Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut — Contents
The room that had been the laboratory of Dr. Felix Hoenikker was on the sixth floor, the top floor of the building.
A purple cord had been stretched across the doorway, and a brass plate on the wall explained why the room was sacred:
IN THIS ROOM, DR. FELIX HOENIKKER, NOBEL LAUREATE IN PHYSICS,
SPENT THE LAST TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS OF HIS LIFE.
“WHERE HE WAS, THERE WAS THE FRONTIER OF KNOWLEDGE.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ONE MAN IN THE
HISTORY OF MANKIND IS INCALCULABLE.
Miss Faust offered to unshackle the purple cord for me so that I might go inside and traffic more intimately with whatever ghosts there were.
“It’s just as he left it,” she said, “except that there were rubber bands all over one counter.”
“Don’t ask me what for. Don’t ask me what any of all this is for.”
The old man had left the laboratory a mess. What engaged my attention at once was the quantity of cheap toys lying around. There was a paper kite with a broken spine. There was a toy gyroscope, wound with string, ready to whirr and balance itself. There was a top. There was a bubble pipe. There was a fish bowl with a castle and two turtles in it.
“He loved ten-cent stores,” said Miss Faust.
“I can see he did.”
“Some of his most famous experiments were performed with equipment that cost less than a dollar.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
There were numerous pieces of conventional laboratory equipment, too, of course, but they seemed drab accessories to the cheap, gay toys.
Dr. Hoenikker’s desk was piled with correspondence.
“I don’t think he ever answered a letter,” mused Miss Faust. “People had to get him on the telephone or come to see him if they wanted an answer.”
There was a framed photograph on his desk. Its back was toward me and I ventured a guess as to whose picture it was. “His wife?”
“One of his children?”
So I took a look. I found that the picture was of an humble little war memorial in front of a small-town courthouse. Part of the memorial was a sign that gave the names of those villagers who had died in various wars, and I thought that the sign must be the reason for the photograph. I could read the names, and I half expected to find the name Hoenikker among them. It wasn’t there.
“That was one of his hobbies,” said Miss Faust.
“Photographing how cannonballs are stacked on different courthouse lawns. Apparently how they’ve got them stacked in that picture is very unusual.”
“He was an unusual man.”
“Maybe in a million years everybody will be as smart as he was and see things the way he did. But, compared with the average person of today, he was as different as a man from Mars.”
“Maybe he really was a Martian,” I suggested.
“That would certainly go a long way toward explaining his three strange kids.”