No One Lives Forever
Feature by Branko Ivanda

"I could live here," a young man declared with nostalgia and some secret excitement in his voice.

The cold Atlantic wind froze their cheeks. Two men, one older, gray-haired, another one, younger, his wool hat pulled low, walked down an empty street in Brooklyn Heights. Old redbrick buildings lined both sides of the street. Along the sidewalk, frozen willows, their branches still green.

"But it's so cold," the older man said. "Cold and empty."

There was some semblance in their posture, their clumsy gait, wavy drop of the legs of their trousers, which both of them wore low on their hips.

"If I were to build a house, I'd use brick," the younger man said.

"And what about stone… or wood? Stone is in your genes."

"Brick gives warmth. It radiates heat."

In the distance, on the top of a steep street, a young woman wearing dark fur appeared. She was walking a small Maltese dog on a leash.

The two men stopped and stared at the surprising figure. She seemed like a vision. She was still too far to make up her features. The Maltese sniffed and marked every tree in the line. The young woman in fur slowly moved toward them. A steady clack of her high heels on the sidewalk.

"All she needs is a glass of champagne in her hand."

"She spent the night somewhere and came back home only to take her dog out for a walk in this cold winter morning."

"If you're thinking about… No, it wasn't cold and it wasn't in Brooklyn."

The young woman in fur, under which a black evening gown and a pearl necklace could be made out, came to a dozen or so steps from them. Her hair was pulled up in a bun. Large framed sunglasses hid her eyes.

"Old Man, gimme the lighter."

"Are we allowed to smoke here?"

"If she minds, she'll go around us."

The younger man lit his cigarette, while Old Man took out his Denicotea filter cigarette holder, attached a cigarette to it, turned his back to the wind and lit it.

"Excuse me! Can you…"

She was standing in front of them in her unbuttoned black fur coat. With one hand she held the leash, while in the other there was an unusually log silver cigarette holder. Old Man turned around and froze. The younger man took the lighter out of his hand and flicked it. The wind extinguished the flame. She smiled, took off her sunglasses and showed a pair of shiny eyes filled with happiness. The younger man flicked the lighter several times and finally managed to light the cigarette in the long cigarette holder. She inhaled and exhaled the smoke elegantly.

"You're listening to the sound of a typewriter, aren't you?" she said, smiling, and turned towards the house in front of which they were standing.

For a moment it seemed they were hearing swift clank of the typewriter keys. A new gust of the cold wind carried the sound away. They were standing in front of a yellow two-story house that unexpectedly found its place among red facades. A pointy wooden fence and a small patch of greenery separated it from the sidewalk. Two slim ivies framed the steps leading to the entrance. A black painted mansard rose under the slanted roof.

Yellow and black, Old Man thought. Showy? No, good taste.

"Crap!" the younger man squeezed through his teeth.

"Nikola!" Old Man scolded him.

"Truman always had good taste," she said as if having read his mind. "There's a huge colonial terrace in the back. And a lovely English garden."

"Truman Capote?" Old Man gawked.

"Yes, that's his house," she said and looked at them curiously. "You're foreigners?"

"There's no one in this city who's not a foreigner," Nikola muttered.

"Well, yes. Actually, no!" Old Man said. "We've been here before, but now we're staying for ten days."

"If you've been looking for his house, you're at the right place."

"We haven't," Nikola said.

"But we're happy we've found it," Old Man tried to take the edge out of Nikola's reaction. "And that typewriter, its sound, I mean… Someone lives in the house?"

"Truman," she said and smiled.

Another gust of wind was the only thing disturbing the silence that settled on the two men and the young woman. Nothing could be heard from the yellow house. Old Man smiled at her gently, as if she were a child. "But, dear, Truman left us a long time ago. He left forever."

"No one ever leaves forever," the young woman said quietly and looked into Nikola's blue eyes.

Nikola did not look away. Old Man shuddered. He couldn't explain the unexpected depth of understanding between these two young people. It wasn't just a union of youth. Who is this woman? Where is she coming from? What does she want? Twenty years have passed since Truman's death, and almost half a century since Breakfast at Tiffany's. Is this young woman a patient or a harbinger of something he cannot fathom?

