First time I saw you, girl. I knew.
He was gone, and he would return. Rebecca knew: for he had promised.
At work, Rebecca removed the ring for safekeeping. She wrapped it in tissue and carried it close to her heart, in a pocket of her white rayon uniform. When she removed the uniform at the end of her shift, she replaced the silver ring on the smallest finger of her left hand.
Now, it fit perfectly. Katy had showed her how to tighten the ring with a narrow strip of transparent tape.
It was generally known, in Rebecca’s small circle of acquaintances, that Niles Tignor had given her this ring. Are you engaged? You spent the night with him-didn’t you? But Rebecca would not speak of Tignor. She was not one to speak casually of her personal life. She was not one to laugh and joke about men, as other women did. Her feeling for Tignor went too deep.
She hated it, the levity with which women spoke of men, when no men were near. Vulgar remarks, mocking, meant to be funny: as if women were not in awe of male power, the authority of a man like Tignor. The very carelessness of the male who might spread his seed with the abandon of milkweed or maple seeds swirling madly in gusty spring winds. Female mockery was merely defensive, desperate.
So Rebecca would not speak of Tignor, though her friends persisted in asking her. Was she engaged? And when would he be back in Milburn? She protested, “He isn’t the man you think you know. He is…” Behind her back she knew they laughed at her, and pitied her.
In the old stone cottage in the cemetery there had been many words but these had been the words of Death. Now, Rebecca did not trust words. Certainly there were no adequate words to speak of what had passed between her and Tignor, in Beardstown.
We are lovers now. We have made love together. We love each other…
Ugly words scrawled by boys on walls and pavement in Milburn. On Hallowe’en morning, invariably fuck fuk you waxed in foot-high letters on store windows, school windows.
It was so, Rebecca thought. Words lie.
She felt confident that Tignor would return to her, for he had promised. There was the ring. There was their lovemaking, the way Tignor had loved her with his body, that could not have been false.
No erotic event exists in isolation, to be experienced merely once, and forgotten. The erotic exists solely in memory: recalled, re-imagined, relived, and re-lived in a ceaseless present. So Rebecca understood, now. She was haunted by the memory of those hours in Beardstown that seemed to be taking place in a ceaseless present to which she alone had access. No matter if she was working, in the General Washington Hotel, or in the company of others, talking with them and seemingly alert, engaged: yet she was with Tignor, in the Beardstown Inn. In their bed, in that room.
Their bed it had come to seem, in her memory. Not merely the bed.
“Tignor! Pour me some bourbon.”
This Tignor would do, happily. For Tignor too needed a drink.
Lifting the glass to Rebecca’s chafed lips as she lay in the churned soiled sheets. Her hair was sticking to her sweaty face and neck, her breasts and belly were slick with sweat, her own and Tignor’s. He had made her bleed, the folded towels had only just been adequate to absorb the bleeding.
Making love to her, Tignor had been heedless of her muffled cries. Moving upon her massive and obliterating as a landslide. The weight of him! The bulk, and the heat! Rebecca had never experienced anything like it. So shocked, her eyes flew open. The man pumping himself into her, as if this action were his very life, he could not control its urgency that ran through him flame-like, catastrophic. He had scarcely known her, he could not have been aware of her attempts to caress him, to kiss him, to speak his name.
Afterward, she’d tried to hide the bleeding. But Tignor saw, and whistled through his teeth. “God damn.”
Rebecca was all right, though. If there was pain, throbbing pain, not only between her legs where she was raw, lacerated, as if he’d shoved his fist up inside her, but her backbone, and the reddened chafed skin of her breasts, and the marks of his teeth on her neck, yet she would not cry, God damn she refused to cry. She understood that Tignor was feeling some repentance. Now the flame-like urgency had passed, now he’d pumped his life into her, he was feeling a male shame, and a dread of her breaking into helpless sobs for then he must console her, and his sexual nature was not one comfortable with consolation. Guilt would madden Niles Tignor, like a horse beset by horseflies.
He hadn’t taken caution as he called it, either. This he had certainly meant to do.
Rebecca knew, by instinct, that she must not make Tignor feel guilty, or remorseful. He would dislike her, then. He would not want to make love to her again. He would not love her, and he would not marry her.
