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Chautauqua Falls, New York


1

One afternoon in September 1959 a young woman factory worker was walking home on the towpath of the Erie Barge Canal, east of the small city of Chautauqua Falls, when she began to notice that she was being followed, at a distance of about thirty feet, by a man in a panama hat.

A panama hat! And strange light-colored clothes, of a kind not commonly seen in Chautauqua Falls.

The young womans name was Rebecca Tignor. She was married, her husbands name Tignor was one of which she was terribly vain.

Tignor.

So in love, and so childish in her vanity, though not a girl any longer, a married woman a mother. Still she uttered Tignor a dozen times a day.

Thinking now as she began to walk faster He better not be following me, Tignor wont like it.

To discourage the man in the panama hat from wishing to catch up with her and talk to her as men sometimes, not often but sometimes, did, Rebecca dug the heels of her work shoes into the towpath, gracelessly. She was nerved-up anyway, irritable as a horse tormented by flies.

Shed almost smashed her hand in a press, that day. God damn shed been distracted!

And now this. This guy! Sent him a mean look over her shoulder, not to be encouraged.

No one she knew?

Didnt look like he belonged here.

In Chautauqua Falls, men followed her sometimes. At least, with their eyes. Most times Rebecca tried not to notice. Shed lived with brothers, she knew men. She wasnt the shy fearful little-girl type. She was strong, fleshy. Wanting to think she could take care of herself.

But this afternoon felt different, somehow. One of those wan warm sepia-tinted days. A day to make you feel like crying, Christ knew why.

Not that Rebecca Tignor cried. Never.

And: the towpath was deserted. If she shouted for help

This stretch of towpath she knew like the back of her hand. A forty-minute walk home, little under two miles. Five days a week Rebecca hiked the towpath to Chautauqua Falls, and five days a week she hiked back home. Quick as she could manage in her damn clumsy work shoes.

Sometimes a barge passed her on the canal. Livening things up a little. Exchanging greetings, wisecracks with guys on the barges. Got to know a few of them.

But the canal was empty now, both directions.

God damn she was nervous! Nape of her neck sweating. And inside her clothes, armpits leaking. And her heart beating in that way that hurt like something sharp was caught between her ribs.

Tignor. Where the hell are you.

She didnt blame him, really. Oh but hell she blamed him.

Tignor had brought her here to live. In late summer 1956. First thing Rebecca read in the Chautauqua Falls newspaper was so nasty she could not believe it: a local man whod murdered his wife, beat her and threw her into the canal somewhere along this very-same deserted stretch, and threw rocks at her until she drowned. Rocks! It had taken maybe ten minutes, the man told police. He had not boasted but he had not been ashamed, either.

Bitch was tryin to leave me, he said.

Wantin to take my son.

Such a nasty story, Rebecca wished shed never read it. The worst thing was, every guy who read it, including Niles Tignor, shook his head, made a sniggering noise with his mouth.

Rebecca asked Tignor what the hell that meant: laughing?

You make your bed, now lay in it.

Thats what Tignor said.

Rebecca had a theory, every female in the Chautauqua Valley knew that story, or one like it. What to do if a man throws you into the canal. (Could be the river, too. Same difference.) So when shed started working in town, hiking the towpath, Rebecca dreamt up a way of saving herself if/when the time came.

Her thoughts were so bright and vivid shed soon come to imagine it had already happened to her, or almost. Somebody (no face, no name, a guy bigger than she was) shoved her into the muddy-looking water, and she had to struggle to save her life. Right away pry off your left shoe with the toe of your right shoe then the other quick! And then-Shed have only a few seconds, the heavy work shoes would sink her like anvils. Once the shoes were off shed have a chance at least, tearing at her jacket, getting it off before it was soaked through. Damn work pants would be hard to get off, with a fly front, and buttons, and the legs kind of tight at the thighs, Oh shit shed have to be swimming, too, in the direction the opposite of her murderer

Christ! Rebecca was beginning to scare herself. This guy behind her, guy in a panama hat, probably it was just coincidence. He wasnt following her only just behind her.

Not deliberate only just accident.

Yet: the bastard had to know she was conscious of him, he was scaring her. A man following a woman, a lonely place like this.

God damn she hated to be followed! Hated any man following her with his eyes, even.

Ma had put the fear of the Lord in her, years ago. You would not want anything to happen to you, Rebecca! A girl by herself, men will follow. Even boys you know, you cant trust.

Even Rebeccas big brother Herschel, Ma had worried he might do something to her. Poor Ma!

Nothing had happened to Rebecca, for all Mas worrying.

At least, nothing she could remember.

