Slaughterhouse Five


PAGE 17


Nearly over, that he would soon be
home.



Lazzaro was talking to himself about people he was going to have killed after the war,
and rackets he was going to work, and women he was going to make fuck him, whether
they wanted to or not. If he had been a dog in a city, a policeman would have shot him
and sent his head to a laboratory, to see if he had rabies. So it goes.

As they neared the theater, they came upon an Englishman who was hacking a groove
in the Earth with the heel of his boot. He was marking the boundary between the
American and English sections of the compound. Billy and Lazzaro and Derby didn't
have to ask what the line meant. It was a familiar symbol from childhood.

The theater was paved with American bodies that nestled like spoons. Most of the
Americans were in stupors or asleep. Their guts were fluttering, dry.

'Close the fucking door,' somebody said to Billy. 'Were you born I'm a barn?'

Billy closed it, took a hand from his muff, touched a stove. It was as cold as ice. The
stage was still set for Cinderella. Azure curtains hung from the arches which were
shocking pink. There were golden thrones and the dummy clock, whose hands were set at
midnight. Cinderella's slippers, which were a man's boots painted silver, were capsized
side by side under a golden throne.

Billy and poor old Edgar Derby and Lazzaro had been in the hospital when the British
passed out blankets and mattresses, so they had none. They had to improvise. The only
space open to them was up on the stage, and they went up there, pulled the azure curtains
down, made nests.

Billy, curled in his azure nest, found himself staring at Cinderella's silver boots under a
throne. And then he remembered that his shoes were ruined, that he needed boots. He
hated to get out of his nest, but he forced himself to do it. He crawled to the boots on all
fours, sat, tried them on.

The boots fit perfectly. Billy Pilgrim was Cinderella, and Cinderella was Billy Pilgrim.

Somewhere in there was a lecture on personal hygiene by the head Englishman, and
then a free election. At least half the Americans went on snoozing through it all. The
Englishman' got up on the stage, and he rapped on the arm of a throne with a swagger
stick, called, 'Lads, lads, lad I have your attention, please?' And so on.

What the Englishman said about survival was this 'If you stop taking pride in your
appearance, you will very soon die.� He said that he had seen several men die in the
following way: They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then
ceased to get out of bed, then ceased to talk, then died. There is this much to be said for
it: it is evidently a very easy and painless way to go.' So it goes.

The Englishman said that he, when captured, had made and kept the following vows to
himself: To brush his teeth twice a day, to shave once a day, to wash his face and hands
before every meal and after going to the latrine, to polish his shoes once a day, to
exercise for at least half an hour each morning and then move his bowels, and to look into
a mirror frequently, frankly evaluating his appearance, particularly with respect to
posture.



Billy Pilgrim heard all this while lying in his nest. He looked not at the Englishman's
face but his ankles.

'I envy you lads,' said the Englishman.

Somebody laughed. Billy wondered what the joke was.

'You lads are leaving this afternoon for Dresden-a beautiful city, I'm told. You won�t be
cooped up like us. You'll be out where the life is, and the food is certain to be more
plentiful than here. If I may inject a personal note: It has been five years now since I have
seen a tree or flower or woman or child-or a dog or a cat or a place of entertainment, or a
human being doing useful work of any kind.

'You needn�t worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended,
and contains no war industries or troop concentrations of any importance.�

Somewhere in there, old Edgar Derby was elected head American. The Englishman
called for nominations from the floor, and there weren't any. So he nominated Derby,
praising him for his maturity and long experience in dealing with people. There were no
further nominations, so the nominations were closed.

'All in favor?�

Two or three people said, 'Aye.'

Then poor old Derby made a speech. He thanked the Englishman for his good advice,
said he meant to follow it exactly. He said he was sure that all the other Americans would
do the mm. He said that his primary responsibility now was to make damn well sure that
everybody got home safely.

'Go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut,� murmured Paul Lazzaro in his azure nest.
'Go take a flying fuck at the moon.�

The temperature climbed startlingly that day. The noontime was balmy. The Germans
brought soup and bread in two-wheeled carts which were pulled by Russians. The
Englishmen sent over real coffee and sugar and marmalade and cigarettes and cigars, and
the doors of the theater were left open, so the warmth could get in.

The Americans began to feel much better. They were able to hold their food. And then
it was time to go to Dresden. The Americans marched fairly stylishly out of the British
compound. Billy Pilgrim again led the parade. He had silver boots now, and a muff, and a
piece of azure curtain which he wore like a toga. Billy still had a beard. So did poor old
Edgar Derby, who was beside him. Derby was imagining letters to home, his lips
working tremulously.

Dear Margaret-We are leaving for Dresden today. Don't worry. It will never be
bombed. It is an open city. There was an election at noon, and guess what? And so on.

