The Death of Nu-Nu

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been overpowered by the cherry antiseptic used to swab the floors, but as he got accustomed to it, he came to smell it only as the absence of clean air: he would open his window, lean the side of his face against the screen, and inhale the Boca air, watching people go in and out of Benetton, watching the summer sale come and go, watching the stock trucks unload the fall line and the window dressers push it up front in the picture windows, watching the winter wools and flannels arrive; watching people who walked by and particularly those who settled on the bus bench, including a stout elderly woman who came Thursdays at 3:40 with a straw handbag full of soap opera magazines and two large Winn-Dixie shopping bags, one containing jars of Cremora and the other containing six-packs of Old Milwaukee beer, and as he compounded these ingredients, imagining her life, the bus would pause there and consume the woman in one bite, leaving behind a belch of sticky-sweetish diesel fumes, the same fumes that had enveloped the Café Lucca when the red double-decker tourist buses had pulled away from the curb of Bleecker Street, and he wondered whether people at the Lucca had conjectured about him as he had about the Cremora Lady: he inhaled the air from his window, and even the outside air, with its close and fresh-rotten hint of the Atlantic, even the outside air, half-smelled, mixed in with the odor of the Coconut Grove, smelled of something, smelled slightly, if he were quiet and were listening, of the café, of escape, of home. He could not stay there indefinitely, half of him in the nursing home, half in the town, all of him back in the café; the seaside humidity had rust-roughened the screen, after a while the screen roughened his cheek, and once a mosquito bit him through it.

When he closed the window and turned out the light, he closed the window on the Coconut Grove, on Boca Raton, on Florida, and went back to fall, back to winter, back to a place where there were falls and winters, back to Manhattan, back, finally, always, to the café. He explored the café as he never had — never had to do — before, in the way a stroke victim does not so much relearn the functions of his body as consciously learn them for the first time.

He knew, had always known, had never known he knew, everything about the Café Lucca: the name not only of the owner, a squat young Tunisian man with curly black hair and black-lashed black eyes like



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