It was a
beast. It weighed as much as a storage battery. Billy couldn�t carry it very far very easily,
which was why he was writing in the rumpus room instead of somewhere else.
The oil burner had quit. A mouse had eaten through the insulation of a wire leading to
the thennostat. The temperature in the house was down to fifty degrees, but Billy hadn�t
noticed. He wasn�t warmly dressed, either. He was barefoot, and still in his pajamas and a
bathrobe, though it was late afternoon. His bare feet were blue and ivory.
The cockles of Billy's heart, at any rate, were glowing coals. What made them so hot was
Billy's belief that he was going to comfort so many people with the truth about time. His
door chimes upstairs had been ringing and ringing. It was his daughter Barbara up there
wanting in. Now she let herself in with a key, crossed the floor over his head calling,
'Father? Daddy, where are you?� And so on.
Billy didn't answer her, so she was nearly hysterical, expecting to find his corpse. And
then she looked into the very last place there was to look-which was the rumpus room.
'Why didn�t you answer me when I called?� Barbara wanted to know, standing there in
the door of the rumpus room. She had the afternoon paper with her, the one in which
Billy described his friends from Tralfamadore.
�I didn�t hear you,' said Billy.
The orchestration of the moment was this: Barbara was only twenty-one years old, but
she thought her father was senile, even though he was only forty-six-senile because of
damage to his brain in the airplane crash. She also thought that she was head of the
family, since she had had to manage her mother's funeral, since she had to get a
housekeeper for Billy, and all that. Also, Barbara and her husband were having to look
after Billy's business interests, which were considerable, since Billy didn�t seem to give a
damn for business any more. All this responsibility at such an early age made her a bitchy
flibbertigibbet. And Billy, meanwhile, was trying to hang onto his dignity, to persuade
Barbara and everybody else that he was far from senile, that, on the contrary, he was
devoting himself to a calling much higher than mere business.
He was doing nothing less now, he thought, then prescribing corrective lenses for
Earthling souls. So many of those souls were lost and wretched, Billy believed, because
they could not see as well as his little green friends on Tralfamadore.
�Don�t lie to me, Father,' said Barbara. 'I know perfectly well you heard me when I
called.' This was a fairly pretty girl, except that she had legs like an Edwardian grand
piano. Now she raised hell with him about the letter in the paper. She said he was making
a laughing stock of himself and everybody associated with him.
'Father, Father, Father,' said Barbara, 'what are we going to do with you? Are you
going to force us to put you where your mother is?� Billy's mother was still alive. She was
in bed in an old people's home called Pine Knoll on the edge of Ilium.
'What is it about my letter that makes you so mad?' Billy wanted to know.
'It's all just crazy. None of it's true! '
'It's all true. � Bill's anger was not going to rise with hers. He never got mad at
anything. He was wonderful that way.
'There is no such planet as Tralfamadore.'
'It can�t be detected from Earth, if that's what you mean,' said Billy. 'Earth can't be
detected from Tralfamadore, as far as that goes. They're both very small. They're very far
'Where did you get a crazy name like "Tralfamadore?"'
'That's what the creatures who live there call it.
'Oh God,' said Barbara, and she turned her back on him. She celebrated frustration by
clapping her hands. 'May I ask you a simple question?'
'Why is it you never mentioned any of this before the airplane crash?�
'I didn�t think the time was ripe.'
And so on. Billy says that he first came unstuck in time in 1944, long before his trip to
Tralfamadore. The Tralfamadorians didn�t have anything to do with his coming unstuck
They were simply able to give him insights into what was really going on.
Billy first came unstuck while the Second World War was in progress. Billy was a
chaplain's assistant in the war. A chaplain�s assistant is customarily a figure of fun in the
American Anny. Billy was no exception. He was powerless to harm the enemy or to help
his friends. In fact, he had no friends. He was a valet to a preacher, expected no
promotions or medals, bore no arms, and had a meek faith in a loving Jesus which most
soldiers found putrid.
While on maneuvers in South Carolina, Billy played hymns he knew from childhood,
played them on a little black organ which was waterproof. It had thirty-nine keys and two
stops-vax humana and vox celeste. Billy also had charge of a portable altar, an olive-drab
attache case with telescoping legs. It was lined with crimson plush, and nestled in that
passionate plush were an anodized aluminum cross and a Bible.
The altar and the organ were made by a vacuum-cleaner company in Camden, New
Jersey-and said so.
One time on maneuvers Billy was playing 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,' with music
by Johann Sebastian Bach and words by Martin Luther. It was Sunday morning. Billy and
his chaplain had gathered a congregatation of about fifty soldiers on a Carolina hillside.
An umpire appeared. There were umpires everywhere, men who said who was winning
or losing the theoretical battle, who was alive and who was dead.
The umpire had comical news. The congregation had been theoretically spotted from
the air by a theoretical enemy. They were all theoretically dead now. The theoretical
corpses laughed and ate a hearty noontime meal.
Remembering this incident years later, Billy was struck by what a Tralfamadorian
adventure with death that had been, to be dead and to eat at the same time.
