Main Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel
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A true great. Vonnegut gets a bad rap sometimes as being boomer tier these days, but Slaughterhouse-Five really is a stellar work that weaves the fantastic with potent social and historical experience to make for a multidimensional commentary on the horrors of war, love, sanity, and society.
I am surprised that this one is not more banned and vilified than it is. No one must ever question WWII, after all. A very fun read that has a ton of laughs for the socially conscious in current year 20xx. Bet you feel like you're on Tralfamadore now locked in your house for an entire year for nothing.
I am surprised that this one is not more banned and vilified than it is. No one must ever question WWII, after all. A very fun read that has a ton of laughs for the socially conscious in current year 20xx. Bet you feel like you're on Tralfamadore now locked in your house for an entire year for nothing.
17 February 2021 (08:30)
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07 May 2021 (15:01)
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13 May 2021 (20:10)
A great book on the futility of war and the greatness of the human spirit. Everyone should read this.
20 May 2021 (20:56)
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25 May 2021 (07:15)
Hunting of the Snark
If you like this, you'd definitely like How to Be a Motherfucking Pimp by Dazzle Razzle
04 June 2021 (05:41)
From the Pit to the Pendulum
agree with the above. Dazzle Razzle is the master
11 June 2021 (13:04)
AMERICA’S GREATEST SATIRIST KURT VONNEGUT IS… “UNIQUE … one of the writers who map our landscapes for us, who give names to the places we know best.” —DORIS LESSING The New York Times Book Review “OUR FINEST BLACK HUMORIST…. We laugh in self-defense.” —The Atlantic Monthly “AN UNIMITATIVE AND INIMITABLE SOCIAL SATIRIST.” —Harper’s Magazine “A MEDICINE MAN, CONJURING UP FANTASIES TO WARN THE WORLD.” —The Charlotte Observer “A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION.” —Chicago Sun-Times “A LAUGHING PROPHET OF DOOM.” —The New York Times OTHER BOOKS BY KURT VONNEGUT A Man Without a Country Armageddon in Retrospect Bagombo Snuff Box Between Time and Timbuktu Bluebeard Breakfast of Champions Canary in a Cat House Cat’s Cradle Deadeye Dick Fates Worse Than Death Galápagos God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater Happy Birthday, Wanda June Hocus Pocus Jailbird Like Shaking Hands with God (with Lee Stringer) Mother Night Palm Sunday Player Piano The Sirens of Titan Slapstick Slaughterhouse-Five Timequake Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons Welcome to the Monkey House For Mary O’Hare and Gerhard Mutter The cattle are lowing, The Baby awakes. But the little Lord Jesus No crying He makes. 1 ALL THIS HAPPENED, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names. I really did go back to Dresden with Guggenheim money (God love it) in 1967. It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground. I went back there with an old war buddy, Bernard V. O’Hare, and we made friends with a cab driver, who took us to the slaughterhouse where we had been locked up at night as prisoners of war. His name was Gerhard Müller. He told us that he was a prisoner of the Ameri; cans for a while. We asked him how it was to live under Communism, and he said that it was terrible at first, because everybody had to work so hard, and because there wasn’t much shelter or food or clothing. But things were much better now. He had a pleasant little apartment, and his daughter was getting an excellent education. His mother was incinerated in the Dresden fire-storm. So it goes. He sent O’Hare a postcard at Christmastime, and here is what it said: “I wish you and your family also as to your friend Merry Christmas and a happy New Year and I hope that we’ll meet again in a world of peace and freedom in the taxi cab if the accident will.” I like that very much: “If the accident will.” I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big. But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then—not enough of them to make a book, anyway. And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls, with his sons full grown. I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick: There was a young man from Stamboul, Who soliloquized thus to his tool: “You took all my wealth And you ruined my health, And now you won’t pee, you old fool.” And I’m reminded, too, of the song that goes: My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in a lumbermill there. The people I meet when I walk down the street, They say, “What’s your name?” And I say, My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin …” And so on to infinity. Over the years, people I’ve met have often asked me what I’m working on, and I’ve usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden. I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, “Is