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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


72. [Plate 41]
Prick and Posterity

In his old age, Prick became concerned with how he would be judged by History. His record was, it had to be admitted, a little murky. He'd had a good education, but learned from it nary a thing. He'd made a fortune as a businessman, but the process by which millions had flowed into his pockets even as his businesses went bankrupt scarce bore looking into. His record as a warrior was impeccable, for he had never been so foolish as to go anywhere near conflict, and so had avoided any chance of proving himself a coward. He seemed to remember being President of the United States, but not what it entailed. Mostly he'd just done what people had told him to do, and trusted that there was some point to it.

Now, with mortality hard upon him, Prick decided to burnish his legacy. He hired the foremost portrait painter of his age, a clever monkey with sensitive eyes, who said, "What do you want to look like?"

"Bring out the inner me," Prick said confidently.


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"Hmmm - and your second choice?"

After some consultation it was decided that the portrait should combine Prick's fierce determination with his gentleness, insight, and profound wisdom. It should be the portrait of a scholar, a priest, a lawmaker, a defender of the weak, and a scourge of the oppressor - all of those things, essentially, that Prick had meant to get around to being, but never had.

When the portrait was done, the artist whipped it around with a flourish. "Voila!" he cried.

Prick stared. After a time, tears filled his eyes. He wept at the perfect image of his own magnificence. "Oh," he whispered, "if only such a man were alive today!"

The ape threw an arm about his shoulder. "Amen, brother," he fervently said.

It's been years, and Prick hasn't died yet. Feeble he may be, and incontinent too, but these things bother his caretakers more than they do him. Ten years ago, all the world expected him to die at any minute, and with the passage of a decade the world is still waiting. He receives the very best of medical care, and his legendary luck continues unabated. For all anybody knows, he may never die. He may very well live forever.

It is astonishing how well the Pricks of this world make out.


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This is the 72nd 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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