*

Nina refused to tell Richard exactly where she lived and instead just gave a generalized address (near a Metro entrance). Richard had other plans anyway. He told Nina it was surprise. He drove into a suburban neighborhood and parked in front of his dream home. It was on a sliver of a lot and it produced a very angular thin silhouette. Scaffolding was around the building. Richard gazed lovingly at his creation.

He told Nina very softly that it was his wish to live here and he was sorry he had to sell it to a client. Then for the first time kissed Nina and felt the warmth and curve of her tiny breasts under his hand. She wouldn’t let him touch her anywhere else. “Not yet,” she said. Then they sat in silence for a long while, Nina resting her head against Richard’s lap, and then without prompting, and with a sly grin she did the unmentionable to him. She said it was his Christmas gift.

Over the next few days Richard spent time with his family and he didn’t hear from Nina at all. They went tobogganing, they saw movies (nothing good). Richard felt agitated and lost without any contact from Nina. He would pretend to read as he waited for a phone call from her each afternoon. Nothing would come. He realized he didn’t have her number, or even know where the girl lived. It was on a Tuesday (5 of January) that he decided he would find her at work and follow her home. Richard was sure Nina was with another man. The thought sent him into a fury. He could kill her.

Christina and Beth were in the kitchen preparing dinner (a roast), and he told them he was going to run out for “some wine.” While putting on his coat and cap, Ludwig presented himself. He had a list, a long list of various paints (all military colours like Gunship Gray, Camouflage Gray, Flat Gull Gray, Dark Gull Gray, Gloss Gull Gray, Neutral Gray, Light Sea Gray, and Aggressor Gray), glue, primer, solvents, brushes and the particular model kit he wanted. Richard scolded Ludwig for being too spoiled and Richard told him to go to his room immediately. Ludwig stood his ground, and then wrote in his tiny printing an additional item below B-52H Stratofortress model kit 1:72. It was direct and to the point and read: I will tell Mother about the babysitter.

“What do you know?!” “You kissed her,” he said without a hint of emotion.

“Shhhh!” Richard shook his head. “You wouldn’t?” Ludwig nodded and said, “Yes I would, Father.”

Richard stopped by Mme. Bouvier’s flower shop and bought flowers for the table, but Nina wasn’t working today. Richard tried to make polite conversation and probe about Nina, but Mme. Bouvier didn’t quite understand his requests and he got the vague inkling that Nina’s grandmother was sick. He was sure she was lying. Afterwards, he headed to the model shop, bought each item on the list (they were already on hold as reserved by Ludwig) and drove home. He forgot the wine and all through dinner he sulked.

Throughout the week, Richard phoned the flower shop, each time hanging up when someone other than Nina answered. On Friday Nina answered. She said she couldn’t talk, or see Richard because she was “grounded” from New Year’s. He had trouble keeping quiet in his office and he knew his secretary was a snoop. He pleaded to see Nina, and she said she would make it up to him, she promised. Then she said something very disturbing to him, “I think you should divorce your wife.”

He repeated this out-loud and he could hear the chair outside his office squeak, and then Nina hung up. At home Richard could barely look at Christina. He sat in Ludwig’s room and watched him carefully paint each small piece of the B52 and choked back tears. Christina thought he was coming down with the flu, she made him tea and forced him to go to bed early. The strain was beginning to show on his face. He decided he would avoid Nina for a while and through the weekend he stayed home and slept.

Work then suddenly picked up. His company had landed a large condominium contract and the whole month of January slipped away. Not once did he hear from Nina, and it was only one day in February that by sheer chance that Christina was sick with the flu, and he was in charge of taking the kids to school. As he left the house he ran into the mail-woman and along with bills, he found a new issue of AZURE. He took it with him, and on the ground dropped a red envelope. It was addressed to him. He knew what it was immediately from the girlish cursive writing in silver metallic ink (with a tiny heart drawn in place of the dot in the i) and placed it quickly in his jacket pocket. He then drove the kids to school and the moment they left the Volvo V70, he tore into the envelope.

It read: “Happy Valentine.”

On the inside, was a love letter from Nina in the same metallic ink. When he opened it, cinnamon hearts fell into his lap. He scanned it: Dearest R., ... I’m sorry I haven’t seen you in such a long time... longing... touch of your lips... need you... thinking of you... want you... can’t wait until we can finally be together...finally...if your horrible wife doesn’t leave you...the only choice left would be to kill her. It would have to look like an accident. It’s the only way we can be together... I already have a plan. It involves fire. I’m so hot for you now I’m going mad. Love N.

Little hearts were drawn in the edges. He was horrified. On the back was her name and return address. It was his next destination.

She lived in an apartment building (designed he thought in the early seventies) in North Montréal, in an area that was less than pleasant to be in. In the lobby of the building he scanned for her family name and rang the intercom. An old woman speaking German or Russian or Polish answered. Richard walked away and sat in his car and waited and waited. It was after four in the afternoon when Nina finally walked up to her building. He almost missed her, she wore a short plaid skirt with a T&A bomber jacket with faux-fur hood and carried a backpack. It was particularly cold and she still had bare thighs with long white socks and Uggs. On her head she had on a white fur hat. She was mortified when Richard approached her. Though clenched teeth she said, “What are you doing here?”

“We need to talk.”

“Not here!” More clenched teeth. “Seriously, you’re embarrassing me!”

She became so dramatic.

“I got your letter.” This made her smile.

“What did you think? Wasn’t it to die for?”

“Nina, we have to talk.”

“Not here, I said,” she said. He didn’t know what to say anymore. “I’ll meet you at the café in an hour.”

“Promise?” He was suddenly frightened that she would leave him, head straight to his home and kill Christina.

“Go, Richard, go! Before someone sees us!”

He drove at breakneck speed across town only to be stuck in rush hour traffic. Eventually he got off the freeway, made it back through town into old Montreal, and went to the café. It took him over an hour, and when he got there, Nina was nowhere. Twenty-five minutes later, she arrived and had changed. She wore one of his ties.

*