it an anti-war book?” “Yes,” I said. “I guess.” “You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?” “No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?” “I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?’” What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too. And even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death. When I was somewhat younger, working on my famous Dresden book, I asked an old war buddy named Bernard V. O’Hare if I could come to see him. He was a district attorney in Pennsylvania. I was a writer on Cape Cod. We had been privates in the war, infantry scouts. We had never expected to make any money after the war, but we were doing quite well. I had the Bell Telephone Company find him for me. They are wonderful that way. I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses. And then, speaking gravely and elegantly into the telephone, I ask the telephone operators to connect me with this friend or that one, from whom I have not heard in years. I got O’Hare on the line in this way. He is short and I am tall. We were Mutt and Jeff in the war. We were captured together in the war. I told him who I was on the telephone. He had no trouble believing it. He was up. He was reading. Everybody else in his house was asleep. “Listen—” I said, “I’m writing this book about Dresden. I’d like some help remembering stuff. I wonder if I could come down and see you, and we could drink and talk and remember.” He was unenthusiastic. He said he couldn’t remember much. He told me, though, to come ahead. “I think the climax of the book will be the execution of poor old Edgar Derby,” I said. “The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he’s given a regular trial, and then he’s shot by a firing squad.” “Um,” said O’Hare. “Don’t you think that’s really where the climax should come?” “I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “That’s your trade, not mine.” As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times. The best outline I ever made, or anyway the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper. I used my daughter’s crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle. And the blue line met the red line and then the yellow line, and the yellow line stopped because the character represented by the yellow line was dead. And so on. The destruction of Dresden was represented by a vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed through it, came out the other side. The end, where all the lines stopped, was a beetfield on the Elbe, outside of Halle. The rain was coming down. The war in Europe had been over for a couple of weeks. We were formed in ranks, with Russian soldiers guarding us—Englishmen, Americans, Dutchmen, Belgians, Frenchmen, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians, thousands of us about to stop being prisoners of war. And on the other side of the field were thousands of Russians and Poles and Yugoslavians and so on guarded by American soldiers. An exchange was made there in the rain—one for one. O’Hare and I climbed into the back of an American truck with a lot of others. O’Hare didn’t have any souvenirs. Almost everybody else did. I had a ceremonial Luftwaffe saber, still do. The rabid little American I call Paul Lazzaro in this book had about a quart of diamonds and emeralds and rubies and so on. He had taken these from dead people in the cellars of Dresden. So it goes. An idiotic Englishman, who had lost all his teeth somewhere, had his souvenir in a canvas bag. The bag was resting on my insteps. He would peek into the bag every now and then, and he would roll his eyes and swivel his scrawny neck, trying to catch people looking covetously at his bag. And he would bounce the bag on my insteps. I thought this bouncing was accidental. But I was mistaken. He had to show somebody what was in the bag, and he had decided he could trust me. He caught my eye, winked, opened the bag. There was a plaster model of the Eiffel Tower in there. It was painted gold. It had a clock in it. “There’s a smashin’ thing,” he said. And we were flown to a rest camp in France, where we were fed chocolate malted milkshakes and other rich foods until we were all covered with baby fat. Then we were sent home, and I married a pretty girl who was covered with baby fat, too. And we had babies. And they’re all grown up now, and I’m an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls. My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in a lumbermill there. Sometimes I try to call up old girl friends on the telephone late at night, after my wife has gone to bed. “Operator, I wonder if you could give me the number of a Mrs. So-and-So. I think she lives at such-and-such.” “I’m sorry, sir. There is no such listing.” “Thanks, Operator. Thanks just the same.” And I let the dog out, or I let him in, and we talk some. I let him know I like him, and he lets me know he likes me. He doesn’t mind the smell of mustard gas and roses. “You’re all right, Sandy,” I’ll say to the dog. “You know that, Sandy? You’re O.K.” Sometimes I’ll turn on the radio and listen to a talk program from Boston or New York. I can’t stand recorded music if I’ve been drinking a good deal. Sooner or later I go to bed, and my wife asks me what time it is. She always has to know the time. Sometimes I don’t know, and I say, “Search me.” I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still. Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, “You know—you never wrote a story with a villain in it.” I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war. While I was studying to be an anthropologist, I was also working as a police reporter for the famous Chicago City News Bureau for twenty-eight dollars a week. One time they switched me from the night shift to the day shift, so I worked sixteen hours straight. We were supported by all the newspapers in town, and the AP and the UP and all that. And we would cover the courts and the police stations and the Fire Department and the Coast Guard out on Lake Michigan and all that. We were connected to the institutions that supported us by means of pneumatic tubes which ran under the streets of Chicago. Reporters would telephone in stories to writers wearing headphones, and the writers would stencil the stories on mimeograph sheets. The stories were mimeographed and stuffed into the brass and velvet cartridges which the pneumatic tubes ate. The very toughest reporters and writers were women who had taken over the jobs of men who’d gone to war. And the first story I covered I had to dictate over the telephone to one of those beastly girls. It was about a young veteran who had taken a job running an old-fashioned elevator in an office building. The elevator door on the first floor was ornamental iron lace. Iron ivy snaked in and out of the holes. There was an iron twig with two iron lovebirds perched upon it. This veteran decided to take his car into the basement, and he closed the door and started down, but his wedding ring was caught in all the ornaments. So he was hoisted into the air and the floor of the car went down, dropped out from under him, and the top of the car squashed him. So it goes. So I phoned this in, and the woman who was going to cut the stencil asked me, “What did his wife say?” “She doesn’t know yet,” I said. “It just happened.” “Call her up and get a statement.” “What?” “Tell her you’re Captain Finn of the Police Department. Say you have some sad news. Give her the news, and see what she says.” So I did. She said about what you would expect her to say. There was a baby. And so on. When I got back to the office, the woman writer asked me, just for her own information, what the squashed guy had looked like when he was squashed. I told her. “Did it bother you?” she said. She was eating a Three Musketeers Candy Bar. “Heck no, Nancy,” I said. “I’ve seen lots worse than that in the war.” Even then I was supposedly writing a book about Dresden. It wasn’t a famous air raid back then in America. Not many Americans knew how much worse it had been than Hiroshima, for instance. I didn’t know that, either. There hadn’t been much publicity. I happened to tell a University of Chicago professor at a cocktail party about the raid as I had seen it, about the book I would write. He was a member of a thing called The Committee on Social Thought. And he told me about the concentration camps, and about how the Germans had made soap and candles out of the fat of dead Jews and so on. All I could say was, “I know, I know. I know.” World War Two had certainly made everybody very tough. And I became a public relations man for General Electric in Schenectady, New York, and a volunteer fireman in the village of Alplaus, where I bought my first home. My boss there was one of the toughest guys I ever hope to meet. He had been a lieutenant colonel in public relations in Baltimore. While I was in Schenectady he joined the Dutch Reformed Church, which is a very tough church, indeed. He used to ask me sneeringly sometimes why I hadn’t been an officer, as though I’d done something wrong. My wife and I had lost our baby fat. Those were our scrawny years. We had a lot of scrawny veterans and their scrawny wives for friends. The nicest veterans in Schenectady, I thought, the kindest and funniest ones, the ones who hated war the most, were the ones who’d really fought. I wrote the Air Force back then, asking for details about the raid on Dresden, who ordered it, how many planes did it, why they did it, what desirable results there had been and so on. I was answered by a man who, like myself, was in public relations. He said that he was sorry, but that the information was top secret still. I read the letter out loud to my wife, and I said, “Secret? My God—from whom?” We were United World Federalists back then. I don’t know what we are now. Telephoners, I guess. We telephone a lot—or I do, anyway, late at night. A couple of weeks after I