Slaughterhouse Five


Two days after that, Billy was turned over to the Americans, who shipped him home
on a very slow freighter called the Lucretia A. Mott. Lucretia A. Mott was a famous
American suffragette. She was dead. So it goes.

'It had to be done,� Rumfoord told Billy, speaking of the destruction of Dresden.

'I know,' said Billy.

'That's war.�

'I know. I'm not complaining.�

'It must have been hell on the ground.�

'It was,' said Billy Pilgrim.

'Pity the men who had to do it.'

'I do.�

'You must have had mixed feelings, there on the ground.'

'It was all right.' said Billy. 'Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly
what he does. I learned that on Tralfamadore.�

Billy Pilgrim's daughter took him home later that day, put him to bed in his house,
turned the Magic Fingers on. There was a practical nurse there. Billy wasn't supposed to
work or even leave the house for a while, at least. He was under observation.

But Billy sneaked out while the nurse wasn't watching and he drove to New York City,
where he hoped to appear on television. He was going to tell the world about the lessons
of Tralfamadore.

Billy Pilgrim checked into the Royalton Hotel on Forty-fourth Street in New York. He
by chance was given a room which had once been the home of George Jean Nathan, the
critic and editor. Nathan, according to the Earthling concept of time, had died back in
1958. According to the Tralfamadorian concept, of course. Nathan was still alive
somewhere and always would be.

The room was small and simple, except that it was on the top floor, and had French
doors which opened onto a terrace as large as the room. And beyond the parapet of the
terrace was the air space over Forty-fourth Street. Billy now leaned over that parapet,
looked down at all the people moving hither and yon. They were jerky little scissors.

They were a lot of fun.

It was a chilly night, and Billy came indoors after a while, closed the French doors.
Closing those doors reminded him of his honeymoon. There had been French doors on
the Cape Ann love nest of his honeymoon, still were, always would be.

Billy turned on his television set checking its channel selector around and around. He
was looking for programs on which he might be allowed to appear. But it was too early in
the evening for programs that allowed people with peculiar opinions to speak out. It was
only a little after eight o'clock, so all the shows were about silliness or murder. So it goes.

Billy left his room, went down the slow elevator, walked over to Times Square, looked
into the window of a tawdry bookstore. In the window were hundreds of books about
fucking and buggery and murder, and a street guide to New York City, and a model of
the Statue of Liberty with a thermometer on it. Also in the window, speckled with soot
and fly shit, were four paperback novels by Billy's friend, Kilgore Trout.

The news of the day, meanwhile, was being written in a ribbon of lights on a building
to Billy's back. The window reflected the news. It was about power and sports and anger
and death. So it goes.

Billy went into the bookstore.

A sign in there said that adults only were allowed in the back. There were peep shows
in the back that showed movies of young women and men with no clothes on. It cost a
quarter to look into a machine for one minute. There were still photographs of naked
young people for sale back there, too. You could take those home. The stills were a lot
more Tralfamadorian than the movies, since you could look at them whenever you
wanted to, and they wouldn�t change. Twenty years in the future, those girls would still
be young, would still be smiling or smoldering or simply looking stupid, with their legs
wide open. Some of them were eating lollipops or bananas. They would still be eating
those. And the peckers of the young men would still be semi-erect, and their muscles
would be bulging like cannonballs.

But Billy Pilgrim wasn't beguiled by the back of the store. He was thrilled by the
Kilgore Trout novels in the front. The tides were all new to him, or he thought they were.
Now he opened one. It seemed all right for him to do that. Everybody else in the store
was pawing things. The name of the book was The Big Board. He got a few paragraphs
into it, and then realized that he had read it before-years ago, in the veterans' hospital. It
was about an Earthling man and woman who were kidnapped by extra-terrestrials. They
were put on display in a zoo on a planet called Zircon-212.

These fictitious people in the zoo had a big board supposedly showing stock market,
quotations and commodity prices along one wall of their habitat, and a news ticker, and a
telephone that was supposedly connected to a brokerage on Earth. The creatures on
Zircon-212 told their captives that they had invested a million dollars for them back on
Earth, and that it was up to the captives to manage it so that they would be fabulously
wealthy when they returned to Earth.

The telephone and the big board and the ticker were all fakes, of-course. They were
simply stimulants to make the Earthlings perform vividly for the crowds at the zoo� to
make them jump up and down and cheer, or gloat, or sulk, or tear their hair, to be scared
shitless or to feel as contented as babies in their mothers' arms.

The Earthlings did very well on paper. That was part of the rigging, of course. And
religion got mixed up in it, too. The news ticker reminded them that the President of the
United States had declared National Prayer Week, and that everybody should pray. The
Earthlings had had a bad week on the market before that. They had lost a small fortune in
olive oil futures. So they gave praying a whirl.

It worked. Olive oil went up.

Another Kilgore Trout book there in the window was about a man who built a time
machine so he could go back and see Jesus. It worked, and he saw Jesus when Jesus was
only twelve years old. Jesus was learning the carpentry trade from his father.

