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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


34. [Plate 23]
A Sad Story Continued

It had to be one of the dullest trials in the history of jurisprudence. It should have been otherwise. The woman was beautiful, and her crime was juicy. It involved sex. There was no telling what lascivious details might have come out under vigorous cross-examination. But right at the start, the whole affair went sour.

The judge read the charges, pronounced the sentence, and asked the woman how she plead. In a voice that barely lifted into the audible, she mumbled, "Guilty."

Which, of course, she was. The law was clear and her goose was cooked. But it went against all reason that she should submit to the machinery of justice as simply as that. Even a drowning man struggles as he goes down. The burglar with three bullets in him, still struggles to crawl away from the advancing police. The caught fish flops wildly on the shore.

Meek as a saint, she refused to defend herself.

The prosecutor asked for a recess, and went into a huddle with the judge and her public defender. After a series of ritual humiliations designed to enliven the proceedings were rejected by the defense, a compromise was reached and the woman was ordered to wear short cape and a tall and comical dunce's hat.

This she submitted to with so sad and resigned a grace as to convince all involved that further measures would be pointless. The day was a complete wash. In her own sullen and voiceless way, this uncooperative spoilsport seemed determined to rob the trial of all drama whatsoever and render it as tedious as possible for everyone.

Changing out of his robes afterwards, the judge could not help feeling cheated. For all the pleasure he'd gotten out of the proceedings, he might as well have pardoned the dumb ox! Don't think he hadn't been tempted, either.

Only his sense of obligation to his audience, his fellow members of the legal profession, and to the young woman herself, had given him the resolution to actually impose the death penalty upon her.


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This is the 34th 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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