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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


70. [Plate 19]
How the Witches Love to Pluck!

How the witches love to pluck! Chickens will do, hawks are grand, and eagles are a treat fit for the Empress herself. But the fowls they pluck with the greatest gusto are lovebirds.

Admit it! Lovebirds are annoying little flits. To begin with, they're so happy. So lost in bliss. So free of the petty humiliations of everyday life that make people like you and me want to smash them in the face.

Witches, however, display not the least annoyance with the lovebirds. "How dear," they murmur. "How sweet! So faithful! So perfectly in love!"

The lovebirds preen. All males are prone to vanity, and the vanity of virtue is the least resistible vanity of all. They nod their little heads in self-satisfied agreement.


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"Widdle-iddle oo would never cheat on your sweetie, would oo?" they croon. "You wouldn't so much as glance at another woman - even if she leaned forward and gave you a good long look at her breasts the way I'm doing now."

The lovebirds look confused, and then befuddled, as the witches coo to them, and stroke them, and draw them close. They blush and stammer as the witches take them in their firm, capable hands. They looked alarmed and unconvincingly struggle to escape as the witches one by one pluck every feather they have from their scrawny little bodies.

All the above was allegorical. Here's the key:

Plato defined man as an erect featherless biped. The feathered biped he was thinking of was the cock. Emily Dickinson defined hope as the thing with feathers. So when the witches pluck a lovebird...

But I think we can all see where this is headed.


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This is the 70th 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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