Mrs. Niles Tignor.
Each time she signed her new name, it seemed to her that her handwriting was altered.
“There’s enemies of mine out there, honey, they’d never approach me. But a wife, she’d be different.”
Tignor, frowning, made this pronouncement on the night of March 19,
1954, as they drank champagne in the honeymoon suite of the luxurious Hotel Niagara Falls that overlooked, through scrims of drifting mist, the fabled Horseshoe Falls. The suite was on the eighth floor of the hotel, Tignor had booked it for three nights. Rebecca shivered, but made herself laugh knowing that Tignor needed her to laugh, he’d been brooding much of the day. She came to sit on his lap, and kissed him. She was shivering, he would comfort her. In her new lace-trimmed silk dressing gown that was unlike any item of clothing Rebecca had ever seen let alone worn. Tignor grunted with satisfaction, and began to stroke her hips and thighs with hard, caressing motions of his strong hands. He liked her naked inside the dressing gown, her breasts loose, heavy as if milk-filled against his mouth. He liked to prod, to poke, to tease. He liked her to squeal when he tickled her. He liked to jam his tongue into her mouth, into her ear, into her tight little belly button, into her hot damp armpit that had never been shaved.
Rebecca did not ask what Tignor meant by his enigmatic words, for she supposed he would explain, if he meant to explain; if not, not. She had been Niles Tignor’s wife for less than twelve hours, but already she understood.
Clamped between his knees as he drove, a pint bottle of bourbon. The drive from Milburn north and east to Niagara Falls was approximately ninety miles. This landscape, layered with snow like rock strata, passed by Rebecca in a blur. When Tignor lifted the bottle to Rebecca, to drink from it, as you’d prod a child to drink from a bottle by nudging her mouth, he did not like her to hesitate, and so she swallowed the smallest sips she dared. Thinking Never say no to this man. The thought was comforting, as if a mystery had been explained.
“Tignor, my man! She’s of age, eh?”
“Lost in a fire.”
“She’s sixteen, at least?”
“Eighteen in May. She says.”
“And ain’t been c’erced, has she? Looks like both of you been in a car crash’r somethin.”
C’erced Rebecca heard as cursed. No idea what this squat bald man with tufted eyebrows, said by Tignor to be a trusted acquaintance, and a justice of the peace who could marry them, was speaking of.
Tignor responded with dignity: nobody was being c’erced. Not the girl, and not him.
“Well! See what we can do, man.”
Strange that the office of a justice of the peace was in a private house, small brick bungalow on a residential street, Niagara Falls nowhere near the Falls. And that his wife-“Mrs. Mack”-would be the sole witness to the wedding.
Tignor steadied her, she’d had to be helped into the house for bourbon on an empty stomach had made her legs weak as melted licorice. The vision in her left eye, that was what’s known as a shiner, was gauzy. Her swollen mouth throbbed not with ordinary pain but with a wild hunger to be kissed.
It was a “civil” ceremony she was told. It was very brief, requiring less than five minutes. It passed in a blur like turning the dial on a radio, the stations fade in and out.
“Do you, Rebecca…”
(As Rebecca began to cough, then to hiccup. So ashamed!)
“…your awfully, I mean lawfully wedding husband…”
(As Rebecca lapsed into a fit of giggles, in panic.)
“Say ”I do,“ my dear. Do you?”
“Y-Yes. I do.”
“And do you, Niles Tignor-”
In a mock-severe voice intoning: “By the authority vested in me by the State of New York and the County of Niagara on this nineteenth teenth day of March 1954 I hereby pronounce you…”
Somewhere outside, at a distance a siren passed. An emergency vehicle. Rebecca smiled, danger was far away.
“Bridegroom, you may kiss the bride. Take care!”
But Tignor only closed his arms around Rebecca, as if to shield her with his body. She felt his fist-sized heart beating against her warm, bruised face. She would have closed her arms around him, but he held her fixed, fast. His arms were heavy with fleshy muscle, his sport coat was scratchy against her skin. Her thoughts came to her in slow floating balloons Now I am married, I will be a wife.
There was someone she wanted to tell: she had not seen in a long time.
“Mrs. Mack” had documents to be signed, and a two-pound box of Fanny Farmer chocolates. This woman, squat like her husband, with thin-penciled eyebrows and a fluttery manner, had forms for Tignor and Rebecca to sign, and a Certificate of Marriage to take away with them. Tignor was impatient, signing his name in a scrawl that might have been N. Tignor if you peered closely. Rebecca had trouble holding the pen in her fingers, hadn’t realized that all the fingers of both her hands were slightly swollen, and her concentration faded in and out of focus, so Tignor had to guide her hand: Rebecca Schard.