The Maltese pulled on its leash and headed towards the nearest tree. The young woman followed it. Old Man turned to Nikola. "Audrey?" he whispered.
"Holly Golightly," Nikola said with a smile.

Both of them turned after the young woman. There was no one else in the street. Only a line of glassy willows among redbrick buildings.


"That yellow house with the black mansard was not the address we were looking for," Nikola said sipping his double espresso.

"A gift. It was a gift," Old Man said.

"An introduction, let's call it that!" Nikola retorted.

The wind chased away the grayness and the sun lit up large glass surfaces at Starbucks Coffee at 33rd and 5th. They drank their coffee and observed groups of tourists lost among hurried passers-by, big blue buses and yellow taxis.
"What didn't you like about the yellow house?" Old Man asked.

"The black mansard."

"What's wrong with it?"

"Too much taste, too little soul," Nikola replied.

Old Man knew what Nikola was saying, but he didn't want to show it. Twenty years ago, as a visiting scholar at UCLA, he often visited New York. Nikola and his mother regularly accompanied him on these trips.

"Wait here! I'll be back in a second," Nikola said, got up from his chair and stepped into the street. Old Man watched him as he walked towards Wendy's. Soon he appeared with his mouth full and a wrap in his hands. After Burger King, TGI Friday's, Carnegie Deli and Chipotle Mexican Grill, this was the fifth fast food in three days.

"Monterey Ranch Crispy Chicken," Nikola said with a smile.

"You're killing yourself, son," Old man said.

"Nena's gonna be here any second now."

There's still time. Nena will pick them up as she promised. It was clear what Nikola was looking for while chewing that slimy mixture drenched in ketchup, mustard and mayo. By bringing back forgotten tastes, he tried to bring back the happiest part of his childhood. The part in which his mother was still alive, the time of careless travels, the discovery of the New World, family together. Organoleptic memory. But why did he insist on this short trip with Nena, on the visit to the Jewish cemetery? Did he want to light a candle to his role model or did he expect to find some sign that would be an introduction into what waited for us in what was left of that year? He was so happy that after a long time we were together and on the same mission: searching for the times passed.
While chewing on his sandwich, Nikola put his arm around Old Man's shoulders. As if he'd heard the noiseless river of his thoughts.

"We always want that people embrace our emotions as if they were their own. You love Truman and you want me to love him too," Nikola said.

"Truman is a great writer," Old Man muttered.

"I agree."

"Then why didn't you like that yellow house with the black mansard?"

"Because Capote put design before essence. He always wanted to be something else. He imposed himself, and kept hiding his world from everyone. He cared only if people appreciated his taste, his social position as an arbiter, his suit and his yellow-and-black house."

"Superficial, but understandable. Perhaps he wanted people to love him more than… Besides, there's no writer who doesn't lead a double life."

"That's not true. I know one in this city who always hid behind his books," Nikola said, took a paper napkin and wiped his hands. "A simple life and a daily visit to a small Jewish café on West 72nd Street, close to Broadway."
"That's forever gone too," Old Man said.

"As Holly Golightly said, no one and nothing leaves forever. Only crosses over," Nikola said and stood up from the table.

A gray Volvo pulled up in front of Starbucks. Nena tapped the horn and waved at them.


Three days before, Lufthansa's Airbus LH-410 took off from Munich Airport to New York. Squeezed against each other in their coach seats, Old Man and Nikola searched for a way to break the uncomfortable silence. Ever since Nikola's mother had died, the silence that brought them together also separated them from one another. As if these things were self-evident. Most often they talked only about daily things. Superficial things. None of them wanted to articulate the emotions that made that unbreakable bond. Will this trip finally open the door that was closed shut between the two of them? Maybe they don't need words to say that what remains hidden. Words make things simpler. In every relationship, that what's left unsaid is what's most valuable.
Old Man remembered one of Auden's lines: If you notice an old man and a young man together who have nothing to say to each other, you can be certain that they are father and son… He took out a pack of nicotine gums, put one in his mouth and offered one to Nikola. Nikola refused. He didn't want to be ruled by anyone, dependent or addicted on anyone. Not even to his highness the Nicotine, although he was a chain-smoker. It is not allowed to smoke here and I will not smoke. As if he wanted to verify his idea of freedom. I can do it when I want it. He obeyed the civil principles, but kept his attitude.

