Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

14. When Automobiles Had Cut-glass Vases

My sick head wobbled on my stiff neck. The trolley tracks had caught the wheels of Dr. Breed’s glossy Lincoln again.

I asked Dr. Breed how many people were trying to reach the General Forge and Foundry Company by eight o’clock, and he told me thirty thousand.

Policemen in yellow raincapes were at every intersection, contradicting with their white-gloved hands what the stop-and-go signs said.

The stop-and-go signs, garish ghosts in the sleet, went through their irrelevant tomfoolery again and again, telling the glacier of automobiles what to do. Green meant go. Red meant stop. Orange meant change and caution.

Dr. Breed told me that Dr. Hoenikker, as a very young man, had simply abandoned his car in Ilium traffic one morning.

“The police, trying to find out what was holding up traffic,” he said, “found Felix’s car in the middle of everything, its motor running, a cigar burning in the ash tray, fresh flowers in the vases . . .”


“It was a Marmon, about the size of a switch engine. It had little cut-glass vases on the doorposts, and Felix’s wife used to put fresh flowers in the vases every morning. And there that car was in the middle of traffic.”

“Like the Marie Celeste,” I suggested.

“The Police Department hauled it away. They knew whose car it was, and they called up Felix, and they told him very politely where his car could be picked up. Felix told them they could keep it, that he didn’t want it any more.”

“Did they?”

“No. They called up his wife, and she came and got the Marmon.”

“What was her name, by the way?”

“Emily.” Dr. Breed licked his lips, and he got a faraway look, and he said the name of the woman, of the woman so long dead, again. “Emily.”

“Do you think anybody would object if I used the story about the Marmon in my book?” I asked.

“As long as you don’t use the end of it.”

“The end of it?”

“Emily wasn’t used to driving the Marmon. She got into a bad wreck on the way home. It did something to her pelvis . . .” The traffic wasn’t moving just then. Dr. Breed closed his eyes and tightened his hands on the steering wheel.

“And that was why she died when little Newt was born.”

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