Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut — Contents
I went to Frank’s house in San Lorenzo’s one taxicab.
We passed through scenes of hideous want. We climbed the slope of Mount McCabe. The air grew cooler. There was mist.
Frank’s house had once been the home of Nestor Aamons, father of Mona, architect of the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle.
Aamons had designed it.
It straddled a waterfall; had a terrace cantilevered out into the mist rising from the fall. It was a cunning lattice of very light steel posts and beams. The interstices of the lattice were variously open, chinked with native stone, glazed, or curtained by sheets of canvas.
The effect of the house was not so much to enclose as to announce that a man had been whimsically busy there.
A servant greeted me politely and told me that Frank wasn’t home yet. Frank was expected at any moment. Frank had left orders to the effect that I was to be made happy and comfortable, and that I was to stay for supper and the night. The servant, who introduced himself as Stanley, was the first plump San Lorenzan I had seen.
Stanley led me to my room; led me around the heart of the house, down a staircase of living stone, a staircase sheltered or exposed by steel-framed rectangles at random. My bed was a foam-rubber slab on a stone shelf, a shelf of living stone. The walls of my chamber were canvas. Stanley demonstrated how I might roll them up or down, as I pleased.
I asked Stanley if anybody else was home, and he told me that only Newt was. Newt, he said, was out on the cantilevered terrace, painting a picture. Angela, he said, had gone sightseeing to the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle.
I went out onto the giddy terrace that straddled the waterfall and found little Newt asleep in a yellow butterfly chair.
The painting on which Newt had been working was set on an easel next to the aluminum railing. The painting was framed in a misty view of sky, sea, and valley.
Newt’s painting was small and black and warty.
It consisted of scratches made in a black, gummy impasto. The scratches formed a sort of spider’s web, and I wondered if they might not be the sticky nets of human futility hung up on a moonless night to dry.
I did not wake up the midget who had made this dreadful thing. I smoked, listening to imagined voices in the water sounds.
What awakened little Newt was an explosion far away below. It caromed up the valley and went to God. It was a cannon on the water front of Bolivar, Frank’s major-domo told me. It was fired every day at five.
Little Newt stirred.
While still half-snoozing, he put his black, painty hands to his mouth and chin, leaving black smears there. He rubbed his eyes and made black smears around them, too.
“Hello,” he said to me, sleepily.
“Hello,” I said. “I like your painting.”
“You see what it is?”
“I suppose it means something different to everyone who sees it.”
“It’s a cat’s cradle.”
“Aha,” I said. “Very good. The scratches are string. Right?”
“One of the oldest games there is, cat’s cradle. Even the Eskimos know it.”
“You don’t say.”
“For maybe a hundred thousand years or more, grownups have been waving tangles of string in their children’s faces.”
Newt remained curled in the chair. He held out his painty hands as though a cat’s cradle were strung between them. “No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s . . .”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”