They came to the prison railroad yard again. They had arrived on only two cars. They
would depart far more comfortably on four. They saw the dead hobo again. He was
frozen stiff in the weeds beside the track. He was in a fetal position, trying even in death
to nestle like a spoon with others. There were no others now. He was nestling within thin
air and cinders. Somebody had taken his boots. His bare feet were blue and ivory. It was
all right, somehow, his being dead. So it goes.



The trip to Dresden was a lark. It took only two hours. Shriveled little bellies were full.
Sunlight and cold air came in through the ventilators. There were plenty of smokes from
the Englishmen.

The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon. The boxcar doors were
opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever
seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a
Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

Somebody behind him in the boxcar said, �Oz.' That was I. That was me. The only
other city I�d ever seen was Indianapolis, Indiana.

Every other big city in Germany had been bombed and burned ferociously. Dresden
had not suffered so much as a cracked windowpane. Sirens went off every day, screamed
like hell, and people went down into cellars and listened to radios there. The planes were
always bound for someplace else-Leipzig, Chemnitz, Plauen, places like that. So it goes.

Steam radiators still whistled cheerily in Dresden. Street-cars clanged. Telephones rang
and were answered. Lights went on and off when switches were clicked. There were
theaters and restaurants. There was a zoo. The principal enterprises of the city were
medicine and food-processing and the making of cigarettes.

People were going home from work now in the late afternoon. They were tired.

Eight Dresdeners crossed the steel spaghetti of the railroad yard. They were wearing
new uniforms. They had been sworn into the army the day before. They were boys and
men past middle age, and two veterans who had been shot to pieces in Russia. Their
assignment was to guard one hundred American prisoners of war, who would work as
contract labor. A grandfather and his grandson were in the squad. The grandfather was an
architect.

The eight were grim as they approached the boxcars containing their wards. They
knew what sick and foolish soldiers they themselves appeared to be. One of them actually
had an artificial leg, and carried not only a loaded rifle but a cane. Still they were
expected to earn obedience and respect from tall cocky, murderous American
infantrymen who had just come from all the killing of the front.

And then they saw bearded Billy Pilgrim in his blue toga and silver shoes, with his
hands in a muff. He looked at least sixty years old. Next to Billy was little Paul Lazzaro
with a broken arm. He was fizzing with rabies. Next to Lazzaro was the poor old high
school teacher, Edgar Derby, mournfully pregnant with patriotism and middle age and
imaginary wisdom. And so on.

The eight ridiculous Dresdeners ascertained that these hundred ridiculous creatures
really were American fighting men fresh from the front. They smiled, and then they
laughed. Their terror evaporated. There was nothing to be afraid of. Here were more
crippled human beings, more fools like themselves. Here was light opera.

So out of the gate of the railroad yard and into the streets of Dresden marched the light
opera. Billy Pilgrim was the star. He led the parade. Thousands of people were on the
sidewalks, going home from work. They were watery and putty-colored, having eaten
mostly potatoes during the past two years. They had expected no blessings beyond the
mildness of the day. Suddenly-here was fun.



Billy did not meet many of the eyes that found him so entertaining. He was enchanted
by the architecture of the city. Merry amoretti wove garlands above windows. Roguish
fauns and naked nymphs peeked down at Billy from festooned cornices. Stone monkeys
frisked among scrolls and seashells and bamboo.

Billy, with his memories of the future, knew that the city would be smashed to
smithereens and then burned-in about thirty more days. He knew, too, that most of the
people watching him would soon be dead. So it goes.

And Billy worked his hands in his muff as he marched. His fingertips, working there in
the hot darkness of the muff, wanted to know what the two lumps in the lining of the little
impresario's coat were. The fingertips got inside the lining. They palpated the lumps, the
pea-shaped thing and the horseshoe-shaped thing. The parade had to halt by a busy
comer. The traffic light was red.

There at the corner, in the front rank of pedestrians, was a surgeon who had been
operating all day. He was a civilian, but his posture was military. He had served in two
world wars. The sight of Billy offended him, especially after he learned from the guards
that Billy was an American. It seemed to Wm that Billy was in abominable taste,
supposed that Billy had gone to a lot of silly trouble to costume himself just so.

The surgeon spoke English, and he said to Billy, 'I take it you find war a very comical
thing.�

Billy looked at him vaguely. Billy had lost track momentarily of where he was or how
he had gotten there. He had no idea that people thought he was clowning. It was Fate, of
course, which had costumed him-Fate, and a feeble will to survive.

'Did you expect us to laugh?' the surgeon asked him.

The surgeon was demanding some sort of satisfaction. Billy was mystified. Billy
wanted to be friendly, to help, if he could, but his resources were meager. His fingers
now held the two objects from the lining of the coat. Billy decided to show the surgeon
what they were.

'You thought we would enjoy being mocked?' the surgeon said. 'And do you feel proud
to represent America as you do?' Billy withdrew a hand from his muff, held it under the
surgeon's nose. On his palm rested a two-carat diamond and a partial denture.

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