"Manhattan is not like you remember it," Old Man started a new topic.

"GMO food smells more poisonous?"

"That's not what I meant. The Twins Towers are gone, as are the graffiti in the subway and on the facades. Giuliani did a good job."

"What's wrong with the graffiti?"

"I don't like that cacophony of meaningless doodles."

"I don't like doodles either. But real graffiti is something else," Nikola said.
"What? You would let our rundown European facades go to the rot too? You would allow the mortar to fall from the brick, the color to peal off?"

"Yes. Let the age show its true face."

"But why? Aren't those clean and maintained facades nicer?" Old Man opposed.
"Clean yes, but aged facades fit our human measure. I don't feel well around primped facades hiding run-down people."

Old Man sensed the spark of a smoldering conflict and said nothing. He didn't want to begin their trip by closing yet another door.

"I love old taverns and cafés where coffee and drinks are cheaper. People who come there do not pretend to be something they are not," Nikola said and thought for a moment. "Good writers go back to the past without making up their heroes' faces."

The plane shook like a feather in the wind and revealed the relativity of its might. The fasten-your-seatbelts sign came on. Old Man and Nikola obliged, unconsciously relying on that futile act of safety.

"I have the address," Nikola said.

"What address?" Old Man asked and glanced at Nikola.

Nikola took out a folded piece of paper from his back pocket, then slowly opened it.

"Beth-el Cemetery. Block 10, Lot 429, Grave 2," he read it.

"Where is that?" Old Man asked.

"Close. Right across the Hudson. In New Jersey."

"And who's buried there?"

"One of those who dedicated their lives to run-down facades, forgotten destinies and extinct languages," whispered Nikola.

After a ten-hour flight, mostly peaceful, the city between the Hudson and the East River appeared below them. Goran, all smiling, greeted them in the late afternoon winter sun. Nena made dinner.


It didn't take long to reach Washington Bridge from Starbucks Coffee. After thirty-five years of relentless battle with Manhattan traffic, Nena knew every shortcut, every fast-moving avenue, and every hidden parking lot. Having crossed the Hudson, they speeded down I-80 Express through New Jersey. They got off the freeway at Paramus and slowly drove through the network of wooded roads with family houses on each side. Milky winter fog blocked out the sun.

"It's somewhere near here," Nena said, attentively examining every turn.

"Turn on the Garmin," Old Man said.

"The Garmin? No way!" she said. She couldn't stand the synthetized directions that funny electronic device gave. Especially that velvety imitation of a woman's voice, which was Goran's installation. Every controlled situation terminates the uncertainty of an adventure. And Nena loved adventures.
What made Nena readily accept Nikola's request on this unpleasant winter afternoon and take them to a remote Jewish cemetery? A friendly gesture, a sign of hospitality, or Nena's restless spirit? Old Man thought. She spent more than a half of her life running away from her daily managerial routine, going back to the roots of her original calling. How can a full-blooded art historian reconcile the struggle for daily existence with the search for unknown biographies of forgotten painters? Some twenty years ago she had happened upon Maxo Vanka's frescoes in the Church of St. Nicholas in Pittsburg and dedicated herself to the byzantine labyrinth of this lost Croatian-American painter's biography. Every new detail stimulated her investigative obsession that lasted until today. The investigation and the riddle became an end in itself.
That's why, with so much passion and an instinct of a predestined seeker, she joined Nikola's and Old Man's search. Three people, each with their own motives, in search of a forgotten grave.

"735 Forest Avenue," Nikola read the sign.

There was no ramp or a guard, although something of a kind would be expected at a place such as this one. Two pillars made of irregularly shaped green granite cubes marked the entrance into the cemetery. Nena drove through and slowly followed the asphalt path between the cemetery's sections.

"Block 10, Lot 429, Grave 2." Nikola knew it by heart.

