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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


30. [Plate 31]
Grace and Elena

Only once in her life was Grace, however briefly, happy. That was when she whored in Elena's bordello. Elena had, for her happy end in life, the complete and utter destruction of all men whatsoever. But, realizing that even as omnicompetent a woman as herself couldn't pull off so great a job alone, she'd decided to create a franchise.

Most bordellos are plain and functional, factory farms for sex. Not Elena's. Hers was a romantic place, filled with roses, fine wine, and soft music. Her whores weren't lined up for the customer's inspection, like so many slabs of meat. Rather, one came upon them as if by chance, opening a door to discover a young and innocent beauty caught in the act of putting on her stockings. She looked up, eyes widening in surprise — and desire.

Okay, okay, it was just a paid performance. So was Romeo and Juliet. Rare was the man who could visit Elena's house three times without falling in love once. And after Elena's girls had them by the heartstrings, their mistress knew where to apply the knife.

Of all Elena's whores, the one men fell in love with most consistently was Grace. She was an emotional mess. She smelled like trouble. She was catnip to them.

Every night men fell in love with Grace, and she of course with them. She would agree to elope and specify a time and place, where her suitor would discover not her own pliant self but a well-armed rival for her affections, who also expected her to run away with him. Then, afterwards, she would be overcome with remorse.

"Oh, I am such a bad person!" she'd wail. "How could I betray my one true love?" Though she was never sure which of the two she meant.

Elena would comfort her then, stroking her long, fine hair and making shushing noises. Gently she'd massage Grace's shoulders. With infinite tact, she'd caress Grace's breasts, slide a hand up her skirts and between her legs, and trace a moist tongue through the labyrinth of her ear.

Inevitably, they'd wind up making love. Inevitably, Grace would fall in love with Elena for the seventh time that week. Inevitably, she woke up in the morning joyful and filled with zeal to destroy men for Elena's sake.

It felt strange to Elena to see somebody rendered radiantly happy by having sex with her. But she finally decided that, because it was only a woman, it didn't really count.

After all, nothing that women do really counts, does it?


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This is the 30th 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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