Ma had been wrong about so many damn things

Rebecca smiled to think of that old life of hers when shed been a girl in Milburn. Not yet a married woman. A virgin. She never thought of it now, all that was past. Niles Tignor had rescued her. Niles Tignor was her hero. Hed taken her from Milburn in his car, theyd eloped to Niagara Falls. Her girlfriends had been envious. Every girl in Milburn adored Niles Tignor from afar. Hed brought his bride Rebecca then to live in the country east and a little north of Chautauqua Falls. Four Corners, it was called.

Their son Niles Tignor, Jr. had been born here. Niley would be three years old, end of November.

She was vain of being Mrs. Tignor, and she was vain of being a mother. Wanting to shout at the man in the panama hat You have no right to follow me! I can protect myself.

It was so. Rebecca had a sharp piece of scrap metal in her jacket pocket. In secret, nervously she was fingering it.

If its the last thing I do mister I WILL MARK YOU.

In school in Milburn, Rebecca had had to fight sometimes. She was the town gravediggers daughter, other kids taunted her. She had tried to ignore them, best as she could. Her mother had so advised her. But you must not stoop to their level Rebecca. She had, though. Frantic flailing and kicking fights, shed had to defend herself. Damn bastard principal had expelled her, one day.

Of course she had never attacked another. She had never hurt any of her classmates not really, even the ones whod deserved to be hurt. But she didnt doubt that if she was desperate enough fighting for her life she could hurt another person, bad.

Ah! the point of the steel was sharp as an ice pick. She would have to stab it deep into the mans chest, or throat

Think I cant do it, asshole? I can.

Rebecca wondered if the man in the panama hat, a stranger to her, was someone Tignor knew. Someone who knew Tignor.

Her husband was in the brewery business. He was often on the road for days, even weeks. Usually he appeared to be prospering but sometimes he complained of being short of cash. He spoke of the business of brewing, marketing, and delivering beer and ale to retailers through New York State as cutthroat competitive. The way Tignor spoke, with such zest, you were made to think of slashed and bleeding throats. You were made to think that cutthroat competitive was a good thing.

There were rivalries in the brewery business. There were unions, there were strikes and layoffs and labor disputes and picketing. The business employed men like Niles Tignor, who could handle themselves in difficult situations. Tignor had told Rebecca that there were enemies of his who would never dare approach him-But a wife, shed be different.

Tignor had told Rebecca that he would murder with his bare hands anyone who approached her.

The man in the panama hat, Rebecca wanted to think, did not really look like a man in the brewery business. His sporty straw hat, tinted glasses, and cream-colored trousers were more appropriate for the lakeshore in summer than the industrial edge of Chautauqua Falls in autumn. A long-sleeved white shirt, probably high-quality cotton or even linen. And a bow tie. A bow tie! No one in Chautauqua Falls wore bow ties, and certainly no one of Tignors acquaintance.

It was like seeing Bing Crosby on the street, or that astonishing agile dancer: Fred Astaire. The man in the panama hat was of that type. A man who didnt look as if he would sweat, a man who might smile if he saw something beautiful, a man not altogether real.

Not a man to track a woman into a desolate place and accost her.

(Was he?)

Rebecca was wishing it wasnt so late in the afternoon. In full daylight, she would not feel so uneasy.

Each day now in September, dusk was coming earlier. You took notice of the days shortening, once Labor Day was past. Time seemed to speed up. Shadows rose more visibly from the underbrush beside the canal and the snaky-glittery dark water like certain thoughts you try to push away except in a weak time you cant. The sky was massed with clouds like a fibrous substance that has been squeezed, and then released. There was a strange quivering malevolent livingness to it. Through the cloud-mass, the sun appeared like a fierce crazed eye, that glared, and made each grass blade beside the towpath distinct. You saw too vividly, your eyes dazzled. And then, the sun disappeared. What had been distinct became blurred, smudged.

Heavy thunderheads blowing down from Lake Ontario. Such humidity, flies were biting.

Buzzing close to Rebeccas head, so she gave little cries of disgust and alarm, and tried to brush them away.

At Niagara Tubing, the air had been sultry hot as in midsummer. Stifling at 110 F. Windows opaque with grime were shoved at a slant and half the fans broken or so slow-moving they were useless.

It was only temporary work, at Niagara Tubing. Rebecca could bear it for another few months

Punching in at 8:58 A.M. Punching out at 5:02 P.M. Eight hours. Five days a week. You had to wear safety goggles, gloves. Sometimes a safety apron: so heavy! hot! And work shoes with reinforced toes. The foreman inspected them, sometimes. The women.

Before the factory, Rebecca had worked in a hotel: maid, she was called. Shed had to wear a uniform, she had hated it.

For eight hours, Rebecca earned $16.80. Before taxes.

Its for Niley. Im doing it for Niley.

She wasnt wearing a watch, never wore a watch at Niagara Tubing. The fine dust got into a watchs mechanism and ruined it. But she knew it was getting on toward 6 P.M. She would pick up Niley at her neighbors house just after 6 P.M. No son of a bitch trailing her on the towpath was going to prevent her.

