Bluebeard

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut Read Free Book Online

Book: Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kurt Vonnegut
to stop putting such ideas in my head. They thought that artists lived in poverty, and that they had to die before their works were appreciated. They were generally right about that, of course. The paintings by dead men who were poor most of their lives are the most valuable pieces in my collection.
    And if an artist wants to really jack up the prices of his creations, may I suggest this: suicide.

    But in 1927, when I was eleven years old, and was incidentally well on my way to becoming as good a cobbler as my father, my mother read about an American artist who made as much money as many movie stars and tycoons, and was in fact the friend and equal of movie stars and tycoons, and had a yacht—and a horse farm in Virginia, and a beach house in Montauk, not far from here.
    Mother would say later, and not all that much later, since she had only one more year to live, that she never would have read the article if it hadn’t been for a photograph of this rich artist on his yacht. The name of theyacht was the name of the mountain as sacred to Armenians as Fujiyama is to the Japanese:
Ararat.
    This man had to be an Armenian, she thought, and so he was. The magazine said he had been born Dan Gregorian in Moscow, where his father was a horse trainer, and that he had been apprenticed to the chief engraver of the Russian Imperial Mint.
    He had come to this country in 1907 as an ordinary immigrant, not a refugee from any massacre, and had changed his name to Dan Gregory, and had become an illustrator of magazine stories and advertisements, and of books for young people. The author of the article said he was probably the highest paid artist in American history.
    That could still be true of Dan Gregory, or “Gregorian,” as my parents always called him, if his income in the 1920s, or especially during the Great Depression, were translated into the depreciated dollars of today. He could still be the champ, living or dead.

    My mother was shrewd about the United States, as my father was not. She had figured out that the most pervasive American disease was loneliness, and that even people at the top often suffered from it, and that they could be surprisingly responsive to attractive strangers who were friendly.
    So my mother said to me, and I hardly recognized her, so sly and witchlike had her face become: “You must
write
to this Gregorian. You must tell him that youare also Armenian. You must tell him that you want to be an artist half as good as he is, and that you think he is the greatest artist who ever lived.”

    So I wrote such a letter, or about twenty such letters, in my childish longhand, until Mother was satisfied that the bait was irresistible. I did this hard work in an acrid cloud of my father’s raillery.
    He said things like “He stopped being an Armenian when he changed his name,” and “If he grew up in Moscow, he’s a Russian not an Armenian,” and “You know what a letter like that would mean to me? ‘The next one asks for money.’”
    And Mother said to him in Armenian: “Can’t you see we’re fishing? If you make so much noise talking, you’ll scare the fish away.”
    In Turkish Armenia, incidentally, or so I’ve been told, it was the women and not the men who were the fisherfolk.
    And what a terrific bite my letter got!
    We hooked Dan Gregory’s mistress, a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl named Marilee Kemp!
    This woman would become the very first woman I ever made love to—at the age of
nineteen!
And, oh, my God, what a fuddy-duddy old poop I am, thinking about that sexual initiation as though it were as marvelous as the Chrysler Building—while the fifteen-year-old daughter of my cook is taking birth-control pills!

    Marilee Kemp said that she was Mr. Gregory’s assistant, and that she and he had been deeply moved by my letter. Mr. Gregory, as I might imagine, was a very busy man, and had asked her to reply for him. This was a four-page letter, written in a scrawl almost as childish as my own.

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