She was waiting to become pregnant. Now she was a man’s wife, next she would be a baby’s mother.
Always on the move! Tignor boasted it was the only life.
In those years they lived nowhere. Through 1954 and into the spring of 1955 (when Rebecca became pregnant for the first time) they lived nowhere but in Tignor’s car and in a succession of hotels, furnished rooms and, less frequently, apartments rented by the week. Most of their stops were overnight. You could say they lived nowhere but only just stopped for varying lengths of time. They stopped in Buffalo, Port Oriskany, and Rochester. They stopped in Syracuse, Albany, Schenectady, Rome. They stopped in Binghamton and Lockport and Chautauqua Falls and in the small country towns Hammond, Elmira, Chateaugay, Lake Shaheen. They stopped in Potsdam, and in Salamanca. They stopped in Lake George, Lake Canandaigua, Schroon Lake. They stopped in Lodi, Owego, Schoharie, Port au Roche on the northern shore of Lake Champlain. In some of these places, Rebecca understood that Tignor was negotiating to buy property, or had already bought property. In all of these places, Tignor had friends and what he called contacts.
Tignor returned regularly to Milburn, of course. He continued to stay at the General Washington Hotel. But at these times he left Rebecca in another town, for she could not bear returning to Milburn.
To the hotel, she’d told Tignor. Not that!
In fact it was Milburn itself. Where she was the gravedigger’s daughter and where, if she cared to seek it out, she could visit her parents’ weedy grave sites in a shabby corner of the Milburn Township Cemetery.
She had never returned to Ferry Street to pick up the remainder of her things. In such haste she’d left, on that first, astonishing morning of her new life.
But, months later, she’d written to Katy and LaVerne. Her mood was repentant, nostalgia. She worried that her friends had come to dislike her out of jealousy. I miss you! I am very happy as a married woman, Tignor & I travel all the time on business staying in the best hotels but I miss you both, & Leora. I am hoping to have a baby…What was this: this girlish-gushing tone? Was this the voice of Mrs. Niles Tignor? Rebecca felt a thrill of sheer revulsion, for the voice emerging from her, writing rapidly as she could propel a pen across a sheet of Schroon Lake Inn stationery, in the eerie stillness of the hotel room. I am sending some money here, please buy something nice for the apartment, new curtains? a lamp? Oh I miss us together staying up late, laughing; I miss Leora dropping by; I would call you but Tignor would not like it, I am afraid. Husbands are jealous of their wives! I should not be surprised, I suppose. Especially, Tignor is jealous of other men of course. He says he knows what men are “in their hearts” & does not trust his wife with any of them. Rebecca paused, for a moment unable to continue. She could not allow herself to read what she’d written. She could not allow herself to imagine what Tignor would say, should he read what she’d written. May I ask a favor? If you would please send me some of the things I left behind there, my dictionary especially? I know this is a big favor, for you to wrap & mail something so heavy, I guess that I could buy a new dictionary, for Tignor is very generous giving me money to spend as his wife. But that dictionary is special to me. Rebecca paused, blinking away tears. Her battered old dictionary: and her name misspelled inside. But it was her dictionary, Pa had not tossed it into the stove but had relented, as if, in that instant, that flooded back upon her now with the power of hallucination, Pa had loved her after all. Please send to Mrs. Niles Tignor c/o P.O. Box 91, Hammondsville, NY (which is where Tignor receives mail, as it is central to his travels in NY State). Here is $3. Thank you! Give Leora a hug & kiss for me will you? I miss our old days playing rummy after school Katy don’t you? Your friend Rebecca. How tired she was, suddenly. How stricken with unease. For this voice was not hers; no word was hers; as Rebecca, she had no words; as Mrs. Niles Tignor, each word that escaped from her was somehow false. Hurriedly she reread the letter, and wondered if she should rip it up; yet, the point of the letter was to ask for her dictionary to be sent to her. How tired she was feeling, her head ached with anxiety: Tignor would be returning to the room, she dared not allow him to see her writing a letter.
Hastily she added a P.S., that made her smile:
Tell Leora to pass on to that asshole Amos Hrube I DO NOT MISS HIS UGLY FACE.
