A voice in Rebecca’s ear harsh and urgent: “Jesus, watch out!”
She woke from her trance. She laughed nervously. Her right hand, bulky in the safety glove, had been trailing dangerously near the stamping machine.
She thanked whoever it was. Her face flushed with embarrassment, indignation. God damn it had been like this most of the morning: her mind trailing off, losing her concentration. Taking risks, like she’d just begun the job and didn’t know by now how dangerous it could be.
Clamoring machines. Airless air. Heat tasting of singed rubber. Sweat inside her work clothes. And mixed with the noise was a new urgent sound she could not decode, was it hopeful, was it seductive, was it mocking. HAZEL JONES HAZEL JONES HAZEL JONES.
The foreman came by. Not to speak with Rebecca but to let her see him: his presence. Son of a bitch, she saw.
No one at Niagara Tubing knew much about her. Even Rita, who was her friend. They might have known that she was married, and some of them might have known to whom she was married, the name Niles Tignor was known in some quarters in Chautauqua Falls. All they knew of Rebecca was that she kept to herself. She had a stubborn manner, a certain stiff-backed dignity. She wouldn’t take bullshit from anybody.
Even when she was tired to the point of dazedness. Unsteady on her feet and needing to use the lavatory, to splash tepid water on her face. It wasn’t just the few women workers who became light-headed at Niagara Tubing but men, too. Veterans of many years on the line.
The first week she’d begun in the assembly room, Rebecca had been nauseated by the smell, the rapid pace, the noise. Noise-noise-noise. At such a decibel, noise isn’t just sound but something physical, visceral, like electric current pumping through your body. It frightens you, it winds you tight, and tighter. Your heart is racing to keep pace. Your brain is racing but going nowhere. You can’t keep a coherent thought. Thoughts spill like beads from a broken string…
She’d been terrified, she might go crazy. Her brain would break into pieces. You had to shout to be heard, shout in somebody’s ear and people shouted in your ear, in your face. It was the raw, pulsing, primal life. There were no personalities here, no subtleties of the soul. The delicate soul of the child, like Niley, would be destroyed here. In the machines, in the hellhole of the factory, there was a strange primal life that mimicked the pulse-beat of natural life. And the living heart, the living brain, were overcome by this mock-life. The machines had their rhythm, their beat-beat-beat. Their noises overlapped with the noises of other machines and obliterated all natural sound. The machines had no words, only just noise. And this noise overwhelmed. There was a chaos inside it, though there was the mechanical repetition, a mock-orderliness, rhythm. There was the mimicry of a natural pulse-beat. And some of the machines, the more complicated, mimicked a crude sort of human thought.
Rebecca had told herself she could not bear it!
More calmly telling herself she had no choice.
Tignor had promised Rebecca she would not have to work, as his wife. He was a man of pride, easily offended. He did not approve of his wife working in a factory and yet: he no longer provided her with enough money, she had no choice.
Since summer, Rebecca was better adjusted. But, Christ she would never be adjusted.
It was only temporary work of course. Until…
He had looked at her with such certainty! HAZEL JONES.
Seeming to know her. Not Rebecca in her filth-stiffened work clothes but another individual, beneath.
He’d known her heart. HAZEL JONES HAZEL ARE YOU HAZEL JONES YOU ARE HAZEL JONES ARE YOU. In the long morning hours HAZEL JONES HAZEL JONES lulling, seductive as a murmurous voice in Rebecca’s ear and in the afternoon HAZEL JONES HAZEL JONES had become a jeering din.
“No. I am not. God damn you leave me alone.”
Him removing his glasses. Prissy tinted glasses. So she could see his eyes. How sincere he was, and pleading. The injured iris of one eye, like something burnt-out. Possibly he was blind in that eye. Smiling at her, hopeful.
“Like I was somebody special. ”Hazel Jones.“”
She had no wish to think about Hazel Jones. Still less did she want to think about the man in the panama hat. She’d have liked to scream into his face. Seeing again his shock, when she’d torn up his card. That gesture, she’d done right.
But why: why did she detest him?
She had to concede, he was a civilized man. A gentleman. A man who’d been educated, who had money. Like no one else she knew, or had ever known. And he’d made such an appeal to her.
He was kind-hearted, he meant to do right.
“Was it just I’m ”Hazel Jones’ or-maybe, it was me.“
Remembered you. In his will.
“See, I am not her. The one you think I am.”
Must remember me, Dr. Hendricks’s son.
“I told you, I don’t.”
