Slaughterhouse Five


PAGE 20


And I'm not the only one who's listening. God is listening, too. And on
Judgment Day he's going to tell you all the things you said and did. If it turns out they're
bad things instead of good things, that's too bad for you, because you'll burn forever and
ever. The burning never stops hurting.'

Poor Maggie turned gray. She believed that too, and was petrified.

Kilgore Trout laughed uproariously. A salmon egg flew out of his mouth and landed in
Maggie's cleavage.

Now an optometrist called for attention. He proposed a toast to Billy and Valencia,
whose anniversary it was. According to plan, the barbershop quartet of optometrists, 'The
Febs,' sang while people drank and Billy and Valencia put their arms around each other,
just glowed. Everybody's eyes were shining. The song was 'That Old Gang of Mine.�



Gee, that song went, but I'd give the world to see that old gang of mine. And so on. A
little later it said. So long forever, old fellows and gals, so long forever old sweethearts
and pals-God bless 'em- And so on.

Unexpectedly, Billy Pilgrim found himself upset by the song and the occasion. He had
never had an old gang, old sweethearts and pals, but he missed one anyway, as the quartet
made slow, agonized experiments with chords-chords intentionally sour, sourer still,
unbearably sour, and then a chord that was suffocatingly sweet, and then some sour ones
again. Billy had powerful psychosomatic responses to the changing chords. His mouth
filled with the taste of lemonade, and his face became grotesque, as though he really were
being stretched on the torture engine called the rack.

He looked so peculiar that several people commented on it solicitously when the song
was done. They thought he might have been having a heart attack, and Billy seemed to
confirm this by going to a chair and sitting down haggardly.

There was silence.

�Oh my God,� said Valencia, leaning over him, �Billy-are you all right?'

�Yes.�

'You look so awful.�

'Really-I'm O.K.� And he was, too, except that he could find no explanation for why the
song had affected him so grotesquely. He had supposed for years that he had no secrets
from himself. Here was proof that he had a great big secret somewhere inside, and he
could not imagine what it was.

People drifted away now, seeing the color return to Billy's cheeks, seeing him smile.
Valencia stayed with him, and Kilgore Trout, who had been on the fringe of the crowd,
came closer, interested, shrewd.

'You looked as though you'd seen a ghost,' said Valencia.

�No,' said Billy. He hadn�t seen anything but what was really before him-the faces of
the four singers, those four ordinary men, cow-eyed and mindless and anguished as they
went from sweetness to sourness to sweetness again.

�Can I make a guess?' said Kilgore Trout 'You saw through a time window.'

'A what?' said Valencia.

'He suddenly saw the past or the future. Am I right?'

'No,' said Billy Pilgrim. He got up, put a hand into his pocket, found the box containing
the ring in there. He took out the box, gave it absently to Valencia. He had meant to give
it to her at the end of the song, while everybody was watching. Only Kilgore Trout was
there to see.

'For me?' said Valencia.

'Yes�

'Oh my God', she said. Then she said it louder, so other people heard. They gathered
around, and she opened it, and she almost screamed when she saw the sapphire with a
star in it. 'Oh my God,' she said. She gave Billy a big kiss. She said, 'Thank you, tha nk
you, thank you.'


There was a lot of talk about what wonderful jewelry Billy had given to Valencia over
the years. 'My God,' said Maggie White, 'she's already got the biggest diamond I ever saw



outside of a movie.� She was talking about the diamond Billy had brought back from the
war.

The partial denture he had found inside his little impresario's coat, incidentally, was in
his cufflinks box in his dresser drawer. Billy had a wonderful collection of cufflinks. It
was the custom of the family to give him cufflinks on every Father's Day. He was
wearing Father's Day cufflinks now. They had cost over one hundred dollars. They were
made out of ancient Roman coins. He had one pair of cufflinks upstairs which were little
roulette wheels that really worked. He had another pair which had a real thermometer in
one and a real compass in the other.

Billy now moved about the party-outwardly normal. Kilgore Trout was shadowing
him, keen to know what Billy had suspected or seen. Most of Trout's novels, after all,
dealt with time warps and extrasensory perception and other unexpected things. Trout
believed in things like that, was greedy to have their existence proved.

'You ever put a full-length mirror on the floor, and then have a dog stand on it?� Trout
asked Billy.

�No.�

'The dog will look down, and all of a sudden he�ll realize there�s nothing under him. He
thinks he's standing on thin air. He'll jump a mile.'

'He will?'

That�s how you looked-as though you all of a sudden realized you were standing on
thin air.'

The barbershop quartet sang again. Billy was emotionally racked again. The
experience was definitely associated with those four men and not what they sang.

Here is what they sang, while Billy was pulled apart inside:

1 Leven cent cotton, forty cent meat,

How in the world can a poor man eat?