“Mrs. Mack” thanked them. She wrested the box of chocolates out of her husband’s hands (the box had been opened, Mr. Mack was helping himself and chewing vigorously), and handed it over to Tignor like a prize.
“These’re included in the price, see? You get to take ‘em with you on your honeymoon.”
“My mother was always warning me, something bad would happen to me. But nothing ever did happen. And now I’m married.”
Rebecca smiled so happily with her banged-up mouth, Tignor laughed, and gave her a big wet smacking kiss in full view of whoever, in the lobby of the Hotel Niagara Falls, might be watching.
“Me too, R’becca.”
Never at the General Washington Hotel had Rebecca seen any room like the honeymoon suite at the Hotel Niagara Falls. Two good-sized rooms: bedroom with canopied bed, sitting room with velvet sofa, chairs, a Motorola floor-model television set, silver ice bucket and tray, crystal glasses. Here too Tignor playfully carried his bride over the threshold, fell with her onto the bed tugging at her clothes, gripping her squirmy body in his arms like a wrestler, and Rebecca shut her eyes to stop the ceiling from spinning, the bed-canopy overhead, Oh! oh! oh! gripping Tignor’s shoulders with the desperation of one gripping the edge of a parapet, as Tignor fumbled to open his trousers, fumbled to push himself into her more tentatively at first than he’d done in Beardstown, in a muffled choked voice murmuring what might have been Rebecca’s name; and Rebecca shut her eyes tighter for her thoughts were scattering like panicked birds before the wrath of hunters as their explosive shots filled the air and the birds fled skyward for their lives and she was seeing again her father’s face realizing for the first time it was a skin-mask, a mask-of-skin and not a face, she saw his mad eyes that were her own, saw his tremulous hands and for the first time too it came to her I must take it from him, that’s what he wants of me, he has called me to him for this, to take his death from him. Yet she did not. She was paralyzed, she could not move. She watched as he managed to maneuver the bulky shotgun around in that tight space, to aim at himself, and pull the trigger.
Tignor groaned, as if struck by a mallet.
It was her privilege to kiss him, as his wife.
The heavily sleeping man as oblivious of Rebecca kissing his sweaty face at his hairline as he was of the single forlorn fly buzzing trapped in the silken canopy of the bed, overhead.
In the night she found it, that she had not known she’d been looking for: in a “secret” compartment of Tignor’s suitcase, in the bathroom that was also a dressing room.
During the day, when they left the hotel, Tignor kept his suitcase locked. But not at night.
It was 3 A.M., Tignor was sleeping. He would sleep deeply and profoundly until at least 10 A.M.
In the bathroom that gleamed and glittered with pearly tiles, brass fixtures, mirrors in gold-gilt scalloped frames like no bathroom she had ever seen at the General Washington, Rebecca stood barefoot, naked and shivering. Tignor had pulled off her lacy new nightgown and tossed it beneath the bed. He wanted her naked beside him, he liked to wake to female nakedness.
“He wouldn’t mind. Why would he mind. Now we are husband-and-wife…”
Certainly Tignor would mind. He had a short temper, if anyone so much as questioned him in ways he didn’t like. A girl did not pry into Niles Tignor’s personal life. A girl did not tease the man by slipping her hand into his pocket (for his cigarette case, or lighter), for instance.
Leora Greb had warned Rebecca: never go through a guest’s suitcase, they can set traps for you and you’ll get hell.
Possibly Rebecca was looking for the Certificate of Marriage. Tignor had folded it carelessly, hidden it away among his things.
Not looking for money! (She seemed to know, Tignor would give her as much money as she wanted, so long as he loved her.) Not looking for brewery-business documents and papers. (Tignor kept these in a valise locked in the trunk of the car.) Yet in one of several zippered compartments in the suitcase she found it: a gun.
It appeared to be a revolver, with a dull blue-black barrel of about five inches. Its handle was wood. It did not appear to be newly purchased. Rebecca had no idea what caliber it was, if the safety lock was on, if it was loaded. (Of course, it must be loaded. What would Tignor want with an unloaded gun?)
It was as she’d known in the car speeding to Niagara Falls to be married: Never say no to this man.
Rebecca had no wish to remove the gun from the compartment. Quietly she zipped the compartment back up, and quietly she closed the suitcase. It was a man’s suitcase, impracticably heavy, made of good leather but now rather scuffed. A brass monogram gleamed NT.