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Nina and The Fool / 1

fool / fül

n 1: a person lacking in judgment or prudence 2: a retainer formerly kept in great households to provide casual entertainment and commonly dressed at motley with cap, bells, and bauble 2b: one who is victimized or made to appear foolish: DUPE 3a: a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding 3b: someone with a marked propensity or fondness for something 4:  a cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with whip cream

*

Richard Appleby, an architect, left his offices at ABC Architecture (Appleby, Baldwin, and Crab) on his thirteenth wedding anniversary (of which he was just reminded of by his secretary, Ms. Lisa Wilson, and incidentally the day in history when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated), took the elevator, exited, rode the Metro to his stop, withdrew the required amount from the bank machine ($40), and walked into Mme. Bouvier’s flower shop near the Hôpital Ste-Justine to buy flowers for his lovely wife, Christina (who was recovering at the hospital from minor heart surgery). Mme. Bouvier, mistaking Mr. Appleby’s indecision for grief, told her part-time assistant, Nina, to grab a dozen white lilies for his wife’s funeral. At the counter, Richard saw a lovely vase of red long-stem roses, which is really what he had in mind, and reached out to take one. He looked at the counter girl and thought she looked like a model. He then pricked himself on a thorn.

Yes, it can be said that until that moment, Richard Appleby led a pleasant life with his wife of thirteen years, and his two wonderful children, for what followed would cause him to lose his darling wife, his children, his home, and ultimately his own life.

All this happened when Nina, a petite girl of undetermined age, offered him a Band-Aid, and before applying, she took his finger into her mouth, tasted his blood, and sucked on his wound. He bled easily. She liked that in a man. He didn’t take out enough money, so Nina took an impression of his American Express Gold Card, and he left, with an awkward smile on his face, and a dozen white lilies wrapped in paper. Nina took the rose which he pricked himself on. She began plucking petals as she watched him try to get oncoming cars to stop so he could cross safely. “He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not.” She did this until each petal was plucked from the stem, and she ended with,

“He loves me.”

She knew he did. She wiped the petals from the counter into the trash.

By the weekend, Richard’s wife Christina was brought home from the hospital. On Sunday they attended church together. His son, Ludwig (six years old and named after Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, not Beethoven), and daughter, Elizabeth (twelve and a third years old and named after no one in particular, conceived on their wedding night in London, England), were excited to see their mother again, and they waited patiently through the morning ceremony on promises of ice skating. Richard, on the other hand, was distracted by a young girl who kept looking back at him. She was sitting next to, he assumed, her grandmother. He thought that he had seen her before, but couldn’t remember where. She was dressed in a short tartan skirt (much too short for church, and with bare legs, in the winter!), a white blouse with dark tie, a blazer and chunky ugly moccasins. It reminded him of a school uniform, although he figured that the girl was much older, perhaps twenty-two. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out why she kept looking back at him. His daughter noticed as well and remarked to him that she had seen the girl before at her ballet school. That put him at ease; he figured that she must be a teacher at the ballet school. That was it. The young woman had seen Elizabeth before, and was just curious about her family.

It made perfect sense to him. With all the standing and sitting and hymns, Richard forgot all about the girl.

At the skating rink, Christina, who was a plump woman, and not healthy during the best of times, sat and watched as the kids and Richard made laps around the rink. She was happy in this role. Richard was not terribly graceful, he was a tall man (over six feet), and on ice skates his awkwardness was accentuated, and she was amused by his efforts to skate.

Richard too, was enjoying himself. He noticed his wife had found friends of hers from work, a couple he wasn’t much fond off (too many questions, and they always had all the latest technological toys!). He waved to them as he went by but pretended to be too preoccupied with skating to give a proper hello. It was just then that someone collided with him, a girl, and he accidentally knocked her to the ice.

He noticed that it was the girl from church. She shouted profanities at him in French, which, he couldn’t speak, or really understand at all, but knew that what she said was an insult. He had been yelled at by French speaking Quebecors for years. “Well, aren’t you even going to help me up?!” He had never seen a young girl show so much wrath toward someone before. Looking at her closely, he realized that she was the girl from the flower shop. He stumbled, and he pulled her up apologizing repeatedly. It was just then when she skated in close to him and put her arms around him as if she was trying to retain her balance. She only came up to his chest.

