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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


45. [Plate 35]
A Close Shave

Salome wasn't her real name of course. It was only an alias, an assumed identity, a nom de guerre.

Nor was this her first false name. When she had first gone to work in the brothels, she had called herself Jezebel. It had been good for business, and it protected her family's reputation so well as to allow them to accept financial support from her. Because of these obligations, she had followed the trail of money into sadism and dominance. The notorious Madame Elena herself had taught her the tricks of the trade. Everybody agreed she'd learned them well.

But that was then, and now Salome ran a barber shop. The Closest Shave in Town, the sign above the door promised, and that was what she delivered. It was a discreet service, of course. Only the wealthiest young bucks could afford it.

"Go into the dressing room, take off your clothes, and wrap the pink satin sheet about yourself," she would command.

"Everything?" the mark would ask.

"Keep your socks on," Salome said. She had a fine sense of the ridiculous.

Salome never wore any underwear. Her breasts would sway gently in the client's face as she slowly shaved his cheeks and chin with her sharp, sharp razor.

"What about my neck?" the young dandy would ask. "It's still stubbly."

"All in good time, sweet sir," she'd coo. "Now open your sheet so I can shave your chest."

She was standing so close he could feel her breath on his face, and the gentle give of her nether hair against his thigh. Naturally, he did as she told him.

Slowly… lingeringly… Salome swept the hair from his skin. Oh, that exquisite tingle when she rubbed on the aftershave! It brought his nipples erect.

"Open the sheet a little lower. I want to do your abdomen."

He obeyed.

"Lower still, and I'll make your privates as smooth and hairless as a young boy's."

Imagine the client's trepidation! Imagine the fear he experienced when Salome hoisted his fleshy trifles to shave beneath them, and what relief when the blade lifted away, leaving him unnicked. Imagine the exquisite yearning he felt as Salome brushed talcum powder over his freshly denuded crotch.

"Now for your throat." Salome gestured, and one of her barberettes-in-training brought a platter and held it before him. "Does this suggest anything to you?"


"I didn't think so."

And — lop! drop! plop! — the head fell onto the platter. Later it would be FedExed to his wife. The corpse would be thrown into the marshes, and the wallet in the hip pocket of the trousers still hanging in the dressing room would be despoiled. Thus it was that Salome made her living.

Such a tragic fate! And yet it could have been easily avoided by anybody with a classical education. Alas, the Bible is no longer taught in our once-proud schools! No wonder so many of our young men come to bad ends.


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This is the 45th 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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