Ah, how good the bourbon tasted, going down! They drank from the same glass. Rebecca closed her fingers around Tignor’s big fingers, on the glass. She loved it, that his hand was so much larger than her own. The knuckles were pronounced, nickel-colored hairs grew lavish as pelt on the backs of his hands.
She was naked, and the man was naked. In this room in their bed at the Beardstown Inn, where they were spending the night together.
Abruptly now, they were intimate. The shock of nakedness had passed over into something so very strange: this intimacy, and the sweaty closeness of their flesh. If they kissed now, the kiss was one of this new intimacy. They were lovers and this fact could not be altered.
Rebecca smiled, greedy in this knowledge. What Tignor had done to her, to her body, was like a shotgun blast, irrevocable.
“You love me, Tignor, don’t you? Say you do.”
She laughed, and swatted him. In play, in this new dazzling intimacy where she, Rebecca Schwart, had the right now to lightly chastise her lover.
“Tignor! Say you do.”
In the sticky smelly sheets they lay dazed, exhausted. Like swimmers who have exerted themselves and lay now panting on the sand. What they had done would seem to matter less than that they’d done it, and had survived.
Tignor drifted by quick degrees into sleep. His body twitched, and quivered, with its powerful inner life. Rebecca marveled at him, the fact of him. Awkwardly in her arms, the weight of his left shoulder crushing her right arm. What does this mean, that we have done together? She felt the angry hurt throbbing between her legs and yet: the pain was distant, it could be endured. The flamey bourbon coursed through her veins, she too would sleep.
Waking later, in the night. And the bedside lamp was still on.
Her throat burned from the bourbon, she was very thirsty. And the seeping of blood in her loins, that had not ceased. Almost, she felt panic. Almost, she could not think of the man’s name.
She peered at him, from a distance of mere inches. So close, it’s difficult to see. His skin was ruddy and coarse and still very warm. He was a man who normally sweated when he slept, for his sleep was twitchy, restless. He grunted in his sleep, moaned and whimpered in surprise like a child. His metallic hair that lifted from his forehead, in damp spikes…His eyebrows were of that same glinting hue, and the beard pushing through the skin of his jaws. He had turned onto his back, sprawled luxuriantly across the bed, his left arm flung over Rebecca. She lay in its shelter, beneath its numbing weight.
How hard the man breathed, in his sleep! He half-snored, a wet clicking sound rhythmic in his throat like the cries of a nocturnal insect.
Rebecca slipped from the bed, that was unusually high from the floor. She winced, the pain in her groin was knife-like. And still she was bleeding, and had better take a towel with her, to prevent bloodstains on the carpet.
“So ashamed. Oh, Christ.”
Yet it was only natural wasn’t it: she knew.
Katy and the others would be eager to know, what had happened in Beardstown. They knew, or thought they knew, that Rebecca had never been with a man before. Now they would be ravenous to know, and would interrogate her. Though she would tell them nothing yet they would talk of her behind her back, they would wonder.
Niles Tignor! That was the man’s name.
Rebecca made her way stiffly into the bathroom, and shut the door. What relief, to be alone!
With shaky fingers Rebecca washed between the legs, using wetted toilet paper. She would not flush it down the toilet until she was certain the bleeding had stopped, for she dreaded waking Tignor. It was 3:20 A.M. The hotel was silent. The plumbing was antique, and noisy. She was dismayed to see that, yes there was fresh blood seeping from her, though more slowly than before.
“You will be all right. You will not bleed to death.”
In the mirror above the sink she was surprised to see: her flushed face, her wild disheveled hair. No lipstick remained on her mouth that looked raw, swollen. Her eyes appeared cracked, with tiny red threads. Her nose shone, oily. How ugly she was, how could any man love her!
Still, she smiled. She was Niles Tignor’s girl, this blood was proof.
The bleeding would cease by morning. This wasn’t menstrual blood that would continue for days. It wasn’t dark as that blood, and not clotted. Its odor was different. She would wash, wash, wash herself clean and the man would think no more of it.
Her hymen he’d torn, Rebecca knew the word from her dictionary. She’d smiled, years ago seeing how close hymen was to hymn, hymnal.
Suddenly she recalled how, in the Presbyterian church, beside Rose Lutter who had been so kind to her, Rebecca had not really listened to the minister’s sermons. Her mind had drifted off onto men, and maleness, and sex. But with unease, disdain, for she had not yet met Niles Tignor.
