Slaughterhouse Five


PAGE 6




Her voice was nearly gone, so, in order to hear her, Billy had to put his ear right next to
her papery lips. She evidently had something very important to say.

'How ...?' she began, and she stopped. She was too tired. She hoped that she wouldn�t
have to say the rest of the sentence, and that Billy would finish it for her

But Billy had no idea what was on her mind. 'How what, Mother?' he prompted.

She swallowed hard, shed some tears. Then she gathered energy from all over her
ruined body, even from her toes and fingertips. At last she bad accumulated enough to
whisper this complete sentence:

'How did I get so oldl �

Billy's antique mother passed out, and Billy was led from the room by a pretty nurse.
The body of an old man covered by a sheet was wheeled by just as Billy entered the
corridor. The man had been a famous marathon runner in his day. So it goes. This was
before Billy had his head broken in an airplane crash, by the way-before he became so
vocal about flying saucers and traveling in time.

Billy sat down in a waiting room. He wasn�t a widower yet. He sensed something hard
under the cushion of his overstuffed chair. He dug it out, discovered that it was a book,
The Execution of Private Slovik, by William Bradford Huie. It was a true account of the



death before an American firing squad of private Eddie D. Slovik, 36896415, the only
American soldier to be shot for cowardice since the Civil War. So it goes.

Billy read the opinion of a staff judge advocate who reviewed Slovik's case, which
ended like this: He has directly challenged the authority of the government, and future
discipline depends upon a resolute reply to this challenge. If the death penalty is ever to
be imposed for desertion, it should be imposed in this case, not as a punitive measure nor
as retribution, but to maintain that discipline upon which alone an army can succeed
against the enemy. There was no recommendation for clemency in the case and none is
here recommended. So it goes.

Billy bli nk ed in 1965, traveled in time to 1958. He was at a banquet in honour of a
Little League team of which his son Robert was a member. The coach, who had never
been married, was speaking. He was all choked up. 'Honest to God,� he was Saying, 'I'd
consider it an honor just to be water boy for these kids.'

Billy blinked in 1958, traveled in time to 1961. It was New Year's Eve, and Billy was
disgracefully drunk at a party where everybody was in optometry or married to an
optometrist.

Billy usually didn�t drink much, because the war had ruined his stomach, but he
certainly had a snootful now, and he was being unfaithful to his wife Valencia for the
first and only time. He had somehow persuaded a woman to come into the laundry room
of the house, and then sit up on the gas dryer, which was running.

The woman was very drunk herself, and she helped Billy get her girdle off. 'What was
it you wanted to talk about?' she said.

'It's all night,' said Billy. He honestly thought it was all right. He couldn�t remember the
name of the woman.

'How come they call you Billy instead of William?'

'Business reasons,' said Billy. That was true. His father-in-law, who owned the Ilium
School of Optometry, who had set Billy up in practice, was a genius in his field. He told
Billy to encourage people to call him Billy-because it would stick in their memories. It
would also make him seem slightly magical, since there weren�t any other grown Billys
around. It also compelled people to think of him as a friend right away.

Somewhere in there was an awful scene, with people expressing disgust for Billy and
the woman, and Billy found himself out in his automobile, trying to find the steering
wheel.

The main thing now was to find the steering wheel. At first, Billy windmilled his arms,
hoping to find it by luck. When that didn�t work, he became methodical, working in such
a way that the wheel could not possibly escape him. He placed himself hard against the
left-hand door, searched every square inch of the area before him. When he failed to find
the wheel, he moved over six inches, and searched again. Amazingly, he was eventually
hard against the right-hand door, without having found the wheel. He concluded that
somebody had stolen it. This angered him as he passed out.

He was in the back seat of his car, which was why he couldn�t find the steering wheel.



Now somebody was shaking Billy awake. Billy stiff felt drunk, was still angered by the
stolen steering wheel. He was back in the Second World War again, behind the German
lines. The person who was shaking him was Roland Weary. Weary had gathered the front
of Billy's field jacket into his hands. He banged Billy against a tree, then puffed him
away from it, flung him in the direction he was supposed to take under his own power.

Billy stopped, shook his head. 'You go on,� he said.

�What? �

'You guys go on without me. I'm all right.�

'You're what?'

'I'm O.K.�

'Jesus-I�d hate to see somebody sick,' said Weary, through five layers of humid scarf
from home. Lilly had never seen Weary's face. He had tried to imagine it one time, had
imagined a toad in a fishbowl.

Weary kicked and shoved Billy for a quarter of a mile. The scouts were waiting
between the banks of a frozen creek. They had heard the dog. They had heard men calling
back and forth, too-calling like hunters who had a pretty good idea of where their quarry
was.

The banks of the creek were high enough to allow the scouts, to stand without being
seen. Billy staggered down the bank ridiculously. After him came Weary, clanking and
clinking and tinkling and hot.

'Here he is, boys,' said Weary. 'He don�t want to live, but he's gonna live anyway.