God damn she’d told him no, she’d been truthful from the start. But he’d kept on and on like a three-year-old insisting what could not be, was. He’d continued to speak to her as if he had heard yes where she’d been saying no. Like he was seeing into her soul, he knew her in some way she didn’t know herself.
“Mister, I told you. I’m not her.”
So tired. Late afternoon is when you’re susceptible to accidents. Even the old-timers. You get slack, fatigued. SAFETY FIRST!-posters nobody glanced at anymore, so familiar. 10 SAFETY REMINDERS. One of them was KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR WORK AT ALL TIMES.
When Rebecca’s vision began to waver inside the goggles, and she saw things as if underwater, that was the warning sign: falling asleep on her feet. But it was so…It was so lulling. Like Niley falling asleep, his eyelids closing. A wonderment in it, how human beings fall asleep same as animals. What is the person in personality and where does it go when you fall asleep. Niley’s father Tignor sleeping so deeply, and sometimes his breath came in strange erratic surges she worried he might cease breathing, his big heart would cease pumping and then: what? He had married her in a “civil ceremony” in Niagara Falls. She’d been seventeen at the time. Somewhere, lost amid his things, was the Certificate of Marriage.
“I am. I am Mrs. Niles Tignor. The wedding was real.”
Rebecca jerked her head up, quickly. Where’d she been…?
She poked her fingers inside the goggles, wiping her eyes. But had to take off her safety gloves first. So awkward! She wanted to cry in frustration… hurt. Or were told you were. I don’t judge. He was watching her from the doorway, he was speaking about her with one of the bosses. She saw him, in the corner of her eye; she would not stare, and allow them to know that she was aware of them. He wore cream-colored clothes, and the panama hat. Others would glance at him, quizzically. Obviously, he was one of the owners. Investors. Not a manager, not dressed for an office. Yet he was a doctor, too…
Why’d Rebecca rip up his card! The meanness in her, taking after her gravedigger father. She was ashamed of herself, thinking of how he’d been shocked by her, and hurt.
Yet: he did not judge.
“Wake up. Girl, you better wake up.”
Again Rebecca had almost fallen asleep. Almost got her hand mangled, left hand this time.
Smiled thinking crazily: the fingers on the left hand you would not miss so much. She was right-handed.
She knew: the man in the panama hat wasn’t in the factory. She must have seen, in the blurry corner of her eye, the plant manager. A man of about that height and age who wore a short-sleeved white shirt, most days. No bow tie, and for sure no panama hat.
After work she would almost-see him again. Across the street, beneath the shoe repair awning. Quickly she turned away, walked away not looking back.
“He isn’t there. Not Tignor, and now not him.”
No one saw: she made sure.
Looking for pieces of Hendricks’s card she’d ripped up. On the towpath she found a few very small scraps. Not certain what they were. Whatever was printed on them was blurred, lost.
“Just as well. I don’t want to know.”
This time, disgusted with herself, she squeezed the pieces into a pellet and tossed it out onto the canal where it bobbed and floated on the dark water like a water bug.
Sunday passed, and Tignor did not call.
To distract the restless child she began telling him the story of the man-on-the-canal-towpath. The man-with-the-panama-hat.
“Niley, this man, this strange man, followed me along the towpath, and guess what he said to me?”
The Mommy-voice was bright, vibrant. If you were to color it in crayons it was a bold sunny yellow tinged with red.
Niley listened eagerly, uncertain if he should smile: if this was a happy story, or a story to make him worry.
“Mommy, what man?”
“Just a man, Niley. Nobody we know: a stranger. But-”
“”Stranger.“ Meaning somebody we don’t know, see? A man we don’t know.”
Niley glanced anxiously about the room. (His cubbyhole of a bedroom with a slanted ceiling, that opened onto her bedroom.) He was blinking rapidly peering at the window. It was night, the single window reflected only the blurred undersea interior of the room.
“He isn’t here now, Niley. Don’t be afraid. He’s gone. I’m telling you about a nice kind man, I think. A friendly man. My friend, he wants to be. Our friend. He had a special message for me.”
But Niley was still anxious, glancing about. To capture his attention Mommy had to grip his little shoulders and hold him still.
A squirmy little eel, he was. She wanted to shake him. She wanted to hug him tight, and protect him.
“On the canal towpath, honey. When I was coming home from work, coming to get you at Mrs. Meltzer’s.”
“Not today, Niley. The other day.”