Preparing herself to run. If, suddenly. If he, behind her. She knew of a hiding place somewhere ahead, on the other side of the canal embankment, not visible from the towpath, a foul-smelling culvert: made of corrugated sheet metal, a tunnel about twelve feet in depth, five feet in diameter, she could duck and run through it and into a field, unless it was a marsh, the man in the panama hat would not immediately see where shed gone and if he did, he might not want to follow her

Even as Rebecca thought of this escape route, she dismissed it: the culvert opened into a fetid marsh, an open drainage field, if she ran into it she would stumble, fall

The towpath was an ideal place to track a victim, Rebecca supposed. You could not see beyond the embankments. The horizon was unnaturally close. If you wished to see the sky from the towpath you had to look up. Had to lift your head, crane your neck. On their own, your eyes did not naturally discover the sky.

Rebecca felt the injustice, he had followed her here! Where always she was relieved, grateful to be out of the factory. Always she admired the landscape, though it was slovenly, a wilderness. Always she thought of her son, eagerly awaiting her.

She knew: she must not weaken. She must not show her fear.

She would turn and confront him, the man in the panama hat. She would turn, hands on her hips, Tignor-style she would stare him down.

She mouthed the words she would say to him: You! Are you following me?

Or, Hey mister: not following me, are you?

Or, her heart quickened in hatred, God damn you, who are you to follow me?

She was not a shy young woman, and she was not weak. Not in her body, or in her instincts. She was not a very feminine woman. There was nothing soft, pliant, melting about her; rather she believed herself hard, sinewy. She had a striking face, large deep-set very dark eyes, with dark brows heavy as a mans, and something of a mans stance, in confronting others. In essence, she despised the feminine. Except, there was her attachment to Tignor. She did not wish to be Tignor, but only to be loved by Tignor. Yet Tignor was not an ordinary man, in Rebeccas judgment. Otherwise, she despised the weakness of women, deep in her soul. She was ashamed, infuriated. For this was the ancient weakness of women, her mother Anna Schwarts weakness. The weakness of a defeated race.

At the factory, men let her alone, usually. Knowing she was married. Seeing she gave no signals to welcome their interest. She never met their eyes. What thoughts they might have of her, she did not consider.

Yet: the week before she had had to confront a smirking asshole who was always passing close behind her as she stood at the assembly line, a man who eyed her up-and-down to embarrass her, shed told him to leave her alone God damn she would complain to the foreman but in the midst of the rush of words she had suddenly swallowed and her voice choked and the smirking asshole just grinned at her. Mmmm baby! I like you.

Yet she would not quit the factory. Damned if she would quit.

Since March shed been working at Niagara Tubing. Assembly line, unskilled labor. Still the factories paid better than most other jobs for women-waitress, cleaning woman, salesclerk. You had no need to smile at customers, to be nice. The work was only just temporary shed told her friend Rita, who also worked on the line at Niagara Tubing, and Rita had laughed saying sure, Niagara Tubing was just temporary for her, too. Going on seven years.

This foreshortened horizon, it made you anxious because you couldnt plot an escape route. Into underbrush? There were briars, wild rose, tangles of poison ivy. Into the trees? And out of sight of the towpath, where anything might happen?

The bridge at the Poor Farm Road was at least a mile away. How many minutes, she couldnt estimate: twenty? And she could not run. She wondered what would happen during those twenty minutes.

The canal surface rippled like the hide of a great slumbering beast whose head you could not see. Only its length, stretching to the horizon.

Except there was no horizon ahead, really. The canal faded into a shadowy haze in the distance. Like train tracks where your eyes trick you into thinking that the tracks narrow, shrink in upon themselves and disappear as if running out of the present time and into a future you cant see.

Hide your weakness. Cant remain a child forever.

She was hardly a child. She was a married woman, a mother. She had a job at Niagara Fiber Tubing in Chautauqua Falls, New York.

She was not a minor dependent upon the charity of adults. She was not a ward of the county living in Milburn. The gravediggers daughter to be pitied.

These were boom times in American industry, post-war. So you were told. So it seemed. Factories working to capacity in Chautauqua Falls as in other cities and towns in upstate New York where the largest and most prosperous city was Buffalo. All day long the sky of the Chautauqua Valley was streaked with two kinds of cloud: the natural, horizontal clouds and the vertical columnar clouds of factory smoke. Distinctive hues they were, rising from identical smokestacks. Always you could recognize the steely-powder rubbery-smelling smoke erupting upward from Niagara Fiber Tubing.