Toward the end of maneuvers., Billy was given an emergency furlough home because
his father, a barber in Ilium, New York, was shot dead by a friend while they were out
hunting deer. So it goes.
When Billy got back from his furlough., there were orders for him to go overseas. He
was needed in the headquarters company of an infantry regiment fighting in
Luxembourg. The regimental chaplain's assistant had been killed in action. So it goes.
When Billy joined the regiment, it was in the process of being destroyed by the
Germans in the famous Battle of the Bulge. Billy never even got to meet the chaplain he
was supposed to assist, was never even issued a steel helmet and combat boots. This was
in December of 1944, during the last mighty German attack of the war.
Billy survived, but he was a dazed wanderer far behind the new German lines. Three
other wanderers, not quite so dazed, allowed Billy to tag along. Two of them were scouts,
and one was an antitank gunner. They were without food or maps. Avoiding Germans
they were delivering themselves into rural silences ever more profound. They ate snow.
They went Indian file. First came the scouts, clever, graceful quiet. They had rifles.
Next came the antitank gunner, clumsy and dense, warning Gennans away with a Colt
.45 automatic in one hand and a trench knife in the other.
Last came Billy Pilgrim, empty-handed, bleakly ready for death. Billy was
Preposterous-six feet and three inches tall, with a chest and shoulders like a box of
kitchen matches. He had no helmet, no overcoat, no weapon and no boots. On his feet
were cheap, low-cut civilian shoes which he had bought for his father's funeral. Billy had
lost a heel, which made him bob up-and-down, up-and-down. The involuntary dancing up
and down, up and down, made his hip joints sore.
Billy was wearing a thin field jacket, a shirt and trousers of scratchy wool, and long
underwear that was soaked with sweat. He was the only one of the four who had a beard.
It was a random, bristly beard, and some of the bristles were white, even though Billy
was only twenty-one years old. He was also going bald. Wind and cold and violent
exercise had turned his face crimson.
He didn�t look like a soldier at all. He looked like a filthy flamingo.
And on the third day of wandering, somebody shot at the four from far away-shot four
times as they crossed a narrow brick road. One shot was for the scouts. The next one was
for the antitank gunner, whose name was Roland Weary.
The third bullet was for the filthy flamingo, who stopped dead center in the road when
the lethal bee buzzed past his ear. Billy stood there politely, giving the marksman another
chance. It was his addled understanding of the rules of warfare that the marksman should
be given a second chance. The next shot missed Billy's kneecaps by inches, going end-
on-end, from the sound of it.
Roland Weary and the scouts were safe in a ditch, and Weary growled at Billy, 'Get
out of the road, you dumb motherfucker.� The last word was still a novelty in the speech
of white people in 1944. It was fresh and astonishing to Billy, who had never fucked
anybody-and it did its job. It woke him up and got him off the road.
'Saved your life again, you dumb bastard,� Weary said to Billy in the ditch. He had
been saving Billy's life for days, cursing him, kicking him, slapping him, making him
move. It was absolutely necessary that cruelty be used, because Billy wouldn�t do
anything to save himself. Billy wanted to quit. He was cold, hungry, embarrassed,
incompetent. He could scarcely distinguish between sleep and wakefulness now, on the
third day, found no important differences either, between walking and standing still.
He wished everybody would leave him alone. 'You guys go on without me,� he said
again and again.
Weary was as new to war as Billy. He was a replacement, too. As a part of a gun crew,
he had helped to fire one shot in anger-from a 57-millimeter antitank gun. The gun made
a ripping sound like the opening of a zipper on the fly of God Almighty. The gun lapped
up snow and vegetation with a blowtorch feet long. The flame left a black arrow on the
ground, showing the Germans exactly where the gun was hidden. The shot was a miss.
What had been missed was a Tiger tank. It swiveled its 88-millimeter snout around
sniffingly, saw the arrow on the ground. It fired. It killed everybody on the gun crew but
Weary. So it goes.
Roland Weary was only eighteen, was at the end of an unhappy childhood spent
mostly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He had been unpopular in Pittsburgh. He had been
unpopular because he was stupid and fat and mean, and smelled like bacon no matter how
much he washed. He was always being ditched in Pittsburgh by people who did not want
him with them.
It made Weary sick to be ditched. When Weary was ditched, he would find somebody
who was even more unpopular than himself, and he would horse around with that person
for a while, pretending to be friendly. And then he would find some pretext for beating
the shit out of him.
It was a pattern. It was a crazy, sexy, murderous relationship Weary entered into with
people he eventually beat up. He told hem about his father's collection of guns and
swords and torture instruments and leg irons and so on. Weary's father, who was a
plumber, actually did collect such things, and his collection was insured for four thousand
dollars. He wasn�t alone. He belonged to a big club composed of people who collected
things like that.
Weary's father once gave Weary's mother a Spanish thumbscrew in� working
condition� for a kitchen paperweight. Another time he gave her a table lamp whose base
was a model one foot high of the famous 'Iron Maiden of Nuremburg.� The real Iron
Maiden was a medieval torture instrument, a sort of boiler which was shaped like a
woman on the outside-and lined with spikes.
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