Having taken delivery of our first and only child, my wife found herself in need of a nanny. So it was that Hermann came into our home. And for a while the arrangement worked wonderfully: Hermann tended to our baby’s needs, leaving my wife to nurse the sickly grin that had ingratiated itself across her midriff. But soon she began to tire of his oily good humour, the flushed sheen of Hermann’s complexion as he stood at her doorway, meekly offering tea, or soup. I told her not to worry; after all, Hermann’s references had been impeccable. I implored her: Enjoy the freedom to bask in the glorious sunlight of our child! My wife’s reply was abrupt: He wears the glossy leather jacket of a sex pest. To which, of course, there could be no answer.
The next morning, I cornered Hermann by the water cooler. Friend, I began, affecting something of Hermann’s own unyielding good cheer, my wife is offended by your skin. At times of peace and quiet, it seems to give off a hissing sound, which makes her feel uncomfortable. I braced myself for his reply – but then something unexpected happened. Hermann brought his face close to mine, and whispered like a hangover in my ear.
The faces of Hermann’s friends droop like the parched buddleia of our neglected windowsill. Sometimes they drink Amontillado in the lounge, while my wife and I watch television in our room. The laughter of Hermann’s friends seeps from beneath the floorboards like a gas: flavourless, and without remorse. But Hermann is a gracious host. When our daughter turned seven he sold her to the proprietor of a touring funfair. We visit whenever she comes through town, and sometimes, as we hand over tokens for the dodgems, or the teacup ride, we see on the faraway worlds of her eyes pass the faintest ripple of appreciation.