It was later than usual, the child hadn’t yet gone to bed. Ten o’clock and she’d only just managed to get him into his pajamas by making a game of it. Tugging off his clothes, his shoes, as he lay passive and not-quite-resisting. It had been a difficult day, Edna Meltzer had complained to Rebecca. At the delicate juncture of bones at the child’s forehead Rebecca saw a nerve pulsing.
She kissed the nerve. She resumed her story. She was very tired.
The three-year-old had been too cranky to be bathed in the big tub, Mommy had had to struggle to wash him with a washcloth, and then not very well. He was too cranky to be read to. Only the radio would comfort him, that damned radio Rebecca would have liked to toss out the window.
“A man, a very nice man. A man in a panama hat-”
“Mommy, what? A banana hat?”
Niley laughed in disbelief. Rebecca laughed, too.
Why the hell had she begun telling this story, she couldn’t imagine. To impress a three-year-old? Out of the crayon box she selected a black crayon to draw a stick-man and on the stick-man’s silly round head with the yellow crayon she drew a banana hat. The banana was disproportionately large for the stick-man’s head, and upright. Niley giggled and kicked and squirmed with pleasure. He grabbed at the crayons to draw his own stick-man with a tilted-over banana hat.
“For Dad-dy. Banana hat.”
“Daddy doesn’t wear a hat, sweetie.”
“Why not? Why doesn’t Daddy wear a hat?”
“Well, we can get Daddy a hat. A banana hat. We can make a banana hat for Daddy…”
They laughed together, planning Daddy’s banana hat. Rebecca gave in to childish nonsense, she supposed it must be harmless. The things that child imagines!-Mrs. Meltzer shook her head, you could not determine if she was amused, or alarmed. Rebecca smiled, Rebecca shook her head, too. She worried that Niley wasn’t developing as other children developed. His brain seemed to function like the jerky conveyor belt. His attention span was fierce but brief. You could not hope to follow through a line of thinking or of speaking, Niley had no patience for tales that went on for more than a few seconds. Unless you imposed your will upon the child, as Rebecca sometimes did, in exasperation. Otherwise the child led you wandering, stumbling. A blizzard of broken-off thoughts, snatches of misheard words. She felt at such times that she would drown in the child’s small fevered brain, she was a tiny adult figure trapped in a child’s brain.
She had wanted desperately to be a mother. And so she was a mother.
She had wanted desperately to be Niles Tignor’s wife. And so she was Niles Tignor’s wife.
These irrefutable facts she was trying to explain to the man in the panama hat who stood gazing at her with his small, hurt smile. His eyes were myopic, almost you could see the fine scrim of myopia over them, like scum on water. His gray-blond hair so curiously molded. Smile lines deep-etched in his face that was an old-young face, faded and yet strangely boyish, hopeful. He was a courteous man you could see, a gentleman. Convinced that the slatternly young woman in the factory clothes was lying to him yet appealing to her anyway.
A man of science and reason.
At least take my card.
If you should ever wish to…
In the telephone directory for the Greater Chautauqua Valley she looked up Jones. There were eleven Joneses all of them male, or initials which might mean male or female. Not a single woman, so designated. Not a single listing H. Jones.
This didn’t surprise her. For obviously, Byron Hendricks must have consulted the directory, many times. He must have called some of these Joneses, in his search for Hazel Jones.
“Asshole! What a stupid thing to do.”
One night Rebecca woke from sleep to the realization, that struck her like a punch to the gut, that she was a careless mother, a bad mother: she’d stuck away the makeshift weapon, the seven-inch piece of steel, in a bureau drawer, where Niley who was always rummaging through her things might find it.
She took it out, and examined it. The steel was nasty-looking but not so sharp, overall. She’d have had to stab desperately with it to defend herself.
Anyway, she’d been wrong about the man in the panama hat. He had not meant to hurt her, he’d only just confused her with someone else. Why she’d become so upset, she didn’t know. She, Rebecca, was low, primitive in her suspicions.
Yet she didn’t throw the piece of steel away, but wrapped it in a tattered old sweater of hers kept high on a closet shelf where Niley, and Tignor, would never find it.
Two nights later, Tignor called.
“Yes? Who is it?”
“Who’d you think, girl?”
He had that power: to render her helpless.
She sank onto a kitchen chair, suddenly weak. Somehow, Niley knew. Running from the other room crying, “Dad-dy? Dad-dy?”
Niley plunged into his mother’s lap, hot, eel-like, quivering with excitement. His devotion for his father was ardent and unquestioning as a young puppy’s for its master. Still, he knew not to snatch at the phone, as he wanted to; he knew he would speak with Daddy when Daddy was ready to speak with him, and not before.