At work she wore her long thick hair coiled in loose braids around her head, covered with a head scarf. Yet when she brushed it out it smelled of the factory anyway. Her hair that had been beautiful glossy black, gypsy-hair Tignor called it, was becoming dry and brittle and corroded like iron. She was only twenty-three and already she was discovering gray hairs! And her fingers were calloused, her nails discolored, though she wore work gloves on the job. The heavy safety goggles left a pale imprint on her face and dents on the sides of her nose.

She was a married woman, why was this happening to her!

Tignor had been crazy for her once. She didnt want to think that time had passed.

He had not liked her pregnant. Belly swollen big and tight as a drum. Pale blue veins visible in her flesh looking as if they might burst. Her ankles, feet swollen. Her breath short. The heat of her skin that was a strange sexual heat, a fever that repelled a man.

She was tall, five feet eight. She weighed about 115 pounds. Pregnant with Niley, shed weighed 140. Strong as a horse Tignor had said of her.

The man behind her would be led to think Rebecca was a tough woman, she thought. The kind of woman to fight back.

She wondered if he knew her, in some way. And so maybe he knew she was living alone with her son. Living in an old remote farmhouse in the country. But if he knew these facts, he might also know that Rebeccas son was watched during weekdays by a neighbor; and if Rebecca was late picking him up, if Rebecca failed to appear, Mrs. Meltzer would guess that something had happened to her.

But how long a time would pass, before Mrs. Meltzer called the police?

The Meltzers were not likely to call the police if they could avoid it. Any more than Tignor would call the police. What they would do is go out looking for you. And not finding you, theyd decide what to do next.

How long this would require: maybe hours.

If shed brought the bread knife from home. That morning. The towpath was a desolate place. If Tignor knew, his wife walking along the canal like a tramp. Sometimes there were derelicts hanging out in the railroad yard. Solitary fishermen at the bridge over the canal. Solitary men.

If the canal wasnt so beautiful, she wouldnt be drawn to it. In the morning the sky was likely to be clear and so the surface of the canal appeared clear. When the sky was heavy and leaden with clouds, the surface of the canal appeared opaque. Like you could walk on it.

How deep the canal was exactly, Rebecca didnt know. But it was deep. Over a mans head. Twenty feet? Couldnt hope to save yourself by wading out. The banks were steep, youd have to lift yourself soaking wet out of the water by the sheer strength of your arms and if somebody was kicking at you, you were doomed.

She was a strong swimmer! Though since Niles, Jr. she had not swum. She feared discovering that her body had lost its girlish buoyancy, its youth. Ignominiously she would sink like a rock. She feared that truth-telling you confront in water over your head exerting your arms and legs to keep afloat.

She turned abruptly and saw: the man in the panama hat, at about the same distance behind her. He wasnt trying to catch up with her, at least. But he did seem to be following her. And watching her.

You! Better leave me alone.

Rebeccas voice was sharp, high-pitched. It didnt sound like her own voice at all.

She turned back, and walked faster. Had he actually smiled? Was he smiling at her?

A smile can be taunting. A smile like her own, deceased fathers smile. Mock-eager. Mock-tender.

Bastard. You have no right

Rebecca remembered now, shed seen this man the previous day.

At the time shed taken little notice. Shed been leaving the factory at the end of her shift, 5 P.M., with a crowd of other workers. If shed noticed the man in the panama hat, shed have had no reason to suppose he was interested in her.

Today, his following her, might be random. He couldnt know her name-could he?

Her mind worked swiftly, desperately. It was possible that the stranger had simply chosen a woman to follow at random. Hed been in the vicinity of the factory as a hunter awaits prey, alert to any possibility. Or, what was equally plausible: he had been waiting for someone else but she had not turned up or, if she had, it wasnt practical for him to follow her at that time.

Her heart beat in fury. Yet she was frightened.

My husband will kill you

She didnt want to think that this man might know Tignor. That he had a score to settle with Tignor. One of those guys that think they know me.

You never knew, with Tignor, what such a remark meant. That he had true enemies, or that there were men, unidentified, unreasonable, who believed they were his enemies.

One of those guys, theyd like to cut off my balls.

Tignor laughed, saying such things. He was a man who thought well of himself and his laughter was quick and assured.

Futile for Rebecca to ask what he meant. Tignor never answered a question directly, and especially not from a woman.

No right! No right to follow me! Fucker.

In her right-hand pocket Rebecca stroked the piece of steel.

Shed had the impression that the man, the stranger, had made a gesture to take off his hat.

Had he smiled?

She was weak with doubt, suddenly. For hed made no threatening gesture toward her. He hadnt called to her as a man might do, to unnerve her. He had made no move to catch up with her. She might be imagining danger. She was thinking of her little boy waiting for her and of how she wanted desperately to be with him to console both him and herself. At the treeline a crazed-eye sun appeared briefly between massed clouds and she thought, with the eagerness with which a drowning woman might reach for something to haul her up His clothes.

