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The Gypsy’s Curse, Harry Crews

Alfred A. Knopf, 1974

Skinned alive. His insides were outsides. A fire. He was walking right at you but there was nowhere to turn on the crowded train. You wondered how he survived the fire. Did his skin still burn to the touch? Not that you would ever touch it. He wandered through the car, grunting and holding out his scorched stub of a hand. That is the first time that you looked away, not even stopping to consider why you couldn’t spare the dime and some odd change in your pocket. It was tunnel vision—thinking of nothing else but how sick it made you feel to see that skin that was turned inside out. Next stop, Fullerton. You hoped like hell he would get off there.

Step right up! Boys and girls, step right up! Front row! Once in a lifetime opportunity. Real live freak show! Look! Point! Laugh! Stare at it as long as you like. Guaranteed you ain’t seen anything like it. And no worries, it can’t hear you. Deaf as a doorknob. Mute too. Check out the tiny stumps for legs tied back on his ass so they stay out of the way when he walks on his hands. That’s right, he walks on his hands! Upside-down! There’s more. You gotta see this. He can rise up and support his whole freak body using just one finger! You’ve never seen anything like it. A real live freak show! Chance of a lifetime! You don’t wanna miss it!

Her legs were giant balloons, over-inflated, ready to pop at any moment. Elephantitis. She waddled down the sidewalk on the south side of Diversey as people everywhere stared openly. They didn’t even pretend to look away. Inside an old carnival tent, you’d have to pay for a peek at this shit so here, you damn well looked and you looked some more. And the more you looked, the more the repulsion gave way to relief. You weren’t her. She wasn’t you. You were normal. Affirmation is a beautiful thing.

Funny thing is, he can hear you. He can read your lips. He can practically read your mind. The senses are funny that way. Those deadened pave the way to heightened awareness for those that remain, albeit numbed by all those years lived inside the looking glass, on display as one of society’s little funhouse critters. They are discarded zeroes existing only for your amusement.

“Fuck a duck, duck, duck. Fuck a duck, fuck a duck, fuck a duck, duck, duck. Shiiii … shhhit-cunt! Shit-ccccc-ccc-cunt!” What triggered the outburst was not readily apparent. Everyone at the bus stop and anyone in the near vicinity stopped in their tracks to look over at the woman uttering the vulgar profanity. And with the eyes of the world on her, it was as if a trigger was suddenly released. “The weather cu … cc … ccc … cunt a duck fuck, duck a fuck, duck a fuck, fuck, fuck!” Horrified, a woman grabbed the hand of her young child and rushed him away from the Sheridan bus stop.

Disturbing. Funny. Sad. Poignant. The twisted world of Harry Crews. May even resemble a world near you. There’s this place down south without borders, way off the beaten path. Although most don’t ever seem to stumble upon it, you never know, you may in fact find yourself there. Town’s called Empathy. When you’re least expecting it, compassion can have a way of rearing its ugly, deformed little head. But here’s the thing. If you do find it, don’t be surprised to learn that nobody was ever asking for your pity so please advance with caution. When worlds collide, it can be violent, southern gothic style. Hide the hatchets.

Suddenly, across Lincoln, you catch a glimpse of someone or some thing that has an uncanny resemblance to yourself, not that you would ever admit it. That would take guts, something in short supply ’round here. The only ones with any guts in these parts are easy to spot. Everyone has been looking right at them all along.