresh, but it was, at least in early autumn, when the winds dried out and crackled the leaves, when the leaves crackled dry and fell loose on the ground, when his feet crackled the leaves on the sidewalks. He could still see his penny-loafers among those leaves, firm, sweeping, capable; now his feet were tentative, shuffling, pale, paled by fluorescent light in brown corduroy slippers against green marble-patterned linoleum. When he had first entered the Coconut Grove he had



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