Preface: The setting is a Carnival. Arty is a pronounce physically deformed “freak” who does not have arms or legs, but instead short flipper like appendages. As part of his chosen role/show in the Carnival, he swims in a large tank of water and has adopted the name “Arturo the Aqua-boy”. Leading up to the current events below, Arty has begun making predictions to his crowd, answering charged and troubling questions the audience brings to him in his shows, and preaching his own “religion” of social perspective and indoctrination.
It was Earlville, on the Gulf of Mexico. One hundred windless, muggy degrees. Mosquitoes drowned in your neck creases. The only industry in town was the federal penitentiary. The midway was jammed and the show tents bulged with the sweating, stinking, bad-tempered drawls. It got dark but it didn’t cool off.
The fat woman surfaced at Arty’s last, hottest show for the day. She was young but her colorless hair was scraggled up into tight separate curls with so much scalp between them that she looked old and balding. She was crying as she stood up on the fifth tier of the bleachers and pushed her clasped hands out towards the tank where Arty was deep in his pitch.
“You, darling,” said Arty, and the feel of “darling” rose up through her puffy ankles and through every buttock in the bleachers. The crowd sighed. The fat woman sobbed.
“You feel ugly, don’t you, sweetheart?” and “ugly” and “sweetheart” thrummed through the crowd, and they all gasped and she wasn’t the only one nodding.
“You’ve tried everything, haven’t you?” said the bright floating spirit in the tank. “Everything,” murmured the bones of the people.
“Pills, shots, hypnosis, diets, exercise.Everything. Because you want to be beautiful?”
Arty was building it up now, winding them in tight.
“Because you think if you were beautiful, you would be happy?” He had the timing pat. Arty was a master of tone and timing. I leaned on the last steel strut of the bleachers in the aisle and smiled, though I’d seen him do it all my life.
“Because people would love you if you were beautiful? And if people loved you, you would be happy? Is it people loving you that makes you happy?”
Now the pitch drops a full octave into the groin groan. I can feel it even in the support poles. The asses on the seat boards must be halfway to orgasm.
“Or is it people not loving you that makes you unhappy? If they don’t love you it’s because there is something wrong with you. If they love you then it must mean you’re all right. You poor baby. Poor, poor baby.”
The place was full of poor babies. They all sighed with tender sympathy for themselves. The fat woman’s nose ran. She opened her mouth and cried, “Hoooh! Hoooh! Hoooh!”
Now Arty was gentle and low as a train a mile off in the night.
(To be continued in Love vs Sex 92)
Katherine Dunn 1983