Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

124. Frank’s Ant Farm

I hated to see Hazel finishing the flag, because I was all balled up in her addled plans for it. She had the idea that I had agreed to plant the fool thing on the peak of Mount McCabe.

“If Lowe and I were younger, we’d do it ourselves. Now all we can do is give you the flag and send our best wishes with you.”

“Mom, I wonder if that’s really a good place for the flag.”

“What other place is there?’

“I’ll put on my thinking cap.” I excused myself and went down into the cave to see what Frank was up to.

He was up to nothing new. He was watching an ant farm he had constructed. He had dug up a few surviving ants in the three-dimensional world of the ruins of Bolivar, and he had reduced the dimensions to two by making a dirt and ant sandwich between two sheets of glass. The ants could do nothing without Frank’s catching them at it and commenting upon it.

The experiment had solved in short order the mystery of how ants could survive in a waterless world. As far as I know, they were the only insects that did survive, and they did it by forming with their bodies tight balls around grains of ice-nine. They would generate enough heat at the center to kill half their number and produce one bead of dew. The dew was drinkable. The corpses were edible.

“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” I said to Frank and his tiny cannibals.

His response was always the same. It was a peevish lecture on all the things that people could learn from ants.

My responses were ritualized, too. “Nature’s a wonderful thing, Frank. Nature’s a wonderful thing.”

“You know why ants are so successful?” he asked me for the thousandth time. “They co-op-er-ate.”

“That’s a hell of a good word—co-operation.”

“Who taught them how to make water?”

“Who taught me how to make water?”

“That’s a silly answer and you know it.”


“There was a time when I took people’s silly answers seriously. I’m past that now.”

“A milestone.”

“I’ve grown up a good deal.”

“At a certain amount of expense to the world.” I could say things like that to Frank with an absolute assurance that he would not hear them.

“There was a time when people could bluff me without much trouble because I didn’t have much self-confidence in myself.”

“The mere cutting down of the number of people on earth would go a long way toward alleviating your own particular social problems,” I suggested. Again, I made the suggestion to a deaf man.

“You tell me, you tell me who told these ants how to make water,” he challenged me again.

Several times I had offered the obvious notion that God had taught them. And I knew from onerous experience that he would neither reject nor accept this theory. He simply got madder and madder, putting the question again and again.

I walked away from Frank, just as The Books of Bokonon advised me to do. “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before,” Bokonon tells us. “He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”

I went looking for our painter, for little Newt.

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