said, 'To describe blow-jobs artistically.� Another one said, 'To teach wives of junior
executives what to buy next and how to act in a French restaurant.'
And then Billy was allowed to speak. Off he went, in that beautifully trained voice of
his, telling about the flying saucers and Montana Wildhack and so on.
He was gently expelled from the studio during a commercial. He went back to his hotel
room, put a quarter into the Magic Fingers machine connected to his bed, and he went to
sleep. He traveled in time back to Tralfamadore.
'Time -traveling again?' said Montana. It was artificial evening in the dome. She was
breast-feeding their child.
�Hmm?' said Billy.
'You've been time-traveling again. I can always tell.'
'Where did you go this time? It wasn�t the war. I can tell that, too. �
'The Big Apple.'
'That's what they used to call New York.�
'You see any plays or movies?'
'No-I walked around Times Square some, bought a book by Kilgore Trout.'
'Lucky you.' She did not share his enthusiasm for Kilgore Trout.
Billy mentioned casually that he had seen part of a blue movie she had made. Her
response was no less casual. It was Tralfamadorian and guilt-free:
'Yes-' she said, 'and I've heard about you in the war, about what a clown you were. And
I've heard about the high school teacher who was shot. He made a blue movie with a
firing squad.� She moved the baby from one breast to the other, because the moment was
so structured that she had to do so.
There was a silence.
'They're playing with the clocks again,' said Montana, rising, preparing to put the baby
into its crib. She meant that their keepers were making the electric clocks in the dome go
fast, then slow, then fast again., and watching the little Earthling family through
There was a silver chain around Montana Wildhack's neck. Hanging from it, between
her breasts, was a locket containing a photograph of her alcoholic mother-grainy thing,
soot and chalk. It could have been anybody. Engraved on the outside of the locket were
GOD GRANT ME THE SERENITY
TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I
CANNOT CHANGE, COURAGE
TO CHANGE THE THINGS
I CAN, AND WISDOM
ALWAYS TO TELL THE
Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles from the home I live in all year
round, was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes.
Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes.
And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science
in Vietnam. So it goes.
My father died many years ago now-of natural causes. So it goes. He was a sweet man.
He was a gun nut, too. He left me his guns. They rust.
On Tralfamadore, says Billy Pilgrim, there isn�t much interest in Jesus Christ. The
Earthling figure who is most engaging to the Tralfamadorian mind, he says, is Charles
Darwin-who taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements.
So it goes.
The same general idea appears in The Big Board by Kilgore Trout. The flying saucer
creatures who capture Trout's hero ask him about Darwin. They also ask him about golf.
If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live
forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still-if I
am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I'm grateful that so many of
those moments are nice.
One of the nicest ones in recent times was on my trip back to Dresden with my old war
We took a Hungarian Airlines plane from East Berlin. The pilot had a handlebar
mustache. He looked like Adolph Menjou. He smoked a Cuban cigar while the plane was
being fueled. When we took off, there was no talk of fastening seat belts.
When we were up in the air, a young steward served us rye bread and salami and butter
and cheese and white wine. The folding tray in front of me would not open out. The
steward went into the cockpit for a tool, came back with a beer-can opener. He used it to
pry out the tray.
There were only six other passengers. They spoke many languages. They were having
nice times, too. East Germany was down below, and the lights were on. I imagined
dropping bombs on those lights, those villages and cities and towns.
O'Hare and I had never expected to make any money-and here we were now,
'If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming,� I said to him lazily, 'just ask for Wild Bob.�
O'Hare had a little notebook with him, and printed in the back of it were postal rates
and airline distances and the altitudes of famous mountains and other key facts about the
world. He was looking up the population of Dresden, which wasn't in the notebook, when
he came across this, which he gave me to read:
On an average, 324,000 new babies are born into the world every day. During that
same day, 10,000 persons, in an average, will have starved to death or died from
malnutrition. So it goes. In addition, 123,000 persons will die for other reasons. So it
goes. This leaves a net gain of about 191,000 each day in the world. The Population
Reference Bureau predicts that the world's total population will double to 7 ,000,000,000
before the year 2000.
'I suppose they will all want dignity,' I said.
'I suppose,' said O'Hare.
Billy Pilgrim was meanwhile traveling back to Dresden, too, but not in the present. He
was going back there in 1945, two days after the city was destroyed. Now Billy and the
rest were being marched into the ruins by their guards. I was there. O'Hare was there. We
had spent the past two nights in the blind innkeeper's stable. Authorities had found us
there. They told us what to do. We were to borrow picks and shovels and crowbars and
wheelbarrows from our neighbors. We were to march with these implements to such and
such a place in the ruins, ready to go to work.
There were barricades on the main roads leading into the ruins. Gennans were stopped
there. They were not permitted to explore the moon.
Prisoners of war from many lands came together that morning at such and such a place
in Dresden. It had been decreed that here was where the digging for bodies was to begin.
So the digging began.
Billy found himself paired as a digger with a Maori, who had been captured at Tobruk.
The Maori was chocolate brown. He had whirlpools tattooed on his forehead and his
cheeks. Billy and the Maori dug into the inert, unpromising gravel of the moon. The
materials were loose, so there were constant little avalanches.
Many holes were dug at once. Nobody knew yet what there was to find. Most holes
came to nothing-to pavement, or to boulders so huge they would not move. There was no
machinery. Not even horses or mules or oxen could cross the moonscape.
And Billy and the Maori and others helping them with their particular hole came at last
to a membrane of timbers laced over rocks which had wedged together to fonn an
accidental dome. They made a hole in the membrane. There was darkness and space
A German soldier with a flashlight went down into the darkness, was gone a long time.
When he finally came back, he told a superior on the rim of the hole that there were
dozens of bodies down there. They were sitting on benches. They were unmarked.
So it goes.
The superior said that the opening in the membrane should be enlarged, and that a
ladder should be put in the hole, so that bodies could be carried out. Thus began the first
corpse mine in Dresden.
There were hundreds of corpse mines operating by and by. They didn�t smell bad at
first, were wax museums. But then the bodies rotted and liquefied, and the stink was like
roses and mustard gas.
So it goes.
The Maori Billy had worked with died of the dry heaves, after having been ordered to
go down in that stink and work. He tore himself to pieces, throwing up and throwing up.
So it goes.
So a new technique was devised. Bodies weren't brought up any more. They were
cremated by soldiers with flamethrowers right where they were. The soldiers, stood
outside the shelters, simply sent the fire in.
Somewhere in there the poor old high school teacher, Edgar Derby, was caught with a
teapot he had taken from the catacombs. He was arrested for plundering. He was tried and
So it goes.
And somewhere in there was springtime. The corpse mines were closed down. The
soldiers all left to fight the Russians. In the suburbs, the women and children dug rifle
pits. Billy and the rest of his group were locked up in the stable in the suburbs. And then,
one morning, they got up to discover that the door was unlocked. The Second World War
in Europe was over.
Billy and the rest wandered out onto the shady street. The trees were leafing out. There
was nothing going on out there, no traffic of any kind. There was only one vehicle, an
abandoned wagon drawn by two horses. The wagon was green and coffin-shaped.
Birds were talking.
One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, 'Poo-tee-weet?'