Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

41. A Karass Built for Two

The seating on the airplane, bound ultimately for San Lorenzo from Miami, was three and three. As it happened— “As it was supposed to happen"—my seatmates were Horlick Minton, the new American Ambassador to the Republic of San Lorenzo, and his wife, Claire. They were whitehaired, gentle, and frail.

Minton told me that he was a career diplomat, holding the rank of Ambassador for the first time. He and his wife had so far served, he told me, in Bolivia, Chile, Japan, France, Yugoslavia, Egypt, the Union of South Africa, Liberia, and Pakistan.

They were lovebirds. They entertained each other endlessly with little gifts: sights worth seeing out the plane window, amusing or instructive bits from things they read, random recollections of times gone by. They were, I think, a flawless example of what Bokonon calls a duprass, which is a karass composed of only two persons.

“A true duprass,” Bokonon tells us, “can’t be invaded, not even by children born of such a union.”

I exclude the Mintons, therefore, from my own karass, from Frank’s karass, from Newt’s karass, from Asa Breed’s karass, from Angela’s karass, from Lyman Enders Knowles’s karass, from Sherman Krebbs’s karass. The Mintons’ karass was a tidy one, composed of only two.

“I should think you’d be very pleased,” I said to Minton.

“What should I be pleased about?”

“Pleased to have the rank of Ambassador.”

From the pitying way Minton and his wife looked at each other, I gathered that I had said a fat-headed thing. But they humored me. “Yes,” winced Minton, “I’m very pleased.” He smiled wanly. “I’m deeply honored.”

And so it went with almost every subject I brought up. I couldn’t make the Mintons bubble about anything.

For instance: “I suppose you can speak a lot of languages,” I said.

“Oh, six or seven—between us,” said Minton”

“That must be very gratifying.”

“What must?”

“Being able to speak to people of so many different nationalities.”

“Very gratifying,” said Minton emptily.

“Very gratifying,” said his wife.

And they went back to reading a fat, typewritten manuscript that was spread across the chair arm between them.

“Tell me,” I said a little later, “in all your wide travels, have you found people everywhere about the same at heart?”

“Hm?” asked Minton.

“Do you find people to be about the same at heart, wherever you go?”

He looked at his wife, making sure she had heard the question, then turned back to me. “About the same, wherever you go,” he agreed.

“Um,” I said.

Bokonon tells us, incidentally, that members of a duprass always die within a week of each other. When it came time for the Mintons to die, they did it within the same second.

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