Absolute silence. Not a person in sight. Empty white fields filled with stone razors. Simple headstones - the Hebrew mazevot, or perhaps more suitable Yiddish matzeyve.

A table saying Block 10 appeared behind the corner. Nena turned off the engine and all three of them exited the car, slowly and with respect. They halted, caught dead in their tracks. The cold wind blew prickly frost needles at them. Nena sighed in surprise.

In the transparent fog, a series of graves covered with two feet of snow disappeared before their eyes. Dissolved in the whiteness of the place, as if unnoticed until now, the soft white cloak covered the names of the deceased. Where is Lot 429?

Nikola glanced at Old Man, then at Nena.

"Shall we?" he said. It sounded more like an order than a question. Nikola stepped among the graves.

Old Man followed Nikola.

"Let's do it," Nena said, opened the trunk and took out her snowbrush.

Metzger, Rothman, Kaminsky, Holtz… With snow gone, the names appeared on the headstones. Nikola kept removing the snow on the left row, while Nena and Old Man worked on the right one. Nena was the only one with gloves and a snowbrush, and by the third grave, Nikola's and Old Man's hands went numb from cold. The snow was wet and at least a week old.

"Here it is!" Nikola called after the sixteenth grave he'd cleared.

Old Man and Nena stopped removing the snow and approached Nikola.

"Already?" said Nena, surprised and somewhat disappointed.

They just stood there in silence. No one said a word. In the grayness of headstones, one was made of pink quartz. The white letters on the headstone said SINGER and, below the name, Nobel Laureate.

Nena glanced at the freezing sparrows on the nearby tree, Nikola touched the pink tombstone, and Old Man carefully observed Nikola.

Is your message hiding somewhere in this visit, a code of our understanding? More than anything you wanted me to understand you. You searched for the foundations of our intimacy in the memories of happy days. Organoleptically. The adoration to the old Singer was put before Broadway musicals, rich museums, dazzling opera performances at the Met, shopping (which you despised) and famous restaurants. Was Singer's grave supposed to be a platform of our living and making together? A starting point in the complicated father-son relationship or a will I then failed to recognize?

A sparrow flew down on the pink slab's edge. There were four stones on the grave. Two white ones, the size of a thumb's fingernail, one larger and pink, rounded like a goose egg, and another one, irregular, black, with sharp edges.

"Singer loved birds," Nikola said.

"So did Makso Vanka! They obeyed him, he trained them to play dead when he gave them a sign," Nena said enthusiastically. "Why do Jews leave stones on the graves? They never put flowers or light candles. Have you brought any stones with you?"

Nikola shook his head. At that moment, the sparrow jumped over the pink and the black stone, shook its feathers and fluttered away. Old Man and Nikola watched the two stones the sparrow had so callously marked for them. Then they glanced at each other and a mischievous smile sparkled in their eyes.
"They put stones because God ordered Joshua to take them out of the Jordan, make stone altars and build a road to the Promised Land, to the New Jerusalem," Old Man said. "Or there's a more mundane explanation: in Biblical times, they threw rocks on the graves to protect the deceased from the wild beasts. The meaning of this practical custom has changed, but the tradition is still with us."

Under Singer's matzeyve, there was a small rectangle and a branch of barberry grew out of it, while the rest of the grave was covered in snow. Nena removed it. Two pink stone slabs appeared from the ground. The inscription on one of them said ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER 1904-1991 His greatest joy was work, while the other had ALMA SINGER 1907-1996 Courageous with a great heart…
"I remember the scandal. I read about it in the New York Times," Nena said and crossed over to the neighboring grave and knocked down a pile of snow from the headstone. The name of WALTER WASSERMAN appeared. "This can't be an accident. Alma was buried for all eternity between her second husband Isaac and her first husband Walter. She left his with two kids. What a fucking joke, to bury her like that, between the two of them."

But nothing could draw Nikola and Old Man from those two stones on Singer's grave.

"Where are we going to find stones? The ground is covered with snow," Nena said. Suddenly, all shocked, she looked at them. "No, no! We mustn't! You're crazy…" Nena said, shook her platinum hair and resolutely headed towards her Volvo.