Each month she was ever closer to becoming pregnant, Rebecca believed. For less frequently now did Tignor take caution. Especially if he’d been drinking, and there just wasn’t time. Even as they made love Rebecca rehearsed telling him Tignor? I have news. Or, Tignor! Guess what you’re going to be, darling. And me, too. Brushing aside as you’d brush aside an annoying fly any memory of those rumors of Niles Tignor she’d heard back in Milburn that the man had children of all ages scattered across the state, that his young wives came to harm, that even now he had at least one wife and young children, he’d only recently abandoned.
Some months, she would swear she was. Just had to be.
Her breasts felt heavy, the nipples so sensitive she winced when Tignor sucked them. And her belly hard and round and tight as a drum. Tignor was crazy for her, said it was like a drug to him, her and him together he couldn’t get enough of. And not taking caution signaled to Rebecca he wanted a baby just as she did.
Rebecca had not wished to ask Tignor straight out if he wanted children, nor would Tignor have asked Rebecca for there was a curious reticence between them in such matters. Tignor spoke crudely and casually using such words as fuck, screw, suck, shit but he would have been deeply embarrassed to utter such an expression as having sexual intercourse. No more could Tignor have spoken of making love to Rebecca than he could have spoken in a foreign language.
It was all right for Rebecca to become emotional, such behavior was expected of a woman. “You love me, Tignor, don’t you? A little?” Rebecca would ask, plaintive as a kitten, and Tignor would mutter, “Sure.” Laughing, on the edge of being annoyed, “Why’d I marry you, sweetheart, if I didn’t?”
Her reward was, and would be: the man’s weight upon her.
How big Tignor was, and how heavy! It was like the sky falling on you. Panting and spent and his skin that was coarse and mismatched-looking glowed with an uncanny sort of beauty.
Rebecca believed that her love for Niles Tignor would endure for a lifetime, always she would be grateful to him. He had not needed to marry her, she knew. He might have tossed her away like a used tissue, for perhaps that was what she deserved.
Somewhere amid his things it existed: the Certificate of Marriage. Rebecca had seen it, her hand had even signed it.
Without Tignor’s weight holding her fixed, fast, she would be broken and scattered like dried leaves blown by the wind. And of no more account than dried leaves blown by the wind.
She was coming to love him, sexually. She would take from him a fleeting sexual pleasure. It was not the powerful sensation Tignor seemed to feel, that so annihilated him. Rebecca did not want to feel any sensation so extreme. She did not want to shatter in his arms, she did not want to scream like a wounded creature. It was the weight of the man she wanted, that was all. And Tignor’s sudden tenderness in the drift to sleep in her arms.
The first baby would be a boy, Rebecca hoped. Niles, Jr. they would call him.
If a girl…Rebecca had no idea.
On the move! For the brewery business was cutthroat competitive. As an agent Tignor earned a base salary but his real money came from commissions.
What Tignor’s yearly income was, Rebecca had no idea. She would no more have asked him than she would have asked her father what his income was. Certainly if she’d asked, Tignor would not have told her. He would have laughed in her face.
Possibly, if she’d misjudged his mood, he’d slap her in the face.
For getting out of line he might slap her. For smart-mouthing him.
Tignor never hit her hard, and not with a closed fist. Tignor spoke with contempt of men who hit women in such a way.
Once, Rebecca naively asked when would she meet his family?-and Tignor, lighting a cigar, laughed at her, genially, and said, “Tignors don’t have no family, honey.” He fell silent then, and a few minutes later, abruptly he turned on her and slapped her with the back of his hand demanding to know who she’d been talking to?
Rebecca stammered, no one!
“Anybody talks to you about me, or asks questions about me, you come to me, honey. And I’ll deal with it.”
It was so, as Rebecca had boasted to Katy and LaVerne, Tignor was a generous husband. In the first year of their marriage. Long as he was crazy for her. He bought her presents, costume jewelry, perfume, sexy clothing and underwear, silky things, that aroused him sexually just to see, as Rebecca pulled them from their tissue wrappings to hold up against herself.
“Oh, Tignor! This is beautiful. Thank you.”
“Put it on, baby. Let’s see how it fits.”
And what a tease Tignor was: it helped if Rebecca had had a drink or two, to fall in with his mood.
Scattering money for her onto the bed of their hotel room, as he’d done in Beardstown so he did in Binghamton, Lake George, Schoharie. Pulling bills out of his wallet, tossing ten-and twenty-dollar bills and sometimes fifty-dollar bills into the air to flutter and sink like wounded butterflies.
