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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


12. [Plate 5]
Concerning Elena and a Certain Mouse

One day a mouse came courting Elena. He was not like other mice at all. He was as tall as a man, to begin with, and walked upright as men do. He wore a sort of uniform with short pants and white gloves, and though he was not particularly articulate neither was he the squeaker and whisker-twitcher one might have expected him to be. Indeed, were it not for his two enormous round ears, he would not have been identifiable as a mouse at all.

Elena was not perfectly convinced that the downfall of a mouse wasn't beneath her dignity. Nevertheless, he was a famous Hollywood film star, and subsequently wealthy. And the wealthy are, as everybody knows, every bit as worthy of destruction as are true men. So she decided she would encompass his ruin anyway.

It wasn't easy. The mouse was a foolish, happy-go-lucky sort of guy. He took every slight and insult with a foolish smile and a guffaw. No indignity could reach him. It drove Elena mad. For a time, it made her doubt her powers.

But at last she found the mouse's Achilles heel: He thought of himself as an artist. So simple a thing as that! So she introduced him to Ingmar Bergman films, French deconstructionist theory, early Fellini, Japanese hantai… She taught him that whatever he was — a buffoon, perhaps, a vaudevillian, even a latter-day Stooge — an artist he was not.

The mouse went downhill quickly from there. He accepted a cigarette. He took up drinking. He woke up in a pool hall. He got involved with rough trade. He started dealing crack.

Elena went to the tabloids and told them everything. It was the end of the mouse's career.

Not long after, lawyers for a certain Hollywood studio threatened to sue Elena for defamation of the mouse's character. But since she had very carefully never mentioned the rodent by name, it turned out they didn't have a case.


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This is the 12th 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.

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