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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


18. [Plate 14]
The Sorrows of Young Grace

Some women are natural-born victims. Everybody takes advantage of them. Panhandlers cross the street to demand their money, clerks shortchange them, traffic cops write them tickets even though they're on foot, children make rude noises when they walk by, and construction workers make ruder gestures. Just to watch them cringe, you see.

Grace was a victim nonpareil, the sort of person even other victims liked to pick on. It was bad enough when she was a child, but then she sprouted breasts and the suitors showed up! Hunch-backed, frog-legged, condescending… each one worse than the others. They took her out to restaurants and expected her to pay. They came to supper, and they brought their friends. They borrowed money, which they never repaid. They begged and begged and begged for a date and then when, out of pity, she gave in, never asked her out on a second.

Men are just no damned good! They all expected her to have sex with them, and when she wouldn't, they acted affronted. But if she did, they called her a slut to her face. What can you do with people like that?

Grace's mother suffered through several years of this. After each disastrous date, Grace flung herself down on her bed in a torrent of tears and wrung her hands and bemoaned her fate, and prayed to an unheeding Providence for mercy. "Why me?" she would wail, "Why?" until it was all the dear old lady could do not to hit her.

Finally, her mother had had enough. "I'm going to sell you to the brothel," she told her stunned daughter. "You'll get better treatment as a whore."

And the sad thing was that she was right.


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This is the 18th 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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