Rebecca would recall afterward that she’d had no premonition that Tignor would call that night. Since falling in love with the man she had become superstitious, it was a weakness of love she supposed, even a skeptical mind is prey to omens, portents. But she had not expected to hear Tignor’s voice on the other end of the line, she’d had no preparation.
Tignor was telling Rebecca he would be back, back with her and the boy, by the end of the week.
Tignor never said he’d be back home. Only just back with you and the boy.
Rebecca asked where Tignor was, was he still in Port au Roche?-but Tignor ignored the question. He never answered questions put bluntly to him. And his telephone voice was one of forced heartiness, jovial and impersonal as a radio announcer’s voice.
Only in close quarters, was Tignor capable of intimacy. Only where he could touch, stroke, squeeze. Only when he made love to her, was Rebecca really certain that he was with her.
Physically, at least.
Telling her now there’d been a little trouble. But it was blown over now.
“Trouble? What kind of…?”
But Tignor wouldn’t answer, Rebecca knew. It was some kind of business trouble, rivalry with another brewery maybe. She had not heard of any trouble, and so it was best to fall in with Tignor’s tone. Blown over.
When Tignor was away, Rebecca kept a road map of New York state spread out onto the floor, to show Niley where Daddy was, or where Mommy believed Daddy was. She dreaded the child guessing that Mommy didn’t always know. That Mommy might be misinformed. For Daddy’s territory was vast, from Chautauqua Falls where they lived at the western edge of the state across the breadth of the state to the Hudson Valley, and north to the Adirondack Mountains and east to Lake Champlain where a town the size of Port au Roche was no more than a poppy-seed-sized dot on the map, even smaller than Chautauqua Falls.
Now, what was Tignor telling her? Something to make her laugh?
She understood: I must laugh.
This was important. Early on, in her relationship with Niles Tignor, she knew to laugh at his jokes, and to make jokes, herself. Nobody wants a heavy-hearted girl for Christ sake.
And: in the places Tignor frequented there were numerous girls and women vying with one another to laugh at his jokes. There always had been, before Rebecca had known Tignor, and there always would be, though he was her husband. She understood I am one of these. I owe it to him, to be happy.
“Niley, behave! Be good.”
She whispered in the boy’s ear, he was becoming impatient.
But Tignor was speaking to someone at the other end of the line. His hand over the receiver, she couldn’t make out his words. Was he arguing? Or just explaining something?
How uncomfortable she was: in this chair, Niley squirming on her lap, her heart beating so hard it ached, snarly hair, damp from being washed, trailing down her back wetting her clothes.
She wondered what the man in the panama hat would think, seeing her. At least, he would recognize that she was a mother, and a wife. He would not confuse her with…
Tignor asked to speak with Niley. Rebecca handed over the phone.
“Dad-dy! H’lo Dad-dy!”
Niley’s crunched-up little face came alive with pleasure. A child so suddenly happy, you understood there was anguish beforehand, pain. Rebecca staggered away, leaving him with the phone. She was dazed, exhausted. She stumbled into the next room, sank onto the sofa. A sofa with broken springs, covered with a not-clean blanket. A roaring in her ears like Niagara Tubing. Like the falls below the locks in Milburn, she’d stared into for long sickly fascinated minutes as a young girl.
Why could she not accuse Tignor of neglecting her. Why could she not tell Tignor she loved him even so, she forgave him.
He wasn’t required to ask her forgiveness. She knew he never would. Only, if he would accept her forgiveness!
“You called me only three times. Sent me God damn sixty-five dollars and no message, no return address on the envelope. Fuck you.”
And she had to accept it, the way Niley was chattering away to Daddy. Loves Daddy more than he loves Mommy. Always has.
Rebecca returned to the kitchen. She would take the receiver back from Niley. “Niley! Tell Daddy I need to talk to him, before he-”
But when Niley handed the receiver to his mother, Tignor must have already hung up for the line had gone dead.
It wasn’t the music. Not the music that grated against her nerves. It was the announcers’ voices. Radio voices. Advertisements. Those bright-brassy jolly-rollicking rapidly recited advertisements! And Niley crouched near, listening with frowning concentration. His small head bowed, attentive, in a pose that was not at all child-like. Listening for Daddy’s voice in the radio! Rebecca felt a pang of hurt, and of fury, that her child should be so willfully deluded, and so oblivious of her.
“Niley, turn that off.”
