Hey you night-owl folks this is Buffalo Radio Wonderful WBEN broadcasting the best in jazz through the wee hours. You are listening to Zack Zacharias your all-night host bringing you up-next vintage Thelonious Monk…She was lying awake in the dark, hands clasped behind her head. Thinking of her life strung out behind her like beads of myriad shapes, in memory crowded, confusing as in life each had been singular, and had defined itself with the slowness of the sun’s trajectory across the sky. You knew the sun was moving yet you never saw it move.
In the room adjoining Rebecca’s bedroom, Niley was sleeping. At least she hoped he was sleeping. In his sleep listening to the radio desperate to be not-alone even in his sleep and desperate to hear his father’s voice amid the voices of strangers. Rebecca was thinking how she’d given birth to Niley without knowing who Niley would be, she’d opened her body to pain so excruciating it could not be recalled in consciousness and so it was exactly as Edna Meltzer had predicted Once it’s out you won’t give a damn what led up to it.
She smiled, yes this was so. That was the one true fact of her life.
She’d opened her body, too, to Niles Tignor. Without knowing in the slightest who Niles Tignor was. Except for Niley, this had perhaps been a mistake. And yet, Niley was no mistake.
What she knew of Tignor now, she would never have dared approach the man. Yet she could not leave him, he would never allow it. She could not leave him, her heart clenched in anticipation simply of seeing him again.
Hey girl: love me?
Christ you know I’m crazy about you.
At the end of the lane, out on the Poor Farm Road, there was a tin mailbox on a rotted wooden post with the faded black letters WERTENBACHER still visible. No mail ever came for Niles Tignor or his wife except advertisements, flyers stuffed into the mailbox. But one day back in March, soon after Rebecca had started working at Niagara Tubing (was there some connection? had to be!), she went to empty the mailbox, and discovered amid the trash mail a neatly folded front page from the Port Oriskany Journal. Fascinated, Rebecca read an article with the headline TWO MEN SLAIN, ONE WOUNDED IN LAKESIDE “AMBUSH”: two men had died of gunshot wounds and a third wounded, in the parking lot of a popular Port Oriskany tavern and marina, police had made no arrests yet but had taken into custody one Niles Tignor, forty-two, a resident of Buffalo, as a material witness. The attack was believed by police to be related to extortion and racketeering in the Niagara lakeside area.
Rebecca read and reread the article. Her heart beat hard, she worried she might faint. Niley, who’d come with her to empty the mailbox, fretted and nudged against her legs.
Taken into custody! Forty-two years old! Resident of Buffalo!
“Material witness”: what did that mean?
At this time Tignor had been away for a week, in the Catskill area. At least, Rebecca believed that Tignor was in that part of the state: he’d called her, once. The ambush had taken place in late February, three weeks before. So whatever had happened, Tignor had been released.
He had told her nothing about this, of course. Nor could Rebecca remember anything unusual in his manner, his mood.
Maybe in fact Tignor had been in an unusually good mood recently.
He’d driven home in a new car: silver-green Pontiac sedan with gleaming chrome fixtures. Taken his little family, as he called them, for a Sunday outing up at Lake Shaheen…
Rebecca would make inquiries, and learned what “material witness” meant: an individual who police had reason to believe might be helpful in an investigation. In the Chautauqua Falls library she searched through back issues of the Port Oriskany newspaper but could find no further information about the shootings. She called the Port Oriskany police to inquire, and was told that the investigation was still under way, and was confidential-“And who are you, ma’am? And why do you want to know?”
Rebecca said, “No one. I’m no one. Thank you.”
She hung up, and resolved not to think about it. For what good would come of thinking about it…
(Tignor, forty-two years old: she would have thought him years younger. And a resident of Buffalo: how was that possible! He was a resident of Chautauqua Falls.)
(What mattered was: he was Niley’s father, and he was her husband. Whoever Niles Tignor was, they loved him. Rebecca had no right to pry into his life apart from her, that had so preceded her.)