“I must see you,” she said, this time soft and sweetly. Her whole face had changed. She tucked an envelope in his pocket and skated away into the crowd.

He barely ate any dinner. He couldn’t stop thinking about the young woman. He had never felt anything like this before. In the bathroom he read her note over and over again.

The envelope was sprayed with her perfume which smelled like strawberries.

The note read:

"I want you. Meet me at (such and such café) at 9 tonight mon chéri. XOX Nina."

He made an excuse (he had to finish a presentation for the morning) and met Nina at the café. It was crowded, and seemed like a hangout for teenagers. She was in a booth at the back. The conversation was clipped with long moments of silence. He was worried someone would see them together. She had to be home before eleven. She said she had to see him. She could still taste his blood in her mouth. This disturbed him, and was at the same time exciting. Nobody had ever wanted him in this way. A guy who looked like he played hockey dropped by to say hello to Nina at the table. His name was Chad. She brushed him off. Richard wanted to pummel him for the way he tried to pick her up. He got the impression that they knew each other well, Chad mentioned chemistry class, and he assumed that they were both taking the same thing in college. He enjoyed college and told her so. She seemed confused by the remark. She ordered poutine (which he found positively disgusting) and afterwards they shared a slice of pie, and he drank tea, and the waitress gave them dirty looks.

Richard told her about his work, and the dream project he was now working on. A house that was positively modern and summed up all of his views on architecture. It would be his crowning achievement. A masterpiece of architecture that would be talked about for years and he was sure his name would be spoken in the same sentences as Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. She listened intently to him and then he paid for her bill. Outside, in a darkened alley, they held hands like school children and shared a cigarette. He hadn’t smoked in years. He wouldn’t sleep that night (caffeine and nicotine and love), and all the next day through work, even twenty stories up on a job site, all he could think of was Nina (although he did give one of his great theories on the Kennedy Assassination, of which he was a bit of an expert, being that he and Christina often sat in bed on their anniversary and over the years, had watched countless retrospectives on the thing). Nina knew he was married but said they were destined to be together. It was fate. He was worried Christina would find out.

Throughout the week Nina and Richard met at the café, and later would sit next to each other holding hands in a darkened cinema and discretely touch each other. They saw three Woody Allen films that week. Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Match Point.

On the weekend Christina wanted to go Christmas shopping. Richard feared at anytime she would accuse him of infidelity, that he made a note to buy everything she mentioned.

All the next week, he never heard from Nina at all, and he stopped by the flower shop four times, and each time buying a dozen roses for Christina. His wife said to him that, “She never felt more loved!” Although she was disappointed that he had taken up smoking again.

On the Wednesday of the following week Richard, Christina, Ludwig and Elizabeth went to a production of Swan Lake, a Christmas tradition. By then he was almost going mad with desire for Nina. He didn’t know where she lived, her last name, and he couldn’t find her on campus at McGill. None of the students he asked knew a Nina that was taking chemistry. It was only late in the production that he realized that she was right before him. She was one of the court guests. Oh! How pleased he was to see her. To watch her frolic across the stage. It was just marvelous. He thought she was just divine, but her part seemed very short. Afterwards, he lied to Christina and said he had to use the washroom, which meant that he had to take Ludwig, but afterward, he said he had to go again and made his way backstage.

He found Nina, but she was none too enthusiastic to see him. She felt slighted, and didn’t want to see him and was horrified that he had seen her on stage. She felt she did an awful performance, which she harshly criticized, and even then thought she did better than the principal dancers, who she said were seriously horrible. She seemed angry that he didn’t even think to bring her flowers. He tried to explain to her that he was with his wife and kids, but she told him to go. He almost broke down in tears in front of Nina and she yelled at him in both French and English (for such a beautiful girl she really had a dirty mouth), and then her grandmother showed up and Nina shushed him away. Her grandmother seemed foreign, like she was from Eastern Europe. Nina spoke to her in some hideous Germanic language (how many languages did she speak?), which Richard understood less than French.

He found Christina and the kids, and they all drove back in their Volvo. He cried in the bathroom when they got home, and then had sex with his wife.

*

Nina and The Fool / 2 / The boy made a note of it for later

*

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.

*

Nina and The Fool / 3 / She wore one of his ties

*

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.

*

Nina and The Fool / 4 / The roses had wilted

*

They sat in the back in a booth and Nina ordered a burger, poutine and a coke. She said to him that it was the only way if he couldn’t divorce Christina. It was better this way, a new beginning. She had it all planned out and the details made his head hurt. They would have to kill Christina while she was at home making sure the kids were at school.

