The Stranger in Chock-Full-o’Nuts

The Stranger in the Chock-Full-o'Nuts by Antoinette Carone

When I first lived in the city, I got a job at Chock-Full-o’Nuts on 57th Street and Eighth Avenue.  One evening a very interesting man came in.  He had piercing eyes.  He sat at my station, ordered black coffee, then asked if I were a student.


“An artist, then?”

“No, I’m an actress.”

“That is being an artist.”

He smiled.  I replaced the coffee pot on the hot plate and when I turned back toward him, he had disappeared.

The man appeared at my workstation each evening for a while.  He always ordered black coffee and a plain doughnut which he nibbled but never seemed to eat.  He would look me over.  He was sly about it, but I was in the habit of observing.  I would smile and offer more coffee.  He would always accept.  Then he would disappear, leaving the extra coffee untouched.  I never heard the opening or closing of the door.

Then, one night he didn’t come.  Nor did he come on subsequent nights.  I missed him for a while, but then forgot about him.

I had been cast as Mrs. Popov in The Boor for a production of three Chekov one-act plays.  On the evening of dress rehearsal, a rainstorm suddenly arose as I was leaving work.  It had been sunny when I left, so I hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella.

All I could do was duck into doorways.  It was raining even harder and I still had a couple of blocks to go when I ducked into the doorway of an apartment building.  I heard a rustling and looked down.  On the side of the entryway was a rat, wet and shivering.  He looked up at me and I backed up against the wall hoping to give him some space to go away.

“Madam, can I help you?”

I blinked and found myself facing the man who had been coming to my workstation.

“Yes, we have met – after a fashion.  You gave me extra coffee at Chock-Full-o’Nuts.  I am Sebastian.”

I looked at the doorway toward the street but was afraid to move.  I didn’t want the rat to come out from wherever it was and scamper across my feet.

“Would you walk out with me? There was a rat here.

He smiled, seemingly with satisfaction.  “A rat will only bite if it feels trapped or if it is hungry.  I will accompany you.  I have an umbrella.”

“Oh, thank you.”

When we reached the rehearsal hall, he asked if I would allow him to offer me dinner some night, although very late.

“Why not?”  I thought to myself

“Why not, indeed,” he responded aloud.

On the night we were to have dinner I finished wiping down my counter area, removed my apron and took my hairnet off.  I closed my eyes and tossed my head to let my hair flow down my back again.  When I opened my eyes, I saw Sebastian standing at my station.

“How did you get in?  I thought the door was locked.”

“Don’t forget – tonight.”  He smiled.

I turned to hang up my apron.  When I spun around again, he was gone.  This doesn’t seem normal, I thought.  I was beginning to wonder.

It was the night of the autumnal equinox; starting tomorrow, night would outlast the day.  Even though it was already dark I decided I would walk home.  I felt safe walking in the dark, even though everyone warned me about how dangerous New York was.  Deep down, I believed I led a charmed life and no harm would befall me.

I was ready when the doorbell rang.  I opened it and there stood Sebastian.  He smiled, and we looked each other up and down for a few seconds.

“Are you going to ask me in?” he said.  “I cannot enter unless you invite me.””

He was carrying an interesting walking stick.  It was walnut, with a carved handle.  It seemed to be the face of a dog.  No, it was a wolf, its forelegs wrapped around the shaft of the walking stick, while its long tail cascaded downward.

“The wolf face looks almost human.”

A slight smile was all he responded.

“Did you inherit the cane from a relative?”

“No.  It was a gift for my twenty-first birthday.  It was new.”

He offered no more information.  New?  Sebastian appeared to be about twenty-eight, but the cane looked antique.  And so began the process of luring me deeper and deeper.

About the Author

  1. Avatar Antoinette Carone (1 story )

    My life as a writer began when my husband and I decided to spend a year in Italy. I kept a journal which was later published as Ciao, Napoli. A Scrapbook of Wandering in Naples. I have compiled a book of short stories, titled Siren Shore inspired by our experiences in Italy. My work has appeared on Ovunque Siamo and Foxglove Journal. I am an active member of the New York Writers’ Coalition and of the Italian American Writers’ Association. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Romance Languages and have also been involved in community theater.