Cat's Cradle, p.13Kurt Vonnegut
"There'll be an election?"
"There never has been. We'll just announce who the new President is."
"And nobody will object?"
"Nobody objects to anything. They aren't interested. They don't care."
"There has to be a catch!"
"There's kind of one," Frank admitted.
"I knew it!" I began to shrink from my vin-dit. "What is it? What's the catch?"
"Well, it isn't really a catch, because you don't have to do it, if you don't want to. It would be a good idea, though."
"Let's hear this great idea."
"Well, if you're going to be President, I think you really ought to marry Mona. But you don't have to, if you don't want to. You're the boss."
"She would have me?"
"If she'd have me, she'd have you. All you have to do is ask her."
"Why should she say yes?"
"It's predicted in The Books of Bokonon that she'll marry the next President of San Lorenzo," said Frank.
FRANK BROUGHT MONA to her father's cave and left us alone.
We had difficulty in speaking at first. I was shy.
Her gown was diaphanous. Her gown was azure. It was a simple gown, caught lightly at the waist by a gossamer thread. All else was shaped by Mona herself Her breasts were like pomegranates or what you will, but like nothing so much as a young woman's breasts.
Her feet were all but bare. Her toenails were exquisitely manicured. Her scanty sandals were gold.
"How--how do you do?" I asked. My heart was pounding. Blood boiled in my ears.
"It is not possible to make a mistake," she assured me.
I did not know that this was a customary greeting given by all Bokononists when meeting a shy person. So, I responded with a feverish discussion of whether it was possible to make a mistake or not.
"My God, you have no idea how many mistakes I've already made. You're looking at the world's champion mistakemaker," I blurted--and so on. "Do you have any idea what Frank just said to me?"
"About everything, but especially about you."
"He told you that you could have me, if you wanted."
"I don't know what to say next."
"Boko-maru would help," she suggested.
"Take off your shoes," she commanded. And she removed her sandals with the utmost grace.
I am a man of the world, having had, by a reckoning I once made, more than fifty-three women. I can say that I have seen women undress themselves in every way that it can be done. I have watched the curtains part on every variation of the final act.
And yet, the one woman who made me groan involuntarily did no more than remove her sandals.
I tried to untie my shoes. No bridegroom ever did worse. I got one shoe off, but knotted the other one tight. I tore a thumbnail on the knot; finally ripped off the shoe without untying it.
Then off came my socks.
Mona was already sitting on the floor, her legs extended, her round arms thrust behind her for support, her head tilted back, her eyes closed.
It was up to me now to complete my first--my first--my first, Great God ...
ON THE POET'S CELEBRATION OF HIS FIRST BOKO-MARU
THESE ARE NOT Bokonon's words. They are mine.
Invisible mist of ...
Wraith lovesick o'erlong,
Wouldst another sweet soul meet?
Long have I
Advised thee ill
As to where two souls
My soles, my soles!
My soul, my soul,
HOW I ALMOST LOST MY MOMA
"DO YOU FIND IT EASIER to talk to me now?" Mona inquired.
"As though I'd known you for a thousand years," I confessed. I felt like crying. "I love you, Mona."
"I love you." She said it simply.
"What a fool Frank was!"
"To give you up."
"He did not love me. He was going to marry me only because 'Papa' wanted him to. He loves another."
"A woman he knew in Ilium."
The lucky woman had to be the wife of the owner of Jack's Hobby Shop. "He told you?"
"Tonight, when he freed me to marry you."
"Is--is there anyone else in your life?"
She was puzzled. "Many," she said at last.
"That you love?"
"I love everyone."
"As--as much as me?"
"Yes." She seemed to have no idea that this might bother me.
I got off the floor, sat in a chair, and started putting my shoes and socks back on.
"I suppose you--you perform--you do what we just did with--with other people?"
"I don't want you to do it with anybody but me from now on," I declared.
Tears filled her eyes. She adored her promiscuity; was angered that I should try to make her feel shame. "I make people happy. Love is good, not bad."
"As your husband, I'll want all your love for myself."
She stared at me with widening eyes. "A sin-wat!"
"What was that?"
"A sin-wat!" she cried. "A man who wants all of somebody's love. That's very bad."
"In the case of marriage, I think it's a very good thing. It's the only thing."
She was still on the floor, and I, now with my shoes and socks back on, was standing. I felt very tall, though I'm not very tall; and I felt very strong, though I'm not very strong; and I was a respectful stranger to my own voice. My voice had a metallic authority that was new.
As I went on talking in ball-peen tones, it dawned on me what was happening, what was happening already. I was already starting to rule.
I told Mona that I had seen her performing a sort of vertical boko-maru with a pilot on the reviewing stand shortly after my arrival. "You are to have nothing more to do with him," I told her. "What is his name?"
"I don't even know," she whispered. She was looking down now.
"And what about young Philip Castle?"
"You mean boko-maru?"
"I mean anything and everything. As I understand it, you two grew up together."
"Bokonon tutored you both?"
