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Cats cradle, p.14
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       Cat's Cradle, p.14

           Kurt Vonnegut
 
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  "God got lonesome," said Von Koenigswald.

  "God got lonesome."

  "So God said to some of the mud, 'Sit up!'"

  "So God said to some of the mud, 'Sit up!'"

  " 'See all I've made,' said God, 'the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.'"

  " 'See all I've made,' said God, 'the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.'"

  "And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around."

  "And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around."

  "Lucky me, lucky mud."

  "Lucky me, lucky mud." Tears were streaming down "Papa's" cheeks.

  "I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done."

  "I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done."

  "Nice going, God!"

  "Nice going, God!" "Papa" said it with all his heart.

  "Nobody but You could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have."

  "Nobody but You could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have."

  "I feel very unimportant compared to You."

  "I feel very unimportant compared to You."

  "The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn't even get to sit up and look around."

  "The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn't even get to sit up and look around."

  "I got so much, and most mud got so little."

  "I got so much, and most mud got so little."

  "Deng you vote da on-oh!" cried Von Koenigswald.

  "Tz-yenk voo vote lo yon-yo!" wheezed "Papa."

  What they had said was, "Thank you for the honor!"

  "Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep."

  "Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep."

  "What memories for mud to have!"

  "What memories for mud to have!"

  "What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!"

  "What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!"

  "I loved everything I saw!"

  "I loved everything I saw!"

  "Good night."

  "Good night."

  "I will go to heaven now."

  "I will go to heaven now."

  "I can hardly wait ..."

  "I can hardly wait ..."

  "To find out for certain what my wampeter was ..."

  "To find out for certain what my wampeter was ..."

  "And who was in my karass ..."

  "And who was in my karass ..."

  "And all the good things our karass did for you."

  "And all the good things our karass did for you."

  "Amen."

  "Amen."

  100

  DOWN THE OUBLIETTE GOES FRANK

  BUT "PAPA" DIDN'T DIE and go to heaven--not then.

  I asked Frank how we might best time the announcement of my elevation to the Presidency. He was no help, had no ideas; he left it all up to me.

  "I thought you were going to back me up," I complained.

  "As far as anything technical goes." Frank was prim about it. I wasn't to violate his integrity as a technician; wasn't to make him exceed the limits of his job.

  "I see."

  "However you want to handle people is all right with me. That's your responsibility."

  This abrupt abdication of Frank from all human affairs shocked and angered me, and I said to him, meaning to be satirical, "You mind telling me what, in a purely technical way, is planned for this day of days?"

  I got a strictly technical reply. "Repair the power plant and stage an air show."

  "Good! So one of my first triumphs as President will be to restore electricity to my people."

  Frank didn't see anything funny in that. He gave me a salute. "I'll try, sir. I'll do my best for you, sir. I can't guarantee how long it'll be before we get juice back."

  "That's what I want--a juicy country."

  "I'll do my best, sir." Frank saluted me again.

  "And the air show?" I asked. "What's that?"

  I got another wooden reply. "At one o'clock this afternoon, sir, six planes of the San Lorenzan Air Force will fly past the palace here and shoot at targets in the water. It's part of the celebration of the Day of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy. The American Ambassador also plans to throw a wreath into the sea."

  So I decided, tentatively, that I would have Frank announce my apotheosis immediately following the wreath ceremony and the air show.

  "What do you think of that?" I said to Frank.

  "You're the boss, sir."

  "I think I'd better have a speech ready," I said. "And there should be some sort of swearing-in, to make it look dignified, official."

  "You're the boss, sir." Each time he said those words they seemed to come from farther away, as though Frank were descending the rungs of a ladder into a deep shaft, while I was obliged to remain above.

  And I realized with chagrin that my agreeing to be boss had freed Frank to do what he wanted to do more than anything else, to do what his father had done: to receive honors and creature comforts while escaping human responsibilities. He was accomplishing this by going down a spiritual oubliette.