Nikola extended his hand and took the black stone. Almost simultaneously Old Man grabbed the pink one. They exchanged conspiratorial glances and put the stones in their pockets. They were sure old Isaac Bashevis would not hold it against them. They'd deal with Nena easily.

They were not aware of the future importance of each and every look at those pink and black stones. Two stolen stones from Singer's grave.
But that was just the beginning of the story.


The next day, precisely at noon, the sun appeared above West 72nd Street. At number 222, there were several business signs: Colorbar at the first floor, Driving School at the second floor. Pet Market and Nails & SPA to the right, Veterinary Care, West Side Café and Pizza to the left, and Joseph Pharmacy at number 216. It made no sense to go further. Singer's The Famous Diary Restaurant at 222 West 72nd Street no longer existed.

"The city should preserve such places," Old Man said.

"What city?" Nikola replied. "The city only cares about washed streets and clean facades. And that its sewage is running smoothly and that traffic lights are operating. And that everyone pays their utility bills."

They stood in front of the building at number 222 and observed the passers-by. None of them wore a black hat, a kapoteh or sidecurls. Not a single sentence of Yiddish could be heard.

"Where are all those faces that once walked down this street and frequented this Jewish cafeteria?"

"Some are in the fields of Beth-el Cemetery, the ones that are still alive in Florida nursing homes, but all of them have a place in Singer's books. There are none here," Nikola said.

"It was your idea."

"Even if we had found the famous cafeteria, it wouldn't have been what we were looking for. What a stupid idea! Sometimes I think that the world we built in our heads exists in real life too. But no, it definitely doesn't, it just makes our time here easier."

Old Man glanced down the street shining in cold winter sun.

"Let's go!" he said.

"Let's go," Nikola replied.

They headed down Broadway in search of the relicts of the past, like two archeologists that can't find anything, but never give up. Each of them had his own secret intention. Singer's grave revealed Nikola's. Both of them avoided what separated them and searched for what brought them together. It was time Old Man revealed his secret. For there's no good story without the Secret.
And revealing his secret, meant exposing himself completely.

It took them an hour to reach 50th Street. Old Man peeked at shop windows, entered dead-end alleys, and hesitantly examined facades. Then he went on down to 48th Street and came back to 50th. Finally he stopped in front of a building whose windows were covered with huge sheets of paper and torn-up posters of some forgotten movies. The building's premises were obviously out of use.

"So?" Nikola said and looked at him questioningly.

"It was my first visit to New York. It was a long time ago. My first time in America. There are two things I'll remember forever. At one cafeteria, they took a large bone from the counter and replaced it with some freshly cooked ham. The cook took his knife and started trimming the skin with all the fat under it. As he worked, he threw large portions of meat under the skin into the trash can. He just didn't care. I was stunned. Something like that would never happen in Europe."

"The cafeteria was here?" Nikola asked while studying the filthy windows covered with paper.

"No. A movie theatre was here. Have you heard of Frank Perry, the film director?"

"David and Lisa," Nikola replied.

"Jesus! Where did you see that?"


"Perry was a great film director. Now he's completely forgotten. At the theatre's entrance there was a poster for his Trilogy. It was noon. An inappropriate time to see a film, but back then I was a maniac, just like you are now. I walked into the theatre when the lights were already off. The opening credits on the screen. Geraldine Page, Martin Balsam, Maureen Stapleton… All of them are dead now. A three-story omnibus. Truman Capote's stories. Even the voiceover in the film was Truman's."

"If you're planning to go back to Capote, there's no need. I love his stories too."

"It was a great film. After the show, I sat there for a while completely speechless yet satisfied."

"Is that the second thing you remember from your early New York days or do you want to continue the Capote vs. Singer discussion?" Nikola said with a smile.

"There's no reason to argue. Capote's world can shake us to the core just like Singer's."

"I meant the way Capote lived. In complete disagreement with his writings. All that fucking social bullshit."

"It's all a play. Every man, whether he wants it or not, protects his hidden world."

