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42

It was the first week of October 1959. Twelve days after the man in the panama hat. Now came less seductively HAZEL JONES HAZEL JONES ARE YOU HAZEL JONES in the clamor and burnt-rubber stink of the assembly line at Niagara Tubing, Rebecca was beginning to forget.

She was a practical-minded young woman. She was the mother of a small child, she would learn for his sake to forget.

And then, Tignor returned.

She came to the Meltzers to pick up Niley, and was told by Mrs. Meltzer that Tignor had already been there, hed taken the boy home.

Rebecca stammered, Here? Tignor is-here? Hes back?

Edna Meltzer said yes, Tignor was back. Hadnt Rebecca known her husband was coming home that day?

It was shameful to Rebecca, to be so exposed. Having to say she had not known. She hated it, that Edna Meltzer should see her confusion, and would speak of her pityingly, to others.

She left the Meltzers house, she ran the rest of the way home. Her heart knocked in her chest. She had expected Tignor the previous Sunday, and he had not come, and he had not called. She had wished to think that he would come to Niagara Tubing to pick her up and drive her homeNiles Tignor in his shining car, at the curb waiting for her. In the new-model silver-green Pontiac at which others would glance in admiration. There was something wrong here, Rebecca could not think what it was. He has taken Niley away. I will never see Niley again.

But there was the Pontiac parked at the end of the weedy driveway. Inside, there was Tignors tall broad-backed figure in the kitchen, with Niley; firing questions at Niley in his ebullient radio-announcer voice-And then? Then what? Whatd you do? You and Mom-my? Eh?-that meant he was talking but not listening, in an elevated mood. The kitchen smelled of cigar smoke and a fresh-opened ale. Rebecca stepped inside, and was stunned to see that something had happened to TignorHis head was partially shaved. His beautiful thick metallic hair had been shorn, he looked older, uncertain. His eyes swung onto her, he bared his teeth in a grimace of a smile. Youre back then, girl, are you? From the factory.

It was one of Tignors senseless remarks. Like a boxers jab. To throw you off balance, to confuse. There was no way to reply that would not sound guilty or defensive. Rebecca murmured, yes she was back. Every night at this time. She came to Tignor, who had not moved toward her, and slid her arms around him. For days she had had such mutinous thoughts of this man, now she was stricken with emotion, she wanted only to hide her face against him, to burrow into his arms. Niley was jumping about them chattering of Dad-dy, Dad-dy. Dad-dy had bought him presents, did Mommy want to see?

Tignor did not kiss Rebecca, but allowed her to kiss him. His jaws were stubbled. His breath was not fresh. He appeared slightly disoriented, as if hed come to the wrong house. And possibly he was looking over her head, squinting toward the door as if half-expecting someone else to appear. He was stroking her back and shoulders, rather hard, distracted. Baby. My girl. You missed your old husband, eh? Did you? Roughly he pulled off the scarf shed tied around her hair, shook out her hair that was tangled, not very clean, to fall halfway down her back. Uh. You smell like burnt rubber. But he laughed, he kissed her after all.

Rebecca hesitated to touch Tignors head, stroke his hair, that was so changed. See you looking at me, eh? Shit, I had a little accident, over in Albany. Had to have a few stitches.

Tignor showed her, at the back of his head, where his hair had been shaved to the scalp, an ugly raw-looking scab of about five inches in length. Rebecca asked what kind of accident and Tignor said, with a shrug, The kind that wont be repeated.

But, Tignor-what happened?

I said, it wont be repeated.

Tignor had tossed his valise, suitcase, jacket onto chairs in the kitchen. Rebecca helped him carry these into the bedroom at the rear of the house. This room, to Rebecca the special room of their house, she kept in readiness for her husbands unpredictable return: the bed was made, and covered with a quilted spread; all her clothes were neatly hung away in a closet; all surfaces were free of dust; there was even a vase of straw flowers on the bureau. Tignor stared at the interior of the room as if hed never seen it before.

Tignor grunted what sounded like Mmmm!

Tignor pushed Niley outside the bedroom, to whimper at the shut door. Suddenly he was aroused, excited. He half-carried Rebecca to the bed, she was kissing him as he pulled at her clothes and his own, and within minutes hed discharged his pent-up tension into her eager body. Rebecca clutched at his back that was ridged with fleshy muscle. She bit her lower lip to keep from crying. Her voice was low, near-inaudible, pleading. love you so, Tignor. Please dont leave us again. We love you, dont hurt us

Tignor sighed with massive pleasure. His face with its curious broken symmetry glowed warm, ruddy. He rolled over onto his back, wiping his forehead with a brawny forearm. Suddenly he was exhausted, Rebecca felt the heaviness in all his limbs. At the latched door Niley was scratching and calling Dad-dy? Mom-my? plaintive as a starving cat. Tignor muttered irritably, Quiet the kid, will you? I need to sleep.

