Readings — From the September 2012 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
From a January 26, 1947, contract between Kurt Vonnegut and his pregnant wife, Jane, to whom he had been married for sixteen months. Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, will be published next month by Delacorte Press.
I, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., that is, do hereby swear that I will be faithful to the commitments hereunder listed:
I. With the agreement that my wife will not nag, heckle, or otherwise disturb me on the subject, I promise to scrub the bathroom and kitchen floors once a week, on a day and hour of my own choosing. Not only that, but I will do a good and thorough job, and by that she means that I will get under the bathtub, behind the toilet, under the sink, under the icebox, into the corners; and I will pick up and put in some other location whatever movable objects happen to be on said floors at the time so as to get under them too, and not just around them. Furthermore, while I am undertaking these tasks I will refrain from indulging in such remarks as “Shit,” “Goddamn sonofabitch,” and similar vulgarities, as such language is nerve-wracking to have around the house when nothing more drastic is taking place than the facing of Necessity. If I do not live up to this agreement, my wife is to feel free to nag, heckle, and otherwise disturb me until I am driven to scrub the floors anyway—no matter how busy I am.
II. I furthermore swear that I will observe the following minor amenities:
a. I will hang up my clothes and put my shoes in the closet when I am not wearing them;
b. I will not track dirt into the house needlessly, by such means as not wiping my feet on the mat outside and wearing my bedroom slippers to take out the garbage;
c. I will throw such things as used-up match folders, empty cigarette packages, the piece of cardboard that comes in shirt collars, etc., into a wastebasket instead of leaving them around on chairs or the floor;
d. After shaving I will put my shaving equipment back in the medicine closet;
e. In case I should be the direct cause of a ring around the bathtub after taking a bath, I will, with the aid of Swift’s Cleanser and a brush, not my washcloth, remove said ring;
f. With the agreement that my wife collects the laundry, places it in a laundry bag, and leaves the laundry bag in plain sight in the hall, I will take said laundry to the Laundry not more than three days after said laundry has made its appearance in the hall; I will furthermore bring the laundry back from the Laundry within two weeks after I have taken it;
g. When smoking I will make every effort to keep the ashtray I am using at the time upon a surface that does not slant, sag, slope, dip, wrinkle, or give way upon the slightest provocation; such surfaces may be understood to include stacks of books precariously mounted on the edge of a chair, the arms of the chair that has arms, and my own knees;
h. I will not put out cigarettes upon the sides of, or throw ashes into, either the red leather wastebasket or the stamp wastebasket that my loving wife made me for Christmas, 1945, as such practice noticeably impairs the beauty and ultimate practicability of said wastebaskets;
i. In the event that my wife makes a request of me, and that request cannot be regarded as other than reasonable and wholly within the province of a man’s work (when his wife is pregnant, that is), I will comply with said request within three days after my wife has presented it. It is understood that my wife will make no reference to the subject, other than saying thank you, of course, within these three days; if, however, I fail to comply with said request after a more substantial length of time has elapsed, my wife shall be completely justified in nagging, heckling, or otherwise disturbing me until I am driven to do that which I should have done;
j. An exception to the above three-day time limit is the taking out of the garbage, which, as any fool knows, had better not wait that long; I will take out the garbage within three hours after the need for disposal has been pointed out to me by my wife. It would be nice, however, if, upon observing the need for disposal with my own two eyes, I should perform this particular task upon my own initiative, and thus not make it necessary for my wife to bring up a subject that is moderately distasteful to her;
k. It is understood that, should I find these commitments in any way unreasonable or too binding upon my freedom, I will take steps to amend them by counterproposals, constitutionally presented and politely discussed, instead of unlawfully terminating my obligations with a simple burst of obscenity, or something like that, and the subsequent persistent neglect of said obligations;
l. The terms of this contract are understood to be binding up until that time after the arrival of our child (to be specified by the doctor) when my wife will once again be in full possession of all her faculties, and able to undertake more arduous pursuits than are now advisable.
More from Kurt Vonnegut: