I can’t even say her name without shivering all over.
Tess Bellamy. Beautiful Tess.
It’s almost time.
Look in the mirror.
Ask the question.
Are you human. Are you Sheep.
Are you a Werewolf.
The mirror above the bathroom sink in this motel room is old, like something a person would find in their grandmother’s house. Look at the ornate antique frame in mother-of-pearl. It’s paint, the mother-of-pearl. It’s fake. With my thumbnail, I can scratch it. Flakes right off. That pressure on the nail, driving against the top of the thumb. Underneath the paint: particleboard. Garbage. Nothing is made to be genuine anymore.
The first time I saw her, she was an actress in a play. I don’t know why I went to a play, it’s something I never do. Her role was Candy, a heroin-addicted prostitute. I can’t remember if she had AIDS. There was a gap. There was an empty space between the words that Tess was speaking in the plot of the play and who she was as a real person. Candy the call girl was bad, she was garbage, she was nothing. I could see very clearly that Tess was so much more. She was good, she was genuine, it couldn’t be hidden. In the play there was a bedroom scene and she was in her underwear, and it was difficult to stop myself from going up there to cover her with something: a sheet from the onstage bed, my own shirt.
When she didn’t speak it was better. When people speak it’s always wrong. I can’t stand it.
Stop time. Get up from the seat and climb onto the stage. Put your arms around her.
She died, in the play, at the end. It made me cry. I didn’t understand why I had cried, and I was standing in the lobby. Maybe I was standing there for a long time. I had the program in my hand. It was one of those moments when I don’t know what I’m going to do next, and I feel afraid.
Tess came out from a back room with another actor, a young man, and went through the lobby of the theater right past me. Now there was no wig, no makeup. She looked like herself. In the play she had worn a blond wig and I knew it was a wig but I couldn’t picture what she looked like without it.
Seeing her in the lobby, all at once I knew who she was.
She was Barbara Bellamy’s daughter.
I went to her and asked her to sign my program, which was shaking. My unsteady hands.
“Oh, a fan, that’s awesome,” said the actor who was with her.
Tess Bellamy smiled at me and signed the program with the pen I had given her. I wasn’t breathing. At first it felt like I was in the presence of Barbara Bellamy when she was very young, when she was the most beautiful actress in Hollywood. But I could see it was more than that. Tess smiled at me. It was like looking inside someone and you saw light in there, you saw fragments of things that were sharp to touch but that moved because you touched them, becoming brighter and brighter until everything is unbearable.
All of my strength not to cry again, not to break down, fall to my knees, push my face into the lobby carpet.
“Born weak,” my grandfather’s wife says. “Born weak, die empty—that’s life without Jesus Christ.”
The actor who was with Tess said something as they were walking away from me. “Um, you know, that guy was really creepy,” was what he said, not even trying to lower his voice.
“Stop it,” she said back to him, hitting him on the arm.
I considered following them. Following him, the actor. He had called me a creep. What would he do when he woke up in his bed and I was right there beside him, sitting in a chair, the blade of the KA-BAR knife flat across my knee. And I would rise up from the chair and move toward him fast, before he knew what was happening.
“Sir?” The usher in the theater was talking to me. “Sir, we’re closing now. I have to get you to leave, if that’s okay.”
I let her go, even after what had passed between us in that lobby.
What happened was this: I was called to duty. My application to III% United Patriots had been accepted. I was sure it was going to be, since I had served faithfully with the California State Militia for some years. So I shipped out to Imperial County in the south of the state, for Illegal Immigrant Border Patrol with the III% Militia.
My grandfather pledges allegiance to the flag. We salute. We are in a cemetery to honor the fallen. My grandfather’s wife stands behind him and looks down at me. Her hands are pressed into each other so that the knuckles are white.
The CO in that Militia mission was a bully and a hypocrite. His call sign was Final Patriot—we all called...