In the morning though groggy and hungover, Tignor would need to make love. His breath foul as ditch water yet he would need to make love. For he was fully aroused, and mad with love for her. Couldn’t keep his hands off her, he said. Crazy about her she was so beautiful, he said. My Gypsy-girl. My Jewess. Oh, Jesus…
Later Rebecca would say, in Tignor’s car driving back to Milburn, her head resting against his shoulder, “You know, I’m not a Gypsy, Tignor. I’m not a ”Jewess.“”
Tignor, bleary-eyed in the raw morning air, jaws glinting with stubble where he’d shaved in haste, seemed not to hear. Like a fisherman casting his line out, out into a fast-moving stream, he was thinking ahead to Milburn, and what awaited him. And beyond.
“Sure, kid. Me neither.”
The ring: it wasn’t the ring Baumgarten/Bumstead had placed at the foot of his bed to beguile Rebecca. She was certain, now she had time to examine it. The stone in the other ring had been a darker purple than this stone, square-or rectangular-cut, and clear as glass. (Very likely, it had been glass.) This small oval stone was purple, and opaque.
She was not pregnant. Yet she was pregnant with her feeling for the man, that accompanied her everywhere and at all times.
It was mid-March yet still winter, very cold at night. Only the days were lengthening, there were ever-longer periods of sunshine, thawing and dripping ice. Rebecca was stubborn in her belief that Tignor would return, check into the General Washington Hotel as usual, and call her. She knew, she had not doubted him. Yet when the phone rang in the early evening, and LaVerne Tracy answered, Rebecca came to the doorway to listen, her heart beating in dread. LaVerne was a blowsy blond woman of twenty-three whose attitude toward men was both flirtatious and mocking; always you could tell if LaVerne was speaking with a man on the phone, by her malicious smile.
“Rebecca? I don’t know if she’s home, I’ll see.”
Rebecca asked who the caller was.
LaVerne covered the receiver with the flat of her hand, indifferently. “Him.”
Rebecca laughed, and took the call.
Tignor wanted to see her, that night. After 10 P.M. if she was free. His voice was a shock in her ear, so close. He sounded edgy, not so bluff and assured as Rebecca recalled. His laughter sounded forced, unconvincing.
Rebecca said yes, she would see him. But only for a while, she had to work the next morning.
Tignor said stiffly so did he have to work the next morning-“I’m in Milburn on business, honey.”
In February, Rebecca had had no excuse to give Amos Hrube for being late for work, when Tignor brought her back at midday from Beardstown. She’d stood mute and sullen as Hrube scolded her, saying another chambermaid had had to take over her rooms. Tignor had wanted to speak to Hrube on Rebecca’s behalf, but Rebecca wouldn’t let him. The last thing she wanted was talk of her and Tignor among the hotel staff, beyond what the staff was already saying.
It was 10:20 P.M. when Tignor’s Studebaker pulled up outside the brownstone on Ferry Street. Tignor wasn’t one to come upstairs to knock on the apartment door, instead he entered only the vestibule and called Rebecca’s name up the stairs, with an air of impatience.
LaVerne said, “Tell that fucker to go to hell. Fuck he thinks he’s hot shit, yelling for you like that.”
LaVerne had known Niles Tignor before Rebecca had met him. Their relationship was vague to Rebecca, enigmatic.
Rebecca laughed, and told LaVerne she didn’t mind.
“Well, I mind,” LaVerne said hotly. “That fucker.”
Rebecca left the flat. She knew how LaVerne would complain of her to Katy, and how Katy would laugh, and shrug.
Shit it’s a man’s world, what can you do…
If Niles Tignor snapped his fingers for her, Rebecca would come to him. She would come initially, but on her own terms. For she must see the man again, and be with him, to re-establish the intimate connection between them.
She was wearing the green plaid coat Tignor had given her, of which she was so vain. Rarely did Rebecca wear this coat for it was too good for Milburn, and for the hotel chambermaid. She’d smeared lipstick on her mouth: a lurid moist peony-red. On her finger was the silver ring with the small oval milky-purple stone, Rebecca had learned by this time was an opal.
