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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


23. [Plate 25]

Not everything we want is good for us. Consider our perversions. When we were young and beautiful, perhaps, we enjoyed dressing up in latex and leather and being whipped to a fare-thee-well. Which made for a good cardiovascular workout, but left unsightly welts. With the passing decades, we may well have become increasingly reluctant to bare our ever-less-perfect flesh to the judgmental eyes of sadists who, whatever their virtues may be, do tend toward perfectionism.

So perforce we must journey from the receiving of pain to the giving of it. But that too has its use-by date. A certain tendency toward the gaunt and haggard only enhances the dominatrix, of course. But with age one grows a little stooped, a little tired, a little soft around the jowls. What executive, desirous of a refreshing grovel, can honestly fear being slapped around by a woman who looks like his sweet old grandmother? What satisfaction can we derive from fear that is only make-believe?

There comes a time when we're looking at the end of all our illicit pleasures.

Thank God for grandchildren! The little buggers are forever breaking this, stealing that, drawing on the wall with jam. And when they do, we can take a shoe to their little behinds and wallop the bejesus out of them, They wail in terror, and that's satisfying too– knowing that we can still instill fear. It eases that tension that can only be undone by the reception or administration of pain.

Best of all, it's good for the grandchildren! It prepares them for the real world.


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This is the 23rd 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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