Trousers of some unlikely cream-colored fabric. A white, long-sleeved shirt and a bow tie.

It seemed to her, the man in the panama hat possessed a light floating quality, a hopefulness, not like the mean concentrated look of a man who wants to sexually humiliate or hurt a woman.

Maybe he lives out here. Hes just walking home, like me.

The towpath was a public place. It was possible he was taking the identical shortcut Rebecca was taking. Shed just never seen him before. Parallel with the canal was the asphalt Stuyvesant Road and a half-mile ahead was the gravel Poor Farm Road that crossed the canal on a single-lane wooden bridge. At the juncture of the roads was a small settlement, Four Corners. A storefront post office, a general store with a large Sealtest sign in the window, Meltzers Gas & Auto Repair. An operating granary, an old stone church, a cemetery. Rebeccas husband had rented a ramshackle farmhouse here, for her second pregnancy.

Theyd lost the first baby. Miscarriage.

Natures way of correcting a mistake the doctor had told her, to suggest maybe it had not been a bad thing

Fuck it.

Rebecca was thinking she should have taken off her jacket, soon as shed left work. Now, it was too late. Couldnt make any move like that, taking off an item of clothing with that bastard behind her watching. A signal, hed interpret it. Sure. She could feel him watching her ass, her hips, legs as she walked fast guessing she wanted badly to start running but didnt dare.

It was like a dog: turn your back, start running, hes on you.

Fear has a smell. A predator can smell it.

When shed seen this man the previous day, he hadnt been wearing a hat. Hed been standing across the street from the factory gate, leaning back against a wall beneath an awning. In that short block were a caf'e, a shoe repair, a butcher shop, a small grocery. The man had been lounging between the caf'e and the shoe repair. There were many people around, this was a busy time of day. Rebecca wouldnt have taken the slightest notice of him except now, she was forced to.

Remembering backward is the easy thing. If you could remember forward, you could save yourself

Traffic was always congested at 5 P.M. when the factories let out. Niagara Tubing, Empire Paper Products, Arcadia Canning Goods, Chautauqua Sheet Metal. A block away, Union Carbide Steel, the citys largest employer. Hundreds of men and women working the day shift erupted out onto the streets, as if released from hell.

Bats out of hell, it was an apt expression.

Whenever Rebecca left Niagara Tubing, she looked for Tignor out on the street. When hed been gone for a while she lived in a state that might be defined as waiting-for-Tignor and involuntarily, without knowing what she did, she sought his tall broad figure in any public place. She was hopeful of seeing him yet dreaded seeing him for she never knew what emotions she might feel nor could she guess what Tignor might be feeling. Twice since March he had re-entered her life in this way: casual-seeming, parked in his car, a 1959 silver-green Pontiac, at the curb waiting for her as if his absence from her and their son-days, weeks, most recently five weeks in succession-was no more than something Rebecca had imagined. He would call out, Hey babe: here.

He would signal her to come to him. And she would.

Twice, she had. It was shameful but it was so. Seeing Tignor smiling at her, signaling her, shed hurried to him. You would think if youd seen them that a husband was picking up his wife after work, as so many wives picked up their husbands.

Hey kid, calm down. People are watching.

Or hed say, Gimme a kiss, babe. I miss you.

But Tignor had not been there. Not the day before, and not today.

Vaguely Rebecca was expecting a call from him on Sunday. Or so she told herself. Last thing she knew of Tignor hed been up in Port au Roche at the Canadian border on Lake Champlain where he owned or co-owned property: a hotel, a tavern, maybe a marina. Rebecca had never seen Port au Roche but she understood that it was a resort town, far more beautiful than Chautauqua Falls at this time of year, and always ten degrees cooler. It was not reasonable to blame a man for preferring Lake Champlain to Chautauqua Falls.

Not Tignor but someone else, Rita had nudged Rebecca to notice.

Lookit the hotshot. Whos he?

A stranger, maybe mid-thirties, lounging beneath the awning across the street. He hadnt been wearing cream-colored trousers but hed been quirkily well dressed. A striped sport coat, beige trousers. Gray-blond hair that was crimped-looking and tinted glasses that gave him a movie-actor flair.

Eight hours on the line yet Rita still felt, or wished to give the impression that she felt, an avid if derisive sexual interest in an attractive stranger.

Ever seen him before?

No.

Rebecca had no more than glanced at the man. She had no interest in whoever it was.

If not Tignor, no one.

This afternoon shed left the factory alone. She had not wanted to look for Tignor on the street knowing he wouldnt be there, yet she had looked, her eyes glancing swiftly about, snatching at male phantom-figures. Almost it was relief she felt, not seeing him.

For shed come to hate him, he had so lacerated her heart.

Her pride, too. Knowing she should leave Tignor, take the child and simply leave him. Yet lacking the strength.

