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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


25. [Plate 38]
Prick in Love

Prick, that noblest of asses, came of age without ever experiencing the vicissitudes of love. Poor Prick! Sadder and wiser folk — which is to say, essentially, everyone — knew that he was heading for a fall. The longer those pains, those ecstasies, those astonishingly personal embarrassments are deferred, the harder they hit when they arrive at last.

And so they did. Arrive at last and hit hard, that is.

Prick sighed. He moaned. He wrote bad poems. He rued the day that he was born, and could not wait for the morrow, when he might see his beloved again. He masturbated frequently.

We must be a little vague on the subject of Prick's beloved because, if the truth be told, he was a little vague about her himself. He knew her name, and had some notion of her appearance. He was aware that she was blond, though whether natural or bleached was beyond him. But that was it. Of her thoughts, opinions, and inner life he knew nothing. Love scoffs at details! It cares not for such superficialities as a woman's mind.

Perversely enough, this young lady — whoever she was — did not return Prick's adoration. She cut him dead on the street. She returned his love letters unread. When, for token of his feelings, he secretly manured her garden one night, she latched the gate and let it go to weeds.

There was only one thing for a love-struck swain to do — serenade her at her balcony. Prick set several of his poems to music. Then he hired a monkey to play accompaniment on the guitar. The beast was no looker, but he had a melancholy way with the instrument, and this, together with Prick's dulcet bray, the young ass reckoned should be enough to rouse the woman's emotions while simultaneously bypassing her better judgment.

They began rehearsing.

The more Prick sang, the better it sounded to him. He made a few alterations to the lyrics. The monkey suggested chord changes and a shift in tempo here and there. They added a cover or two to their repertoire, and quietly dropped some songs that weren't quite up to snuff.

Finally, they were ready. Prick rented a production studio, and they cut a demo. One of the smaller labels snatched them up. They put in a season opening for a rockabilly retro band, and another season as headliners. Their first LP — An Officer and a Gentleman, an Ape and an Ass — went platinum.

Prick was midway through a sold-out tour of Japan before it occurred to him that he never had gotten around to serenading his one true love. By then it was moot, though, for he'd completely forgotten her name. He felt chagrined, of course, but not for long. It's hard to maintain a sense of shame when you're snorting cocaine off a teenaged groupie's tits.

Let this be a lesson to us all. There is no such thing as a bad experience. Everything is grist for the mill. When life hands you a lemon — make lemonade!

Even love can be put to good use.


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This is the 25th 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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