When Tignor saw her on the stairs, his smile faded. Something seemed to break in his face. He began to speak, he meant to be jocular in his easy, bantering way, but his voice failed. Quickly he came to Rebecca, and took her hand, hard, clumsy in possession. “Rebecca. Jesus…” Through her lowered eyelashes Rebecca assessed the man who was her lover and would be her husband: ruddy-faced, sensual, this man who’d seduced her and whose wish it was to break her, to use and discard her as if she were of no more consequence than a tissue: she saw him, in that instant exposed, naked. Beneath Tignor’s good-natured gregariousness was a ghastly nullity, chaos. His soul was a deep stone well nearly emptied of water, its rock sides steep, treacherous.
Rebecca shuddered, knowing.
Yet she lifted her face to his, to be kissed. For these are the rituals that must be performed. She would be without subterfuge, lifting her young, eager face to his, the moist red mouth that so aroused him. For she wished him to think she trusted him utterly, not to hurt her.
Tignor hesitated, and kissed her. Rebecca understood that, at the last moment, he had not wanted to kiss her. The light in the vestibule was glaring, overhead. The vestibule was shabby, unswept. Tenants on the first floor had a young child whose tricycle Tignor stumbled against, greeting Rebecca. He meant to kiss her lightly, a kiss of mere greeting, yet even this kiss Tignor mismanaged. He was stammering, as no one in Milburn had heard Niles Tignor stammer, “I-I guess I been-missing you. Jesus, Rebecca…” Tignor’s voice trailed off, he stood abashed.
Outside on Ferry Street was the robin’s-egg blue Studebaker, idling at the curb and expelling clouds of exhaust.
In the car, Tignor fumbled to turn the key in the ignition, but the key had already been turned, the motor was on. He cursed, and laughed. The interior of the car no longer smelled of smart new upholstery but of bourbon, cigar smoke. In the backseat Rebecca saw amid scattered newspapers, a valise and a pair of man’s shoes, the glint of a bottle. She wondered if the bottle was empty or yet contained bourbon and, if so, if she would be expected to drink from it.
Tignor said, “Honey, we can go to the hotel. Where I’m staying.”
He did not look at Rebecca. He was driving slowly along Ferry Street as if not altogether certain where he was.
Quietly Rebecca said no. “Not the hotel.”
Tignor said, “Why not? I have a room.”
When Rebecca did not reply, Tignor said, “It’s my private business at the hotel, who I bring. Nobody is going to interfere. They know me there and they respect my privacy. I have a suite on the seventh floor you will like.”
Again, quietly Rebecca said no. Not the hotel.
“There’s windows looking out toward the canal, over some roofs. I’ll order some supper, room service. Drinks.”
No, no! Rebecca would not. She was smiling, biting her lower lip.
Tignor was driving now more swiftly along Ferry, turning off onto Main. At the top of the steep hill the General Washington Hotel glittered with lights, amid blocks of mostly darkened buildings.
Rebecca said, “Not that hotel, Tignor. You know why.”
“Shit, then. We’ll go somewhere else.”
“Not any hotel, Tignor.”
In the fleeting light from the street, Rebecca saw him staring at her. She might have reached over to slap him. She might have laughed at him, mocked him. She saw his surprise, his hurt, slow-dawning as physical pain. And his resentment of her, the obdurate resisting female. His jaws tightened, yet he forced himself to smile.
“You’re the boss, then. Sure.”
He drove then to Sandusky’s, a tavern on the river. It was two miles away and during the drive he said nothing to Rebecca, nor did she speak to him.
Rebecca thought calmly He would not touch me. He would not want to hurt me.
As soon as they entered the smoky interior of the tavern, men called out to Tignor: “Hey, Tignor! H’lo, man”-“Tignor! How the hell are you?” Rebecca sensed how it gratified Tignor, to be so recognized, and well liked. Tignor swaggered, and called back greetings. Of course he knew Sandusky, the tavern owner; he knew the bartenders. He shook hands, he thumped shoulders. He declined invitations to join men at the bar, where they were eager to have him. He did not trouble to introduce Rebecca, who hung back, at a little distance. She saw the men assessing her, and liking what they saw.
A new, young one.
Some of these Milburn men must have known her, or of her. The Schwart girl. The gravedigger’s daughter. Yet she was older now, not a child. In Niles Tignor’s flashy company, they would not recognize her.
“C’mere, honey. Where it’s quiet.”
Tignor brought Rebecca to sit in a booth, away from the bar. A string of festive green and red lights, left over from Christmas, sparkled overhead. Tignor ordered Black Horse draft ale for himself, two glasses. And a Coke for Rebecca. She would drink ale if she wished, from Tignor’s glass. He hoped so.
