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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


74. [Plate 9]
Grace's Final Irony

All her life, Grace kept looking for Mr. Right. Even in the brothel, when a new john smirked at her tits for the first time, she would think to herself: Could this be the one? She was an incurable romantic.

Grace's final irony was that at the last possible instant Mr. Right showed up.

His name was Slobodan, and he'd always been a little defensive about it. Maybe that was why he grew up insecure. He wasn't the handsomest guy in the world, but a gal could do worse. He was sober. He had a job. He knew how to fix things around the house.

When, in an act of thrift disguised as mercy, the government stopped funding the madhouses, Grace was "deinstitutionalized" and released to the loving care of her local community. Within a week, she was living in a box. Soon afterwards, she found a half-quart of cough syrup in a dumpster and, more from hunger than a desire for oblivion, drank it all down.


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But Slobodan, who was the kind of guy who frequents whores because he's too shy to approach regular women and then falls in love with them because he's too full of love not to, remembered Grace from before she went mad. He found her unconscious in the snow, and carried her to his parish priest, who agreed to find her a room provided Slobodan paid for it.

He paid, and he also arranged for a local widow to bring her food - nothing fancy, but as good as the widow was eating herself. Then he hired a social worker to look in on Grace once a week and make sure she was taking her meds.

Slobodan didn't let Grace know who her new guardian angel was - he didn't want her to feel obligated - but he watched her from a distance. Sometimes, in his weaker moments, he fantasized about her.

Alas, alas, alas! A regular diet, combined with the proper dosage of antipsychotics returned Grace's mind to her. For months she had been wandering a fantasy land in which all women are beautiful, all men courtly, and all reality impossibly hospitable.

Now she saw the world as it was.

The night she killed herself, Slobodan was watching her apartment from the shadows. He trailed her to the opera house. He found the lock she'd broken. He heard her fall from the catwalk onto the stage.

On the set of Aida, he cradled her body. The love of his life was dead.

Had Slobodan declared himself while she was a whore, Grace would have fallen for him. If he'd let her know it was he who had saved her from the snows, she would have been his forever. Had he confronted her even ten minutes ago, there might still have been a chance. But he didn't move fast enough. He thought he wasn't worthy. He was afraid of commitment.

So it goes.

That's the problem with men, though, isn't it? The bold ones are all such shits, and the good ones are all such putzes.


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This is the 74th 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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