He had been wounded four times-and patched up, and sent back to war.
He was a very good soldier- about to quit, about to find somebody to surrender to. His
bandy legs were thrust into golden cavalry boots which he had taken from a dead
Hungarian colonel on the Russian front. So it goes.
Those boots were almost all he owned in this world. They were his home. An
anecdote: One time a recruit was watching him bone and wax those golden boots, and he
held one up to the recruit and said, 'If you look in there deeply enough, you'll see Adam
Billy Pilgrim had not heard this anecdote. But, lying on the black ice there, Billy stared
into the patina of the corporal's boots, saw Adam and Eve in the golden depths. They
were naked. They were so innocent, so vulnerable, so eager to behave decently. Billy
Pilgrim loved them.
Next to the golden boots were a pair of feet which were swaddled in rags. They were
crisscrossed by canvas straps, were shod with hinged wooden clogs. Billy looked up at
the face that went with the clogs. It was the face of a blond angel of fifteen-year-old boy.
The boy was as beautiful as Eve.
Billy was helped to his feet by the lovely boy, by the heavenly androgyne. And the
others came forward to dust the snow off Billy., and then they searched him for weapons.
He didn�t have any. The most dangerous thing they found on his person was a two-inch
Three inoffensive bangs came from far away. They came from German rifles. The two
scouts who had ditched Billy and Weary had just been shot. They had been lying in
ambush for Germans. They had been discovered and shot from behind. Now they were
dying in the snow, feeling nothing, turning the snow to the color of raspberry sherbet. So
it goes. So Roland Weary was the last of the Three Musketeers.
And Weary, bug-eyed with terror, was being disanned. The corporal gave Weary's
pistol to the pretty boy. He marveled at Weary's cruel trench knife, said in German that
Weary would no doubt like to use the knife on him, to tear his face off with the spiked
knuckles, to stick the blade into his belly or throat. He spoke no English, and Billy and
Weary understood no German.
"Nice playthings you have", the corporal told Weary, and he handed the knife to an old
man. "Isn�t that a pretty thing? Hinmin?"
He tore open Weary's overcoat and blouse. Brass buttons flew like popcorn. The
corporal reached into Weary's gaping bosom as though he meant to tear out his pounding
heart, but he brought out Weary's bulletproof Bible instead.
A bullet-proof Bible is a Bible small enough to be slipped into a soldier's breast
pocket, over his heart. It is sheathed in steel.
The corporal found the dirty picture of the woman and the pony in Weary's hip pocket.
"What a lucky pony, eh?" he said. "Hmmmm? Hmmmm? Don�t you wish you were that
pony?" He handed the picture to the other old man. "Spoils of war! It's all yours, you
Then he made Weary sit down in the snow and take off his combat boots, which he
gave to the beautiful boy. He gave Weary, the boy's clogs. So Weary and Billy were both
without decent military footwear now' and they had to walk for miles and miles, with
Weary's clogs clacking, with Billy bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down, crashing into
Weary from time to time.
"Excuse me," Billy would say, or "I beg your pardon."
They were brought at last to a stone cottage at a fork in the road. It was a collecting
point for prisoners of war. Billy and Weary were taken inside, where it was warm and
smoky. There was a fire sizzling and popping in the fireplace. The fuel was furniture.
There were about twenty other Americans in there, sitting on the floor with their backs to
the wall, staring into the flames-thinking whatever there was to think, which was zero.
Nobody talked. Nobody had any good war stories to tell.
Billy and Weary found places for themselves, and Billy went to sleep with his head on
the shoulder of an unprotesting captain. The captain was a chaplain. He was a rabbi. He
had been shot through the hand.
Billy traveled in time, opened his eyes, found himself staring into the glass eyes of a
jade green mechanical owl. The owl was hanging upside down from a rod of stainless
steel. The owl was Billy's optometer in his office in Ilium. An optometer is an instrument
for measuring refractive errors in eyes-in order that corrective lenses may be prescribed.
Billy had fallen asleep while examining a female patient who was m a chair on the
other side of the owl. He had fallen asleep at work before. It had been funny at first. Now
Billy was starting to get worried about it, about his mind in general. He tried to remember
how old he was, couldn�t. He tried to remember what year it was. He couldn�t remember
'Doctor,' said the patient tentatively.
'Hm?' he said.
'You're so quiet.�
'You were talking away there-and then you got so quiet'
'You see something terrible?' 'Terrible?'
'Some disease in my eyes?'
'No, no,' said Billy, wanting to doze again. 'Your eyes are fine. You just need glasses
for reading.� He told her to go across the corridor-to see the wide selection of frames
When she was gone, Billy opened the drapes and was no wiser as to what was outside.
The view was still blocked by a Venetian blind., which he hoisted clatteringly. Bright
sunlight came crashing in. There were thousands of parked automobiles out there,
twinkling on a vast lake of blacktop. Billy's office was part of a suburban shopping
Right outside the window was Billy's own Cadillac El Dorado Coupe de Ville. He read
the stickers on the bumper. 'Visit Ausable Chasm,� said one. 'Support Your Police
Department,' said another. There was a third. 'Impeach Earl Warren� it said. The stickers
about the police and Earl Warren were gifts from Billy's father-in-law, a member of the
John Birch Society. The date on the license plate was 1967, which would make Billy
Pilgrim forty-four years old. He asked himself this: 'Where have all the years gone?'
