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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


69. [Plate 16]
Elena the Libertarian

No one could ruin as many men as did Elena without becoming rich in the process. Not that she gave a fig for wealth! So long as there were penises in the world, she would not lack for life's little comforts. But to a rich man, being drained of wealth is exquisitely humiliating. So Elena drained, and prospered, and waxed obscenely wealthy.

Which made her an icon to libertarians.

Libertarianism is not so much a political philosophy as it is a sexual fantasy. It is the doctrine of oddly-dressed men with dead-end civil service jobs and no social graces who couldn't get a date with a beautiful woman to save their lives. "If only," they think, eying some statuesque stranger on the subway, "I could reshape our society from top to bottom, so that the only positive value was the acquisition of wealth. Then I could simply offer her money to go out with me — and it'd be immoral for her to turn me down!"


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There is nothing a libertarian admires so much as a woman who whores her way to wealth. It validates their fantasies on so many levels at once! It was, therefore, no surprise that one of their number, misunderstanding Elena's enterprise, should decide to give her an award for what he thought she was up to. It gave him the opportunity to meet her. He harbored certain fantasies of what might ensue.

"You are not much of a libertarian," Elena said, tossing the solid gold street-walker statuette to one side. "You see my example, but you do not follow it."

"But how could I...?"

"It's the simplest thing in the world!" Elena declared. She made the man strip down before her and don one of her dresses and her second-best shawl. "Now you look the part!"

"Will this really appeal to women?" the libertarian asked dubiously.

"Women? Pooh! Women have no money!"

Seizing his hand, Elena led the man to a certain corner. Men coming out of the nearby bars eyed the libertarian with interest. None of them gave Elena a second glance. "This is where the young men sell themselves. Smile and make eye contact. You won't have to wait long."

"But I'm not gay!"

"Be sure to mention that. They'll pay more."

With a cryptic smile, Elena hailed a cab and left.

Though there was nothing in his theoretics to justify rejecting Elena's scheme, the libertarian was about to gather up his skirts and flounce away when he realized that he was penniless. His wallet, with all his money and identification, was in his trousers on the floor of Elena's penthouse. So were the keys to his apartment. Which was, in any event, not even in this town.

He shivered miserably in a way that told the world exactly what his situation — desperate, clueless, and on the street — was. The decent men walked by with averted eyes. The sharks began to circle.

Elena, meanwhile, was sipping a cup of camomile tea. Her heart was untroubled. The sort of men who frequented straight male prostitutes could be trusted to finish up the task of ruining her importunate young libertarian for her.

His wallet she mailed to an AIDS hospice. Not because she was going soft, but because she wouldn't pass by the bank today, and she didn't want the grungy old thing lying about her digs.

Money, after all, wasn't everything.


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This is the 69th 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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