Bela by Kate LaDew

You don’t have an accent in Hungary, just dark hair and cruel eyes and a willingness to play what ever part you’re given.

Then World War I comes and you play that part too, handed a Wound Medal for your trouble, a red stripe for each, a dull gray zinc circle you abandon after pledging your allegiance to the United States and five different women, abandoning all but the last. She was a girl half your age and still in love with the black cape you despised. They buried you in it.

All these things you abandon and never your voice. It hangs inside you like a secret noose, tying you to Eastern Europe and its night-bound monsters, its fog and obscurity. The audience laughs when you play a general and hoots when you play a zombie. Karloff gets top billing and a voice that loops long after you’re both dead.

Pain runs up and down your legs and methadone replaces morphine along with calls from the studio until The Black Sleep, your final role. A mute, with no dialogue. You don’t laugh, but maybe you want to. Maybe in those last few scenes of your life before it all goes dark, lying on your bed in a tiny LA apartment, you wonder, if only I’d been born somewhere else. London, like Karloff, or America, like everybody else.

Or if Vitaphone had crashed and burned, leaving the movies without a voice, only your eyes to carry them. Or if you had been born someone else entirely, a boy who never saw the stage, who never wanted hot lights and thousands of hands clapping in the dark, who could be happy without an audience to watch him be. Or, and this is where it all went wrong really, if you had just taken that meeting with Universal’s dialect coach and shed the accent you only pretended to be proud of from a place you no longer remembered. And maybe, maybe you think, If I had done anything at all but what I did— And then you think, But I did.

And after all, when it comes right down to it, right at the bottom of everything— If you had closed your mouth, raised your cape, widened your eyes and let your brows fade into that widow’s peak, how could they have seen your teeth?




Kate LaDew is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BA in Studio Art. She resides in Graham, NC with her cats Charlie and Janis.



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