Billy turned his attention to his desk. There was an open copy of The Review of
Optometry there. It was opened to an editorial, which Billy now read, his lips moving
What happens in 1968 will rule the fare of European optometrists for at least 50
years! Billy read. With this warning, Jean Thiriart, Secretary of the National Union of
Belgium Opticians, is pressing for formation of a European Optometry Society. ' The
alternatives, he says, will be the obtaining of Professional status, or, by 1971, reduction
to the role of spectacle-sellers.
Billy Pilgrim tried hard to care.
A siren went off, scared the hell out of him. He was expecting the Third World War at
any time. The siren was simply announcing high noon. It was housed in a cupola atop a
firehouse across the street from Billy's office.
Billy closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was back in the Second World War
again. His head was on the wounded rabbi's shoulder. A Gennan was kicking his feet,
telling him to wake up, that it was time to move on.
The Americans, with Billy among them, formed a fools' parade on the road outside.
There was a photographer present, a Gennan war conespondent with a Leica. He took
pictures of Billy's and Roland Weary's feet. The picture was widely published two days
later as heartening evidence of how miserably equipped the American Army often was,
despite its reputation for being rich.
The photographer wanted something more lively, though, a picture of an actual
capture. So the guards staged one for him. They threw Billy into shrubbery. When Billy
came out of the shrubbery, his face wreathed in goofy good will, they menaced him with
their machine pistols, as though they were capturing him then.
Billy's smile as he came out of the shrubbery was at least as peculiar as Mona Lisa's,
for he was simultaneously on foot in Gennany in 1944 and riding his Cadillac in 1967.
Germany dropped away, and 1967 became bright and clear, free of interference from any
other time. Billy was on his way to a Lions Club luncheon meeting. It was a hot August,
but Billy's car was air-conditioned. He was stopped by a signal in the middle of Ilium's
black ghetto. The people who lived here hated it so much that they had burned down a lot
of it a month before. It was all they had, and they�d wrecked it. The neighborhood
reminded Billy of some of the towns he had seen in the war. The curbs and sidewalks
were crushed in many places, showing where the National Guard tanks and half-tracks
'Blood brother,' said a message written in pink paint on the side of a shattered grocery
There was a tap on Billy's car window. A black man was out there. He wanted to talk
about something. The light had changed. Billy did the simplest thing. He drove on.
Billy drove through a scene of even greater desolation. It looked like Dresden after it
was fire-bombed-like the surface of the moon. The house where Billy had grown up used
to be somewhere in what was so empty now. This was urban renewal. A new Ilium
Government Center and a Pavilion of the Arts and a Peace Lagoon and high-rise
apartment buildings were going up here soon.
That was all right with Billy Pilgrim.
The speaker at the Lions Club meeting was a major in the Marines. He said that
Americans had no choice but to keep fighting in Vietnam until they achieved victory or
until the Communists realized that they could not force their way of life on weak
countries. The major had been there on two separate tours of duty. He told of many
terrible and many wonderful things he had seen. He was in favor of increased bombings,
of bombing North Vietnam back into the Stone Age, if it refused to see reason.
Billy was not moved to protest the bombing of North Vietnam, did not shudder about
the hideous things he himself had seen bombing do. He was simply having lunch with
the Lions Club, of which he was past president now.
Billy had a framed prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping
going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living. A lot of patients who saw the
prayer on Billy's wall told him that it helped them to keep going, too. It went like this
GOD GRANT ME
THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT
THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE
TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN,
AND WISDOM ALWAYS
TO TELL THE
Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present and the
Now he was being introduced to the Marine major. The person who was performing
the introduction was telling the major that Billy was a veteran, and that Billy had a son
who was a sergeant in the Green Berets-in Vietnam.
The major told Billy that the Green Berets were doing a great job, and that he should
be proud of his son.
�I am. I certainly am,' said Billy Pilgrim.
He went home for a nap after lunch. He was under doctor's orders to take a nap every
day. The doctor hoped that this would relieve a complaint that Billy had: Every so often,
for no apparent reason, Billy Pilgrim would find himself weeping. Nobody had ever
caught Billy doing it. Only the doctor knew. It was an extremely quiet thing Billy did,
and not very moist.
Billy owned a lovely Georgian home in Ilium. He was rich as Croesus, something he
had never expected to be, not in a million years. He had five other optometrists working
for him in the shopping plaza location, and netted over sixty thousand dollars a year. In
addition, he owned a fifth of the new Holiday Inn out on Route 54, and half of three
Tastee-Freeze stands. Tastee-Freeze was a sort of frozen custard.
Back to Slaughterhouse Five book
Terms of Services
- Deborah Smith
- T. R. A. Lynch, Sr
- Steven Sills
- Clare Nonhebel
- J Rocci
- MontUHURU Mimia
- Miriam Mhlanga
- Flora Annie Webster Steel
- Mobashar Qureshi
- Megan Abbott
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- Charles Major
- Paulo Coelho
- Salman Rushdie
- Michael Brent Jones
Terms of Services