Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

52. No Pain

Once Angela had opened her plastic accordion, she was reluctant to close it until someone had looked at every photograph.

“There are the people I love,” she declared.

So I looked at the people she loved. What she had trapped in plexiglass, what she had trapped like fossil beetles in amber, were the images of a large part of our karass. There wasn’t a granfallooner in the collection.

There were many photographs of Dr. Hoenikker, father of a bomb, father of three children, father of ice-nine. He was a little person, the purported sire of a midget and a giantess.

My favorite picture of the old man in Angela’s fossil collection showed him all bundled up for winter, in an overcoat, scarf, galoshes, and a wool knit cap with a big pom-pom on the crown.

This picture, Angela told me, with a catch in her throat, had been taken in Hyannis just about three hours before the old man died. A newspaper photographer had recognized the seeming Christmas elf for the great man he was.

“Did your father die in the hospital?”

“Oh, no! He died in our cottage, in a big white wicker chair facing the sea. Newt and Frank had gone walking down the beach in the snow . . .”

“It was a very warm snow,” said Newt. “It was almost like walking through orange blossoms. It was very strange. Nobody was in any of the other cottages . . .”

“Ours was the only one with heat,” said Angela.

“Nobody within miles,” recalled Newt wonderingly, “and Frank and I came across this big black dog out on the beach, a Labrador retriever. We threw sticks into the ocean and he brought them back.”

“I’d gone back into the village for more Christmas tree bulbs,” said Angela. “We always had a tree.”

“Did your father enjoy having a Christmas tree?”

“He never said,” said Newt.

“I think he liked it,” said Angela. “He just wasn’t very demonstrative. Some people aren’t.”

“And some people are,” said Newt. He gave a small shrug.

“Anyway,” said Angela, “when we got back home, we found him in the chair.” She shook her head. “I don’t think he suffered any. He just looked asleep. He couldn’t have looked like that if there’d been the least bit of pain.”

She left out an interesting part of the story. She left out the fact that it was on that same Christmas Eve that she and Frank and little Newt had divided up the old man’s ice-nine.

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