But Niley did not hear. Niley would not hear Mommy.
“Niley, I said turn that God-damned thing off.”
And so Niley might turn the radio volume down, reluctantly. Yet not off. So that Rebecca could still hear the voices like her rapid-chattering thoughts.
She told him no no no. That was not Daddy.
Not Daddy in the radio. No!
None of them. None of the radio voices.
(Did he believe Mommy? Was he even listening to Mommy?)
(And why should he believe Mommy? She was helpless as he was, to know whether Daddy would really return to them this time.)
Yet she too took comfort in it, often. Radio music.
Half-hearing in her sleep. Smiling as a dream of surpassing beauty enveloped her. There was Niley, not a spindly-limbed little boy you worried wasn’t growing right, wasn’t developing right, but a boy of perhaps fifteen, sixteen; a boy who was no longer a vulnerable child, yet not a hurtful man; a boy whose blurred face was handsome, and whose posture was excellent; as he sat at a piano playing for an audience so large, Rebecca could not see to the edges of it.
“He will. He will do this. Here is the promise.”
Her mother had made the promise, Rebecca seemed to think. They had listened to radio music together, in secret. How angry Pa would have been, if he’d known! But Pa had not known.
Pa had suspected, of course. But Pa had not known.
Anna Schwart had played piano, as a girl. A very long time ago in the old world. Before the crossing.
In the dream, Rebecca was suffused with happiness. And made to know how simple happiness is. Like smoothing a wrinkled cloth, dampening the cloth and ironing it, with care. That simple.
“You are a mother, Rebecca. You know what must be done.”
Niley’s favorite music wasn’t piano music, though. Melancholy-whiny country-and-western. Bright pop tunes that made you want to dance. No matter how heavy-hearted she was feeling, Rebecca had to laugh seeing the three-year-old rocking from side to side on short, stubby legs, baby-legs that looked as if they were only just flesh and no bones inside. Inspired, Niley flailed his arms about. He screeched, he trilled. Rebecca pushed aside whatever the hell she was doing, danced with him, his pudgy little hands snatched up in hers. A wildness overcame her, she loved him so. Tignor had not liked her during her pregnancy, and so fuck Tignor: here was the result of the pregnancy, and he was hers.
Careening and banging around the house, reckless colliding with furniture, knocking over a chair, banging/bruising their legs, like a drunk couple overcome by fits of mirth.
“You love Mommy best, don’t you! You do.”
The music stopped, though. Abruptly, music stops.
Announcers’ voices, so grating. God! You came to hate some of these voices like you came to hate people you saw too often, like at school, or at work. Always the same (male) voices. And Niley’s expression changed, for now he was listening to hear: Daddy’s voice?
Rebecca had tried to explain. Sometimes she didn’t trust herself, just walked away.
See the humor in it, girl. Walk away.
Don’t touch the child. The terrible rage in you, let it stay in you.
What most scared her, she might hurt Niley. Shake shake shake the obstinate little brat until his teeth rattled, eyes rolled back in his head. For so she’d been disciplined, as a child. She wanted to recall that it had been her father who’d disciplined her but in fact it had been both her mother and her father. She wanted to recall that the discipline had been deserved, necessary, and just but she wasn’t so certain that this was so.
Tignor would return perhaps on Sunday.
Why Rebecca thought this, she didn’t know. Just a premonition.
Except: it was possible that Tignor would show up outside the factory gate on Friday afternoon, or Monday afternoon. His silver-green 1959 Pontiac idling at the curb.
Hey kid: here.
Almost, Rebecca could hear his voice. She smiled, as she would smile when she heard it.
Hey you night owl folks out there this is Buffalo Radio Wonderful WBEN Zack Zacharias broadcasting the best in jazz through the wee hours.
Niley fell asleep most nights listening to this program. Yet she couldn’t enter his room to switch off the radio because he woke so easily; she couldn’t enter his room even to switch off the light. If Niley was wakened at such times he was likely to be frightened, and Rebecca would end up having to stay with him.
At least in the night Niley allowed the radio volume to be kept low. He could lie very quietly in his bed a few inches from the radio and take consolation from it.
At least with the door shut between their rooms Rebecca wasn’t kept awake by the light.
“When Daddy returns, all this will stop.”
Beside Niley’s bed was a lamp in the shape of a milk glass bunny from a Chautauqua Falls furniture store. The bunny had upright ears and a pink nose, a small peach-colored shade in some fuzzy fabric. Rebecca admired the lamp, the wan warm glow on the child’s sleeping face was comforting to her. The bulb was only sixty watts. You would not want a harsher light in a child’s room.
