Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

80. The Waterfall Strainers

Angela and Newt were on the cantilevered terrace with Julian Castle and me. We had cocktails. There was still no word from Frank.

Both Angela and Newt, it appeared, were fairly heavy drinkers. Castle told me that his days as a playboy had cost him a kidney, and that he was unhappily compelled, per force, to stick to ginger ale.

Angela, when she got a few drinks into her, complained of how the world had swindled her father. “He gave so much, and they gave him so little.”

I pressed her for examples of the world’s stinginess and got some exact numbers. “General Forge and Foundry gave him a forty-five-dollar bonus for every patent his work led to,” she said. “That’s the same patent bonus they paid anybody in the company.” She shook her head mournfully. “Forty-five dollars—and just think what some of those patents were for!”

“Um,” I said. “I assume he got a salary, too.”

“The most he ever made was twenty-eight thousand dollars a year.”

“I’d say that was pretty good.”

She got very huffy. “You know what movie stars make?”

“A lot, sometimes.”

“You know Dr. Breed made ten thousand more dollars a year than Father did?”

“That was certainly an injustice.”

“I’m sick of injustice.”

She was so shrilly exercised that I changed the subject. I asked Julian Castle what he thought had become of the painting he had thrown down the waterfall.

“There’s a little village at the bottom,” he told me. “Five or ten shacks, I’d say. It’s ‘Papa’ Monzano’s birthplace, incidentally. The waterfall ends in a big stone bowl there.

“The villagers have a net made out of chicken wire stretched across a notch in the bowl. Water spills out through the notch into a stream.”

“And Newt’s painting is in the net now, you think?” I asked.

“This is a poor country—in case you haven’t noticed,” said Castle. “Nothing stays in the net very long. I imagine Newt’s painting is being dried in the sun by now, along with the butt of my cigar. Four square feet of gummy canvas, the four milled and mitered sticks of the stretcher, some tacks, too, and a cigar. All in all, a pretty nice catch for some poor, poor man.”

“I could just scream sometimes,” said Angela, “when I think about how much some people get paid and how little they paid Father—and how much he gave.” She was on the edge of a crying jag.

“Don’t cry,” Newt begged her gently.

“Sometimes I can’t help it,” she said.

“Go get your clarinet,” urged Newt. “That always helps.”

I thought at first that this was a fairly comical suggestion. But then, from Angela’s reaction, I learned that the suggestion was serious and practical.

“When I get this way,” she said to Castle and me, “sometimes it’s the only thing that helps.”

But she was too shy to get her clarinet right away. We had to keep begging her to play, and she had to have two more drinks.

“She’s really just wonderful,” little Newt promised.

“I’d love to hear you play,” said Castle.

“All right,” said Angela finally as she rose unsteadily. “All right—I will.”

When she was out of earshot, Newt apologized for her., “She’s had a tough time. She needs a rest.”

“She’s been sick?” I asked.

“Her husband is mean as hell to her,” said Newt. He showed us that he hated Angela’s handsome young husband, the extremely successful Harrison C. Conners, President of Fabri-Tek. “He hardly ever comes home—and, when he does, he’s drunk and generally covered with lipstick.”

“From the way she talked,” I said, “I thought it was a very happy marriage.”

Little Newt held his hands six inches apart and he spread his fingers. “See the cat? See the cradle?”

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