Suffocating her would be the best way, with a pillow. Richard mentioned that she took a midday nap, and Nina thought that would be a perfect time and then they would turn on the gas and let the house explode. They would assume she fell asleep, asphyxiated by the gas, and then of course the terrible explosion. It would be quick and painless and very humane. Then they would be together and would make love. She thought if they did it on Valentine's Day it would make it really special and so romantic. She kept talking, very calmly and rationally telling Richard that it was the best thing to do, and at some point he realized it was after six and he’d forgotten about the kids, and Christina was going to kill him. He left quickly and paid the bill and Nina wanted some spending money to buy new clothes, so he gave her $100. It wasn’t enough so she walked him over to an ATM and he withdrew another $100 for her and another $100 for himself. She kissed his cheek and he left.

He went to Elizabeth and Ludwig’s school, and sure enough they were the only two kids left. He apologized profusely, picked up a bucket of fried chicken, and told them not to say anything to their mother. He had to give Elizabeth $60 dollars, and told Ludwig he could have whatever model kit he wanted tomorrow.

He couldn’t concentrate at work. His secretary transferred six calls from Nina, and he let each ring through. He explained to Lisa that it was client he was trying to avoid, but he knew she knew he was having an affair. Throughout the day he looked up the numbers of temp agencies, but in the end decided not to fire her. Instead he sent her to get flowers. Two-dozen red roses, and something for herself.

Valentine's Day.

The morning was like any other. Richard got dressed in his nicest double breasted suit, and when he went downstairs to the kitchen, Christina was making pancakes for everyone. The flame from the stove disturbed him greatly. Richard gave her a dozen roses with a kiss and she was ecstatic. Elizabeth went on and on about how many Valentine cards she was going to give and how she wondered how many she would get, considering that she was so “hot.” She told Ludwig, who wondered if he would get any, that of course he would. His teacher would give him one! Ludwig said, “Yuck,” and they all laughed together. They felt like a real family for once. Christina drove the kids to school and Richard went to work by Metro. He didn’t alter one aspect of his routine, and worked straight till 1 p.m., when he told Lisa he was going home for lunch and would be back late. He arrived at his home forty-five minutes later, and when he quietly let himself in, he found Nina already waiting for inside. He almost hyperventilated. “What have you done to Christina?” he whispered. “Nothing yet. She’s asleep.” Nina wore long white gloves. Richard walked up stairs and sure enough, he could see his wife’s chest rise and fall with her breathing. He left the room and went downstairs into the kitchen where Nina stood by the element, hand ready to turn on the gas. “Ready?” she said. “I don’t think I can do this.” She chastised him. “Of course you can! Don’t ruin this for us Richard.”

Richard teared up and Nina yelled at him some more, and it was during this exchange that Christina walked in wondering what was going on. Richard, already crying, confessed everything to Nina’s horror, and then they both watched as Christina seemed like she was going to scream, clutched her chest, clenched her teeth, and died of a heart attack right there in the middle of the kitchen. Richard called 911 and the ambulance and fire trucks came. She was pronounced dead. Richard was in shock. Nina told the medical examiner that she came over when Richard phoned her after dialing 911 and that Mrs. Appleby was already dead when she arrived. She was there to take care of the kids, she was their babysitter, and just to help out Richard out in this terrible tragedy. She picked up Beth and Ludwig from school for Richard. The kids were understandably upset when she told them.

Nina, Beth and Richard put Ludwig to bed. He didn’t quite understand it and Nina suggested that they give him some alcohol in his milk to sleep. Beth wanted Nina to stay overnight, and she thought it was a wonderful idea, although for the first time Richard had reservations about it. He had forgotten to give Nina her roses, and Nina thought they were just perfect and lovely (she did pick them out). That night Nina made love to Richard and he tried not to cry the entire time. Afterwards, she slept in the spare bedroom so she wouldn’t raise suspicion. It was the most romantic day of her entire life.

Nina didn’t attend the funeral, but she did supply the flowers (white lilies). She helped Richard prepare for the wake, and explained to the many guests that came through the house that she was the children’s au pair. The roses had wilted by the end of the week.

*

Nina and The Fool / 5 / A little boy screaming in terror

*

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.

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