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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


39. [Plate 17]
Elena By Herself

With Grace gone, Elena was forced to make do by herself. Grace had been the best employee a rapacious woman could hope for — an emotional, vulnerable wreck. One who, with the best intentions in the world, destroyed lives without even knowing how she'd done it. Now Elena had to rethink her methodology.

The first thing Elena did was to sell the whorehouse. She was weary of the fast-food approach to male ruination. She wanted to get back to boutique seduction.

And, holy guacamole, was her comeback a success! Men showered her with flowers, fur coats, Maseratis, jet-copters, summer homes in Acapulco, and pied-a-terres in Paris. In return for which she showered them with scorn, neglect, infidelity and indifference. After which they killed themselves with gas, guns, poison, leaps from the tops of bridges and buildings, drink and dissolution, desperate acts of crime, and public confessions of acts best left unmentioned. They died like flies.

A woman with the right attitude and million-dollar legs can have anything she wants.

Somehow, it wasn't enough. Waiting with her local procuress for a major industrialist or powerful politician to walk in on her while she was examining the seams of her stockings (boys like eye-candy best when it's stolen), Elena would be overcome by melancholic thoughts.

It wasn't the sex that she missed (Elena had sex with women at least twice a week; guys

hate it when they catch their mistress sleeping with their wife), but the camaraderie. The girl-talk, the whispered confidences, the giggly trashing of men and their pretensions.

She sighed.

At which moment, somebody whose name you would recognize in a flash would walk in and be entranced by that glimpse of perfect flesh that Elena with horrified modesty would hide away from his eyes, blushing and yet — somehow the famous man would know — not altogether unhappy that he had been the one to blunder in upon her.

In a world-famous restaurant later that night, Elena would stir cream into her coffee in a way that caused her to expose rather a lot of cleavage. The Great Man would offer her some trinket — diamonds, emeralds, her own platinum card — just to elicit a gasp from those ruby lips. Both would anticipate an evening to remember.

Still, even in the midst of the hunt, even as Elena began the degradation, even as a man who had never knelt to God learned what it was like to kneel before a woman, blubbering like a baby… Elena couldn't forget Grace.

It had been fun, having a pal.

Meanwhile, in a dismaying part of town, Grace was miserable, suffering, and sunk in self-pity. The bills were due, she'd been beaten again, and her boyfriend had just chucked her out of the apartment so he could bed down some floozy he'd met in a bar.

She gave Elena not a thought.


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This is the 39th 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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