When he gets out of this, by God, he's gonna owe his life to the Three Musketeers. �

Billy Pilgrim, there in the creekbed, thought he, Billy Pilgrim, was turning to steam
painlessly. If everybody would leave him alone for just a little while, he thought, he
wouldn't cause anybody any more trouble. He would turn to steam and float up among
the treetops.

Somewhere the big dog barked again. With the help of fear and echoes and winter
silences, that dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.

Roland Weary, eighteen years old, insinuated himself between the scouts, draped a
heavy arm around the shoulder of each. 'So what do the Three Musketeers do now?� he
said.

Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination. He was wearing dry, wann, white
sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor. Thousands cheered. This wasn�t
time-travel. It had never happened, never would happen. It was the craziness of a dying
young man with his shoes full of snow.

One scout hung his head, let spit fall from his lips. The other did the same. They
studied the infinitesimal effects of spit on snow and history. They were small, graceful
people. They had been behind Gennan lines before many times� living like woods
creatures, living from moment to moment in useful terror, thinking brainlessly with their
spinal cords.

Now they twisted out from under Weary's loving arms. They told Weary that he and
Billy had better find somebody to surrender to. The Scouts weren�t going to wait for them
any more.

And they ditched Weary and Billy in the creekbed.



Billy Pilgrim went on skating, doing tricks in sweat-socks, tricks that most people
would consider impossible-making turns, stopping on a dime and so on. The cheering
went on, but its tone was altered as the hallucination gave way to time-travel.

Billy stopped skating, found himself at a lectern in a Chinese restaurant in Ilium, New
York, on an early afternoon in the autumn of 1957. He was receiving a standing ovation
from the Lions Club. He had just been elected President, and it was necessary that he
speak. He was scared stiff, thought a ghastly mistake had been made. All those
prosperous, solid men out there would discover now that they had elected a ludicrous
waif. They would hear his reedy voice, the one he�d had in the war. He swallowed, knew
that all he -had for a voice box was a little whistle cut from a willow switch. Worse-he
had nothing to say. The crowd quieted down. Everybody was pink and beaming.

Billy opened his mouth, and out came a deep, resonant tone. His voice was a gorgeous
instrument. It told jokes which brought down the house. It grew serious, told jokes again,
and ended on a note of humility. The explanation of the miracle was this: Billy had taken
a course in public speaking.

And then he was back in the bed of the frozen creek again. Roland Weary was about to
beat the living shit out of him.

Weary was filled with a tragic wrath. He had been ditched again. He stuffed his pistol
into its holster. He slipped his kn ife into its scabbard. Its triangular blade and blood
gutters on all three faces. And then he shook Billy hard, rattled his skeleton, slammed
him against a bank.

Weary barked and whimpered through his layers of scarf from home. He spoke
unintelligibly of the sacrifices he had made on Billy's behalf. He dilated upon the piety
and heroism of 'The Three Musketeers,� portrayed, in the most glowing and impassioned
hues, their virtue and magnanimity, the imperishable honor they acquired for themselves,
and the great services they rendered to Christianity,

It was entirely Billy's fault that this fighting organization no longer existed, Weary felt,
and Billy was going to pay. Weary socked Billy a good one on the side of the jaw,
knocked Billy away from the bank and onto the snow-covered ice of the creek. Billy was
down on all fours on the ice, and Weary kicked him in the ribs, rolled him over on his
side. Billy tried to form himself into a ball.

'You shouldn�t even be in the Army,' said Weary.

Billy was involuntarily making convulsive sounds that were a lot like laughter. 'You
think it's funny, huh?� Weary inquired. He walked around to Billy's back. Billy's jacket
and shirt and undershirt had been hauled up around his shoulders by the violence, so his
back was naked. There, inches from the tips of Weary's combat boots, were the pitiful
buttons of Billy's spine.

Weary drew back his right boot, aimed a kick at the spine, at the tube which had so
many of Billy's important wires in it. Weary was going to break that tube.

But then Weary saw that he had an audience. Five Gennan soldiers and a police dog on
a leash were looking down into the bed of the creek. The soldiers' blue eyes were filled
with bleary civilian curiosity as to why one American would try to murder another one so
far from home, and why the victim should laugh.


Three



The Germans and the dog were engaged in a military operation which had an amusingly
self-explanatory name, a human enterprise which is seldom described in detail, whose
name alone, when reported as news or history, gives many war enthusiasts a sort of post-
coital satisfaction. It is, in the imagination of combat's fans, the divinely listless loveplay
that follows the orgasm of victory. It is called 'mopping up.'

The dog, who had sounded so ferocious in the winter distances, was a female German
shepherd. She was shivering. Her tail was between her legs. She had been borrowed that
morning from a farmer. She had never been to war before. She had no idea what game
was being played. Her mine was Princess.

Two of the Germans were boys in their early teens. Two were ramshackle old men�
droolers as toothless as carp. They were irregulars, anned and clothed fragmentarily with
junk taken from real soldiers who were newly dead. So it goes. They were farmers from
just across the German border, not far away.

Their commanander was a middle-aged corporal-red-eyed, scrawny, tough as dried
beef, sick of war.

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