Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut — Contents
It was in the tombstone salesroom that I had my first vin-dit, a Bokononist word meaning a sudden, very personal shove in the direction of Bokononism, in the direction of believing that God Almighty knew all about me, after all, that God Almighty had some pretty elaborate plans for me.
The vin-dit had to do with the stone angel under the mistletoe. The cab driver had gotten it into his head that he had to have that angel for his mother’s grave at any price. He was standing in front of it with tears in his eyes.
Marvin Breed was still staring out the window at the cemetery gate, having just said his piece about Felix Hoenikker. “The little Dutch son of a bitch may have been a modern holy man,” he added, “But Goddamn if he ever did anything he didn’t want to, and Goddamn if he didn’t get everything he ever wanted.
“Music,” he said.
“Pardon me?” I asked.
“That’s why she married him. She said his mind was tuned to the biggest music there was, the music of the stars.” He shook his head. “Crap.”
And then the gate reminded him of the last time he’d seen Frank Hoenikker, the model-maker, the tormentor of bugs in jars. “Frank,” he said.
“What about him?”
“The last I saw of that poor, queer kid was when he came out through that cemetery gate. His father’s funeral was still going on. The old man wasn’t underground yet, and out through the gate came Frank. He raised his thumb at the first car that came by. It was a new Pontiac with a Florida license plate. It stopped. Frank got in it, and that was the last anybody in Ilium ever saw of him.”
“I hear he’s wanted by the police.”
“That was an accident, a freak. Frank wasn’t any criminal. He didn’t have that kind of nerve. The only work he was any good at was model-making. The only job he ever held onto was at Jack’s Hobby Shop, selling models, making models, giving people advice on how to make models. When he cleared out of here, went to Florida, he got a job in a model shop in Sarasota. Turned out the model shop was a front for a ring that stole Cadillacs, ran ‘em straight on board old L.S.T.’s and shipped ‘em to Cuba. That’s how Frank got balled up in all that. I expect the reason the cops haven’t found him is he’s dead. He just heard too much while he was sticking turrets on the battleship Missouri with Duco Cement.”
“Where’s Newt now, do you know?”
“Guess he’s with his sister in Indianapolis. Last I heard was he got mixed up with that Russian midget and flunked out of pre-med at Cornell. Can you imagine a midget trying to become a doctor? And, in that same miserable family, there’s that great big, gawky girl, over six feet tall. That man, who’s so famous for having a great mind, he pulled that girl out of high school in her sophomore year so he could go on having some woman take care of him. All she had going for her was the clarinet she’d played in the Ilium High School band, the Marching Hundred.
“After she left school,” said Breed, “nobody ever asked her out. She didn’t have any friends, and the old man never even thought to give her any money to go anywhere. You know what she used to do?”
“Every so often at night she’d lock herself in her room and she’d play records, and she’d play along with the records on her clarinet. The miracle of this age, as far as I’m concerned, is that that woman ever got herself a husband.”
“How much do you want for this angel?” asked the cab driver.
“I’ve told you, it’s not for sale.”
“I don’t suppose there’s anybody around who can do that kind of stone cutting any more,” I observed.
“I’ve got a nephew who can,” said Breed. “Asa’s boy. He was all set to be a heap-big re-search scientist, and then they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and the kid quit, and he got drunk, and he came out here, and he told me he wanted to go to work cutting stone.”
“He works here now?”
“He’s a sculptor in Rome.”
“If somebody offered you enough,” said the driver, “you’d take it, wouldn’t you?”
“Might. But it would take a lot of money.”
“Where would you put the name on a thing like that?” asked the driver.
“There’s already a name on it—on the pedestal.” We couldn’t see the name, because of the boughs banked against the pedestal.
“It was never called for?” I wanted to know.
“It was never paid for. The way the story goes: this German immigrant was on his way West with his wife, and she died of smallpox here in Ilium. So he ordered this angel to be put up over her, and he showed my great-grandfather he had the cash to pay for it. But then he was robbed. Somebody took practically every cent he had. All he had left in this world was some land he’d bought in Indiana, land he’d never seen. So he moved on—said he’d be back later to pay for the angel.”
“But he never came back?” I asked.
“Nope.” Marvin Breed nudged some of the boughs aside with his toe so that we could see the raised letters on the pedestal. There was a last name written there. “There’s a screwy name for you,” he said. “If that immigrant had any descendants, I expect they Americanized the name. They’re probably Jones or Black or Thompson now.”
“There you’re wrong,” I murmured.
The room seemed to tip, and its walls and ceiling and floor were transformed momentarily into the mouths of many tunnels—tunnels leading in all directions through time. I had a Bokononist vision of the unity in every second of all time and all wandering mankind, all wandering womankind, all wandering children.
“There you’re wrong,” I said, when the vision was gone.
“You know some people by that name?”
The name was my last name, too.