Slaughterhouse Five


PAGE 22



Watching him was his son Robert. Robert was wearing the uniform of the famous Green
Berets. Robert's hair was short, was wheat-colored bristles. Robert was clean and neat.

He was decorated with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with two
clusters.

This was a boy who had flu nk ed out of high school, who had been an alcoholic at
sixteen, who had run with a rotten bunch of kids, who had been arrested for tipping over
hundreds of tombstones in a Catholic cemetery one time. He was all straightened out
now. His posture was wonderful and his shoes were shined and his trousers were pressed,
and he was a leader of men.

'Dad?'

Billy Pilgrim closed his eyes again.

Billy had to miss his wife's funeral because he was still so sick. He was conscious,
though, while Valencia was being put into the ground in Ilium. Billy hadn�t said much
since regaining consciousness, hadn't responded very elaborately to the news of
Valencia's death and Robert's coming home from the war and so on-so it was generally



believed that he was a vegetable. There was talk of performing an operation on him later,
one which might improve the circulation of blood to his brain.

Actually, Billy's outward listlessness was a screen. The listlessness concealed a mind
which was fizzing and flashing thrillingly. It was preparing letters and lectures about the
flying saucers, the negligibility of death and the true nature of time.

Professor Rumfoord said frightful things about Billy within Billy's hearing, confident
that Billy no longer had any brain at all. 'Why don�t they let him diet' he asked Lily.

'I don�t know, she said.

'That's not a human being anymore. Doctors are for human beings. They should turn
him over to a veterinarian or a tree surgeon. They'd know what to do. Look at him! That's
life, according to the medical profession. Isn�t life wonderful?'

'I don�t know,' said Lily.

Rumfoord talked to Lily about the bombing of Dresden one time, and Billy heard it all.
Rumfoord had a problem about Dresden. His one-volume history of the Army Air Force
in the Second World War was supposed to be a readable condensation of the twenty-
seven-volume Official History of the Army Air Force in World War Two. The thing was,
though, there was almost nothing in the twenty-seven volumes about the Dresden raid,
even though it had been such a howling success. The extent of the success had been kept
a secret for many years after the war-a secret from the American people. It was no secret
from the Germans, of course, or from the Russians, who occupied Dresden after the war,
who are in Dresden still.

'Americans have finally heard about Dresden,' said Rumfoord, twenty-three years after
the raid. 'A lot of them know now how much worse it was than Hiroshima. So I've got to
put something about it in my book. From the official Air Force standpoint, it�ll all be
new.�

'Why would they keep it a secret so long?' said Lily.

'For fear that a lot of bleeding hearts' said Rumfoord, 'might not think it was such a
wonderful thing to do.�

It was now that Billy Pilgrim spoke up intelligently. 'I was there� he said.

It was difficult for Rumfoord to take Billy seriously, since Rumfoord, had so long
considered Billy a repulsive non-person who would be much better off dead. Now, with
Billy speaking clearly and to the point, Rumfoord's ears wanted to treat the words as a
foreign language that was not worth learning. 'What did he say?' said Rumfoord.

Lily had to serve as an interpreter. 'He said he was there.' she explained.

'He was where?

'I don�t know,' said Lily. 'Where were you?' she asked Billy.

'Dresden' said Billy.

'Dresden,' Lily told Rumfoord.

'He's simply echoing things we say,' said Rumfoord.

'Oh, ' said Lily.

'He's got echolalia now.'

�Oh.�



Echolalia is a mental disease which makes people immediately repeat things that well
people around them say. But Billy didn�t really have it. Rumfoord simply insisted, for his
own comfort, that Billy had it. Rumfoord was thinking in a military manner: that an
inconvenient person, one whose death he wished for very much, for practical reasons,
was suffering from a repulsive disease.

Rumfoord went on insisting for several hours that Billy had echolalia-told nurses and a
doctor that Billy had echolalia now. Some experiments were performed on Billy. Doctors
and nurses tried to get Billy to echo something, but Billy wouldn�t make a sound for
them.

'He isn't doing it now,' said Rumfoord peevishly. 'The minute you go away, he�ll start
doing it again.�

Nobody took Rumfoord�s diagnosis seriously. The staff thought Rumfoord was a
hateful old man, conceited and cruel. He often said to them, in one way or another, that
people who were weak deserved to die. Whereas the staff, of course, was devoted to the
idea that weak people should be helped as much as possible, that nobody should die.

There in the hospital, Billy was having an adventure very common among people
without power in time of war: He was trying to prove to a wilfully deaf and blind enemy
that he was interesting to hear and see. He kept silent until the lights went out at night,
and then, when there had been a long silence containing nothing to echo, he said to
Rumfoord, 'I was in Dresden when it was bombed. I was a prisoner of war.� Rumfoord
sighed impatiently.

'Word of honor,' said Billy Pilgrim. 'Do you believe me?'

'Must we talk about it now?' said Rumfoord. He had heard. He didn�t believe.

