home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



31

Somebody wants to meet you, Rebecca. If youre the black-haired Gypsy-looking chambermaid who works on the fifth floor.

This was the first Rebecca heard, that Niles Tignor was interested in her. Amos Hrube with his smirky, insinuating smile.

Later that day, Mulingar, beefy and mustached, bartender in the Tap Room. Rbecca! Got a friend whod like to meet you, next time hes in town.

It was Colleen Donner, a switchboard operator at the hotel, a new friend of Rebeccas, who made the arrangements. Tignor would be in town the last week of October. He would be staying at the hotel for just two nights.

At first Rebecca could not speak. Then she said yes, yes I will.

She was sick with apprehension. But she would go through with it. For she loved Niles Tignor, at a distance. There was no man Rebecca had loved in all her life, and she loved Niles Tignor.

Only I know. I know him.

So she consoled herself. In her loneliness, she was fervent to believe. For Jesus Christ had long since ceased to appear to her, wraith-like and seductive in the corner of her eye.

Since leaving Miss Lutter, Rebecca had ceased to think of Jesus Christ, altogether.

Let the girl go, fucker.

Ill break your ass.

This loud furious voice she heard almost continuously. In her thoughts it was always present. Cleaning rooms, pushing her maids cart, smiling to herself, avoiding the eyes of strangers. Miss? Miss? Excuse me, miss? But Rebecca was courteous and evasive. All men she kept at a distance as she kept her distance from all hotel guests, including women, whom she could not trust, in their authority over her. For it was the prerogative of any hotel guest to accuse any member of the staff of rudeness, poor performance, theft.

Let the girl go

She was dreamy, and she was agitated. She was unaccountably excited, and she was stricken with an almost erotic lassitude. She had never been involved with any boy or man, until now. At the high school, there had been boys who were attracted to her, but only crudely, sexually. For shed been the gravediggers daughter, from outside Milburn. Shed been a Quarry Road girl, like Katy Greb.

When she thought of Niles Tignor, she felt a cruel, voluptuous sensation pass over her. Of course, she hadnt known his name at the time he had entered Baumgartens room and yet somehow she had known him. She wanted to think that they had exchanged a glance at the time. I know you, girl. I have come here for you.

That day, a Friday in October 1953, Rebecca worked her eight-hour shift at the hotel. Not tired! Not tired at all. Returned to Ferry Street, bathed, shampooed her hair, brushed and brushed her long wavy hair that fell past her shoulders, halfway down her back. Katy gave her a tube of lipstick, to smear on her mouth: bright peony-red. Christ, you look good. Like Ruth Roman. Rebecca laughed, she had only a vague idea who the film actress Ruth Roman was. She said, Ruth-Rebecca. Maybe were sisters. She wore a lime-green sweater that fit her bust tightly, and a gray flannel skirt that fell to mid-calf, a tailored skirt as a salesgirl at Norbans described it. LaVerne gave her a little silk scarf to tie around her neck, such neckerchiefs were in vogue.

Stockings! Rebecca had a pair without a run. And high-heeled black leather shoes, shed bought for $7.98, for the occasion.

She met Colleen outside the rear entrance of the hotel. As employees, they would not have dared to enter through the lobby.

Colleen scolded, Rebecca! Dont look like youre going to some damn funeral, try to smile. Nothings gonna happen to you, you dont want to happen.

It was early evening, and the Tap Room was beginning to fill. At once Rebecca saw Niles Tignor at the bar: a tall broad-backed man with peculiar, nickel-colored hair that seemed to lift from his head. He surprised her, for he stood at the bar with other, ordinary men.

She stared, suddenly frightened. It was a mistake, meeting him. Here was not the man she remembered, exactly. Here was a man whose booming laughter she could hear across the room, above the din of mens voices.

He was talking with the men at the bar, hed taken not the slightest interest in Colleen and Rebecca who were approaching slowly. The symmetry of his face seemed wrong, as if the bones beneath the skin had been broken, and one side had set higher than the other. His skin looked heated, the hue of red clay. He was larger than Rebecca remembered: his face, his head, his shoulders, his torso that resembled a barrel in which the staves were horizontal and not vertical, a rib cage dense with muscle. Yet he wore a sport coat, dull gray with darker stripes, that fitted him tightly in the shoulders. He wore dark trousers, and a white shirt open at the throat.