That first night. Tignors return, she had so long awaited.

Not wanting to think what it meant. How long he would be with her this time.

Rebecca left the bedroom silently, carrying her clothes. She would bathe before making supper. She would bathe, and wash her lank greasy hair, to please him. She walked unsteadily as if shed been mysteriously wounded. Tignors lovemaking had been hard, harsh, expedient. He had not made love to her for nearly six weeks. Almost she felt as if this had been the first time, since Nileys birth.

That massive wound of childbirth. Rebecca wondered if you could grow in again, heal completely. Had Hazel Jones ever married? Had Hazel Jones had a baby?

Niley needed to be assured, Daddy was really home, and would be staying home for a while; Daddy was sleeping now, and did not want to be disturbed. Still, Niley begged to peek through the crack of the doorway.

Whispering, Is that him? Is that Dad-dy? That man?

Later, after supper, Tignor was drinking, and repentant. He had missed them, he said. His little family in Chautauqua Falls.

Rebecca said lightly, Just one little family? Where are the others?

Tignor laughed. He was watching Niley struggle with the shiny red wagon hed brought for him, too large and unwieldy for a three-year-old.

There needs to be some changes in my life, Jesus I know. Its time.

Hed bought lakeshore property up at Shaheen, he told her. And he was negotiating a deal, a restaurant and tavern in Chautauqua Falls. And there were other propertiesRuefully Tignor stroked the back of his head, where his scalp was scarred. This accident was some bastard tried to kill me. Skimmed my head with a bullet.

Who? Who tried to kill you?

But he didnt. And like I said, it wont happen again.

Rebecca sat silent, thinking of the gun shed found in Tignors suitcase. She supposed it was in his suitcase even now. She supposed hed had reason to use it.

Hazel Jones might have a son like Niley. Hazel Jones would not have a husband like Niles Tignor.

I know about what happened in Port Oriskany. Where you were taken into custody as a material witness.

The words came out suddenly, impulsively.

Tignor said, And how dyou know, baby? Somebody told you?

I read about it in the Port Oriskany newspaper. The ambush. The shootings. And your name

And how did you happen to see that newspaper? Somebody showed you, who lives around here?

Still Tignors tone was affable, mildly curious.

It was left in the mailbox. Just the front page.

This was a while back, Rebecca. Last winter.

And is it over now? Whatever it was, is it-over?

Yes. Its over.

Undressing for bed, Tignor watched Rebecca brushing out her hair. Her hand wielding the brush moved deftly, with deliberation. Now her hair had been newly washed it was very dark, lustrous; it smelled of a fragrant shampoo, and not of the factory; it seemed to throw off sparks. Through the mirror, Rebecca saw Tignor approach her. She began to shiver in anticipation, but her hand did not slow its movement. Tignor was naked, massive; torso and belly covered in coarse glinting hairs. Between his thick legs, out of a dense swirl of pubic hair, his penis lifted, semi-erect. Tignor touched her hair, he stroked the nape of her neck that was so sensitive. Pressed himself against her, moaning softly. Rebecca heard his breath quicken.

She was frightened, her mind had gone empty.

She could not think how to behave. What she might have done, in the past.

Quietly Tignor said, as if it were a secret between them, Youve been with a man, have you?

Rebecca stared at him through the mirror. A man? What man?

How the hell would I know, what man?

Tignor laughed. Hed pulled Rebecca to her feet, he was pulling her toward the bed, that had been neatly opened, top sheet pulled back over the blanket precisely three inches. They swayed together like clumsy dancers. Tignor had been drinking for hours and was in a jovial mood. Caught his toe on the shag rug beside the bed, cursed then laughed again for something was very funny. The one who gave you the newspaper, maybe. Or his friend. Or all their friends. You tell me what man, baby. Rebecca panicked and tried to push from Tignor but Tignor was too quick, grabbed her hair, shut his fist in her hair and shook her, not so hard as he might have but gently, reprovingly, as you might shake a recalcitrant child.

You tell me, Gypsy-girl. We got all night.


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