Love! It was the supreme weakness. And now the child who was the bond between them, forever.

Shed yanked off the damn sweaty kerchief and stuffed it into her pocket. A rivulet of sweat at the nape of her neck like an insect crawling. Quickly she walked away. The factory fumes made her sick.

A block away was the Buffalo & Chautauqua railroad yard, through which she cut to get to the canal. She knew the way so well by now, she scarcely had to look up. Hadnt noticed a man behind her until she was partway through the yard and then it was purely chance.

Out of place, in his city clothes. In the panama hat. Making his way so deliberately through the railroad yard between boxcars smelling of cattle and chemical fertilizers.

Who is he! And why, here!

It was rare, but sometimes youd see a man or men in suits, in the railroad yard. In the streets near the factories. Never knew who they were except they were in charge, theyd come to the site in new-model cars and they were usually inspecting something or engaged in earnest conversations with one another and they wouldnt be out-of-doors long.

This one, in the panama hat, appeared different, though. He didnt seem to know where he was going, exactly. Crossing the weedy terrain as if his shoes hurt him.

Rebecca walked ahead, knowing where she was going. Through oil-splotched weeds, concrete broken like jagged ice chunks. Sure-footed as a mountain goat.

Each day at Niagara Tubing was like the first: raw, clamorous, suffocating. Airless air stinking of burnt fibres. You got used to the noise by deadening yourself against it, like a paralyzed limb. No solitude. No privacy except in the lavatory and there you could not stay long, the smells were even worse. How many days shed clocked since March first and each week managed to save as much as she could, a few dollars, a handful of change, in a secret cache in the house for her and the child if ever there was an emergency.

Worse-come-to-worst was the expression. A married woman saves in secret, not in a bank but somewhere in her house, for that day of reckoning worse-come-to-worst.

Rebecca leapt over a drainage ditch. Pushed through a torn chain-link fence. Always at this point as she neared the canal, and the outskirts of town, she began to feel better. The towpath was usually deserted, the air would be cooler. A smell of the canal, and that earthy-rotted smell of leaves. She was a country girl, shed grown up tramping the fields, woods, country roads of Milburn ninety miles to the east, always she felt exhilarated at such times. She would arrive at Mrs. Meltzers and there Niley would be waiting for her crying Momma! running at her with a look of such pained love, she could scarcely bear it.

It was at this moment, by chance, she happened to see: the odd-looking man in the panama hat, a stranger to her, appeared to be headed in the same direction in which she was headed. She had no reason to think that he might be following her, or that he was even aware of her. But she saw him, at this moment.

She saw, and chose to ignore the fact.

She crossed another ditch, that emitted a foul odor like sulphur. Nearby in the railroad yard, boxcars were being uncoupled: the noise came in sharp scimitar blows. She was thinking, in that way that isnt precisely thinking, not deliberate and not purposeful, that the man in the panama hat, dressed as he was, would turn back soon. He wasnt the type to walk here, on these paths used mostly by boys and derelicts.

Tignor wouldnt like her tramping about like this, either. Like her mother years ago. But Tignor didnt know, as Anna Schwart had not known all that Rebecca did, in secret.

Later Rebecca would recall how shed halfway known, at this point, that it was risky to continue walking here, but shed continued anyway. Once she descended the embankment and began walking along the towpath, she would probably be alone; and if the man in the panama hat really was following her, she wouldnt want to be alone. And so she had a choice: she could turn back abruptly, and run toward a side street nearby where children were playing; or she could continue to the towpath.

She didnt turn back. She continued on.

Not even thinking I have no need to be afraid of such a man, he isnt a man to frighten me.

Except: in resourcefulness and cunning, for she was the gravediggers daughter after all, she took from a barrel of scrap metal a strip of steel about seven inches long, and an inch wide, and this she slipped into the right pocket of her khaki jacket. So quickly, she could not think that the man in the panama hat had seen her.

The piece of steel was sharp, all right. Except it lacked a handle, it resembled an ice pick.

If she had to use it, her hand would be cut. Yet she smiled thinking At least I will hurt him. If he touches me he will regret it.

Now the sky had darkened, it was nearly dusk. A sombre, sulky evening. There was no beauty in the canal now. Only at the horizon was the sun dimly visible like flame amid smoldering ashes.

The Poor Farm Road was a quarter-mile ahead: she could see the plank bridge. Her heart thudded heavily in her chest. She was desperate to get to the bridge, to climb up the embankment to the road, and to safety. She would run in the middle of the road to the Meltzers house a half-mile away

Then, the man in the panama hat made his move.