Two Roman soldiers came into the shop with a mechanical drawing on papyrus of a
device they wanted built by sunrise the next morning. It was a cross to be used in the
execution of a rabble-rouser.

Jesus and his father built it. They were glad to have the work. And the rabble-rouser
was executed on it.

So it goes.

The bookstore was run by seeming quintuplets, by five short, bald men chewing unfit
cigars that were sopping wet. They never smiled, and each one had a stool to perch on.
They were making money running a paper-and-celluloid whorehouse.

They didn�t have hard-ons. Neither did Billy Pilgrim. Everybody else did. It was a
ridiculous store, all about love and babies.

The clerks occasionally told somebody to buy or get out, not to just look and look and
look and paw and paw. Some of the people were looking at each other instead of the

A clerk came up to Billy and told him the good stuff was in the back, that the books
Billy was reading were window dressing. 'That ain't what you want, for Christ's sake,' he
told Billy 'What you want's in back.'

So Billy moved a little farther back, but not as far as the part for adults only. He moved
because of absentminded politeness, taking a Trout book with him-the one about Jesus
and the time machine.

The time-traveler in the book went back to Bible times to find out one thing in
particular: Whether or not Jesus had really died on the cross, or whether he had been
taken down while still alive, whether he had really gone on living. The hero had a
stethoscope along.

Billy skipped to the end of the book, where the hero mingled with the people who were
taking Jesus down from the cross. The time-traveler was the first one up the ladder,
dressed in clothes of the period, and he leaned close to Jesus so people couldn't see him
use the stethoscope, and he listened.

There wasn�t a sound inside the emaciated chest cavity. The Son of God was as dead as
a doornail.

So it goes.

The time-traveler, whose name was Lance Corwin, also got to measure the length of
Jesus, but not to weigh him. Jesus was five feet and three and a half inches long.

Another clerk came up to Billy and asked him if he was going to buy the book or not,
and Billy said that he wanted to buy it, please. He had his back to a rack of paperback
books about oral-genital contacts from ancient Egypt to the present and so on, and the
clerk supposed Billy was reading one of these. So he was startled when he saw what
Billy's book was. He said, 'Jesus Christ, where did you find this thing?� and so on, and he
had to tell the other clerks about the pervert who wanted to buy the window dressing. The
other clerks already knew about Billy. They had been watching him, too.

The cash register where Billy waited for his change was near a bin of old girly
magazines. Billy looked at one out of the corner of his eye, and he saw this question on
its cover: What really became of Montana Wildhack?

So Billy read it. He knew where Montana Wildhack really was, of course. She was
back on Tralfamadore, taking care of the baby, but the magazine, which was called
Midnight Pussycats, promised that she was wearing a cement overcoat under fathoms of
saltwater in San Pedro Bay.

So it goes.

Billy wanted to laugh. The magazine., which was published for lonesome men to jerk
off to, ran the story so it could print pictures taken from blue movies which Montana had
made as a teenagers Billy did not look closely at these. They were grainy things, soot and
chalk. They could have been anybody.

Billy was again directed to the back of the store and he went this time. A jaded sailor
stepped away from a movie machine while the film was still running. Billy looked in, and
there was Montana Wildhack alone on a bed, peeling a banana. The picture clicked off.
Billy did not want to see what happened next, and a clerk importuned him to come over
and see some really hot stuff they kept under the counter for connoisseurs.

Billy was mildly curious as to what could possibly have been kept hidden in such a
place. The clerk leered and showed him. It was a photograph of a woman and a Shetland
pony. They were attempting to have sexual intercourse between two Doric columns, in
front of velvet draperies which were fringed with deedlee-balls.

Billy didn�t get onto television in New York that night., but he did get onto a radio talk
show. There was a radio station right next to Billy's hotel. He saw its call letters over the
entrance of an office building, so he went in. He went up to the studio on an automatic
elevator, and there were other people up there, waiting to go in. They were literary critics,
and they thought Billy was one, too. They were going to discuss whether the novel was
dead or not. So it goes.

Billy took his seat with the others around a golden oak table, with a microphone all his
own. The master of ceremonies asked him his name and what paper he was from. Billy
said he was from the Ilium Gazette.

He was nervous and happy. 'If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming,' he told himself, 'just
ask for Wild Bob.�

Billy put his hand up at the very first part of the program but he wasn�t called on right
away. Others got in ahead of him. One of them said that it would be a nice time to bury
the novel, now that a Virginian, one hundred years after Appomattox, had written Uncle
Tom's Cabin. Another one said that people couldn�t read well enough anymore to turn
print into exciting situations in their skulls, so that authors had to do what Nonnan Mailer
did, which was to perform in public what he had written. The master of ceremonies asked
people to say what they thought the function of the novel might be in modem society, and
one critic said, 'To provide touches of color in rooms with all-white wars.�

Back to Slaughterhouse Five book