'We don't ever have to talk about it,' said Billy. 'I just want you to know: I was there.�

Nothing more was said about Dresden that night, and Billy closed his eyes, traveled in
time to a May afternoon, two days after the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Billy and five other American prisoners were riding in a coffin-shaped green wagon,
which they had found abandoned complete with two horses, in a suburb of Dresden. Now
they were being drawn by the clop-clop-clopping horses down narrow lanes which had
been cleared through the moonlike ruins. They were going back to the slaughterhouse for
souvenirs of the war. Billy was reminded of the sounds of milkmen's horses early in the
morning in Ilium, when he was a boy.

Billy sat in the back of the jiggling coffin. His head was tilted back and his nostrils
were flaring. He was happy. He was warm. There was food in the wagon, and wine-and a
camera, and a stamp collection, and a stuffed owl, and a mantel clock that ran on changes
of barometric pressure. The Americans had gone into empty houses in the suburb where
they had been imprisoned, and they had taken these and many other things.

The owners, hearing that the Russians were coming, killing and robbing and raping
and burning, had fled.

But the Russians hadn�t come yet, even two days after the war. It was peaceful in the
ruins. Billy saw only one other person on the way to the slaughterhouse. It was an old
man pushing a baby buggy. In the buggy were pots and cups and an umbrella frame, and
other things he had found.



Billy stayed in the wagon when it reached the slaughterhouse, sunning himself. The
others went looking for souvenirs. Later on in life, the Tralfamadorians would advise
Billy to concentrate on the happy moments of his life, and to ignore the unhappy ones-to
stare only at pretty things as eternity failed to go by. If this sort of selectivity had been
possible for Billy, he might have chosen as his happiest moment his sun-drenched snooze
in the back of the wagon.

Billy Pilgrim was armed as he snoozed. It was the first time he had been armed since
basic training. His companions had insisted that he arm himself, since God only knew
what sorts of killers might be in burrows on the face of the moon- wild dogs, packs of rats
fattened on corpses, escaped maniacs and murderers, soldiers who would never quit
killing until they themselves were killed.

Billy had a tremendous cavalry pistol in his belt. It was a relic of the First World War.

It had a ring in its butt. It was loaded with bullets the size of robins' eggs. Billy had found
it in the bedside table in a house. That was one of the things about the end of the war:
Absolutely anybody who wanted a weapon could have one. They were lying all around.
Billy had a saber, too. It was a Luftwaffe ceremonial saber. Its hilt was stamped with a
screaming eagle. The eagle was carrying a swastika and looking down. Billy found it
stuck into a telephone pole. He had pulled it out of the pole as the wagon went by.

Now his snoozing became shallower as be heard a man and a woman speaking Gennan
in pitying tones. The speakers were commiserating with somebody lyrically. Before Billy
opened his eyes, it seemed to him that the tones might have been those used by the
friends of Jesus when they took His ruined body down from His cross. So it goes.

Billy opened his eyes. A middle-aged man and wife were crooning to the horses. They
were noticing what the Americans had not noticed-that the horses� mouths were bleeding,
gashed by the bits, that the horses' hooves were broken, so that every step meant agony,
that the horses were insane with thirst. The Americans had treated their form of
transportation as though it were no more sensitive than a six-cylinder Chevrolet.

These two horse pitiers moved back along the wagon to where they could gaze in
patronizing reproach at Billy-at Billy Pilgrim, who was so long and weak, so ridiculous in
his azure toga and silver shoes. They weren�t afraid of him. They weren't afraid of
anything. They were doctors, both obstetricians. They had been delivering babies until
the hospitals were all burned down. Now they were picnicking near where their
apartment used to be.

The woman was softly beautiful, translucent from having eaten potatoes for so long.
The man wore a business suit, necktie and all. Potatoes had made him gaunt. He was as
tall as Billy, wore steel-rimmed tri-focals. This couple, so involved with babies, had
never reproduced themselves, though they could have. This was an interesting comment
on the whole idea of reproduction.

They had nine languages between them. They tried Polish on Billy Pilgrim first, since
he was dressed so clownishly, since the wretched Poles were the involuntary clowns of
the Second World War.



Billy asked them in English what it was they wanted, and they at once scolded him in
English for the condition of the horses. They made Billy get out of the wagon and come
look at the horses. When Billy saw the condition of his means of transportation, he burst
into tears. He hadn�t cried about anything else in the war.

Later on, as a middle-aged optometrist, he would weep quietly and privately
sometimes, but never make loud boo-hoo-ing noises.

Which is why the epigraph of this book is the quatrain from the famous Christmas
carol. Billy cried very little, though he often saw things worth crying about, and in that
respect, at least, he resembled the Christ of the Carol:

The cattle are lowing,

The Baby awakes.

But the little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes.

Billy traveled in time back to the hospital in Vermont. Breakfast had been eaten and
cleared away and Professor Rumfoord was reluctantly becoming interested in Billy as a
human being. Rumfoord questioned Billy gruffly, satisfied himself that Billy really had
been in Dresden. He asked Billy what it had been like, and Billy told him about the
horses and the couple picnicking on the moon.

The story ended this way. Billy and the doctors unharnessed the horses, but the horses
wouldn't go anywhere. Their feet hurt too much. And then Russians came on
motorcycles, and they arrested everybody but the horses.

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