The Death of Nu-Nu

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apostrophes, but of his wife and two small daughters; the names of all the waiters, though he rarely used them; and the names, occupations, tables and usual orders of the other regulars, though he never spoke to them. He discovered he knew these things because each of his fantasies encapsulated a complete and sequential visit to the café, and in them the cappuccino and baba au rhum did not materialize on his table of their own accord, but were, as in life, placed there by a waiter whom, as in life, he had to thank, to pay, to tip. Just as what he’d always taken to be the smell of the Lucca was constituted of many smells, so too the sound of the Lucca was composed of many sounds that he could now separate as one can unravel the colored threads from the edge of a woven scarf: the thin clatter of radio disco from behind the counter, the thick clinking of Buffalo China on Buffalo China, the burble of conversation, the frequent ring of the house phone — electronic — and the occasional ring of the pay phone — acoustic — and the constant arguments between the coffee lady, who yelled at everyone in a Maltese accent, and the waiters, who defended themselves in Russian, Spanish and Arabic accents, or when they were really angry, in Russian, Spanish or Arabic.

He knew, most of all, about the cat. Nu-Nu was a young male, not quite fully grown, a cross between an orange tabby and a Siamese. From the tabby he had the orange and white markings; from the Siamese a long, pointed face and an aloof demeanor. When the radiator was on, he slept either stretched out atop it on a carpet-covered pallet or curled up like a frozen shrimp on a chair beside it; when it was off, he stayed out of sight, baking himself into a woozy trance among the compressor coils beneath the ice-cream freezer. Being a young cat he was, when not sleeping, uncontrollable, sharpening his claws on the vinyl booth upholstery, tackling the ankles of the coffee lady, who fed him by hand and called him sabieh tighei — “sweetheart” in Maltese — heaving onto his back to bite and kick the black rubber runner that tongued through the café on rainy days, pausing to flash his crazed challenging white-rolling eyes at onlookers before kicking and biting some more, walking a tightrope along the sill of the wainscoting beneath the tall-paned display windows in urgent, violent, propulsive pursuit of lazy summer flies, sashaying a zigzag through the forest of chair-legs to sniff and rub his cheeks against the handbags and jackets that hung down to his level, and slinking low and weasel-like out the door to stalk pigeons from the shadows under the cars standing on busy Bleecker Street. Though the man had never touched the cat, he knew by sight all the textures of his fur, from the vein-shot translucent velvet of the ears to the fine striations of orange and white on his head to the coarse hairlike locks that stood straight up from his crooked shank when he curled up. He resolved to pet the cat in all of those places, and find out if they felt as they looked. The cat was an undemanding, undiluted pleasure of the café, and the pier to which the man moored his ambitions to return.



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