  101

  LIKE MY PREDECESSORS, I OUTLAW BOKONON

  SO I WROTE MY SPEECH in a round, bare room at the foot of a tower. There was a table and a chair. And the speech I wrote was round and bare and sparsely furnished, too.

  It was hopeful. It was humble.

  And I found it impossible not to lean on God. I had never needed such support before, and so had never believed that such support was available.

  Now, I found that I had to believe in it--and I did.

  In addition, I would need the help of people. I called for a list of the guests who were to be at the ceremonies and found that Julian Castle and his son had not been invited. I sent messengers to invite them at once, since they knew more about my people than anyone, with the exception of Bokonon.

  As for Bokonon:

  I pondered asking him to join my government, thus bringing about a sort of millennium for my people. And I thought of ordering that the awful hook outside the palace gate be taken down at once, amidst great rejoicing.

  But then I understood that a millennium would have to offer something more than a holy man in a position of power, that there would have to be plenty of good things for all to eat, too, and nice places to live for all, and good schools and good health and good times for all, and work for all who wanted it--things Bokonon and I were in no position to provide.

  So good and evil had to remain separate; good in the jungle, and evil in the palace. Whatever entertainment there was in that was about all we had to give the people.

  There was a knock on my door. A servant told me the guests had begun to arrive.

  So I put my speech in my pocket and I mounted the spiral staircase in my tower. I arrived at the uppermost battlement of my castle, and I looked out at my guests, my servants, my cliff, and my lukewarm sea.

  102

  ENEMIES OF FREEDOM

  WHEN I THINK of all those people on my uppermost battlement, I think of Bokonon's "hundred-and-nineteenth Calypso," wherein he invites us to sing along with him:

  "Where's my good old gang done gone?"

  I heard a sad man say.

  I whispered in that sad man's ear,

  "Your gang's done gone away."

  Present were Ambassador Horlick Minton and his lady; H. Lowe Crosby, the bicycle manufacturer, and his Hazel; Dr. Julian Castle, humanitarian and philanthropist, and his son, Philip, author and innkeeper; little Newton Hoenikker, the picture painter, and his musical sister, Mrs. Harrison C. Conners; my heavenly Mona; Major General Franklin Hoenikker; and twenty assorted San Lorenzo bureaucrats and military men.

  Dead--almost all dead now.

  As Bokonon tells us, "It is never a mistake to say good-bye."

  There was a buffet on my battlements, a buffet burdened with native delicacies: roasted warblers
in little overcoats made of their own blue-green feathers; lavender land crabs taken from their shells, minced, fried in coconut oil, and returned to their shells; finger-ling barracuda stuffed with banana paste; and, on unleavened, unseasoned cornmeal wafers, bite-sized cubes of boiled albatross.

  The albatross, I was told, had been shot from the very bartizan in which the buffet stood.

  There were two beverages offered, both un-iced: Pepsi-Cola and native rum. The Pepsi-Cola was served in plastic Pilseners. The rum was served in coconut shells. I was unable to identify the sweet bouquet of the rum, though it somehow reminded me of early adolescence.

  Frank was able to name the bouquet for me. "Acetone."

  "Acetone?"

  "Used in model-airplane cement."

  I did not drink the rum.

  Ambassador Minton did a lot of ambassadorial, gourmand saluting with his coconut, pretending to love all men and all the beverages that sustained them. But I did not see him drink. He had with him, incidentally, a piece of luggage of a sort I had never seen before. It looked like a French horn case, and proved to contain the memorial wreath that was to be cast into the sea.

  The only person I saw drink the rum was H. Lowe Crosby, who plainly had no sense of smell. He was having a good time, drinking acetone from his coconut, sitting on a cannon, blocking the touchhole with his big behind. He was looking out to sea through a huge pair of Japanese binoculars. He was looking at targets mounted on bobbing floats anchored offshore.

