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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


41. [Plate 8]
Grace Violated

Oh, God. Oh, damn. Oh, no. This is just too awful. No kidding, there honestly and truly are some things that man was not meant to know. What your child screaming in pain and terror sounds like. How it feels to lose a part of your body in an industrial accident. The agony of realizing that you've done something unforgivable. The fact that these things happen all the time doesn't excuse them. If anything, it only makes them worse.

I'm not going to tell you this story. I'm not!

Grace was raped. You wouldn't think this would happen to a whore. Any sensible villain would order the all-night special and simply not pay afterwards. But rape isn't about sex (read Susan Brownmiller's book if you doubt me), it's about power.

But that's not the worst of it.

True story: Many years ago, a civic group I was involved with had for a guest speaker somebody from Women Organized Against Rape. This organization exists to support the victims of sexual violence, to offer them counsel when they need it most, and to do their best to get the criminals behind bars. After her presentation, one white-haired gent raised his hand. "Can you tell us about a case you were involved in?" he asked.

The woman then told us about an infant — an infant! — who had been molested by her sitter.

"Could you tell us about a different case?" the man asked.

So the woman, who admitted she'd had grotesque luck so far, told us about another assault upon another infant.

The man cleared his throat. "How about a case where the victim was a little older?"

There are problems with the male gender, granted. But only rarely am I embarrassed to be a man. This creep made me cringe. Because what he was looking for was not insight, but a jolly good rape fantasy to take home with him.

In a strange way this sensitized me. Since then I've noticed that movie and television depictions of rape are always shot in extreme close-up, with fast cuts, sweaty flesh, little grunts, and heavy breathing. Which is to say, they're filmed sexy. The scene in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange in which Little Alex's rival droogs are interrupted just before gang-raping a large-breasted blonde, whose clothing they've snickeringly cut away from her with their bolshy big knives feels strange and inhuman because it's shot objectively, from a distance, with a fixed camera. It's not shot — as virtually all other media rapes are — from the viewpoint of the rapist.

Susan Brownmiller's book is titled Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. It makes rape out to be a very bad thing. I read as far into it as I could bear to read, and then I set it aside. At that moment, I promised myself that I would not depict a rape in my fiction before finishing the book. And I have not, so I have not.

There! You've been spared the pain of going through a graphic description of exactly what happened to Grace. I know you're grateful. I'm absolutely certain you didn't want to hear the details. You're happier without them, I swear. They were nasty. They were gross. They were nothing you wanted in your mind.

I'm sure you'll find another way to get your rocks off.


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This is the 41st 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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