The Death of Nu-Nu

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The man turned his attention back to the Times, but not for long. He had tried his hand at the crossword puzzle, but it had struck him as pointless, so he hadn’t finished. The place was quaint, bustling, youthful, and though he knew everything and everyone in it, as unrecognizable to him as he seemed to everyone in the café. Though in his mind he had never left the Lucca, it had changed: and as he had apparently lost his vividness, his identity, his reality to the people in the café, so had the café lost its reality to him. It was faded and removed from him; it was part of his past. Or not yet part of his past: waves of anticipation continued to swell up and carry him, as if his return to the café hadn’t happened yet and could still be looked forward to; and each wave broke into the acknowledgement, the realization, the resignation that his return was now taking place, had already taken place, was all but over; until finally the two joined together, the anticipated return and the knowledge that it had already happened and that there was nothing left to anticipate, into a blunt-faced, hollow, bottom-dropped-out sensation of having wanted something so much and enjoyed it so little that it was as if it had never happened at all. He was like a child who prays all year for a certain Christmas present, who counts down the days, who counts off the minutes, who hangs all the decorations, who sings all the carols, and then, at the appointed hour, does not get his present.

Nu-Nu was nowhere to be seen. The man had been here for an hour, had looked around several times, at first surreptitiously, because he did not wish to seem as if he were soliciting attention, and then openly, because it did not make any difference. The cat had not appeared. Undoubtedly he’d long since been run over during one of his pigeon-hunting forays out on Bleecker Street, and no one else even remembered him.

He thought of asking the owner what had happened to the cat, but he doubted the owner would hear him even if he called him by his name; whether any of them could hear him, or see him, or whether he had become completely transparent, invisible and imperceptible in word or action, to everyone in the café.

It was time to leave. He did not bother getting the check, but put a ten-dollar bill on the table, weighted it down with the sugar dispenser, and departed without saying a word; if anyone had been watching him, the watcher would have seen that the firmness and decision which had always undergirded the man’s movements were gone, that he had hitched and hesitated as he had stood, looking around, and pushed the chair back, and that, despite the slowness with which he moved, he had got the scuffed toe of his shoe caught on the door jamb and stumbled slightly on his way out.

The owner emerged from the kitchen, saw that the customer at Table 8 had vanished, lurched as if to chase after him, then looked down and saw the money, newspaper and half-eaten baba au rhum. As he stood there, gazing out on Bleecker Street, Nu-Nu appeared from underneath the ice-cream freezer where he had been sleeping. Full grown now, neutered, sedate and already beginning to get a little fat, he rubbed his face on the owner’s ankles, did not seem to notice that the owner did not seem to notice, found his favorite chair with its circular black vinyl cushion hot from the sun, lay down on it curled up tightly like a frozen shrimp, and went back to sleep.


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.



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