Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

125. The Tasmanians

When I found little Newt, painting a blasted landscape a quarter of a mile from the cave, he asked me if I would drive him into Bolivar to forage for paints. He couldn’t drive himself. He couldn’t reach the pedals.

So off we went, and, on the way, I asked him if he had any sex urge left. I mourned that I had none—no dreams in that line, nothing.

“I used to dream of women twenty, thirty, forty feet tall,” he told me. “But now? God, I can’t even remember what my Ukrainian midget looked like.”

I recalled a thing I had read about the aboriginal Tasmanians, habitually naked persons who, when encountered by white men in the seventeenth century, were strangers to agriculture, animal husbandry, architecture of any sort, and possibly even fire. They were so contemptible in the eyes of white men, by reason of their ignorance, that they were hunted for sport by the first settlers, who were convicts from England. And the aborigines found life so unattractive that they gave up reproducing.

I suggested to Newt now that it was a similar hopelessness that had unmanned us.

Newt made a shrewd observation. “I guess all the excitement in bed had more to do with excitement about keeping the human race going than anybody ever imagined.”

“Of course, if we had a woman of breeding age among us, that might change the situation radically. Poor old Hazel is years beyond having even a Mongolian idiot.”

Newt revealed that he knew quite a bit about Mongolian idiots. He had once attended a special school for grotesque children, and several of his schoolmates had been Mongoloids. “The best writer in our class was a Mongoloid named Myrna—I mean penmanship, not what she actually wrote down. God, I haven’t thought about her for years.”

“Was it a good school?”

“All I remember is what the headmaster used to say all the time. He was always bawling us out over the loudspeaker system for some mess we’d made, and he always started out the same way: ‘I am sick and tired . . .’”

“That comes pretty close to describing how I feel most of the time.”

“Maybe that’s the way you’re supposed to feel.”

“You talk like a Bokononist, Newt.”

“Why shouldn’t I? As far as I know, Bokononism is the only religion that has any commentary on midgets.”

When I hadn’t been writing, I’d been poring over The Books of Bokonon, but the reference to midgets had escaped me. I was grateful to Newt for calling it to my attention, for the quotation captured in a couplet the cruel paradox of Bokononist thought, the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality, and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it.

Midget, midget, midget, how he struts and winks,
For he knows a man’s as big as what he hopes and thinks!

Turn page.