Slaughterhouse Five


PAGE 12


'They gave it to me,' he said at last.

'Jerry gave it to you?'

'Who? �

'The Gennans gave it to you?'

'Yes.'

Billy didn�t like the questions. They were fatiguing.

'Ohhhh-Yank, Yank, Yank,' said the Englishman, 'that coat was an insult,

'Sir? �

'It was a deliberate attempt to humiliate you. You mustn�t let Jerry do things like that.�



Billy Pilgrim swooned.


Billy came to on a chair facing the stage. He had somehow eaten, and now he was
watching Cinderella. Some part of him had evidently been enjoying the performance for
quite a while. Billy was laughing hard.

The women in the play were really men, of course. The clock had just struck midnight
and Cinderella was lamenting

'Goodness me, the clock has struck-
Alackaday, and fuck my luck. '

Billy found the couplet so comical that he not only laughed-he shrieked. He went on
shrieking until he was carried out of the shed and into another, where the hospital was. It
was a six-bed hospital. There weren�t any other patients in there.

Billy was put to bed and tied down, and given a shot of morphine. Another American
volunteered to watch over him. This volunteer was Edgar Derby, the high school teacher
who would be shot to death in Dresden. So it goes.

Derby sat on a three-legged stool. He was given a book to read. The book was The Red
Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. Derby had read it before. Now he read it again
while Billy Pilgrim entered a morphine paradise.

Under morphine, Billy had a dream of giraffes in a garden. The giraffes were following
gravel paths, were pausing to munch sugar pears from treetops. Billy was a giraffe, too.
He ate a pear. It was a hard one. It fought back against his grinding teeth. It snapped in
juicy protest.

The giraffes accepted Billy as one of their own, as a harmless creature as
preposterously specialized as themselves. Two approached him from opposite sides,
leaned against him. They had long, muscular upper lips which they could shape like the
bells of bugles. They kissed him with these. They were female giraffes-cream and lemon
yellow. They had horns like doorknobs. The knobs were covered with velvet.

Why?

Night came to the garden of the giraffes, and Billy Pilgrim slept without dreaming for a
while, and then he traveled in time. He woke up with his head under a blanket in a ward
for nonviolent mental patients in a veterans' hospital near Lake Placid, New York. It was
springtime in 1948, three years after the end of the war.

Billy uncovered his head. The windows of the ward were open. Birds were twittering
outside. 'Poo-tee-weet?' one asked him. The sun was high. There were twenty-nine other
patients assigned to the ward, but they were all outdoors now, enjoying the day. They
were free to come and go as they pleased, to go home, even., if they liked-and so was
Billy Pilgrim. They had come here voluntarily, alarmed by the outside world.

Billy had committed himself in the middle of his final year at the Ilium School of
Optometry. Nobody else suspected that he was going crazy. Everybody else thought he
looked fine and was acting fine. Now he was in the hospital. The doctors agreed: He was
going crazy.



They didn�t think it had anything to do with the war. They were sure Billy was going to
pieces because his father had thrown him into the deep end of the Y.M.C.A. swimming
pool when he was a little boy, and had then taken him to the rim of the Grand Canyon.

The man assigned to the bed next to Billy's was a former infantry captain named Eliot
Rosewater. Rosewater was sick and tired of being drunk all the time.

It was Rosewater who introduced Billy to science fiction, and in particular to the
writings of Kilgore Trout. Rosewater had a tremendous collection of science-fiction
paperbacks under his bed. He had brought them to the hospital in a steamer trunk. Those
beloved, frumpish books gave off a smell that permeated the ward-like flannel pajamas
that hadn't been changed for a month, or like Irish stew.

Kilgore Trout became Billy's favorite living author, and science fiction became the
only sort of tales he could read.

Rosewater was twice as smart as Billy, but he and Billy were dealing with similar
crises in similar ways. They had both found life meaningless, partly because of what they
had seen in war. Rosewater, for instance, had shot a fourteen-year-old fireman, mistaking
him for a German soldier. So it goes. And Billy had seen the greatest massacre in
European history, which was the firebombing of Dresden. So it goes.

So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a
big help.

Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn�t science
fiction. He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers
Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoevsky. 'But that isn�t enough any more.' said Rosewater.

Another time Billy heard Rosewater say to a psychiatrist, 'I think you guys are going to
have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren't going to want to
go on living.�

There was a still life on Billy's bedside table-two pills, an ashtray with three lipstick-
stained cigarettes in it, one cigarette still burning, and a glass of water. The water was
dead. So it goes. Air was trying to get out of that dead water. Bubbles were clinging to
the walls of the glass, too weak to climb out.

The cigarettes belonged to Billy's chain-smoking mother. She had sought the ladies'
room, which was off the ward for WAGS and WAVES and SPARS and WAFS who had
gone bananas. She would be back at any moment now.