“Hungry? Christ, I could eat a horse.”
Tignor ordered two platters of roast beef sandwiches, fried onions, french fries and ketchup. He wanted potato chips, too. And salty peanuts. Dill pickles, a plate of dill pickles. He spoke to Rebecca now in his easy, bantering way. In this place, where others might be observing them, he did not wish to be perceived as a man ill at ease with his girl. He talked of his recent travels through the state, in the Hudson Valley, south into the Catskill region, but very generally. He would tell her nothing crucial of himself, Rebecca knew. In Beardstown, when there had been the opportunity, he had not. He had gorged himself on food, drink, and Rebecca’s body, he had wanted nothing more.
“Last two nights, I was in Rochester. At the big hotel there, the Statler. I heard a jazz quartet in a nightclub. D’ya like jazz? Don’t know jazz? Well, someday. I’ll take you there, maybe. To Rochester.”
Rebecca smiled. “I hope so, yes.”
In the flickering lights Rebecca was a beautiful girl, perhaps. Since Tignor had made love to her, she had become more beautiful. He was powerfully drawn to her, remembering. He resented it, this power the girl had over him, to distract him. For he did not want to think of the past. He did not want the past, of even a few weeks ago, to exert any influence upon him, in the present. He would have said that to be so influenced, as a man, was to be weak, unmanly. He wanted to live in the present, solely. Yet he could not comprehend it, how Rebecca held herself apart from him, now. She was smiling, but wary. Her olive-dark skin had a fervid glow, her eyes were remarkably clear, the lashes dark, thick, with a curious oblique slyness.
“So! You don’t love me, eh? Not like last time.”
Tignor, leaning on his elbows, was wistful, half-joking, but his eyes were anxious. Not that Tignor wanted to love any woman but he wanted to be loved, very badly.
Rebecca said, “I do, Tignor. I do love you.”
She spoke in a strange, exultant, unsettling voice. The noise in the tavern was such, Tignor could pretend not to have heard. His pale flat eyes went opaque. A dull flush rose into his face. If he’d heard Rebecca, he had no idea what to make of her remark.
The roast beef platters arrived. Tignor ate his food, and much of Rebecca’s. He finished both glasses of ale, and ordered a third. He lurched from the booth to use the men’s room-“Gotta take a leak, honey. Be right back.”
Crude! He was crude, maddening. He went away from the booth, but was not right back.
Rebecca, idly chewing stumps of greasy french fries, saw Tignor dropping by other booths, and at the bar. A half-dozen men at the bar seemed to know him. There was a woman with puffed-up blond hair in a turquoise sweater, who persisted in slipping an arm around Tignor’s neck as she spoke earnestly with him. And there was the tavern owner Sandusky with whom Tignor had a lengthy conversation punctuated by explosions of laughter. He wants to hide among them Rebecca thought. As if he is one of them.
She felt the triumph of possession, that she knew the man intimately. None of these others knew Tignor, as she knew him.
Yet he stayed away from her, purposefully. She knew, she knew what he was doing; he had not telephoned her in weeks, he had forgotten about her. She knew, and would accept it. She would come like a dog when he snapped his fingers, but only initially: he could not make her do anything more.
When Tignor returned to Rebecca, carrying a draft ale, his face was damply flushed and he walked with the mincing precision of a man on a tilting deck. His eyes snatched at hers, in that curious admixture of anxiety and resentment. “Sorry, baby. Got involved over there.” Tignor did not sound very apologetic but he leaned over to kiss Rebecca’s cheek. He touched her hair, stroked her hair. His hand lingered on her shoulder. He said, “Know what, I’m gonna get you some earrings, R’becca. Gold hoop earrings. That Gypsy-look, that’s so sexy.”
Rebecca touched her earlobes. Katy had pierced Rebecca’s ears with a hat pin “sanitized” by holding it in a candle flame, so that she would wear pierced earrings, but the tiny slit-wounds had not healed well.
Rebecca said, unexpectedly, “I don’t need earrings, Tignor. But thank you.”
“A girl who ”don’t need‘ earrings, Jesus…“ Tignor sat across from Rebecca, heavily. In a gesture of drunken well-being he ran his hands robustly through his hair, and rubbed at his reddened eyelids. He said, genially, as if he had only now thought of it, ”Somebody was telling me, R’becca, you’re a, what?-“ward of the state.”“
Rebecca frowned, not liking this. God damn, people talking of her, to Niles Tignor!
