*

Then Elizabeth said something very upsetting to him.

She said Nina was only fifteen.

Impossible! He told her, no, in fact Nina was twenty-five, or at least twenty-one or twenty-two! “No dad” she said, “she isn’t.” Elizabeth said that she and Nina were watching America’s Next Top Model, and Nina bragged that she could easily become a supermodel one day, and it was most likely going to happen very soon because she was “the perfect age” to be discovered, and because she had the “perfect skin and body and small breasts” to become one and “all the men knew it.” Elizabeth recounted this to Richard and said she thought Nina was twenty-two, and then Nina scoffed back at her and said, “That’s what your dad thinks too! I’m only fifteen. Only.” Then Nina said that fifteen years of age was “the most perfect age to become a model,” or something like that. And Nina was only a hundred and ten pounds or whatever and of course she was going to grow taller, but her breasts would always remain the same size, so she said she read in Glamour.

Richard called Elizabeth a horrible little liar and said that it would be a good lesson for her to be in this school far away from home in a city without any friends that spoke English, because she had to “grow up someday.” He then left Elizabeth behind, and watched her bawl her head off but he didn’t have any sympathy for her at all because of what she had said to him. He stayed overnight at the hotel, had a good meal, and then he visited Ludwig in the morning, cried and prayed beside him, and then left for Montréal. Sometime during the trip home he thought, what if what Elizabeth said was actually true? It was a long drive home, but with little incident.

When he arrived home, two young men were spread out on the couch, with Nina between them, watching soccer in high definition. Both were tall, lean, with abnormally pale skin, and wore matching military buzz-cuts. One had slight acne. They had body odor, and wore Adidas track pants. They had rings and gold chains and both had tattoos. The other had a big scar down the side of his face. Nina shot up and ran toward Richard, gave him a big hug wearing short shorts and a tank top, and then introduced the two men as her cousin Serge (twice removed) and Alex his friend (Nina told Richard not to even try to pronounce their real names). Nina had given them Beth and Ludwig’s rooms, and she said they were only here for a short time. She explained that they had just been in the military for the last couple years, and now were doing “private security” and had an “import, export” business on the side, but right now they were just “chilling,” as they were traveling to California. They made a vague gesture of saying hello to Richard. One of them (Alex) said something about the house being really “interesting” and Serge and Nina laughed. In the next sentence he said how he hated the furniture as it was very uncomfortable and in this horrible heat, he was sticking to all the leather, plus, the central air was broken. Nina said that this was true, and that Richard should buy fans. Neither spoke English well and Serge called him “Dick” instead of Richard. Nina seemed to find that amusing. Serge then shouted at the television prompting a large outburst when a goal was missed. Nina did a slight dance, she seemed excessively hyper, animated and talked fast and said Nana had cooked some cabbage soup and cabbage rolls, and then she stepped over the couch, and sat between them. Serge put his arm around her, and it was only a short time before his hand was brushing her thigh. Nina playfully slapped it away. Nina seemed to laugh and cavort with them. For the first time Richard noticed that there were piles of fashion magazines scattered everywhere around his modernist house. He said something about the furniture being Mies Van der Rohe. Alex said, it was uncomfortable, whatever it was. Richard then went upstairs to his office. He passed Nana sitting on the bed staring at the wall. In his office, he too stared at the wall. Apparently a goal had been scored down below.

Nina woke him up at his desk around eleven. She was dressed to the nines in a red one-piece dress, zipper in front, with matching shoes that wrapped around her ankles. She held a white clutch purse. She was more garish than model. Her hair was tightly pulled back into a topknot and she had on too much make-up. She then announced that she and the boys were going to a club. She told Richard he should come and dance with her. She asked several times, before Richard said that he was just going to go to bed. He had to work in the morning. Nina then said, “That’s okay, you’d probably be too old to get in,” and then said something that she only asked him to be polite, and she knew this was going to be a problem. He said, she was too young to drink. She then swore at him. He grabbed her arm. She pulled away, and he kept repeating, “Nina, Nina. I love you. I love you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  She said, “You always do this!” then pushed him away and stormed out.

Richard was awoken around 4 am. It was pouring and the roof was leaking and a steady drip of water was hitting the floor in the bedroom. He shot up, ran around in circles looking for something to put under the leak. He opened all the drawers looking for something. He opened Nina’s underwear drawer, and in it he saw Nina’s passport. He stopped. He tried picking it up, but couldn’t, then closed the drawer. He settled on emptying a glass jar than Nina kept cotton balls in.

At a quarter to six in the morning, Nina came in. It had stopped raining. Her hair was wet, and she looked like a drowned rat, her make-up running. She found pots and every sort of container spread out around the house, water in each of them. Richard was asleep, curled up on a Barcelona Chair. Nana was cleaning the kitchen, and when she heard Nina, she came out and began yelling and gesticulating at her, all in whatever language Nana spoke. Nina yelled back at her. Richard was now awake. Nana then began yelling at Richard, and Nina and Nana had a heated argument, then Nina ran upstairs. Nana gave Richard the evil eye and cursed at him in Hungarian, or possibly even German, and went back into the kitchen.

On the Nelson Bench, he noticed Nina’s purse. Richard heard Nana still yammering on off in the other room. This time he opened her purse. He started taking out her cards and found exactly what he was looking for. Her ID. It was Québec license. She only looked thirteen in the picture, but her age was twenty-two. He knew Elizabeth was a little liar!

Upstairs Nina was undressing. All of her glass jars for holding make-up supplies were now filled with water. She was so mad. When she saw Richard she dismissed him with a violent gesture. Shethen stopped, and in the middle of the room, she began to cry. Richard closed in on her and put his arms around her. She cried into his chest and said something about her “stupid” cousin leaving her downtown while he and the other “stupid douchebag” went off with “stupid ugly old sluts.” She said she was mad at Richard for wrecking her make-up containers and he said he would have to buy her all new stuff, all new clothes, whatever she wanted, as long as she never left him again, besides it was all the “contractor’s fault.” She said that she was going to quit her job at the flower shop and she needed to get head shots and an agent so she could “contribute.” He said he thought that was a good idea, considering how beautiful she was, and besides the flower shop was not a career. She said she was getting fat. “Nonsense!” he said. You’re absolutely perfect.” Nina said, “She had always thought so, too,” and that she was destined to be the “Next Top Model.” He agreed, and said, even though she was only twenty-two, she could easily become one. She was quiet, then she kissed him. He mentioned that she tasted of vodka coolers.

Richard called in sick all week. He bought Nina a whole new wardrobe and all the make-up and glass jars she wanted. He paid for her head-shots so Nina could get an agent for modeling.

*