“For you, Gypsy-girl. Now you’re my wife, not my whore.”
She knew: he had married her but had not forgiven her. For the insult that he, Niles Tignor, might be perceived as a man who needs to pay women for sex. One day, he would make her regret this insult.
How restless Tignor was! It was an almost physical reaction, like an itchy rash.
A few days in one place. Sometimes only just overnight. The worst time was the end of the year, the so-called holiday season. Mid-December through New Year’s Day Tignor’s business came to a virtual halt. There was plenty of drinking, and Tignor had arranged to stay at the Buffalo Statler Hotel, he had friends in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area with whom he could drink and play cards and still: he was fucking bored. Rebecca knew not to irritate him by saying the wrong thing or by getting in his way.
She drank with him, in the early hours of the morning when he couldn’t sleep. Sometimes she touched him, gently. With the caution of a woman touching a wounded dog that might turn on her, snarling. Stroking his warm forehead, his stiff metallic hair, in a gentle teasing way that Tignor liked, making of Niles Tignor a riddle to himself.
“Tignor, are you a man who travels all the time because he’s restless, or have you become a man who becomes restless because he travels all the time?”
Tignor frowned, wondering at this.
“Jesus, I don’t know. Both, maybe.”
Saying, after a pause, “But your race is a wandering one, too. Ain’t it, R’becca?”
Sometimes after they’d just checked into a hotel, Tignor would make a telephone call, or receive one, and announce to Rebecca that something had “come up”-he had “business-on-top-of-business”-and would have to leave, immediately. His mood at such times was excited, aroused. That air of urgency about him that signaled to Rebecca to stand back, not to expect him to return for a while. And not to ask questions.
Business-on-top-of-business meant business unrelated to the Black Horse Brewery, Rebecca gathered. For more than once when Tignor disappeared like this, a call came to him at the hotel from brewery headquarters in Port Oriskany, and Rebecca had to make the excuse that Tignor was visiting local friends, they’d taken him on an overnight hunting trip…When Tignor returned, and Rebecca passed on the message to him, Tignor shrugged. “So? Fuck ‘em.”
Rebecca was lonely, at such times. But she never doubted that Tignor would return to her. On these impromptu trips he left most of his things behind, including the big scuffed-leather suitcase.
Tignor didn’t leave the revolver behind, though. He took it with him.
Mrs. Niles Tignor. She loved signing this name, beneath Niles Tignor in the hotel registers. Always there was her anticipation that a desk clerk or a manager would question was Rebecca really Tignor’s wife but none ever did.
Mrs. Niles Tignor. She’d come to think she was so smart. But like any young wife she made mistakes.
It was as she’d told Katy and LaVerne, Tignor had a jealous streak. She supposed it meant he loved her, no one had ever loved her like this, there was a danger in it, like bringing a match too close to flammable material. For Tignor was a man not accustomed to sharing a woman’s attention with other men, though he liked men to look at Rebecca, he often brought her with him to restaurants, bars, taverns to keep him company. Yet he did not like Rebecca to look at other men, even friends of his. Especially he did not like Rebecca talking and laughing more than briefly with these men. “A man has got one idea, looking at you. And you’re my wife, that idea is mine.” Rebecca was meant to smile at this but to take the warning seriously. Yet more upsetting to Tignor was the prospect of Rebecca becoming friendly with strangers, behind his back. These might be other male guests in the hotel, hotel employees, even Negro bellboys whose faces brightened at the sight of “Mis-tah Tig-ger” who never failed to tip so generously.
“Anybody gets out of line with you, girl, you come to me. I’ll deal with it.”
And what would you do? Rebecca thought of Tignor’s fists striking the helpless Baumgarten, breaking his face like melon. She thought of the revolver with the wooden handle.
“You don’t look like you live around here.”
A man in a navy jacket, a navy cap pulled low on his forehead. He’d come to sit beside Rebecca at the counter, at a diner in Hammond, or maybe it was Potsdam. One of the small upstate cities of that winter 1955. Rebecca smiled at the stranger sidelong, not meaning to smile exactly. She said, “That’s right. I don’t live here.” His elbow on the counter beside her arm, and he was leaning onto the palm of his hand, bringing his face uncomfortably close to hers, and about to ask her something further when Rebecca turned abruptly from him, left a dollar on the counter to pay for her coffee, and walked quickly out of the diner.