"Yes." The recollection made her radiant again.
"I suppose there was plenty of boko-maruing in those days."
"Oh, yes!" she said happily.
"You aren't to see him any more, either. Is that clear?"
"I will not marry a sin-wat." She stood. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye?" I was crushed.
"Bokonon tells us it is very wrong not to love everyone exactly the same. What does your religion say?"
"I--I don't have one."
I had stopped ruling. "I see you do," I said.
"Goodbye, man-with-no-religion." She went to the stone staircase.
She stopped. "Yes?"
"Could I have your religion, if I wanted it?"
"I want it."
"Good. I love you."
"And I love you," I sighed.
THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN
SO I BECAME BETROTHED at dawn to the most beautiful woman in the world. And I agreed to become the next President of San Lorenzo.
"Papa" wasn't dead yet, and it was Frank's feeling that I should get "P
Mona stayed at Frank's. I kissed her sacredly, and she went to sacred sleep.
Over the mountains Frank and I went, through groves of wild coffee trees, with the flamboyant sunrise on our right.
It was in the sunrise that the cetacean majesty of the highest mountain on the island, of Mount McCabe, made itself known to me. It was a fearful hump, a blue whale, with one queer stone plug on its back for a peak. In scale with a whale, the plug might have been the stump of a snapped harpoon, and it seemed so unrelated to the rest of the mountain that I asked Frank if it had been built by men.
He told me that it was a natural formation. Moreover, he declared that no man, as far as he knew, had ever been to the top of Mount McCabe.
"It doesn't look very tough to climb," I commented. Save for the plug at the top, the mountain presented inclines no more forbidding than courthouse steps. And the plug itself, from a distance at any rate, seemed conveniently laced with ramps and ledges.
"Is it sacred or something?" I asked.
"Maybe it was once. But not since Bokonon."
"Then why hasn't anybody climbed it?"
"Nobody's felt like it yet."
"Maybe I'll climb it."
"Go ahead. Nobody's stopping you."
We rode in silence.
"What is sacred to Bokononists?" I asked after a while.
"Not even God, as near as I can tell."
"Just one thing."
I made some guesses. "The ocean? The sun?"
"Man," said Frank. "That's all. Just man."
I SEE THE HOOK
WE CAME AT LAST to the castle.
It was low and black and cruel.
Antique cannons still lolled on the battlements. Vines and bird nests clogged the crenels, the machicolations, and the balistrariae.
Its parapets to the north were continuous with the scarp of a monstrous precipice that fell six hundred feet straight down to the lukewarm sea.
It posed the question posed by all such stone piles: how had puny men moved stones so big? And, like all such stone piles, it answered the question itself. Dumb terror had moved those stones so big.
The castle was built according to the wish of Tum-bumwa, Emperor of San Lorenzo, a demented man, an escaped slave. Tum-bumwa was said to have found its design in a child's picture book.
A gory book it must have been.
Just before we reached the palace gate the ruts carried us through a rustic arch made of two telephone poles and a beam that spanned them.
Hanging from the middle of the beam was a huge iron hook. There was a sign impaled on the hook.
"This hook," the sign proclaimed, "is reserved for Bokonon himself."
I turned to look at the hook again, and that thing of sharp iron communicated to me that I really was going to rule. I would chop down the hook!
And I flattered myself that I was going to be a firm, just, and kindly ruler, and that my people would prosper.
BELL, BOOK, AND CHICKEN IN A HATBOX
FRANK AND I couldn't get right in to see "Papa." Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald, the physician in attendance, muttered that we would have to wait about half an hour.
So Frank and I waited in the anteroom of "Papa's" suite, a room without windows. The room was thirty feet square, furnished with several rugged benches and a card table. The card table supported an electric fan. The walls were stone. There were no pictures, no decorations of any sort on the walls.
There were iron rings fixed to the wall, however, seven feet off the floor and at intervals of six feet. I asked Frank if the room had ever been a torture chamber.
He told me that it had, and that the manhole cover on which I stood was the lid of an oubliette.
There was a listless guard in the anteroom. There was also a Christian minister, who was ready to take care of "Papa's" spiritual needs as they arose. He had a brass dinner bell and a hatbox with holes drilled in it, and a Bible, and a butcher knife--all laid out on the bench beside him.
He told me there was a live chicken in the hatbox. The chicken was quiet, he said, because he had fed it tranquilizers.
Like all San Lorenzans past the age of twenty-five, he looked at least sixty. He told me that his name was Dr. Vox Humana, that he was named after an organ stop that had struck his mother when San Lorenzo Cathedral was dynamited in 1923. His father, he told me without shame, was unknown.
I asked him what particular Christian sect he represented, and I observed frankly that the chicken and the butcher knife were novelties insofar as my understanding of Christianity went.
"The bell," I commented, "I can understand how that might fit in nicely."
