Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut — Contents
“Today I will be a Bulgarian Minister of Education,” Bokonon tells us. “Tomorrow I will be Helen of Troy.” His meaning is crystal clear: Each one of us has to be what he or she is. And, down in the oubliette, that was mainly what I thought—with the help of The Books of Bokonon.
Bokonon invited me to sing along with him:
We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do,
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.
I made up a tune to go with that and I whistled it under my breath as I drove the bicycle that drove the fan that gave us air, good old air.
“Man breathes in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide,” I called to Mona.
“One of the secrets of life man was a long time understanding: Animals breathe in what animals breathe out, and vice versa.”
“I didn’t know.”
“You know now.”
When I’d bicycled our atmosphere to sweetness and freshness, I dismounted and climbed the iron rungs to see what the weather was like above. I did that several times a day. On that day, the fourth day, I perceived through the narrow crescent of the lifted manhole cover that the weather had become somewhat stabilized.
The stability was of a wildly dynamic sort, for the tornadoes were as numerous as ever, and tornadoes remain numerous to this day. But their mouths no longer gobbled and gnashed at the earth. The mouths in all directions were discreetly withdrawn to an altitude of perhaps a half of a mile. And their altitude varied so little from moment to moment that San Lorenzo might have been protected by a tornado-proof sheet of glass.
We let three more days go by, making certain that the tornadoes had become as sincerely reticent as they seemed. And then we filled canteens from our water tank and we went above.
The air was dry and hot and deathly still.
I had heard it suggested one time that the seasons in the temperate zone ought to be six rather than four in number: summer, autumn, locking, winter, unlocking, and spring. And I remembered that as I straightened up beside our manhole, and stared and listened and sniffed.
There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The earth was locked up tight.
It was winter, now and forever.
I helped my Mona out of our hole. I warned her to keep her hands away from the blue-white frost and to keep her hands away from her mouth, too. “Death has never been quite so easy to come by,” I told her. “All you have to do is touch the ground and then your lips and you’re done for.”
She shook her head and sighed. “A very bad mother.”
“Mother Earth—she isn’t a very good mother any more.”
“Hello? Hello?” I called through the palace ruins. The awesome winds had torn canyons through that great stone pile. Mona and I made a half-hearted search for survivors—half-hearted because we could sense no life. Not even a nibbling, twinkle-nosed rat had survived.
The arch of the palace gate was the only man-made form untouched. Mona and I went to it. Written at its base in white paint was a Bokononist “Calypso.” The lettering was neat. It was new. It was proof that someone else had survived the winds.
The “Calypso” was this:
Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,
And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.
And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,
Why go right ahead and scold Him. He’ll just smile and nod.