Pray for the sunshine, 'cause it will rain.

Things gettin' worse, drivin' all insane;

Built a nice bar, painted it brown
Lightnin ' came along and burnt it down:

No use talkin ' any man 's beat,

With 'leven cent cotton and forty cent meat.

'Leven cent cotton, a car-load of tax,

The load's too heavy for our poor backs...

And so on.

Billy fled upstairs in his nice white home.

Trout would have come upstairs with him if Billy hadn�t told him not to. Then Billy
went into the upstairs bathroom, which was dark. He closed and locked the door. He left
it dark, and gradually became aware that he was not alone. His son was in there.

'Dad?' his son said in the dark. Robert, the future Green Beret, was seventeen then.
Billy liked him, but didn�t know him very well. Billy couldn�t help suspecting that there
wasn't much to know about Robert.



Billy flicked on the light. Robert was sitting on the toilet with his pajama bottoms
around his ankles. He was wearing an electric guitar, slung around his neck on a strap. He
had just bought the guitar that day. He couldn�t play it yet and, in fact, never learned to
play it. It was a nacreous pink.

'Hello, son,' said Billy Pilgrim.

Billy went into his bedroom, even though there were guests to be entertained
downstairs. He lay down on his bed, turned on the Magic Fingers. The mattress trembled,
drove a dog out from under the bed. The dog was Spot. Good old Spot was still alive in
those days. Spot lay down again in a comer.

Billy thought hard about the effect the quartet had had on him, and then found an
association with an experience he had had long ago. He did not travel in time to the
experience. He remembered it shimmeringly-as follows:

He was down in the meat locker on the night that Dresden was destroyed. There were
sounds like giant footsteps above. Those were sticks of high-explosive bombs. The giants
walked and walked. The meat locker was a very safe shelter. All that happened down
there was an occasional shower of calcimine. The Americans and four of their guards and
a few dressed carcasses were down there, and nobody else. The rest of the guards had,
before the raid began, gone to the comforts of their own homes in Dresden. They were all
being killed with their families.

So it goes.

The girls that Billy had seen naked were all being killed, too, in a much shallower
shelter in another part of the stockyards.

So it goes.

A guard would go to the head of the stairs every so often to see what it was like
outside, then he would come down and whisper to the other guards. There was a fire-
storm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic,
everything that would burn.

It wasn't safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans
and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little
pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now nothing but minerals. The stones were hot.
Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.

So it goes.

The guards drew together instinctively, rolled their eyes. They experimented with one
expression and then another, said nothing, though their mouths were often open. They
looked like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.

'So long forever,' they might have been singing, 'old fellows and pals; So long forever,
old sweethearts and pals-God bless 'em-�

'Tell me a story,' Montana Wildhack said to Billy Pilgrim in the Tralfamadorian zoo
one time. They were in bed side by side. They had privacy. The canopy covered the
dome. Montana was six months pregnant now, big and rosy, lazily demanding small
favors from Billy from time to time. She couldn�t send Billy out for ice cream or



strawberries, since the atmosphere outside the dome was cyanide, and the nearest
strawberries and ice cream were millions of light years away.

She could send him to the refrigerator, which was decorated with the blank couple on
the bicycle built for two-or, as now she could wheedle, �Tell me a story, Billy boy.'

'Dresden was destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945,' Billy Pilgrim began. 'We
came out of our shelter the next day.' He told Montana about the four guards who, in their
astonishment and grief, resembled a barber-shop quartet. He told her about the stockyards
with all the fenceposts gone, with roofs and windows gone -told her about seeing little
logs lying around. These were people who had been caught in the firestonn. So it goes.

Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to fonn cliffs around the
stockyards. They had collapsed. Their wood had been consumed, and their stones had
crashed down, had tumbled against one another until they locked at last in low and
graceful curves.

'It was like the moon,' said Billy Pilgrim.

The guards told the Americans to fonn in ranks of four, which they did. Then they had
them march back to the hog barn which had, been their home. Its walls still stood, but its
windows and roof were gone, and there was nothing inside but ashes and dollops of
melted glass. It was realized then that there was no food or water, and that the survivors,
if they were going to continue to survive, were going to have to climb over curve after
curve on the face of the moon.

Which they did.

The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbing them
learned that they were treacherous, jagged things-hot to the touch, often unstable� eager,
should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more
solid curves.

Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing
appropriate to say. One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed
to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a
flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all.

American fighter planes came in under the smoke to see if anything was moving. They
saw Billy and the rest moving down there. The planes sprayed them with machine-gun
bullets, but the bullets missed. Then they saw some other people moving down by the
riverside and they shot at them. They hit some of them. So it goes.

The idea was to hasten the end of the war.

Billy's story ended very curiously in a suburb untouched by fire and explosions.

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