Yet when men and women get together, men consistently play the fool. This is a commonly observed phenomenon. When a man leaves the company of women they exchange scandalized whispers: "Did he really say... ever hear such... must be an idiot." When a woman leaves the company of men, however, they mutter under their breaths: "I didn't really say... what was I... must think I'm an idiot."
There is a simple explanation. Elena occasionally demonstrates it to her friends, for a lark. She puts on something flirtatious and goes looking for a group of particularly intelligent men. One that is discussing quantum string theory, perhaps, or the exact chronology of the great vowel shift that occurred in the transition between Middle and Modern English. Eyes flashing, they jab fingers at one another as they drive home abstruse philosophical points.
But then they see Elena, and the blood all rushes from their heads to their dicks. And their thoughts as well.
"Are those your brains in your pants?" she asks. "Or are you just happy to see me?"
"Well, uh, heh-heh, you see..." they stammer. "Say, that's a nice, um, dress you're wearing."
Elena flutters her lashes. "Oh, you clever things!" Anybody with a grain of sense can see that she's mocking them. Anybody, that is, but a man. She can keep this conversation going until every other woman in the room is doubled over with suppressed laughter.
But men really are intelligent as women. This is Elena's secret, and she's never told it to anybody. Except other women. But since they all know it already, no harm is done.
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This is the 54th of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany
Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available
stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.