Billy covered his head with his blanket again. He always covered his head when his
mother came to see him in the mental ward-always got much sicker until she went away.
It wasn't that she was ugly, or had bad breath or a bad personality. She was a perfectly
nice, standard-issue, brown-haired, white woman with a high-school education.

She upset Billy simply by being his mother. She made him feel embarrassed and
ungrateful and weak because she had gone to so much trouble to give him life, and to
keep that life going, and Billy didn�t really like life at all.



Billy heard Eliot Rosewater come in and lie down. Rosewater's bedsprings talked a lot
about that. Rosewater was a big man, but not very powerful. He looked as though he
might be made out of nose putty.

And then Billy's mother came back from the ladies' room, sat down on a chair between
Billy's and Rosewater's bed. Rosewater greeted her with melodious warmth, asked how
she was today. He seemed delighted to hear that she was fine. He was experimenting with
being ardently sympathetic with everybody he met. He thought that might make the
world a slightly more pleasant place to live in. He called Billy's mother 'dear.' He was
experimenting with calling everybody 'dear.'

'Some day' she promised Rosewater, 'I'm going to come in here, and Billy is going to
uncover his head, and do you know what he's going to say?'

'What's he going to say, dear?'

'He's going to say, 'Hello, Mom," and he's going to smile. He's going to say, 'Gee, it's
good to see you, Mom. How have you been?"'

'Today could be the day.�

'Every night I pray.'

'That's a good thing to do.�

'People would be surprised if they knew how much in this world was due to prayers.'

'You never said a truer word, dear.�

'Does your mother come to see you often?'

'My mother is dead,' said Rosewater. So it goes.

'I'm sorry.'

'At least she had a happy life as long as it lasted.�

'That's a consolation, anyway.'

'Yes.'

'Billy's father is dead, you know, said Billy's mother. So it goes.

'A boy needs a father.�

And on and on it went� that duet between the dumb, praying lady and the big, hollow
man so full of loving echoes.

'He was at the top of his class when this happened,� said Billy's mother.

'Maybe he was working too hard.' said Rosewater. He held a book he wanted to read,
but he was much too polite to read and talk, too, easy as it was to give Billy's mother
satisfactory answers. The book was Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension, by Kilgore Trout.
It was about people whose mental diseases couldn�t be treated because the causes of the
diseases were all in the fourth dimension, and three-dimensional Earthling doctors
couldn�t see those causes at all, or even imagine them.

One thing Trout said that Rosewater liked very much was that there really were
vampires and werewolves and goblins and angels and so on, but that they were in the
fourth dimension. So was William Blake, Rosewater�s favorite poet, according to Trout.
So were heaven and hell.

'He's engaged to a very rich girl,' said Billy's mother.

'That�s good,' said Rosewater. 'Money can be a great comfort sometimes.'

'It really can.'

'Of course it can.�



'It isn�t much fun if you have to pinch every penny till it screams.

'It's nice to have a little breathing room.'

'Her father owns the optometry school where Billy was going. He also owns six offices
around our part of the state. He flies his own plane and has a summer place up on Lake
George.�

'That's a beautiful lake.'

Billy fell asleep under his blanket. When he woke up again, he was tied to the bed in
the hospital back in prison. He opened one eye, saw poor old Edgar Derby reading The
Red Badge of Courage by candlelight.

Billy closed that one eye saw in his memory of the future poor old Edgar Derby in
front of a firing squad in the ruins of Dresden. There were only four men in that squad.
Billy had heard that one man in each firing squad was customarily given a rifle loaded
with blank cartridge. Billy didn�t think there would be a bla nk cartridge issued in a squad
that small, in a war that old.

Now the head Englishman came into the hospital to check on Billy. He was an infantry
colonel captured at Dunkirk. It was he who had given Billy morphine. There wasn't a real
doctor in the compound, so the doctoring was up to him. 'How's the patient?� he asked
Derby.

'Dead to the world.�

'But not actually dead.�

�No.�

'How nice-to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.'

Derby now came to lugubrious attention.

'No, no-please-as you were. With only two men for each officer, and all the men sick, I
think we can do without the usual pageantry between officers and men.�

Derby remained standing. 'You seem older than the rest,' said the colonel.

Derby told him he was forty-five, which was two years older than the colonel. The
colonel said that the other Americans had all shaved now, that Billy and Derby were the
only two still with beards. And he said, 'You know we've had to imagine the war here,
and we have imagined that it was being fought by aging men like ourselves. We had
forgotten that wars were fought by babies. When I saw those freshly shaved faces, it was
a shock "My God, my God-" I said to myself. "It's the Children�s Crusade."�

The colonel asked old Derby how he had been captured, and Derby told a tale of being
in a clump of trees with about a hundred other frightened soldiers. The battle had been
going on for five days. The hundred had been driven into the trees by tanks.

Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for
other Earthlings when they don�t want those other Earthlings to inhabit Earth any more.
Shells were bursting in the treetops with terrific bangs, he said, showering down knives
and needles and razorblades. Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the
woods under the shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound.

A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.

Back to Slaughterhouse Five book