She heard a sound like breaking glass unexpected close behind her: footsteps in dried leaves. At once she panicked. She did not look back but ran blindly up the embankment. She clutched at briars, thistles, tall grasses to help pull herself up. She was desperate, terrified. In a flash came memories of trying to pull herself up onto fences, or roofs, as her brothers did so easily, and she could not. She heard the man behind her speak, he was calling after her, she began to fall, the incline was too steep. Her ankle twisted, she fell heavily. The pain was shocking, sickening. She had partly broken her fall with the fleshy edge of her right hand.

But she was fallen now, helpless. In that instant her vision darkened, like an eclipse of the sun. Of course she was a woman, this man sought her as a woman. He would be on her, now.

Miss, wait! Excuse me! Please! I wont hurt you.

Rebecca was on her haunches, panting. The man in the panama hat approached her, with a pained expression. Cautiously, as one might approach a snarling dog.

Dont! Dont come any nearer! Get away.

Rebecca fumbled for the piece of steel in her pocket. Her hand was bleeding, numbed. She could not force it into her pocket.

The man in the panama hat, seeing the expression in Rebeccas face, had stopped dead in his tracks. Concerned, he removed his tinted glasses to peer at her. There was the strange thing about him Rebecca would long remember: his curious, staring, naked eyes. They were eyes of wonderment, calculation, yearning. They appeared to have no lashes. Something about the right eye looked damaged, like a burnt-out filament in a lightbulb. The whites of both eyes were discolored as old ivory. He was a young-old man, a boyish demeanor in a creased face, weakly handsome, yet something fading about him, insubstantial. Rebecca saw, such a man could be no danger to her unless he had a weapon. And if he had a weapon, by now he would have shown it.

She was flooded with relief, what a fool shed been to so misjudge this stranger!

He was saying, awkwardly, Please forgive me! I didnt mean to frighten you. That was the last thing I mean, truly. Are you hurt, dear?

Dear! Rebecca felt a tinge of contempt.

No. Im not hurt.

But-may I help? Youve twisted your ankle, I think.

He offered to help Rebecca to her feet, but Rebecca gestured for him to keep his distance. Mister, I dont need your help. Get away.

Rebecca was on her feet, shakily. Her heart was still pounding. Her blood was up, she was furious with this man for having frightened her, humiliated her. She was furious with herself, even more. If anyone who knew her saw her cowering like thisShe hated it, the way the stranger stared at her with his queer lashless eyes.

He said, suddenly, yet almost wistfully, Its Hazel-yes? Hazel Jones?

Rebecca stared at the man, not knowing what shed heard.

You are Hazel, arent you? Yes?

Hazel? Who?

Hazel Jones.

No.

But you look so like her. Surely you are Hazel

I said no. Whoever it is, I am not.

The man in the panama hat smiled, tentatively. He was at least as agitated as Rebecca, and perspiring. His checked bow tie was crooked, and his long-sleeved shirt was damp, showing the unflattering imprint of his undershirt beneath. Such perfect teeth, they had to be dentures.

My dear, you look so much like her-Hazel Jones. I simply cant believe that there could be two young women, very attractive young women, looking so much alike, and living in the same region

Rebecca had limped back to the towpath. She tested her weight on the ankle, gauging if she could walk on it, or run. Her face was flushed with embarrassment. She brushed at her clothes, that had picked up crumbly loose dirt and burrs. How annoyed she was! And the man in the panama hat still staring at her, convinced she was someone she was not.

She saw that hed removed the panama hat, and was turning it nervously in his hands. He had crimped-looking gray-blond hair that looked like a mannequins hair, molded, hardly disturbed by the hat.

I got to go now, mister. Dont follow me.

Oh, but-wait! Hazel-

Now the stranger was sounding just subtly reproachful. As if he knew, and she knew, that she was deceiving him; and he could not comprehend why. He was so clearly a well-intentioned man, and a gentleman, unaccustomed to being treated rudely, he could not comprehend why. Saying, courteously, with his air of maddening persistence: Your eyes are so like Hazels, and your hair has grown a little darker, I think. And your way of carrying yourself is a little harsher for which, he said hurriedly, I am to blame, frightening you. Its just that I had no idea how to approach you, dear. I saw you on the street yesterday, I mean I believed it was you I had seen, Hazel Jones after so many years, and now todayI had to follow you.

Rebecca stared at him, deliberating. It did seem to her that this earnest man was telling the truth: the truth as he saw it. He was deceived, but didnt appear to be deranged. He spoke with relative calmness and his reasoning, granted the circumstances, was logical.

He thinks I am her, and I am lying.

Rebecca laughed, this was so unexpected! So strange.

She wished she could tell Tignor about it, when Tignor called. They might have laughed together. Except Tignor was inclined to be jealous, and you dont tell a man with such inclinations that you have been followed by another man wanting to think that you are another woman beloved by him.

Mister, Im sorry. Im just not her.

