Slaughterhouse Five


It gave all the pleasure
that ice cream could give, without the stiffness and bitter coldness of ice cream.

Billy's home was empty. His daughter Barbara was about to get warned, and she and
his wife had gone downtown to pick out patterns for her crystal and silverware. There
was a note saying so on the kitchen table. There were no servants. People just weren�t
interested in careers in domestic service anymore. There wasn't a dog, either.

There used to be a dog named Spot, but he died. So it goes. Billy had liked Spot a lot,
and Spot had liked him.

Billy went up the carpeted stairway and into his and his wife's bedroom. The room had
flowered wallpaper. There was a double bed with a clock-radio on a table beside it. Also
on the table were controls for the electric blanket, and a switch to turn on a gentle
vibrator which was bolted to the springs of the box mattress. The trade name of the
vibrator was 'Magic Fingers.' The vibrator was the doctor's idea, too.

Billy took off his tri-focals and his coat and his necktie and his shoes, and he closed
the Venetian blinds and then the drapes, and he lay down on the outside of the coverlet.
But sleep would not come. Tears came instead. They seeped. Billy turned on the Magic
Fingers, and he was jiggled as he wept.

The doorchimes rang. Billy got off the bed and looked down through a window at the
front doorstep, to see if somebody important had come to call. There was a crippled man
down there, as spastic in space as Billy Pilgrim was in time. Convulsions made the man
dance flappingly all the time, made him change his expressions, too, as though he were
trying to imitate various famous movie stars.

Another cripple was ringing a doorbell across the street. He was on crutches. He had
only one leg. He was so jammed between his crutches that his shoulders hid his ears.

Billy knew what the cripples were up to: They were selling subscriptions to magazines
that would never come. People subscribed to them because the salesmen were so pitiful.
Billy had heard about this racket from a speaker at the Lions Club two weeks before� a
man from the Better Business Bureau. The man said that anybody who saw cripples
working a neighbourhood for magazine subscriptions should call the police.

Billy looked down the street, saw a new, Buick Riviera parked about half a block
away. There was a man in it, and Billy assumed correctly that he was the man who had
hired the cripples to do this thing. Billy went on weeping as he contemplated the cripples
and their boss. His doorchimes clanged hellishly.

He closed his eyes, and opened them again. He was still weeping, but he was back in
Luxembourg again. He was marching with a lot of other prisoners. It was a winter wind
that was bringing tears to his eyes.

Ever since Billy had been thrown into shrubbery for the sake of the picture, he had
been seeing Saint Elmo's fire, a sort of electronic radiance around the heads of his
companions and captors. It was in the treetops and on the rooftops of Luxembourg, too. It
was beautiful.

Billy was marching with his hands on top of his head, and so were all the other
Americans. Billy was bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down. Now he crashed into Roland
Weary accidentally. 'I beg your pardon,� he said.

Weary's eyes were tearful also. Weary was crying because of horrible pains in his feet.
The hinged clogs were transforming his feet into blood puddings.

At each road intersection Billy's group was joined by more Americans with their hands
on top of their haloed heads. Billy had smiled for them all. They were moving like water,
downhill all the time, and they flowed at last to a main highway on a valley's floor.
Through the valley flowed a Mississippi of humiliated Americans. Tens of thousands of
Americans shuffled eastward, their hands clasped on top of their heads. They sighed and

Billy and his group joined the river of humiliation, and the late afternoon sun came out
from the clouds. The Americans didn�t have the road to themselves. The west-bound lane
boiled and boomed with vehicles which were rushing German reserves to the front. The
reserves were violent, windbumed, bristly men. They had teeth like piano keys.

They were festooned with machine-gun belts, smoked cigars, and guzzled booze. They
took wolfish bites from sausages, patted their horny palms with potato-masher grenades.

One soldier in black was having a drunk herd's picnic all by himself on top of a tank.
He spit on the Americans. The spit hit Roland Weary's shoulder, gave Weary a
fourragiere of snot and blutwurst and tobacco juice, and Schnapps.

Billy found the afternoon stingingly exciting. There was so much to see-dragon�s teeth,
killing machine, corpses with bare feet that were blue and ivory. So it goes.

Bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down, Billy beamed lovingly at a bright lavender
farmhouse that had been spattered with machine-gun bullets. Standing in its cock-eyed
doorway was a Gennan colonel. With him was his unpainted whore.

Billy crashed into Weary's shoulder, and Weary cried out sobbingly. 'Walk right! Walk

They were climbing a gentle rise now. When they reached the top, they weren't in
Luxembourg any more. They were in Germany.

A motion-picture camera was set up at the border-to record the fabulous victory. Two
civilians in bearskin coats were leaning on the camera when Billy and Weary came by.
They had run out of film hours ago.

One of them singled out Billy's face for a moment, then focused at infinity again.
There was a tiny plume of smoke at infinity. There was a battle there. People were dying
there. So it goes.

And the sun went down, and Billy found himself bobbing in place in a railroad yard.
There were rows and rows of boxcars waiting. They had brought reserves to the front.
Now they were going to take prisoners into Gennany's interior.

