Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

126. Soft Pipes, Play On

“Such a depressing religion!” I cried. I directed our conversation into the area of Utopias, of what might have been, of what should have been, of what might yet be, if the world would thaw.

But Bokonon had been there, too, had written a whole book about Utopias, The Seventh Book, which he called “Bokonon’s Republic.” In that book are these ghastly aphorisms:

The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world.

Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores, a chain of grocery stores, a chain of gas chambers, and a national game. After that, we can write our Constitution.

I called Bokonon a jigaboo bastard, and I changed the subject again. I spoke of meaningful, individual heroic acts. I praised in particular the way in which Julian Castle and his son had chosen to die. While the tornadoes still raged, they had set out on foot for the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle to give whatever hope and mercy was theirs to give. And I saw magnificence in the way poor Angela had died, too. She had picked up a clarinet in the ruins of Bolivar and had begun to play it at once, without concerning herself as to whether the mouthpiece might be contaminated with ice-nine.

“Soft pipes, play on,” I murmured huskily.

“Well, maybe you can find some neat way to die, too,” said Newt.

It was a Bokononist thing to say.

I blurted out my dream of climbing Mount McCabe with some magnificent symbol and planting it there. I took my hands from the wheel for an instant to show him how empty of symbols they were. “But what in hell would the right symbol be, Newt? What in hell would it be?” I grabbed the wheel again. “Here it is, the end of the world; and here I am, almost the very last man; and there it is, the highest mountain in sight. I know now what my karass has been up to, Newt. It’s been working night and day for maybe half a million years to get me up that mountain.” I wagged my head and nearly wept. “But what, for the love of God, is supposed to be in my hands?”

I looked out of the car window blindly as I asked that, so blindly that I went more than a mile before realizing that I had looked into the eyes of an old Negro man, a living colored man, who was sitting by the side of the road.

And then I slowed down. And then I stopped. I covered my eyes.

“What’s the matter?” asked Newt.

“I saw Bokonon back there.”

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