  The targets were cardboard cutouts shaped like men.

  They were to be fired upon and bombed in a demonstration of might by the six planes of the San Lorenzan Air Force.

  Each target was a caricature of some real person, and the name of that person was painted on the target's back and front.

  I asked who the caricaturist was and learned that he was Dr. Vox Humana, the Christian minister. He was at my elbow.

  "I didn't know you were talented in that direction, too."

  "Oh, yes. When I was a young man, I had a very hard time deciding what to be."

  "I think the choice you made was the right one."

  "I prayed for guidance from Above."

  "You got it."

  H. Lowe Crosby handed his binoculars to his wife. "There's old Joe Stalin, closest in, and old Fidel Castro's anchored right next to him."

  "And there's old Hitler," chuckled Hazel, delighted. "And there's old Mussolini and some old Jap."

  "And there's old Karl Marx."

  "And there's old Kaiser Bill, spiked hat and all," cooed Hazel. "I never expected to see him again."

  "And there's old Mao. You see old Mao?"

  "Isn't he gonna get it?" asked Hazel. "Isn't he gonna get the surprise of his life? This sure is a cute idea."

  "They got practically every enemy that freedom ever had out there," H. Lowe Crosby declared.

  103

  A MEDICAL OPINION ON THE EFFECTS OF A WRITERS' STRIKE

  NONE OF THE GUESTS knew yet that I was to be President. None knew how close to death "Papa" was. Frank gave out the official word that "Papa" was resting comfortably, that "Papa" sent his best wishes to all.

  The order of events, as announced by Frank, was that Ambassador Minton would throw his wreath into the sea, in honor of the Hundred Martyrs; and then the airplanes would shoot the targets in the sea; and then he, Frank, would say a few words.

  He did not tell the company that, following his speech, there would be a speech by me.

  So I was treated as nothing more than a visiting journalist, and I engaged in harmless granfalloonery here and there.

  "Hello, Mom," I said to Hazel Crosby.

  "Why, if it isn't my boy!" Hazel gave me a perfumed hug, and she told everybody, "This boy's a Hoosier!"

  The Castles, father and son, stood separate from the rest of the company. Long unwelcome at "Papa's" palace, they were curious as to why they had now been invited there.

  Young Castle called me "Scoop." "Good morning, Scoop. What's new in the word game?"

  "I might ask the same of you," I replied.

  "I'm thinking of calling a general strike of all writers until mankind finally comes to its senses. Would you support it?"

  "Do writers have a right to strike? That would be like the police or the firemen walking out."

  "Or the college professors."

  "Or the college professors," I agreed. I shook my head. "No, I don't think my conscience would let me support a strike like that. When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed."

  "I just can't help thinking what a real shaking up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems ..."

  "And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?" I demanded.

  "They'd die more like mad dogs, I think--snarling and snapping at each other and biting their own tails."

  I turned to Castle the elder. "Sir, how does a man die when he's deprived of the consolations of literature?"

  "In one of two ways," he said, "petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system."

  "Neither one very pleasant, I expect," I suggested.

  "No," said Castle the elder. "For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!"

  104

  SULFATHIAZOLE

  MY HEAVENLY MONA did not approach me and did not encourage me with languishing glances to come to her side. She made a hostess of herself, introducing Angela and little Newt to San Lorenzans.

  As I ponder now the meaning of that girl--recall her indifference to "Papa's" collapse, to her betrothal to me--I vacillate between lofty and cheap appraisals.

  Did she represent the highest form of female spirituality?

  Or was she anesthetized, frigid--a cold fish, in fact, a dazed addict of the xylophone, the cult of beauty, and boko-maru?

  I shall never know.

  Bokonon tells us:

  A lover's a liar,

  To himself he lies.

  The truthful are loveless,

  Like oysters their eyes!

  So my instructions are clear, I suppose. I am to remember my Mona as having been sublime.