He turned out to be an intelligent man. His doctorate, which he invited me to examine, was awarded by the Western Hemisphere University of the Bible of Little Rock, Arkansas. He made contact with the University through a classified ad in Popular Mechanics, he told me. He said that the motto of the University had become his own, and that it explained the chicken and the butcher knife. The motto of the University was this:
MAKE RELIGION LIVE!
He said that he had had to feel his way along with Christianity, since Catholicism and Protestantism had been outlawed along with Bokononism.
"So, if I am going to be a Christian under those conditions, I have to make up a lot of new stuff."
"Zo," he said in dialect, "yeff jy bam gong be Kretyeen hooner yoze kon-steez-yen, jy hap my yup oon lot nee stopf".
Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald now came out of "Papa's" suite, looking very German, very tired. "You can see 'Papa' now."
"We'll be careful not to tire him," Frank promised.
"If you could kill him," said Von Koenigswald, "I think he'd be grateful."
THE STINKING CHRISTIAN
"PAPA" MONZANO and his merciless disease were in a bed that was made of a golden dinghy--tiller, painter, oarlocks and all, all gilt. His bed was the lifeboat of Bokonon's old schooner, the Lady's Slipper; it was the lifeboat of the ship that had brought Bokonon and Corporal McCabe to San Lorenzo so long ago.
The walls of the room were white. But "Papa" radiated pain so hot and bright that the walls seemed bathed in angry red.
He was stripped from the waist up, and his glistening belly wall was knotted. His belly shivered like a luffing sail.
Around his neck hung a chain with a cylinder the size of a rifle cartridge for a pendant. I supposed that the cylinder contained some magic charm. I was mistaken. It contained a splinter of ice-nine.
"Papa" could hardly speak. His teeth chattered and his breathing was beyond control.
"Papa's" agonized head was at the bow of the dinghy, bent back.
Mona's xylophone was near the bed. She had apparently tried to soothe "Papa" with music the previous evening.
"'Papa'?" whispered Frank.
"Good-bye," "Papa" gasped. His eyes were bugging, sightless.
"I brought a friend."
"He's going to be the next President of San Lorenzo. He'll be a much better president than I could be."
"Ice!" "Papa" whimpered.
"He asks for ice," said Von Koenigswald. "When we bring it, he does not want it."
"Papa" rolled his eyes. He relaxed his neck, took the weight of his body from the crown of his head. And then he arched his neck again. "Does not matter," he said, "who is President of ..." He did not finish.
I finished for him. "San Lorenzo?"
"San Lorenzo," he agreed. He managed a crooked smile. "Good luck!" he croaked.
"Thank you, sir," I said.
"Doesn't matter! Bokonon. Get Bokonon."
I attempted a sophisticated reply to this last. I remembered that, for the joy of the peo
"Tell him ..."
I leaned closer, in order to hear the message from "Papa" to Bokonon.
"Tell him I am sorry I did not kill him," said "Papa."
"You kill him."
"Papa" gained control enough of his voice to make it commanding. "I mean really!"
I said nothing to that. I was not eager to kill anyone.
"He teaches the people lies and lies and lies. Kill him and teach the people truth."
"You and Hoenikker, you teach them science."
"Yessir, we will," I promised.
"Science is magic that works."
He fell silent, relaxed, closed his eyes. And then he whispered, "Last rites."
Von Koenigswald called Dr. Vox Humana in. Dr. Humana took his tranquilized chicken out of the hat-box, preparing to administer Christian last rites as he understood them.
"Papa" opened one eye. "Not you," he sneered at Dr. Humana. "Get out!"
"Sir?" asked Dr. Humana.
"I am a member of the Bokononist faith," "Papa" wheezed. "Get out, you stinking Christian."
SO I WAS PRIVILEGED to see the last rites of the Bokononist faith.
We made an effort to find someone among the soldiers and the household staff who would admit that he knew the rites and would give them to "Papa." We got no volunteers. That was hardly surprising, with a hook and an oubliette so near.
So Dr. von Koenigswald said that he would have a go at the job. He had never administered the rites before, but he had seen Julian Castle do it hundreds of times.
"Are you a Bokononist?" I asked him.
"I agree with one Bokononist idea. I agree that all religions, including Bokononism, are nothing but lies."
"Will this bother you as a scientist," I inquired, "to go through a ritual like this?"
"I am a very bad scientist. I will do anything to make a human being feel better, even if it's unscientific. No scientist worthy of the name could say such a thing."
And he climbed into the golden boat with "Papa." He sat in the stern. Cramped quarters obliged him to have the golden tiller under one arm.
He wore sandals without socks, and he took these off. And then he rolled back the covers at the foot of the bed, exposing "Papa's" bare feet. He put the soles of his feet against "Papa's" feet, assuming the classical position for boko-maru.
DYOT MEET MAT
"GOTT MATE MUTT," crooned Dr. von Koenigswald.
"Dyot meet mat," echoed "Papa" Monzano.
"God made mud," was what they'd said, each in his own dialect. I will here abandon the dialects of the litany.
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut / History & Fiction / Science Fiction / Humor have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on32 votes