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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


21. [Plate 79]
The Beer of Eternity

What is so good as freshly-brewed beer? "Country soup," James Joyce called it, because it's rich and dark and full of vitamins. Take a deep swig — you'll not be needing a sandwich today! A pint of the true stuff is a meal in itself.

What is so good as beer shared with friends? It's old friends we're talking here, dear friends, tried and true. They might not be the best of people or the wittiest. But they've proved themselves. They denied knowing you when the police came looking. They burned your papers when you were on the run and could not. Many a time they gave false evidence in court for you. As you, of course, did for them.

Now you're old and so, alas, are your friends. Death looms over you all, smiling in a way that makes one reflect uneasily on how many sins are encompassed in this very room. Murders, rapes, deceptions of all kinds — even a deathbed repentance couldn't get any of you off the hook. Nobody dies slowly enough to repent of all you've done.

All the more reason to pour yourself another beer! Forget about Hell and consequences. Focus on all those good memories. The lives despoiled, the fortunes stolen, the virtuous maidens seduced and abandoned… Those were the days, weren't they? Those were the days.

What is so tasty as the beer of life? It's a heady drink indeed.


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This is the 21st 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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