Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut — Contents
On the way back to the hotel I caught sight of Jack’s Hobby Shop, the place where Franklin Hoenikker had worked. I told the cab driver to stop and wait.
I went in and found Jack himself presiding over his teeny-weeny fire engines, railroad trains, airplanes, boats, houses, lampposts, trees, tanks, rockets, automobiles, porters, conductors, policemen, firemen, mommies, daddies, cats, dogs, chickens, soldiers, ducks, and cows. He was a cadaverous man, a serious man, a dirty man, and he coughed a lot.
“What kind of a boy was Franklin Hoenikker?” he echoed, and he coughed and coughed. He shook his head, and he showed me that he adored Frank as much as he’d ever adored anybody. “That isn’t a question I have to answer with words. I can show you what kind of a boy Franklin Hoenikker was.” He coughed. “You can look,” he said, “and you can judge for yourself.”
And he took me down into the basement of his store. He lived down there. There was a double bed and a dresser and a hot plate.
Jack apologized for the unmade bed. “My wife left me a week ago.” He coughed. “I’m still trying to pull the strings of my life back together.”
And then he turned on a switch, and the far end of the basement was filled with a blinding light.
We approached the light and found that it was sunshine to a fantastic little country build on plywood, an island as perfectly rectangular as a township in Kansas. Any restless soul, any soul seeking to find what lay beyond its green boundaries, really would fall off the edge of the world.
The details were so exquisitely in scale, so cunningly textured and tinted, that it was unnecessary for me to squint in order to believe that the nation was real—the hills, the lakes, the rivers, the forests, the towns, and all else that good natives everywhere hold so dear.
And everywhere ran a spaghetti pattern of railroad tracks.
“Look at the doors of the houses,” said Jack reverently.
“They’ve got real knobs on ‘em, and the knockers really work.”
“You ask what kind of a boy Franklin Hoenikker was; he built this.” Jack choked up.
“All by himself?”
“Oh, I helped some, but anything I did was according to his plans. That kid was a genius.”
“How could anybody argue with you?”
“His kid brother was a midget, you know.”
“He did some of the soldering underneath.”
“It sure looks real.”
“It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t done overnight, either.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“That kid didn’t have any home life, you know.”
“This was his real home. Thousands of hours he spent down here. Sometimes he wouldn’t even run the trains; just sit and look, the way we’re doing.”
“There’s a lot to see. It’s practically like a trip to Europe, there are so many things to see, if you look close.”
“He’d see things you and I wouldn’t see. He’d all of a sudden tear down a hill that would look just as real as any hill you ever saw—to you and me. And he’d be right, too. He’d put a lake where that hill had been and a trestle over the lake, and it would look ten times as good as it did before.”
“It isn’t a talent everybody has.”
“That’s right!” said Jack passionately. The passion cost him another coughing fit. When the fit was over, his eyes were watering copiously. “Listen, I told that kid he should go to college and study some engineering so he could go to work for American Flyer or somebody like that—somebody big, somebody who’d really back all the ideas he had.”
“Looks to me as if you backed him a good deal.”
“Wish I had, wish I could have,” mourned Jack. “I didn’t have the capital. I gave him stuff whenever I could, but most of this stuff he bought out of what he earned working upstairs for me. He didn’t spend a dime on anything but this—didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t go to movies, didn’t go out with girls, wasn’t car crazy.”
“This country could certainly use a few more of those.”
Jack shrugged. “Well . . . I guess the Florida gangsters got him. Afraid he’d talk.”
“Guess they did.”
Jack suddenly broke down and cried. “I wonder if those dirty sons of bitches,” he sobbed, “have any idea what it was they killed!”