Spring came quickly. Nina was a regular at the Appleby household. She helped out with chores and she would drive Beth to ballet when Richard had to work late (Nina was done with ballet and told Elizabeth how it was only for little girls who liked horses). Whenever she could, she had sex with Richard. By now they had covered every room of the house, and she had tried out many of her fantasies. Richard was a predictable but experienced lover, and could be ferocious in the sack. She bought toys and oils and books to help break out of “routine.”
Richard’s perfect home was finally finished in April, but the buyer backed out and so, with Nina’s support, he took the money from the insurance (and the nest egg that Christina had) and bought the house he had designed. He had never been happier. He put his and Christina’s home on the market, sold it to the first buyers (for $15,000 under asking) and by the end of May they were ready to move into his dream house. There was so much work to do packing the house and preparing to move. Nina spent most of this time at home, studying for exams and watching reality television.
Two days before the move, Nina informed Richard that her grandmother, Nana, would have to stay with them, because of her illness (oldness), and she didn’t feel right moving into a new place without her grandmother.
And so, Richard, Ludwig, Beth, Nina and Nana moved into his masterpiece, all on the same day.
It was an odd house, made completely of concrete with long aluminum panels, that had with small bunker-style windows in the front. It was three stories and had a jagged triangular form that jutted at extreme angles, and had the impression of being a long multifaceted knife that stretched out between two houses.
Inside the house was equally horrid. It was sterile, haphazardly modernist, and darkly lit, with little to no natural light except in the back of the house which was an angled glass wall. The ceiling were low in the rooms, 7 1/2 feet derived from Le Corbusier’s use of the golden section [(square root of five) - 1) : 2 = .618034 : 1 (= 1 : 1.618034)]. Nina asked about the lack of windows, and Richard replied that he “wasn’t fond of natural light.” She didn’t think he was too fond of artificial light either. During the move the movers, trained professionals in the fine art of moving furniture into odd places, continually hurt themselves and swore repeatedly. They bashed furniture against the walls and many pieces had to be discarded as they wouldn’t fit through any of the doors or windows, or couldn’t be disassembled.
The floors were made of concrete. So were the stairs, but the walls were drywall, which at times sloped inwardly as if they were poked from the outside by a pyramid. The hallways seemed long and thin and Nina looked down one and it seemed to disappear into darkness. The house had five bedrooms, a galley kitchen, three washrooms, a basement and an office for Richard. Nana, a heavyset diminutive woman, hated her new surroundings immediately, and hated Richard, and if Richard could have understood Russian/Ukranian/Bulgarian/Polish (whatever language Nana only spoke), he would have gotten an earful. He thought she was charming.
Nana thought the place reminded her of a concentration camp, and she feared it would be the place she would die in. She told both Richard and Nina this, as well as anyone who would care to listen to her.
Nina’s dog, a Dalmatian named Domino, hated it too. He howled, and urinated in the living room. Nina though, instantly grew to love her new home. It had a swimming pool, or would have a swimming pool once the square pit in the back was full of water and the backyard was landscaped.
The children both had their own rooms, and each was equal in size, exactly square seven foot by seven foot by seven foot. They fought for the one with the window that didn’t look directly out into the brick side of the house next door. Beth won.
Nina and Richard had the large master-bedroom (14’ x 7’ x 7 1/2’),” with a built-in walk-in closet, and en-suite bathroom, with Jacuzzi tub. Nina adored it. She immediately unpacked all of her toiletries. She told Richard that she would have to throw everything she owned away and buy new clothes and make-up, perfume, moisturizers, face masks, hairdryer, straightener, etc., because this was a new beginning. It was symbolic. Richard agreed.
That night, they all sat around the TV (which wasn’t set up yet) and ate take-out Chinese food. Except Nana. Nana, wouldn’t eat Chinese food. Through Nina, she made Richard find a large pot and a good cutting knife, and Nana began boiling a cabbage, for soup. The house from that point on would always smell of cabbage, which Elizabeth found “so gross.”
That night after helping Ludwig, Elizabeth and Nana set up their rooms, Richard went up to his own bedroom. He found Nina had drawn a bath. She was covered with soap bubbles and surrounded by lit candles. He never felt more in love with anyone in his entire life. She beckoned him to come in, dressed or not, and he did, overflowing the tub with water.
As Richard lay awake in bed, Nina sprawled out dead asleep beside him (with the dog at the end of the bed), thinking he was the luckiest man ever to live (and he said so aloud), he could hear Nana from next door. She chattered on and on, and her tone: angry, frightened, sometimes with sobs, made him uneasy. He put his ear against the wall. He couldn’t understand a word she said, until she said, “You sonovabitch Richard. You sonovabitch. You sonovabitch. You sonovabitch.” He curled up to Nina, who pushed him away. He slept poorly.
The next morning he would find that the water from the bath had leaked down to Ludwig’s room.
The first few days were uncomfortable, and there were bodies and boxes everywhere, always in the same place in the house, although within a short time the family revolved mainly around the new HDTV in the living room, watching anything in high definition.
It was during their last week of school that something all together regretful happened to Ludwig. It was after dinner one night. Richard was working on blueprints in his office. Nina and Elizabeth watched and mocked reality TV talents (a favourite past-time). Nana was put to bed early. Ludwig played in his bedroom like he always did, working on his little models and dioramas. This time though he was bent on destroying all that he had ever made. After crushing much of his work, he decided that it was best if his B-52 Stratofortress crashed and burned. He found matches easily enough as Richard smoked increasingly these days all the while saying he had quit. Ludwig stuffed the plane full of paper. It took him four tries before he could light a match. He dropped it into the plane with his little hands.
It caught fire immediately.
Elizabeth smelled smoke first. Nina argued with her, but then agreed. Richard smelled nothing and was oblivious until the fire alarm went off. He yelled down at Elizabeth for burning something in the oven, but she yelled back at him that she wasn’t cooking anything, and then, the worst sound anyone could ever hear was heard. A little boy screaming in terror.