Rebecca was pulling at Colleens arm, weakly. But Colleen, trying to get the attention of her friend Mulingar, behind the bar, pushed her off.

It was a mistake, yet it would happen. Rebecca felt the crust of lipstick on her mouth, bright and smiling as a clowns mouth.

Tignor was a man to hold the attention of other men, you could see. He was telling a story, just concluding a story, the others listened intently, already beginning to laugh. At the ending, which might have been unexpected, there was explosive laughter. Six, seven men including the bartender were gathered around Tignor. At this moment, Mulingar glanced around to see Colleen and Rebecca, girls alone in the Tap Room, amid so many men, and beginning to draw attention. Mulingar winked at Colleen, and signaled her to come closer. He leaned over to speak into Tignors ear, smiling his sly, lewd smile.

Tignor, however, broke off his conversation with the other men, and turned to see them. Immediately, smiling, his hand extended, he approached them.

Girls! Hlo.

He was squinting at them. At Rebecca. The way a hunter squints along a rifle barrel. Rebecca who was smiling felt a rush of blood into her face, a hemorrhage of blood. Only dimly could she see, her vision was blurred.

Colleen and Niles Tignor spoke, animatedly. Through the roaring in her ears Rebecca heard her name, and felt the mans grasp, tight, very warm, gripping her hand and releasing it.

Rbecca. Hlo.

Tignor escorted the girls to a booth in another part of the tavern, where it was quieter. Close by was a large fieldstone fireplace in which birch logs were burning.

How nice it was here! The oldest, historic part of the General Washington Hotel, that Rebecca had never before seen.

Colleen was twenty-one, and so could drink: Tignor ordered a draft beer for her. Rebecca was under-age and so could only have a soft drink. Tignor gave their orders and spoke with them politely, rather formally, at first. His manner with the girls was very different from his manner with the men.

Clearly, Tignor was taken with Rebecca, though his initial conversation was with Colleen, a flirty sort of banter. How big the mans teeth were, a horses teeth! Somewhat crooked, and of the hue of rotted corncobs. And his odd broke-looking face. And his eyes that were pale, metallic gray, lighter than his skin; their glisten, fixed upon Rebecca, made her uneasy, yet exhilarated. Her heart was beating as it had beat in the high school that morning when Gloria Meunzer pushed into her from behind and Rebecca had known that she wasnt going to run this time, she would turn, confront her enemies, she would fight.

Tignor smiled, asking Rebecca about her work at the hotel.

Must be, a chambermaid sees lots of things, eh? Bet you could tell some stories.

Rebecca laughed. She was very shy, with Tignor focusing upon her so. She said, No. I dont tell stories.

Tignor laughed, approving. Good girl! Thats a good girl.

He would know, she had not spoken of him to the police. There was the secret between them, that Colleen could not guess.

On the sly, Rebecca drank from Colleens glass. For there was the pretense that the hotel management must not see, here was an underaged customer. Tignor ordered two more draft beers, Black Horse of course, for the table.

Damn Rebecca had no intention of remaining sober that night. She was sick of always-so-serious, God-damned heavy heart as her friends chided her. Looking like a funeral God damn. No guy wants to go out with a girl with a heavy heart. Rebecca heard herself laughing, and she felt her face flush, and she knew she looked damned good, that was why Niles Tignor was attracted to her. She would drink as much as Colleen drank, and she would not get drunk, or sick to her stomach. And when Tignor made a show of offering them Chesterfield cigarettes from his fancy silver cigarette case, engraved with the initials NT, Rebecca saw her fingers extract a cigarette just as readily as Colleen did, and this too made her laugh.

It was then that Tignor said, unexpectedly, frowning, in his awkward, head-on way, Rbecca Schwart. I have heard of you, and I am sorry for your loss.

It was a painful moment. Rebecca wasnt sure at first what she had heard.

Bit her lip to keep from laughing. But she could not keep from laughing.

Why do you think I have a loss! I dont. I dont care. I wanted them dead, I hated them both.

It was a purely nervous reflex, Rebeccas laugh. Both Tignor and Colleen stared at her. Rebecca wanted to hide her face in her hands. She wanted to leave the booth, and escape from this place. She managed to say, to Tignor, Idont think about it, now.

Tignor cupped a hand to his ear, he hadnt heard.