She wondered: had her mother stood over her, gazed upon her as she’d slept? So long ago. She smiled to think yes, maybe.
The danger in motherhood. You relive your early self, through the eyes of your own mother.
In the doorway watching Niley sleep. Long entranced minutes that might have been hours. Her heart pounded with happiness, certainty. A mother knows only that the child is. A mother knows only that the child is because she, the mother, has made it so.
Of course there is the father. But not always.
Niles, Jr. She hoped he would take on some of his father’s strength. He seemed to her a child of yearning, impulse. A spring was wound tight in him, like the spring of a toy that clatters about, deranged. Except when he slept, then Niley was fine. His tight-wound soul was quiet.
A glisten of saliva on his mouth like a stray thought. She wanted to kiss it away. But better not.
Strand of damp hair stuck to his forehead. She wanted to brush it away but no, better not.
Hazel Jones’s secret son.
The radio on the windowsill was turned low. The music was jazz. The radio, like the lamp, emitted a comforting glow. Rebecca was becoming adjusted to it, no longer so annoyed. The announcer’s voice was nothing like the daytime radio voices. Was Zack Zacharias a Negro? His voice was softly modulated, a singing sort of voice, rather playful, teasing. An intimate voice in your ear.
And the music. Rebecca was coming to like the music.
Cool, moody jazz. Seductive. Rebecca recognized piano music of course but knew few other instruments. Clarinet, saxophone? She hated it, that she knew so little.
An ignorant woman, a factory worker. Wife, mother. Had not graduated from high school, even. So ashamed!
Only once had she heard classical music on her father’s radio. Only once, in her mother’s company. Her father had not known and would have forbidden it. This radio is mine. This news is mine. I am the father, all facts are mine. All knowledge of the world outside this house of sorrow is mine to keep from you, my children.
Tignor had not asked much about Rebecca’s parents. He knew a little, and might not have wanted to know more.
Rebecca’s brother Herschel used to say, Christ that ain’t even his name. “Schwart” ain’t even our fuckin‘ name.
It was all a joke to Herschel. Baring his big wet braying-donkey teeth.
Rebecca asked what was their name, then? If it wasn’t “Schwart” what had it been?
Herschel shrugged. Who the hell knew, who the hell cared?
Old-world bullshit, Herschel said. Nobody gives a damn about it in the U.S. of A., I sure don’t.
Rebecca begged to know their name if it wasn’t Schwart but Herschel walked away with a rude gesture.
If Jacob Schwart had lived, he would now be sixty-three.
Sixty-three! Old, but not really old.
Yet in his soul the man had been elderly even then. Rebecca could remember her father only as old, worn-out.
Upsetting to think such thoughts. It was rare for her, in her new life, to think such thoughts.
Hazel Jones did not think such thoughts.
Niley moaned in his sleep, suddenly. As if he’d become aware of Rebecca standing over him.
His smooth child-face was wizened, ugly. Oh, he looked like an elderly man! His skin was waxy-pale. His eyelids fluttered, and that nerve in his forehead. As if a wrong-sized dream, all sharp corners, had poked itself into his brain.
Rebecca’s heart was torn, seeing her son trapped in a dream. Her instinct was to save him from such dreams, immediately. But no, better not. Mommy could not always be saving him. He must learn to save himself.
The dream was passing, and would pass. Niley would relax in another minute. He was a child of the new era: born in 1956. You would not call Niles Tignor, Jr. “post-war” (for everything was “post-war”) but “post-post-war.” Nothing of the past could matter much to him. As World War I was to Rebecca’s generation, so World War II would be to Niley’s. Old-world bullshit as Herschel said.
Nothing of the Schwarts would prevail in him who had never known them.
That line was extinct, the old, rotted European lineage was broken.
Niley’s dream seemed to have vanished. He was sleeping as before, breathing wetly through his mouth. The bunny lamp glowed on his bedside table. The radio on the windowsill emitted a steady, soothing sound of piano-jazz. Rebecca smiled, and backed away. She too would sleep, now. Niley would be all right, she had no need to wake him. Wouldn’t kiss him, as she wanted to do. Still he would know (she was sure) that his mother loved him, always his mother was close by, watching, protecting him. Through his life, he would know.
“I have no God to witness. But I vow.”
Sunday, in three days. Rebecca counted on her fingers. She smiled to think that Niley’s daddy would return to them then. She had a premonition!