“I am a ward of Chautauqua County. Because my parents are dead, and I’m under eighteen.”
Never had Rebecca uttered those words before.
My parents are dead.
For she had not been thinking of Jacob and Anna Schwart as dead, exactly. They awaited her in the old stone cottage in the cemetery.
Tignor, drinking, was waiting for Rebecca to say more, so she told him, with schoolgirl brightness, “A woman, a former schoolteacher, was appointed my guardian by the county court. I lived with her for a while. But now I’m out of school, and working, I don’t need a guardian. I am ”self-supporting.“ And when I’m eighteen, I won’t be a ward any longer.”
Tignor smiled, but he was troubled, uneasy. Seventeen: so young!
Tignor was twice that age, at least.
“This guardian, who’s she?”
“A woman. A Christian woman. She was”-Rebecca hesitated, not wanting to say Rose Lutter’s name-“very nice to me.”
Rebecca felt a stab of guilt. She’d behaved badly to Miss Lutter, she was so ashamed. Not just leaving Miss Lutter without saying goodbye but three times Miss Lutter had tried to contact Rebecca at the General Washington Hotel, and Rebecca had ripped up her messages.
Tignor persisted, “Why’d the court appoint her?”
“Because she was my grade school teacher. Because there was no one else.”
Rebecca spoke with an air of impatience, she wished Tignor would drop the subject!
“Hell, I could be your guardian, girl. You don’t need no stranger.”
Rebecca smiled, uncertain. She’d become warm, discomfited, being interrogated by Tignor. What he meant by this remark she wasn’t sure. Probably just teasing.
Tignor said, “You don’t like talking about this ”ward‘ stuff, I guess?“
Rebecca shook her head. No, no! Why the hell didn’t he leave her alone.
She liked Tignor to tease her, yes. In that impersonal way of his that allowed her to laugh, and to feel sexy. But this, it was like him jamming his fist up inside her, making her squirm and squeal, for fun.
Rebecca hid her face, that thought was so ugly.
Where had such a thought come from, so ugly!
“Baby, what the hell? Are you crying?”
Tignor pulled Rebecca’s hands away from her face. She was not crying, but would not meet his eye.
“Wish you liked me better tonight, baby. There’s something gone wrong between us, I guess.”
Tignor spoke mock-wistfully. He was stymied by her, balked by her will in opposition to his own. He was not accustomed to women in opposition to him for very long.
Rebecca said, “I like you, Tignor. You know that.”
“Except you won’t come back with me. To the hotel.”
“Because I’m not your whore, Tignor. I am not a whore.”
Tignor winced as if she’d slapped him. This kind of talk, from a woman, was deeply shocking to him. He began to stammer:
“Why’d you think-that? Nobody ever said-that! Jesus, Rebecca-what kind of talk is that? I’m not a man who goes to-whores. God damn I am not.”
It was the man’s pride she’d insulted. As if she’d leaned over the table and slapped him hard in the face for all in Sandusky’s to see.
Rebecca had spoken hotly, impulsively. Now she’d begun she could not stop. She had not tasted Tignor’s ale that evening yet she felt the reckless exhilaration of drunkenness. “You gave me money, Tignor. You gave me eighty-four dollars. I picked up those bills from the floor, the ones I could find. You didn’t help me. You watched me. You said the money was from my brother Herschel in Montreal, but I don’t believe you.”
Until this moment Rebecca hadn’t known what she believed. She hadn’t wanted to be suspicious of Tignor, she hadn’t wanted to think about it. Eighty-four dollars! And this money, too, off the books. Now it seemed probable, Tignor had played a trick on her. She was so stupidly naive. He had paid Rebecca Schwart for being a whore and he’d done it so deftly, in his way of shuffling and dealing cards, you could argue that Rebecca Schwart had not been a whore.
Tignor was protesting, “What the hell are you saying, you? I made it up? He-what’s-his-name-”Herschel‘-did give me that money, for you. Your own brother, that loves you, for Christ’s sake you should be grateful.“
Rebecca pressed her hands over her ears. Now it seemed so clear to her, and everyone must have known.
“Look, you took the money, didn’t you? I didn’t see you leaving it behind on the floor, baby.”