Rebecca repeated her faltering words. By now her face was throbbing again with blood. Tignor nodded. Thats right, girl. Good. There were things of which Niles Tignor did not wish to think, either.

He squeezed her hand. She felt that she would faint, at the touch.

Rebeccas hand was hardly a small, delicate female hand and yet, in Tignors grip, it became so; his fingers, squeezing, with unconscious strength, made her wince.

Girl hed called her.

Theyd known each other a long time.

Like this, Rebecca. Dont breathe in right away, wait till you get more used to it.

Colleen was showing Rebecca how to smoke. As Tignor looked on, amused. A Technicolor movie it was, music billowing beneath. Not Ruth Roman but Debbie Reynolds, June Allyson. Rebecca was behaving like these pretty, pert film actresses. She was a good-girl-learning-to-smoke, she coughed, tears spilled from her eyes. She was a girl learning-to-drink. She was a girl to please a man, not just any man but a man like Niles Tignor, and though she looked like a slut, in her tight sweater and tight skirt and her mouth a lurid lipstick red, and her hair wavy and tangled down her back, yet she wanted you to think she was a good girl, and naive.

A girl a man wanted to protect, and to love.

Why this happened, Rebecca didnt know: Colleen leaned over and kissed her on the lips!

A joke, it must have been. Tignor laughed.

Oh, but tobacco had such an ugly taste. Mixed in her mind with milk

Damn Rebecca was not going to puke. Not here! Not her.

Luckily, the subject shifted. Rebecca let her cigarette go out. Washed away the taste with a swallow of her lukewarm cola. Colleen, a shrewd girl whod dated many men, and some of these men old as Niles Tignor, knew the questions to ask of their escort: where did he travel, where did he like best, did he have girlfriends all over the state like people said, where was he headed after Milburn, did he have an actual home, anywhere?

Tignor answered most of these questions with a pose of seriousness. He liked everywhere he went but favored Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. He liked all the people he met! For sure, he liked the General Washington: the hotel was a damn good Black Horse customer.

He had no home-maybe. He wasnt one to especially want a home like other people. Near as he could figure, home was a weight dragging at your ankle. Unless home could be something he could take with him anywhere he went, like his car.

Rebecca was struck by Tignors words. She knew no one who had ever articulated such thoughts. There was a precision here of thinking, though Tignors actual words were commonplace, that thrilled her. Like Herschel, he was. A crude expression yet something subtle beneath, and unexpected. For wasnt home a trap, really? Confinement, a prison. A dank airless cave. You crawled into your cave, to die. What would a man like Niles Tignor want with a mere home?

Rebecca said eagerly, I dont have one, either. A home. Just someplace I keep things. I live on Ferry Street with my friends but it isnt my home. I could sleep out anywhere-by the canal, or in a car.

Tignor laughed, and stared at her, and drank. Rebecca was drinking beer now, from a glass someone had set before her.

It was past nine oclock: Tignor ordered food for them.

Roast beef on kimmelwick bread, a specialty of the Tap Room. French fries, dill pickles. Foaming glasses of Black Horse draft ale. Rebecca would not have thought she could eat, in Niles Tignors presence, yet she was surprisingly hungry. Tignor devoured not one but two of the enormous roast beef sandwiches, washed down with ale. His big teeth flashed, he was utterly happy.

Gin rummy, girls. Know it?

Rebecca opened her heavy-lidded eyes. Suddenly there was Tignor shuffling cards.

Out of nowhere, a shiny, new-looking deck of playing cards! With remarkable skill Tignor shuffled, caused cards to flash in the air in a kind of waterfall, fascinating to observe. Rebecca had never seen anything like Tignors skill with cards. And such big, ungainly hands! Cut, babe. Hed slapped down the deck, Rebecca cut it, and Tignor snatched up the deck again and continued to shuffle, grinning at his audience. Like glittering blades he dealt cards to Colleen, to Rebecca, to himself, to Colleen, to Rebecca, to himselfWhen had it been decided that they would play cards? Rebecca recalled the gin rummy games shed played at the Greb house, and wondered if Leora had taught them correctly.

Tignor announced this game would be Gypsy-gin-rummy, a variation of the other.

Gypsy-gin-rummy? Neither Colleen nor Rebecca had heard of it.

