Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

100. Down the Oubliette Goes Frank

But “Papa” didn’t die and go to heaven—not then. I asked Frank how we might best time the announcement of my elevation to the Presidency. He was no help, had no ideas; he left it all up to me.

“I thought you were going to back me up,” I complained.

“As far as anything technical goes.” Frank was prim about it. I wasn’t to violate his integrity as a technician; wasn’t to make him exceed the limits of his job.

“I see.”

“However you want to handle people is all right with me. That’s your responsibility.”

This abrupt abdication of Frank from all human affairs shocked and angered me, and I said to him, meaning to be satirical, “You mind telling me what, in a purely technical way, is planned for this day of days?”

I got a strictly technical reply. “Repair the power plant and stage an air show.”

“Good! So one of my first triumphs as President will be to restore electricity to my people.”

Frank didn’t see anything funny in that. He gave me a salute. “I’ll try, sir. I’ll do my best for you, sir. I can’t guarantee how long it’ll be before we get juice back.”

“That’s what I want—a juicy country.”

“I’ll do my best, sir.” Frank saluted me again.

“And the air show?” I asked. “What’s that?”

I got another wooden reply. “At one o’clock this afternoon, sir, six planes of the San Lorenzan Air Force will fly past the palace here and shoot at targets in the water. It’s part of the celebration of the Day of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy. The American Ambassador also plans to throw a wreath into the sea.”

So I decided, tentatively, that I would have Frank announce my apotheosis immediately following the wreath ceremony and the air show.

“What do you think of that?” I said to Frank.

“You’re the boss, sir.”

“I think I’d better have a speech ready,” I said. “And there should be some sort of swearing-in, to make it look dignified, official.”

“You’re the boss, sir.” Each time he said those words they seemed to come from farther away, as though Frank were descending the rungs of a ladder into a deep shaft, while I was obliged to remain above.

And I realized with chagrin that my agreeing to be boss had freed Frank to do what he wanted to do more than anything else, to do what his father had done: to receive honors and creature comforts while escaping human responsibilities. He was accomplishing this by going down a spiritual oubliette.

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