*

For the good part of December, Richard decided it was best to work. They saw friends, and attended parties which he hated. Every night he would go out for “a smoke” and search for Nina.

Christmas morning they opened presents and he splurged this year, feeling that he owed it to everyone. Everyone got what they wanted, and ten times more.

For New Year’s they were going to go out but by the afternoon they had yet to find a babysitter. Then oddly, the phone rang and Christina answered but no one was on the line. Christina had said that this was happening more frequently. Richard replied that he thought that was odd, maybe kids from the school playing pranks, but then he finally clued in. He mentioned that Christina should take a nap if she was going to make it till midnight to see New Year’s, and only when Richard knew that she was asleep he *69’d.

The phone rang and Nina answered. Nina explained how things were just “so” busy at work and at school before the break that she couldn’t see Richard at all, especially since her grandmother was so ill. He mentioned that they had yet to find a babysitter for Ludwig and Elizabeth, and Nina suggested that she should do it, it would be fun. He wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but agreed. He gave her his address (which Nina already knew), and told her to be there at seven sharp. He told Christina that Bob Baldwin had recommended Nina, and Christina thought it was fabulous that they had found a sitter on such short notice.

Nina arrived exactly at seven. It wasn’t the first time she had been to Richard’s house, as she had walked by quite a few times, but it was the first time she got to look inside. It was a traditional large Montréal townhouse well over a hundred years old. Nina stood at the door. She couldn’t find a door bell, and instead a large knock ring was fitted just high enough that it made it very hard for her to reach up and lift the knocker. It was heavy, but she managed to bang three times.

Richard immediately opened. He was so pleased to see her and he would have stole a kiss, had Ludwig not been at his side. “Oh Richard, what an adorable little child you have” she said. “What’s your name?” “Ludwig,” said Ludwig. “Your name is Ludwig?” “Yes,” said Ludwig. “Ludwig, do you like Beethoven?” said Nina. “No!” Ludwig screamed at her and ran away to his room. “He was named after Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, not Beethoven,” said Richard. It was true.

Christina came out, still dressing. Nina thought she looked horribly overstuffed and clammy. She was still putting on her earrings. Nina greeted her pleasantly and said how beautiful her dress was (she hated it). Christina suggested that Richard give Nina the Royal tour. What an excellent idea this was.

He showed her Elizabeth’s room and it was large and empty with a few pictures of Degas’ dancers and horses hanging on the wall. She had a small bed, and few furnishings other than a pleasant mid-century chair and a small wardrobe and desk from IKEA.

Elizabeth sat on her bed chewing her lip.

Ludwig’s room was all full of carefully put together dioramas of tanks and destroyed buildings, scenes straight from WWII, complete with little figures throwing hand grenades, hiding in machine gun nests, using flame throwers. She asked Richard how old Ludwig was. “Six. He really likes war. Look how good he is!” He pointed. She looked closely at the diorama on his IKEA desk and saw that Ludwig had painted faces of terror on tiny child figures. They were being held back by two soldiers as their father was placed against a little brick wall about to be executed by what looked like the Gestapo. The father’s tiny eyes looked fearful, yet resigned by his own fate. On the ground their mother lay prostrate, shot dead on a tiny cobblestone street stained with blood. “It’s very realistic,” she said. It was.

After the tour (which excluded the main bedroom and en-suite bathroom) Christina gave Nina a set of very specific instructions for the children and a list of chores to do. After Richard and Christina’s taxi pulled up and they left, Nina went forth barking orders at Elizabeth and Ludwig to do the dishes and clean their rooms, or they’d suffer her wrath and be locked in their rooms and not be able to watch the New Year’s celebrations. Nina went through Richard’s bedroom. In the huge walk-in closet she opened drawers and rifled through their contents.

When Ludwig caught her trying on one of Richard’s ties (a wonderful yellow and blue stripped one) she grabbed the “little bastard” by the ear, scolded him and told him to go to his room and think about what he had done (he didn’t know). She heard him cry as she closed his door. She then made Elizabeth empty the dryer and fold the clothes and put them all away. Afterward Nina bribed the children by making ice-cream floats with coke and vanilla ice-cream and they all sat on the couch (which was uncomfortable and leather). She let Elizabeth watch whatever she wanted. Nina ate chips and flipped through every volume of family photos and had Elizabeth (Beth as she liked to be called) fill in the details.

All Beth talked about was horses and all the boys she hated, and Nina shared tips on make-up and fashion (at one time they locked themselves in Christina’s bathroom and made up each other’s faces and painted their nails and Nina told Beth about her grandest wish: to be a famous model who travelled the world and was on all the covers of all the magazines and wore only the “best” and most stylish and expensive and pretty clothes before anyone else could. Nina said that she only liked pretty things: flowers, ballet, haute-couture. They laughed at Ludwig as he had a tantrum trying to get in, and both decided as punishment that Ludwig should have his nails painted as well. Ludwig liked having his nails done. Sometime during the evening Ludwig became so hyper he ran into a wall, and they had to apply a Band-Aid to his head. At midnight Beth and Nina watched the ball drop in Times Square and shouted out and danced singing “Happy New Year!” Ludwig was sent to bed for being “rotten.”

At the party, Richard kept looking at his watch. He didn’t drink much and Christina became wasted on chocolate martinis. He made small talk about work, more theories on Kennedy, and gave out some of his maxims on architecture, which he felt he was an expert on. His wife passed out sometime after one o’clock, and they took a cab back.

When the taxi arrived home, Nina got into a state and Beth and her did what they could to tidy the place up. Christina was too drunk to care about the state of the house, and failed to notice that Elizabeth looked about seven years older. Richard remarked how incredible they both looked, and they all put Christina to bed. Nina said her good-byes to Beth, and Richard decided that he would drive her home. In the car as they were driving out, Ludwig from his little slit of a window watched out and saw his babysitter give his father a kiss on the cheek. The boy made a note of it for later.

*