It was February. Sky like a blackboard carelessly erased of chalk markings. A lightly falling snow on a river whose name Rebecca could not recall no more than, in her nerved-up state, she could have recalled the name of the city they’d stopped in for several days.
Until that morning she’d believed she might be pregnant. But her period had come at last, unmistakable, cramps and bleeding and a mild fever, and so she knew Not this time. I am spared telling Tignor. In the hotel room she’d become restless, Tignor would be away until that evening. Trying to read one of her paperback books. She had her dictionary, too. Looked up her old spelling-bee words precipitant, prophecy, contingency, inchoate. So long ago! She’d been a little girl, she had known nothing. Yet it was a comfort to Rebecca, that the words, useless to her, were still in the dictionary and would outlive her. In the wintry light that fell through the hotel windows she was lonely, and restless. The maid hadn’t yet come to make up the room, she’d pulled the heavy bedspread over the tumbled sheets that smelled of sweat, semen, Tignor’s yeasty body.
Had to get out! She put on her coat, boots. Walking in the lightly falling snow in the downtown area near the hotel until she was shivering with cold, stopped in a diner to have a cup of coffee, and would have remained at the counter basking in warmth except the man in the navy jacket approached her. A man has got one idea. And on the street she happened to glance back over her shoulder and saw the man behind her, and wondered if he was following her. And it seemed to her then that she’d seen this man, or someone who closely resembled him, in the lobby of the hotel, as she’d crossed from the elevators to the front entrance. He had followed her from the hotel-had he? She’d had only a vague impression of him. He was in his thirties perhaps. He quickened his pace when she quickened hers, abruptly turning a corner, crossing a street just far enough behind Rebecca so that she might not have seen him unless she’d known to look for him. One idea. One idea. A man has got one idea. She was alarmed but not really frightened. She walked faster, she began to run. Pedestrians glanced at her, curious. Yet how good to run in the lightly falling snow, drawing sharp, cold air deep into her lungs! As she’d run in Milburn as a girl so she was running now in Potsdam, or in Hammond.
Blindly she entered a woman’s clothing store. She was a surprise to the salesclerks, exiting at the rear. She doubled back to the hotel, she’d eluded the man in the navy jacket. She thought no more of him. Except that evening entering the tap room of the hotel to meet Tignor, she saw the man who’d followed her with Tignor, at the bar. They were talking, laughing. The man wasn’t wearing the navy jacket but Rebecca was sure it was him.
A test! Tignor was testing me.
Rebecca would never know. When she joined Tignor, Tignor was alone at the bar. The other man had slipped away. Tignor was in one of his warm, expansive moods, he must have had a good day.
“How’s my girl? Did you miss your old husband?”
This time, it was a fact. Not speculation.
Waking one morning and her breasts were heavy-feeling, and abnormally sensitive. Her belly felt bloated. There was a tingling through her body like a mild electric current. In bed in Tignor’s arms she dared to wake him, to whisper to him her apprehension. For suddenly, Rebecca was frightened. She felt as if she’d been pushed to the edge of something like a parapet, she was risking too much. Tignor’s response was surprising to her. She had expected him to react with a grunt of disapproval, but he did not. He was waking fully, he was thinking. She could feel his brain churning with thought. And then he said nothing, he only just kissed her, a hard wet aggressive kiss. He kneaded her breasts, he sucked at the nipples that were so sensitive, Rebecca winced. He whispered, “How’s that feel? You want more?”
Rebecca held the man tight, tight for dear life.
Dear Katy, and dear LaVerne lying on a hotel bed writing on hotel stationery, one of Tignor’s almost-emptied glasses of bourbon on the bedside table from the previous night. I have such exciting news, I AM PREGNANT. Tignor took me to a doctor in Port Oriskany. The baby is due in December he says. I AM SO EXCITED.
Rebecca reread what she’d written to her friends who were faraway and becoming increasingly vague to her, and added Tignor wants the baby, too, he says if it will make me happy that is what he wants, too. And again reread the letter, and ripped it up in disgust.
It was so, as Jacob Schwart had said. Words are lies.
