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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


43. [Plate 15]
Elena's Day of Rest

Even a man-eater can get tired. There came a time when Elena grew weary of conquest, jaded with intrigue, sick to death of watching faces sag, dicks wilt, and eyes flood with tears. Really, men are so predictable in the ways they despair! When a Nobel-winning poet cries, "You have ruined me! I cannot go on living without you," one realizes that originality is dead.

So Elena retreated from the world. She sat in a chair in an empty room in an empty house in a neighborhood where nothing ever happens. One of her favorite procuresses (she had no friends, now that Grace was gone) kept her company.

For one long, glorious day, Elena did absolutely nothing. She listened to the muted sounds of traffic on the street outside. She watched the slant of sunlight from the window creep from one side of the varnished floor to the other. Dust motes jittered and danced within it, like a tiny galaxy ruled by Brownian motion alone. She felt the breath pass in and out of her body. Occasionally she languidly fanned herself.

The procuress offered no conversation. Elena elicited none. A distant clock monotonously divided time into one-second hacks, but she lacked the initiative to stand up and still its pendulum.

Elena had never known tedium before. In its novelty, it was experienced by her as a kind of ecstasy.

She knew now what a world without men would be like: vast, empty, eventless, still, and very, very slow. It was an existence utterly without excitement. It was a life absolutely devoid of adventure or purpose.

It was good beyond all her expectations.

Renewed by her day of rest, Elena returned to her vocation with fresh vigor.


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This is the 43rd 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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