Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

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?”


“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 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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