Now she was pregnant, and so cozy-feeling. Even what’s called morning sickness came to be familiar, reassuring. The doctor had been so nice. He’d told her what to expect, stage by stage. His nurse had given her a pamphlet. Not for a moment had they appeared to doubt that she was Niles Tignor’s wife, in fact they were both acquainted with Tignor and pleased to see him. Rebecca lay cuddled against Tignor in bed saying, “We will need a place to stay, Tignor. For the baby. Won’t we, Tignor?” and Tignor said, in his sleepy-affable voice, “Sure, honey,” and Rebecca said, “Because just stopping in hotels like we do…That would be hard, with a tiny baby.”
It was a pregnancy-sign, that Rebecca would say tiny baby. She was beginning to speak, and to think, in baby-talk. Tiny! She jammed her fist against her mouth to keep from laughing. A tiny baby would be the size of a mouse.
In these drowsy-loving talks with Tignor she did not say home. She knew how Tignor would screw up his face at home.
And yet, Tignor was not to be predicted. He surprised Rebecca by saying he’d been thinking of renting a furnished apartment for her anyway. In Chautauqua Falls, out along the canal in the country where it was quiet, he knew of a place. “You and the baby would live there. Daddy would be there when he could.” So tenderly Tignor spoke, Rebecca could have no reason to think this was the end of anything.
Lying on a hotel bed writing a letter on hotel stationery, a glass of bourbon on the bedside table. So delicious, by lamplight! She wasn’t so lonely with Tignor away, now she had the baby snug inside her. This letter she would work damn hard at, she would make a first draft and copy it over.
April 19, 1955
Dear Miss Lutter,
I am sending you this little Easter gift, I thought of you when I saw it in a store here in Schenectady. I hope you can wear it on your Easter coat or dress. “Mother-of-pearl” is so beautiful, I think.
I guess I never told you, I am married and moved away from Milburn. My husband and I will have a residance in Chautauqua Falls. My husband is Niles Tignor, he is a businessman with the Black Horse Brewery you have heard of. He is often traveling on business. He is a handsome “older man.”
We will have our first baby in December!
I will be 18 in three weeks. I am quite “grown up” now! I was very ignorant when I came to live with you and could not appreciate your goodness kindness.
At 18 I would no longer be a ward of the county, if I was not married. So it will be all legal that
Miss Lutter there is something for me to tell you I don’t know how to find the words
I am so ashamed of
I am so sorry for
I hope that you will remember me in your prayers. I wish
It had taken Rebecca almost an hour to stammer out these halting lines. And when she reread them she was overcome with disgust. How stupid she sounded! How childish. She’d had to look up the simplest words in the dictionary yet she’d managed to misspell residence anyway. She tore the letter into pieces.
Later, she sent Miss Lutter the mother-of-pearl brooch with just an Easter card. Your friend Rebecca.
The brooch was in the shape of a small white camellia that seemed to Rebecca very beautiful. It had cost twenty dollars.
“Twenty dollars! If Ma could know.”
She included no return address on the little package. So that Miss Lutter could not write back to thank her. And so that Rebecca could never know if her former teacher would have written to thank her.
“Mrs. Tignor. Good to meet you.”
They were burly good-natured men like Tignor whom you would not wish to cross. In taverns and hotel tap rooms they drank with Tignor and they looked and behaved like Tignor’s other drinking companions but they were police officers: not the kind to wear uniforms, as Tignor explained. (Rebecca hadn’t known there were police officers who didn’t wear uniforms. They had higher ranks: detective, lieutenant.)
These men mingled easily with the others. They were hearty eaters and drinkers. They picked their teeth thoughtfully with wooden toothpicks placed in whiskey shot glasses on bars beside pickled pigs’ feet and fried onion rings. They favored cigars over cigarettes. They favored Black Horse ale which was on the house wherever Niles Tignor drank. They were respectful of Rebecca whom they never failed to call “Mrs. Tignor”-with sometimes a hint of a wink over her head, to Tignor.
They’ve met other women of his. But never a wife.
She smiled to think this. She was so young, damned good-looking she knew they were saying, nudging one another. In envy of Niles Tignor who was their friend.
If they carried guns inside their bulky clothes, Rebecca never saw the guns. If Tignor sometimes carried his gun, Rebecca never saw it.