It was not quite three years since Tignor had come to this house, and into this bedroom, and held his son in his hands for the first time. A lifetime ago it seemed to Rebecca, yet perhaps it was only a beginning.
It’s mine, is it?
Whose else?-Rebecca had needed to make a joke of it, to make them both laugh.
But Tignor hadn’t laughed. Rebecca belatedly guessed you didn’t joke with a man about such things. Tignor frowned, looking as he had when Rebecca had uttered the word whore. Holding the squirming infant in the palm of one hand, staring at its flushed, squeezed-in little face. A long moment passed before Tignor smiled, and then laughed.
He’s got my temper, eh? Little pisspot.
Tignor had told Rebecca he was sorry he’d been away, he had not wanted her to be alone at such a time. He had tried to call her several times but always the line was busy. Sure he’d worried about her, alone in the farmhouse. But he’d known that nothing bad would happen, because they had luck on their side.
Luck! Rebecca smiled.
Tignor had brought back things for the house: a brass floor lamp with a three-way bulb, a jade ashtray on a carved-elephant pedestal. These were showy items fit for a hotel lobby. For Rebecca, a new lacy champagne-colored negligee to replace the old, that was becoming frayed; a black satin dress with a sequined bodice (“for New Year’s Eve”); a pair of high-heeled kidskin shoes (size six, and Rebecca’s feet were size seven and a half). Rebecca shook her head, seeing it was like Tignor had forgotten she’d been pregnant when he’d driven off. It was like Tignor had forgotten there was a baby coming, entirely.
At first, Tignor was enthralled with his son. He seemed always to be bearing him aloft like a prize. He loved to carry the baby on his shoulders, making Niley kick and squeal with excitement. A warm ruddy glow suffused Tignor’s broad face at such times and Rebecca felt a small pang of jealousy even as she thought I can forgive him anything, for this. They laughed that Niley’s first coherent word wasn’t “Ma-ma” but “Da-da” uttered in a cry of infant astonishment. Though Tignor did not wish to get his hands wet bathing Niley, he loved to towel him dry, vigorously. And he was drawn to watch Rebecca nurse the baby, kneeling beside Rebecca’s chair, bringing his face close to the baby’s eagerly sucking little mouth until at last Tignor could not bear it, he had to kiss and suck at Rebecca’s other breast, so aroused he needed to make love to her…Rebecca was still sore from childbirth but knew she must not say no to this man.
But at such times Tignor often wanted her only to stroke him, swiftly and expediently to orgasm. His face contorted and shut against her, his teeth bared. He was ashamed afterward, he would dislike his wife for being a witness to such raw animal need. He went away from her, drove away in the car and Rebecca was left wondering when he would be back.
The novelty of the new baby began to fade for Tignor after a few months. Even Niley’s delight in Da-da was not enough. For Niley was a fretful baby, refusing food, rarely sleeping for more than three hours at a time. He was lively, alert, curious, yet easily frightened and made anxious. He had his father’s short temper, but not his father’s assurance. His cries were shrill, deafening. You could not believe that such infant-lungs were capable of such a volume of sound. Rebecca became so deprived of sleep she staggered about dazed and hallucinating. No sooner did Tignor return home than he threatened to leave again. “Nurse him, get him to sleep. You’re his mother for Christ sake.”
You’re his mother came to be a familiar utterance. Rebecca did not want to think it was an accusation.
“Mom-my? C’n I sleep with you, Mom-my?”-there came Niley wanting to crawl into bed with her.
Rebecca protested, “Oh, sweetie! You have your own bed like a big boy, don’t you?”
But Niley wanted to sleep with Mom-my, he was lonely he said.
There were things in that room with him, that scared him. He wanted to sleep with Mom-my.
Rebecca scolded, “All right for now, but when Daddy is back you won’t be able to sleep here. Daddy won’t spoil you like I do.”
She hauled the child up inside the covers. They would snuggle together and drift off to sleep listening to WBEN Radio Wonderful in the next room.