But

He was approaching her, slowly. Though shed told him, warned him, to stay away. He seemed not to know what he did, and Rebecca wasnt fully aware, either. He did seem harmless. Hardly taller than Rebecca, and wearing brown oxford shoes covered in dust. The cuffs of his cream-colored trousers were soiled, too. Rebecca smelled a sweet cologne or aftershave. As he was a young-old man, so he was a weak-strong man, too. A man you misjudge as weak, but in fact hes strong. His will was that of a young coiled-up copperhead snake. You might think the snake was paralyzed with fear, in terror of being killed, but it was not; it was simply biding its time, preparing to strike. Long ago Rebeccas father Jacob Schwart the gravedigger of Milburn had been a weak-strong man, only his family had known of his terrible strength, his reptile will, beneath the meek-seeming exterior. Rebecca sensed a similar doubleness here, in this man. He was apologetic, yet not humble. Not a strain of humility in his soul. He thought well of himself, obviously. He knew Hazel Jones, hed followed Hazel Jones, he would not give up on Hazel Jones, not easily.

Tignor would misjudge a man like this, for Tignor was affably blunt in his opinions, and never revised them. But this man was a man with money, and an education. Very likely, family money. He had a bachelor look, yet a cared-for look. His clothes were of good quality if now slightly rumpled, disheveled.

On his right hand he wore a gold signet ring with a black stone.

I dont know why you deny me, Hazel. What Ive done to so alienate you. I am Dr. Hendrickss son-you must recognize me.

He spoke half-wistfully, insinuatingly.

Rebecca laughed, she knew no one named Hendricks. Yet she said, as if to bait him, Dr. Hendrickss son?

Father passed away last November. He was eighty-four.

Im sorry to hear that. But-

Im Byron. You must remember Byron?

Im afraid, no I dont. I told you.

You were no more than twelve or thirteen! Such a young girl. I was just graduated from medical school. You perceived me as an adult. An abyss of a generation separated us. Now, the abyss is not so profound, is it? You must have wondered about us, Hazel. I am a doctor now, following my fathers example. But in Port Oriskany, not in the Valley. Twice a year I return to Chautauqua Falls to see relatives, to look after family property. And to tend my fathers grave.

Rebecca stood silent. Damn if she was going to respond to this!

Quickly Byron Hendricks continued, If you feel that you were mistreated, HazelYou, and your mother

I told you no! Im not even from Chautauqua Falls. My husband brought me here to live. Im married.

Rebecca spoke hotly, impatiently. Wished shed worn her ring to shove into this mans face. But she never wore her pretty ring at Niagara Tubing.

Byron Hendricks sighed. Married! He had not considered this, it seemed.

He said, There is something for you, Hazel. Through his long and sometimes troubled life my father never forgot you. I realize its too late for your poor mother, butWill you take my card, at least, dear? If you should ever wish to contact me.

He handed her a small white business card. The neatly printed black letters seemed to Rebecca a rebuke of some kind.

Byron Hendricks, M. D.

General & Family Medicine

Wigner Building, Suite 414

1630 Owego Avenue

Port Oriskany, New York

tel. 693-4661

Rebecca said, furious, Why the hell should I contact you?

Rebecca laughed, and tore the card into small pieces, and tossed them down onto the towpath. Hendricks stared at her in dismay. His lashless myopic eyes quivered.

Rebecca turned, and walked away. Maybe it was a mistake: turning her back on this guy. He was calling after her, I am so very sorry if I offended you! You must have a very good reason, dear, for such rudeness. I dont judge others, Hazel. I am a man of science and reason. I dont judge you. This newly harsh way of yours, thishardness. But I dont judge.

Rebecca said nothing. She wasnt going to look back.

God damn, hed scared her! She was shaking, still.

He was following her again, at a short distance. Persisting, Hazel! I think I understand. You were hurt, or were told you were. And so you wish to hurt, in turn. As I said, dear-there is something for you. My father did not forget you in his will.

Rebecca wanted to press her hands over her ears. No, no!

Will you call me someday, dear? In Port Oriskany? Or-come to see me? Tell me we are forgiven. And accept from me what Dr. Hendricks has left you, that is your legacy.

But Rebecca was now climbing the embankment to the road. A narrow, steep dirt path she knew well. Though she favored her ankle, she wasnt going to fall. Behind her Byron Hendricks remained, looking after her. He would be gripping his ridiculous panama hat in both hands, in a suppliant pose. Yet Rebecca had sensed the mans will, she shuddered to think of it. Shed had to pass so close to him, he might have reached out and grabbed her. The way hed crept up behind her, only the dried leaves had warned her, she would remember for a long time.

In his will.

Legacy.

It was a lie, had to be. A trick. She did not believe a word of it. Almost, Rebecca wished that Hendricks had tried to touch her. She would have liked to stab him with the piece of steel, or to try.


prologue | The Gravedigger`s Daughter | c