Baby Tignor uttered in a voice heavy with sarcasm.
“Yes, I took it. I did.”
She had not wanted to question the money, at the time. Within a few days she’d spent it. She’d bought food for lavish meals, for her roommates and herself. She’d bought nice things for the living room. She had never been able to contribute as much to the apartment as Katy and LaVerne, always she’d felt guilty.
Now she saw, the others must have guessed who the money was really from. She had told them Herschel but surely they were thinking Tignor. Katy had told her, taking money for sex was only just something that happened, sometimes.
Tignor’s eyes glistened meanly. “And you took the ring, R’becca. You’re wearing the ring, aren’t you?”
“I’ll give it back! I don’t want it.”
Rebecca tried to remove the ring from her finger but Tignor was too quick for her. He clamped his hand over her hand, hard against the tabletop. He was furious, that she should draw attention to them, he was exposed, humiliated. Rebecca whimpered with pain, she worried he would crush the bones of her hand, that were so much smaller than his own. She saw by the flushed glistening look in the man’s face that he would have liked to murder her.
“We’re leaving. Take your coat. Fuck, you won’t take it, I will.” Tignor grabbed Rebecca’s coat, and his jacket, without releasing her hand. He dragged her from the booth. She stumbled, she nearly fell. People were watching them, but no one would intervene. In Sandusky’s, no one would wish to challenge Niles Tignor.
Yet in the Studebaker, in the tavern parking lot, the struggle continued. As soon as Tignor released Rebecca’s hand, a flame of madness came over her, she tugged at the ring. She would not wear it a moment longer! And so Tignor slapped her, with the back of his hand, and threatened to do worse. “I hate you. I don’t love you. I never did. I think you are an animal, disgusting.” Rebecca spoke quietly, almost calmly. She cringed against the passenger’s door, her eyes glaring out of the darkness reflecting neon lights like the eyes of a feral cat. Clumsily she was kicking at him. She drew back both her knees to her chest, and kicked him. Tignor was so taken by surprise, he could not protect himself. He cursed her, and punched her. His aim was off, the steering wheel was in his way. Rebecca clawed at his face and would have raked his cheeks if she had been able to reach him. She was so reckless, fighting a man with the strength to break her face in a single blow, Tignor marveled at her. Almost, he had to laugh at her-“Jesus, girl!” She caught him with a flailing blow, bloodying his lip. Tignor wiped his mouth discovering blood. Now he did laugh, the girl was so brazen not seeming to know what he might do to her, in her need to hurt him.
She had not forgiven him, for not calling her. Those weeks. That was the crux of it, Tignor understood.
Somehow, Tignor managed to start the car motor. He kept Rebecca at arm’s length. Blood ran down his chin in tusk-like rivulets, his suede sheepskin jacket would be ruined. He backed the Studebaker around, and managed to drive nearly to the road, before Rebecca attacked again. This time, he grabbed her by her thick long hair, shut his fist in her hair and slammed her against the passenger’s door so hard, her head against the window, she must have lost consciousness for a moment. He hoped to hell he had not cracked the window. By this time, men had followed them out into the parking lot, to see what was happening. Yet even now, no one would intervene. Sandusky himself who was Tignor’s friend had hurried outside, bareheaded in the freezing air, but damn if Sandusky would intervene. This was between Tignor and the girl. You had to suppose there was a purpose to whatever Tignor had to do in such circumstances, and justice.
Rebecca was weakened now, sobbing quietly. That last blow had calmed her, Tignor was able to drive back into Milburn, and to Ferry Street. He would have helped Rebecca out of his car except as he braked at the curb she had the door open, she shrank from him to run away, stumbling up the brownstone steps and into the house. Tignor, panting, gunned the motor, and drove away. He was bleeding not only from the mouth but from a single vertical cut on his right cheek, where Rebecca’s nails had caught him. “Bitch. Fucking bitch.” Yet he was so flooded with adrenaline, he felt little pain. He guessed that the girl was looking pretty beat-up, too. He hoped he had not broken any of her bones. Probably he’d blackened an eye, maybe both eyes. He hoped to hell nobody called the police. In the parking lot behind the hotel he switched on the overhead light in the Studebaker and saw, as he knew he would see, on the front seat, tossed down in contempt of him, the little opal ring.
The girl’s coat lay trampled on the floor.
“It’s over, then. Good!”