  "Tell me," I appealed to young Philip Castle on the Day of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy, "have you spoken to your friend and admirer, H. Lowe Crosby, today?"

  "He didn't recognize me with a suit and shoes and necktie on," young Castle replied. "We've already had a nice talk about bicycles. We may have another."

  I found that I was no longer amused by Crosby's wanting to build bicycles in San Lorenzo. As chief executive of the island I wanted a bicycle factory very much. I developed sudden respect for what H. Lowe Crosby was and could do.

  "How do you think the people of San Lorenzo would take to industrialization?" I asked the Castles, father and son.

  "The people of San Lorenzo," the father told me, "are interested in only three things: fishing, fornication, and Bokononism."

  "Don't you think they could be interested in progress?"

  "They've seen some of it. There's only one aspect of progress that really excites them."

  "What's that?"

  "The electric guitar."

  I excused myself and I rejoined the Crosbys.

  Frank Hoenikker was with them, explaining who Bokonon was and what he was against. "He's against science."

  "How can anybody in his right mind be against science?" asked Crosby.

  "I'd be dead now if it wasn't for penicillin," said Hazel. "And so would my mother."

  "How old is your mother?" I inquired.

  "A hundred and six. Isn't that wonderful?"

  "It certainly is," I agreed.

  "And I'd be a widow, too, if it wasn't for the medicine they gave my husband that time," said Hazel. She had to ask her husband the name of the medicine. "Honey, what was the name of that stuff that saved your life that time?"

  "Sulfathiazole."

 
And I made the mistake of taking an albatross canape from a passing tray.

  105

  PAIN-KILLER

  AS IT HAPPENED--"As it was supposed to happen," Bokonon would say--albatross meat disagreed with me so violently that I was ill the moment I'd choked the first piece down. I was compelled to canter down the stone spiral staircase in search of a bathroom. I availed myself of one adjacent to "Papa's" suite.

  When I shuffled out, somewhat relieved, I was met by Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald, who was bounding from "Papa's" bedroom. He had a wild look, and he took me by the arms and he cried, "What is it? What was it he had hanging around his neck?"

  "I beg your pardon?"

  "He took it! Whatever was in that cylinder, 'Papa' took--and now he's dead."

  I remembered the cylinder "Papa" had hung around his neck, and I made an obvious guess as to its contents. "Cyanide?"

  "Cyanide? Cyanide turns a man to cement in a second?"

  "Cement?"

  "Marble! Iron! I have never seen such a rigid corpse before. Strike it anywhere and you get a note like a marimba! Come look!" Von Koenigswald hustled me into "Papa's" bedroom.

  In the bed, in the golden dinghy, was a hideous thing to see. "Papa" was dead, but his was not a corpse to which one could say, "At rest at last."

  "Papa's" head was bent back as far as it would go. His weight rested on the crown of his head and the soles of his feet, with the rest of his body forming a bridge whose arch thrust toward the ceiling. He was shaped like an andiron.

  That he had died of the contents of the cylinder around his neck was obvious. One hand held the cylinder and the cylinder was uncapped. And the thumb and index finger of the other hand, as though having just released a little pinch of something, were stuck between his teeth.

  Dr. von Koenigswald slipped the tholepin of an oarlock from its socket in the gunwale of the gilded dinghy. He tapped "Papa" on his belly with the steel oarlock, and "Papa" really did make a sound like a marimba.

  And "Papa's" lips and nostrils and eyeballs were glazed with a blue-white frost.

  Such a syndrome is no novelty now, God knows. But it certainly was then. "Papa" Monzano was the first man in history to die of ice-nine.

  I record that fact for whatever it may be worth. "Write it all down," Bokonon tells us. He is really telling us, of course, how futile it is to write or read histories. "Without accurate records of the past, how can men and women be expected to avoid making serious mistakes in the future?" he asks ironically.

  So, again: "Papa" Monzano was the first man in history to die of ice-nine.

 
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