Set in a future where aging is no longer a concern, thanks to the invention of something called anti-gerasone, Earth faces an overpopulation problem. New York City had sprawled to Connecticut and personal privacy is a memory, cherished by those who had ever experienced it. Vonnegut returns to this concept years later with his story "2 B R 0 2 B".
This story opens with a cranky Gramps Ford watching a news broadcast in his living room, which is crowded by his extended family. The family - which includes almost a dozen couples - is not visiting, they all share the apartment with Gramps.
Gramps is preparing for "The big trip up yonder", nearing the end of his life at 172 years of age, and the family is jockeying for Gramps' favour and special mention in his will. That "favourite" seems to change every week, and Gramps' will changes right along with it.
Lou, Gramps' grandson, ends up in the doghouse, and out of the will. ...For the eleventh time.
While some compete for Gramps' attention and try to better their position on Gramps' imposed pecking order, one of their number conspires against Gramps.
Lou catches Morty, his great-grand-nephew, diluting Gramps' anti-gerasone with water from the bathroom tap. Lou can't risk telling Gramps about this, as his status in the group was already at risk. He dare not chance losing any more ground to the vultures.
Lou concocts a plan to enter the bathroom and secretly dump out the diluted anti-gerasone and refill the large bottle from many smaller full-strength bottles. As Lou finished emptying the bottle, there was a knock at the door. It was Gramps. Lou tried to hurry up the process of the bottle emptying by shaking it, lost his grip on the bottle and dropped the bottle on the floor, smashing it to pieces.
Everyone including Lou expected Gramps to blow his top. Gramps simply instructed Lou to clean up his mess and locked himself in his room. Lou spent an anxious and sleepless night worrying about what Gramps would do.
Morning came, and Lou and his wife Emerald (Em) shuffled to the kitchen for breakfast, and when that was complete, Lou set about the task that belonged to the most recently disowned - preparing and serving Gramps his breakfast in bed.
Em decides to join him in his task and the two of them go to serve Gramps his breakfast. They pause at the bedroom door and knock. The knock goes unanswered. A second knock swings the door open - to an empty room!
Originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction from January 1954, no evidence has been found of a copyright renewal on the work so it is assumed to be in the Public Domain.
I read the book from Feedbooks and listened to the Librivox recording of the short story, read by Gregg Margarite, both linked below.
Download the ePub at Feedbooks
Download the Project Gutenberg version at the Internet Archive
Listen to the short story:
- Read by Gregg Margarite (1957-2012) at Librivox (Time: 23:11)
- Read by jerryB at Librivox (Time: 23:03)
- Read by Clay Readnour at Librivox (Time: 20:46)
- Read by Phil Chenevert at Librivox (Time: 27:10)