Tignor removed his jacket and flung it across the back of the booth. His white cotton shirt was of good quality but had become damp and rumpled. His face too was damp, a rivulet of sweat at his temple. The strange steely hair looked like a cap of wires. His eyes were pale, as if luminescent against his ruddy face. A deep-sea predators eyes, Rebecca thought. For a man of his type Tignor had surprisingly clean fingernails, close cut, though thick and somewhat discolored. He wore a wristwatch with a black leather band, not Baumgartens watch. And a ring on his right hand, a strange figure like a lion, with a human face, in bas-relief, in gold. Pick up your cards, Rebecca. See what you have.

She picked up her cards, eager but fumbling. Tried to recall what the point of the game was. You counted cards in a sequence, of the same suit; or in a group, of identical value. There were two piles of cards on the table, the discard and the stock and you were expected to do something with these. The object was to accumulate points and go gin.

Colleen was disappointed with her cards. She laughed but bit her lower lip, pouting.

Rebecca stared at the shining cards in her hand. The queen of spades? Ten of spades? Jack, ace?

Her fingers trembled slightly. The smoldering smoke of the birch logs distracted her. She had a vision of birch trees, beautifully white birches marked with striations in black, bent to the ground, broken-backed to the groundShe had no need to draw, or to discard. She played out the hand. She was too naive a cardplayer to question the odds of such a hand.

Tignor laughed, and congratulated her. He was keeping score with a stub of a pencil, on a cocktail napkin.

The game continued. Tignor dealt. The girls insisted, he must be the dealer for they loved to watch him shuffle the cards. Though Colleen complained, Rebecca has all the luck. Shit! A pretty frowning girl with a fleshy deep-pink mouth, large breasts firmly erect in a black knit jersey top, glittery hoop earrings. Rebecca sensed how desperate Colleen was to snag Tignors eye, to engage his interest that kept drifting onto Rebecca. Dyou need extra cards, girls? Its Gypsy-rummy. Ask me, Ill hit you.

They laughed. They had no idea what Tignor was talking about.

Rebecca had been noticing how amid the busyness and frantic hilarity of the Tap Room, Tignor seemed to hold himself apart. If he was aware of others glancing in their direction from time to time, men who might have imagined themselves friends of his, or friendly acquaintances, hoping to be invited to join Tignor in his booth, he gave no sign. For he was not like the other men: he was so supremely self-possessed. He was not quite laughing at Colleen and Rebecca, these credulous girls who picked up the cards he dealt them, like children.

Oh, look at my hand

Oh, look!

Rebecca laughed, she had such beautiful shining cards king queen jack of clubsShed given up counting their value, she would trust to Tignor to keep score.

Tignor hunched over his own cards, and sucked at his mouth in dissatisfaction, or a pretense of dissatisfaction, saying, suddenly, Your race, Rebecca. You are wanderers.

Race? What race?

The race to which you were born.

This was so abrupt, Rebecca had no idea what they were talking about. Her eyelids, that were heavy, and stinging from the smoke, now lifted in antagonism. Im the same race as you. The same damn race as anybody.

She was furious with Niles Tignor, suddenly. She felt a savage dislike of him in her soul, in that instant. He had tricked her into trusting him. All that evening hed been leaning forward on his elbows watching her, bemused. She would have liked to claw his big-boned face that was so smug.

Yet Tignor frowned, his question seemed sincere: What race is that, Rebecca?

The human race.

These words were so fiercely uttered, both Tignor and Colleen burst into laughter. And Rebecca laughed, seeing this was meant to be playful-was it? She liked it that she could make Niles Tignor laugh. She had a gift for beguiling men, if she wished to. Catching their eyes, making them want her. The outside of her, that they could see. Since Tignor had greeted her shed been intensely aware of him, the sexual heat that exuded from him. For of course Tignor wanted sex with her: he wanted sex from her. God damn if she would go upstairs with him to his hotel room, or out into his car for a nightime drive along the riverShe felt the thrill of her will in opposition to his. She felt almost faint, exulting in her opposition.

Tignor was dealing. More flashing cards. Tignors fingers, the sphinxring on his right hand, snaky rivulet of sweat running down his forehead, and those big horsey teeth grinning at her. Dont need to be hit, eh? So show us your cards, girl.

Rebecca spread her cards on the sticky tabletop: king, queen, jack, ten, seven, aceall diamonds.

Unexpectedly then Rebecca began to cry. Tears spilled down her warm cheeks, stinging as acid.


| The Gravedigger`s Daughter | c