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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


31. [Plate 32]
A Sad Story

There was a woman — a beautiful young woman, to make things worse — who found herself in prison, awaiting trial for a crime so heinous that only women can commit it.

We all know what crime this was. Let's not pretend we don't. So there's no point in actually putting its name down on paper. Bad enough that she did it.

Still, it's a crying shame.

Young women have impulses. That's the long and the short, and the sad and the true of it. They want to do things that may feel pleasant at the time, but which inevitably lead to tragedy. That's why we have the laws that we do — to protect them from themselves.

Great evils require great deterrents. That's why the crime she committed carried the death penalty.

The pity is that the weight of deterrence must fall upon women, when so much of the fault lies with men, with their promises, blandishments, and sweet, sweet lies. It would be pointless to punish the men, of course. Boys will be boys. At the slightest hint of a chance, down come their zippers and out come their wild oats. It's a law of nature. Trying to regulate it would be as pointless as trying to shovel back the tide.

Girls, however, are sweet and innocent. That's why society does everything it can to prevent such tragedies from ever occurring.

The only sure way of preventing an unwanted pregnancy, of course, is celibacy. Which is why birth control of any sort is strictly illegal. Because it encourages women to take chances by fostering a false sense of confidence.

Nevertheless, this poor, sweet, uncomplicated soul was caught red-handed with a diaphragm and a tube of spermicide. Now she's in prison, awaiting trial and execution for the heinous crime of attempting to bypass God's natural checks upon her own foul and self-betraying lust.

She's so young, too! Barely more than a child! It really is a pity the laws are as harsh as they are.

But it's all for her own protection.


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This is the 31st 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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