Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

15. Merry Christmas

The Research Laboratory of the General Forge and Foundry Company was near the main gate of the company’s Ilium works, about a city block from the executive parking lot where Dr. Breed put his car.

I asked Dr. Breed how many people worked for the Research Laboratory. “Seven hundred,” he said, “but less than a hundred are actually doing research. The other six hundred are all housekeepers in one way or another, and I am the chiefest housekeeper of all.”

When we joined the mainstream of mankind in the company street, a woman behind us wished Dr. Breed a merry Christmas. Dr. Breed turned to peer benignly into the sea of pale pies, and identified the greeter as one Miss Francine Pefko. Miss Pefko was twenty, vacantly pretty, and healthy—a dull normal.

In honor of the dulcitude of Christmas time, Dr. Breed invited Miss Pefko to join us. He introduced her as the secretary of Dr. Nilsak Horvath. He then told me who Horvath was. “The famous surface chemist,” he said, “the one who’s doing such wonderful things with films.”

“What’s new in surface chemistry?” I asked Miss Pefko. “God,” she said, “don’t ask me. I just type what he tells me to type.” And then she apologized for having said “God.”

“Oh, I think you understand more than you let on,” said Dr. Breed.

“Not me.” Miss Pefko wasn’t used to chatting with someone as important as Dr. Breed and she was embarrassed. Her gait was affected, becoming stiff and chickenlike. Her smile was glassy, and she was ransacking her mind for something to say, finding nothing in it but used Kleenex and costume jewelry.

“Well . . . ,” rumbled Dr. Breed expansively, “how do you like us, now that you’ve been with us—how long? Almost a year?”

“You scientists think too much,” blurted Miss Pefko. She laughed idiotically. Dr. Breed’s friendliness had blown every fuse in her nervous system. She was no longer responsible. “You all think too much.”

A winded, defeated-looking fat woman in filthy coveralls trudged beside us, hearing what Miss Pefko said. She turned to examine Dr. Breed, looking at him with helpless reproach. She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.

The fat woman’s expression implied that she would go crazy on the spot if anybody did any more thinking.

“I think you’ll find,” said Dr. Breed, “that everybody does about the same amount of thinking. Scientists simply think about things in one way, and other people think about things in others.”

“Ech,” gurgled Miss Pefko emptily. “I take dictation from Dr. Horvath and it’s just like a foreign language. I don’t think I’d understand—even if I was to go to college. And here he’s maybe talking about something that’s going to turn everything upside-down and inside-out like the atom bomb.

“When I used to come home from school Mother used to ask me what happened that day, and I’d tell her,” said Miss Pefko. “Now I come home from work and she asks me the same question, and all I can say is—” Miss Pefko shook her head and let her crimson lips flap slackly— “I dunno, I dunno, I dunno.”

“If there’s something you don’t understand,” urged Dr. Breed, “ask Dr. Horvath to explain it. He’s very good at explaining.” He turned to me. “Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.”

“Then I’m dumber than an eight-year-old,” Miss Pefko mourned. “I don’t even know what a charlatan is.”

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