Nikola looked at Old Man. Despite the cars speeding down Broadway, it was as if a warm cloak of silence had descended upon them. At that moment, their eyes met. The cold Atlantic wind they were beginning to feel in their bones did not bother them. Some renewed understanding kept them warm. Nikola started to walk away.

"Wait. I haven't finished my story," Old Man said.

"The ultimate secret," Nikola said in an attempt to lessen the seriousness of his announcement.

"When the lights went on, I thought I was alone in the theatre. Suddenly I heard quiet sobbing. I turned around to look. Some ten seats and two rows behind me, a woman sat crying. I couldn't tell how old she was because her head was wrapped in a large white shawl. She took out her handkerchief, blew her nose and wiped her tears. Then she stood up and headed towards the exit. I got up too. At the exit we smiled at each other. Like two accomplices. As if we were committed to keeping the secret of our emotional vulnerability. Before she hid her eyes behind large black sunglasses, I recognized her. It was Katherine Hepburn. We walked out into the street where a white Cadillac with a liveried chauffeur waited for her. Before she got in the car, she waved at me conspiratorially.

Nikola paused and faced Old Man. "So this time it's not Audrey but Katherine. The last ace up your sleeve. You called out your crown witness. Someone who would credibly attest to the might of Capote's world."

Nikola smiled, caught Old Man under the arm tightly and together they started to walk down Broadway. The clumsy gait, pants low on their waists. They each had a stone in their pockets, one round and pink, another one sharp and black. Two different stones from the same grave.

At that happy moment of firmly established father-son relationship, they could not anticipate what the future had in store for them. It was their last journey together.


"Ah, no! It's not that harmless," said Esther, concern in her voice.

Three months later, a colorful festival company sat at a cafeteria. It was in Ashkelon, Jerusalem or Bucharest. Or was it perhaps Mumbai's Leopold Café? Old Man could no longer remember. The place was not important. On such occasions, small groups always form and their ad hoc camaraderie creates an illusion of life-long friendship.

Esther C, a successful producer from New York City, sat next to Old Man. Her joyfulness and hyperactivity reminded him of Nena. He'd seen Esther before, at other festivals, but he had never talked to her. He couldn't exactly tell why he had decided to tell her about the visit to Singer's grave. Perhaps he just wanted to share his happiness about a journey he shared with Nikola and hoped for her understanding.

"I hope they'll forgive us that little roguery. What do you think?" Old Man said wondering if the New Yorkers draw their energy from that special climate: oceanic winds that blow everything away, that clear the mind and make them run into the streets of Manhattan as if the devil himself had taken their souls. Esther was a fifth generation New Yorker.

"Old Singer surely will. I've no doubt about that," Esther said and took a sip of her sugarless coffee. "But the ones who left the stones on his grave… You took their souls."

"You believe in that?"

"Do I believe in that? I know it. I was raised a Jew."

Esther's smiling face did not tell him if she was joking or she really believed what she said. Old Man observed her indecisively. Is that Singer's dybbuk playing tricks on him? Is a good upbringing a warranty of the truthfulness of our convictions?

Some strange premonition occupied his thoughts. They sat in silence, not catching the contents of the conversation that took place at the other part of the table.

"And what should I do?"

"Are you going to travel to New York any time soon?"

"No. I don't know."

"Do you have the stones with you? Here in your hotel?"

"Mine's at my desk, and Nikola has his."

Esther thought for a second then suddenly looked at him as if something had just crossed her mind. "I have an idea! I don't know if it'll help, but it's the only thing I can think of."

Old Man watched her in expectation. Esther drew him into this crazy conversation and did not let him catch his breath. Who is this woman? A harbinger of some higher order, unbeknown to him. Or is all this just a game he consented to without much thought?

"You're not going to visit New York any time soon, and I'm flying back in three days. I'll go to Atlantic Beach and take two small stones rounded by the ocean. The sea brings us together so it doesn't matter whose sea it is - yours or mine. Then I'll drive to Beth-el Cemetery in New Jersey and put the stones back on Singer's grave. I'm really looking forward to making that trip."

"But those won't be the stones we took."

