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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


20. [Plate 10]
True Love

Ah, love! It makes the world go round. In spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of it. Blind it may be, or like a red, red rose, but still it conquers all. It's a funny thing, a many-splendored thing, the one thing that money can't buy.

Ricardo was a jerk, but Mercedes loved him anyway. She loved him for his manly ways — for his swagger and his bluster and the fact that he never backed down from a fight. He didn't take any crap, and he always got the last word, and he never admitted to being in the wrong about anything. He was a mean little shit, and Mercedes admired that in a man.

Sometimes, when they were out on the town, Mercedes would eye other men flirtatiously, silently challenging them to make a pass at her. It always brought out the best in Ricardo. Eyes narrowed, face flushed with blood, he would advance upon his newfound rival and coldly demand an apology. Almost always, he got one. What delight, then, to Mercedes, to see that brawny, handsome man (for she never flirted with less) stammering in fear and groveling before her lover's wrath.

Even better were the times when the man would not back down. Ricardo was a demon with a blade. Five exchanges of steel gave him the measure of his opponent. Ten more brought terror into the man's eyes. Another ten — more, if he were feeling cruel — would close those eyes forever.

Afterwards, they would go to Ricardo's squalid little room and make love all night. If his blouse had been bloodied in the fight, Mercedes might tear it open, but she would not let him take it off.

One day, inevitably, Ricardo lost. As simple as that. He had finally run into his equal; or perhaps he was just having an off night — it hardly mattered which. His opponent's steel nicked his heart, he reflexively ran his blade through the man's throat, and then he collapsed, dying, in Mercedes' arms.

Oh, how Mercedes wailed! Life holds no greater pain than the loss of one's true soul-mate. She held his body in her arms as he coughed out a last vulgar curse upon his opponent — dead already, so in a way he had won this fight as well — and died. Her agony was absolute.

The ironic thing was that she could easily have fallen for the other guy. He had a good build, and a fine black mustache. He looked like he was a real jerk. Mercedes admired that in a man.


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This is the 20th 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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