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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


63. [Plate 74]
Your Family in a Nutshell

Just because you're a witch doesn't mean that you don't have family feelings. The doorbell rings. Who's there? Why, it's Aunt Dementia and Uncle Fart. "Welcome, welcome, welcome!" you cry, and in they float.

Auntie D and Uncle F are witches too, just like you. Only more successful. This doesn't give them the right to criticize, however, because criticism is not a right - it's an obligation.

"You've put on weight," they say. "This place is a sty. No wonder your children are out of control. It's so wonderful to see you again. Are you still a pervert?"

"Gosh, it's great to have you guys here," you lie. "It's been so long. Is that a new car?"

Your aunt tugs on one arm and whispers, "Keep you-know-who here off the sauce," while simultaneously your uncle grabs the other arm and roars, "So where's the booze?" Then they both stare at you meaningfully, their grips tightening as if upon a wishbone.


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You're only one minute into it, but already you know that it's going to be an extremely long visit.

But don't think of your dear old Auntie and Uncle D and F as a plague. Rather, think of them as the first and mildest wave of relations who will descend upon you this weekend. There's your cousin the insurance salesman who will put his hand where it doesn't belong, and then tell everyone you came on to him. There's your brother, who once borrowed fourteen thousand dollars from you, never repaid it, and now acts as if you'd borrowed it from him.

There are the unspeakable in-laws, half of them on parole, who nevertheless suspect you of designs upon the nonexistent family fortune. There's your curmudgeonly father who may well be senile, only who can stand listening to him long enough to find out? There's your kid sister, who will throw up at least once and try to boost something on the way out to help underwrite her drug dependency.

And don't forget your mother. Oh, dear God, your mother.

Family! You gotta love 'em. What other options do you have? Ones, that is, that leave the holidays tolerable? The only thing you can do is to take them as they are. Value them and cherish their company for exactly those qualities that make them themselves and nobody else.

"I know you're plotting against me," whispers Auntie Dementia.

"Pull my finger!" cries Uncle Fart.


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This is the 63rd 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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