Flashlight beams danced crazily.

The Germans sorted out the prisoners according to rank. They put sergeants with
sergeants, majors with majors, and so on. A squad of full colonels was halted near Billy.
One of them had double pneumonia. He had a high fever and vertigo. As the railroad yard
dipped and swooped around the colonel, he tried to hold himself steady by staring into
Billy's eyes.

The colonel coughed and coughed, and then he said to Billy, 'You one of my boys?'
This was a man who had lost an entire regiment, about forty-five hundred men-a lot of
them children, actually. Billy didn�t reply. The question made no sense.

'What was your outfit?' said the colonel. He coughed and coughed. Every time he
inhaled his lungs rattled like greasy paper bags.

Billy couldn�t remember the outfit he was from.

'You from the Four-fifty-first?'

'Four-fifty-first what?' said Billy.

There was a silence. 'Infantry regiment,' said the colonel at last.

'Oh,' said Billy Pilgrim.

There was another long silence, with the colonel dying and dying, drowning where he
stood. And then he cried out wetly, 'It's me, boys! It's Wild Bob!� That is what he had
always wanted his troops to call him: 'Wild Bob.�

None of the people who could hear him were actually from his regiment, except for
Roland Weary, and Weary wasn't listening. All Weary could think of was the agony in
his own feet.

But the colonel imagined that he was addressing his beloved troops for the last time,
and he told them that they had nothing to be ashamed of, that there were dead Gennans
all over the battlefield who wished to God that they had never heard of the Four-fifty-
first. He said that after the war he was going to have a regimental reunion in his home
town, which was Cody, Wyoming. He was going to barbecue whole steers.

He said all this while staring into Billy's eyes. He made the inside of poor Bill's skull
echo with balderdash. 'God be with you, boys!' he said, and that echoed and echoed. And
then he said. 'If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming, just ask for Wild Bob!' I was there. So
was my old war buddy, Bernard V. O'Hare.

Billy Pilgrim was packed into a boxcar with many other privates. He and Roland
Weary were separated. Weary was packed into another car in the same train.

There were narrow ventilators at the comers of the car, under the eaves. Billy stood by
one of these, and, as the crowd pressed against him, he climbed part way up a diagonal
comer brace to make more room. He placed his eyes on a level with the ventilator, so he
could see another train about ten yards away.

Germans were writing on the cars with blue chalk-the number of persons in each car,
their rank, their nationality, the date on which they had been put aboard. Other Germans
were securing the hasps on the car doors with wire and spikes and other trackside trash.
Billy could hear somebody writing on his car, too, but he couldn�t see who was doing it.

Most of the privates on Billy's car were very young-at the end of childhood. But
crammed into the comer with Billy was a former hobo who was forty years old.

'I been hungrier than this,� the hobo told Billy. 'I been in worse places than this. This
ain't so bad.'

A man in a boxcar across the way called out through the ventilator that a man had just
died in there. So it goes. There were four guards who heard him. They weren�t excited by
the news.

'Yo, yo,' said one, nodding dreamily. 'Yo, yo.'

And the guards didn�t open the car with the dead man in it. They opened the next car
instead, and Billy Pilgrim was enchanted by what was in there. It was like heaven. There
was candlelight, and there were bunks with quilts and blankets heaped on them. There
was a cannonball stove with a steaming coffeepot on top. There was a table with a bottle
of wine and a loaf of bread and a sausage on it. There were four bowls of soup.

There were pictures of castles and lakes and pretty girls on the walls. This was the
rolling home of the railroad guards, men whose business it was to be forever guarding
freight rolling from here to there. The four guards went inside and closed the door.

A little while later they came out smoking cigars, talking contentedly in the mellow
lower register of the German language. One of them saw Billy's face at the ventilator. He
wagged a linger at him in affectionate warning, telling him to be a good boy.

The Americans across the way told the guards again about the dead man on their car.
The guards got a stretcher out of their own cozy car, opened the dead man�s car and went
inside. The dead man's car wasn�t crowded at all. There were just six live colonels in
there-and one dead one.

The Germans carried the corpse out. The corpse was Wild Bob. So it goes.

During the night, some of the locomotives began to tootle to one another, and then to
move. The locomotive and the last car of each train were marked with a striped banner of
orange and black, indicating that the train was not fair game for airplanes that it was
carrying prisoners of war.

The war was nearly over. The locomotives began to move east in late December. The
war would end in May. Gennan prisons everywhere were absolutely full, and there was
no longer any food for the prisoners to eat, and no longer any fuel to keep them warm.
And yet� here came more prisoners.

Billy Pilgrim�s train, the longest train of all, did not move for two days.

�This ain�t bad,� the hobo told Billy on the second day. �This ain't nothing at all.�

Billy looked out through the ventilator. The railroad yard was a desert now, except for
a hospital train marked with red crosses-on a siding far, far away. Its locomotive
whistled. The locomotive of Billy Pilgrim�s train whistled back. They were saying,

Even though Billy's train wasn't moving.,

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