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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


33. [Plate 73]
Wicked Grace

Grace did so love being wicked! It was a revelation to her. The wicked were allowed to have fun, to begin with — or, rather, fun was as forbidden to them as it was to good folk, but they went and had it anyway! They never said anything out of politeness, and if they itched someplace rude, they scratched it right in public.

It was ever so much more pleasant than being virtuous.

All her friends were wicked, and because she was no better than they, they treated her like a pal. They stole small gifts for her, and told her dirty jokes. If somebody mistreated her, they waited for him in a dark alley and broke both his legs. Really, the wicked were nicer friends than the righteous ever were!

Sweet, innocent Grace wasn't truly wicked, of course, only terribly, terribly naughty. And even that was explained away by her profession. One cannot be a drab without naughtiness — the customers would revolt. But the wicked are in no position to be censorious. They accepted her, even though her credentials were weak.

Nobody who knew her believed for an instant that Grace's wickedness would last. It was inevitable that she should fall off the wagon, and one day she did. She fell in love with a young wastrel, who carried her away from the whorehouse before calmer heads could intercede. Off she went to scrub and clean and cook and sew for him. That's when her life went back to normal. That's when her life went straight to hell.

Her lover beat her, of course, and refused to marry her, and told her she was a slut, and slept with other women every chance he got. So miserable did he make her that Grace returned to the Church. She went to Mass each morning and afternoon, took Communion every day, and prayed incessantly for her lover's salvation. Her confessor made a pass at her, and told her to offer it up to God.

Oftentimes, Grace wistfully thought back to the days when she was wicked. They were for her that lost Garden of Eden that childhood is for the rest of us.

But no fair drawing conclusions! There is no moral to this story. Absolutely none. Life is not like that at all, and don't you dare think for even an instant that it is. We're done now — just move along, okay?. There's nothing to see here, nothing to look at, nothing to learn.


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This is the 33rd 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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