Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

33. An Ungrateful Man

I asked Marvin Breed if he’d known Emily Hoenikker, the wife of Felix; the mother of Angela, Frank, and Newt; the woman under that monstrous shaft.

“Know her?” His voice turned tragic. “Did I know her, mister? Sure, I knew her. I knew Emily. We went to Ilium High together. We were co-chairmen of the Class Colors Committee then. Her father owned the Ilium Music Store. She could play every musical instrument there was. I fell so hard for her I gave up football and tried to play the violin. And then my big brother Asa came home for spring vacation from M.I.T., and I made the mistake of introducing him to my best girl.” Marvin Breed snapped his fingers. “He took her away from me just like that. I smashed up my seventy-five-dollar violin on a big brass knob at the foot of my bed, and I went down to a florist shop and got the kind of box they put a dozen roses in, and I put the busted fiddle in the box, and I sent it to her by Western Union messenger boy.”

“Pretty, was she?”

“Pretty?” he echoed. “Mister, when I see my first lady angel, if God ever sees fit to show me one, it’ll be her wings and not her face that’ll make my mouth fall open. I’ve already seen the prettiest face that ever could be. There wasn’t a man in Ilium County who wasn’t in love with her, secretly or otherwise. She could have had any man she wanted.” He spit on his own floor. “And she had to go and marry that little Dutch son of a bitch! She was engaged to my brother, and then that sneaky little bastard hit town.” Marvin Breed snapped his fingers again. “He took her away from my big brother like that.

“I suppose it’s high treason and ungrateful and ignorant and backward and anti-intellectual to call a dead man as famous as Felix Hoenikker a son of a bitch. I know all about how harmless and gentle and dreamy he was supposed to be, how he’d never hurt a fly, how he didn’t care about money and power and fancy clothes and automobiles and things, how he wasn’t like the rest of us, how he was better than the rest of us, how he was so innocent he was practically a Jesus—except for the Son of God part. .

Marvin Breed felt it was unnecessary to complete his thought. I had to ask him to do it.

“But what?” he said. “But what?” He went to a window looking out at the cemetery gate. “But what,” he murmured at the gate and the sleet and the Hoenikker shaft that could be dimly seen.

“But,” he said, “but how the hell innocent is a man who helps make a thing like an atomic bomb? And how can you say a man had a good mind when he couldn’t even bother to do anything when the best-hearted, most beautiful woman in the world, his own wife, was dying for lack of love and understanding . . .”

He shuddered, “Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t born dead. I never met a man who was less interested in the living. Sometimes I think that’s the trouble with the world: too many people in high places who are stone-cold dead.”

Turn page.