"It doesn't matter, as long as the balance is not disturbed," Esther concluded. She seemed satisfied enough.

Old Man was not sure whether he should thank her. What kind of balance is that if two little stones can disturb it? He made an effort to keep a straight face. Esther was really kind and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. Perhaps she had a reason to believe in that unprovable parallel world. That was Esther's play.
"One more thing. When I do this, I'll send you an email saying mission accomplished."

"Thank you."

He never saw Esther again. For a while he waited for the news, and then he forgot about it. Esther's email did not arrive the following month or the month after that. It never arrived.

The pink stone stood lonely on his desk until that terrible day that changed his life.


The emptiness is horrible, irretrievable, permanent. In the name of what higher order does a man accept his destiny and live on even after he's seen the finality of all beings and things? Why did the heart give up? Why didn't it endure? Why did he leave me so suddenly, with such an unbearable burden to carry, without notice, without warning? Or could it be that I didn't recognize the signs? And what would I have done had I recognized them? If I survive, it will be because of love and commitment to those closest to me, to those who remain with me. That's what Old Man wrote in a letter to Nena, a letter he never sent. He didn't want to share his grief and loneliness with anyone.

On November 8, unexpectedly and mercilessly, Nikola, in the best years of his life, left Old Man. Forever.

The shaman saw three holes on Castaneda's body. A hole for each of his children. If the hole is part of our being that a child sucks up forever, then Old Man's body was a giant, bloody, slimy hole. The remains were left hanging like pieces of dried meat or washed-out rags.

The fall leaves covered the slab of Russian granite. Old Man carefully swept the grave with his brush, lit three candles and put several while chestnuts into his pocket. The fallen chestnuts felt on his skin like an illusion of Nikola's physical presence.

First he searched the concrete surface around the Russian slab, then headed down the asphalt path. Several stonemasons' workshops stood near the cemetery. He walked into Master Hefferer's shop. The water was running while large automatic saws cut black marble slabs. There were about a dozen stone angels lined up in the corner. The master removed his safety goggles.
"Do you have some Russian granite?" Old Man asked.

The next day, at Munich Airport he smoked two cigarettes in Camel's smokers' parlor. One for himself, another one for Nikola. He flew to New York on that same plane. Lufthansa Airbus LH-410. He would've never accepted the invitation to participate in the festival if he hadn't had a specific goal. He deleted New York from his business topography. He didn't want to mix feelings with profane things.

He spent the night at Roger Smith Hotel. He dreamt of Nikola walking among blooming lavender on some Mediterranean hill. He approached him, smiled and whispered, Don't worry, Old Man. It's all good. No one leaves forever.
In the morning he called Esther, but the automated reply told him the number was no longer in use. He had Monterey Ranch Crispy Chicken sandwich at Wendy's and sat by the window at Starbucks Coffee at 33rd and 5th. Lines of tourists passed by. After a long time, he enjoyed his coffee. He turned the page in the New York Times and saw a headline: Brooklyn Heights House Sold. He read the first sentence, then closed the papers. After numerous attempts, the house where Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's sold for 12 million dollars.

A gray Volvo pulled up by the curb. Nena waved at him.

As they drove through the granite entrance into Beth-el Cemetery, Nena flooded him with news. She was still obsessed with the lives of those who were gone.

"Secrets, secrets, secrets! Another riddle. When Maxo drowned in the ocean in Puerta Vallarta, it wasn't clear whether it was an accident or whether he intended to do it. His paintings do not offer an answer. But for thirty years he wrote coded letters and sent them to Zagreb, to his long lost lover. I'm sure they keep the secret of his departure. No one has managed to decipher the letters. How are you holding? Okay?"

Old Man nodded.

They parked the car next to Block 10.

There were four stones on Singer's tombstone. The two from before and two new ones. Are these Esther's? Two years had passed, there were too few souls left on the pink monument.

A gentle northerly wind rose, the leaves on the branches shivered in the sun, and the sparrows hopped about cheerfully. Old Man took two cubes of Russian granite from his pocket and placed them on the headstone.

The circle was closed, the debt paid.

Translated by Tomislav Kuzmanovi?