telephoned my old war buddy, Bernard V. O’Hare, I really did go to see him. That must have been in 1964 or so—whatever the last year was for the New York World’s Fair. Eheu, fugaces labuntur anni. My name is Yon Yonson. There was a young man from Stamboul. I took two little girls with me, my daughter, Nanny, and her best friend, Allison Mitchell. They had never been off Cape Cod before. When we saw a river, we had to stop so they could stand by it and think about it for a while. They had never seen water in that long and narrow, unsalted form before. The river was the Hudson. There were carp in there and we saw them. They were as big as atomic submarines. We saw waterfalls, too, streams jumping off cliffs into the valley of the Delaware. There were lots of things to stop and see—and then it was time to go, always time to go. The little girls were wearing white party dresses and black party shoes, so strangers would know at once how nice they were. “Time to go, girls,” I’d say. And we would go. And the sun went down, and we had supper in an Italian place, and then I knocked on the front door of the beautiful stone house of Bernard V. O’Hare. I was carrying a bottle of Irish whiskey like a dinner bell. I met his nice wife, Mary, to whom I dedicate this book. I dedicate it to Gerhard Müller, the Dresden taxi driver, too. Mary O’Hare is a trained nurse, which is a lovely thing for a woman to be. Mary admired the two little girls I’d brought, mixed them in with her own children, sent them all upstairs to play games and watch television. It was only after the children were gone that I sensed that Mary didn’t like me or didn’t like something about the night. She was polite but chilly. “It’s a nice cozy house you have here,” I said, and it really was. “I’ve fixed up a place where you can talk and not be bothered,” she said. “Good,” I said, and I imagined two leather chairs near a fire in a paneled room, where two old soldiers could drink and talk. But she took us into the kitchen. She had put two straight-backed chairs at a kitchen table with a white porcelain top. That table top was screaming with reflected light from a two-hundred-watt bulb overhead. Mary had prepared an operating room. She put only one glass on it, which was for me. She explained that O’Hare couldn’t drink the hard stuff since the war. So we sat down. O’Hare was embarrassed, but he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. I couldn’t imagine what it was about me that could burn up Mary so. I was a family man. I’d been married only once. I wasn’t a drunk. I hadn’t done her husband any dirt in the war. She fixed herself a Coca-Cola, made a lot of noise banging the ice-cube tray in the stainless steel sink. Then she went into another part of the house. But she wouldn’t sit still. She was moving all over the house, opening and shutting doors, even moving furniture around to work off anger. I asked O’Hare what I’d said or done to make her act that way. “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t have anything to do with you.” That was kind of him. He was lying. It had everything to do with me. So we tried to ignore Mary and remember the war. I took a couple of belts of the booze I’d brought. We would chuckle or grin sometimes, as though war stories were coming back, but neither one of us could remember anything good. O’Hare remembered one guy who got into a lot of wine in Dresden, before it was bombed, and we had to take him home in a wheelbarrow. It wasn’t much to write a book about. I remembered two Russian soldiers who had looted a clock factory. They had a horse-drawn wagon full of clocks. They were happy and drunk. They were smoking huge cigarettes they had rolled in newspaper. That was about it for memories, and Mary was still making noise. She finally came out in the kitchen again for another Coke. She took another tray of ice cubes from the refrigerator, banged it in the sink, even though there was already plenty of ice out. Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. “You were just babies then!” she said. “What?” I said. “You were just babies in the war—like the ones upstairs!” I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood. “But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation. “I—I don’t know,” I said. “Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.” So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies. So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: “Mary,” I said, “I don’t think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne. “I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it ‘The Children’s Crusade.’” She was my friend after that. O’Hare and I gave up on remembering, went into the living room, talked about other things. We became curious about the real Children’s Crusade, so O’Hare looked it up in a book he had, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, LL. D. It was first published in London in 1841. Mackay had a low opinion of all Crusades. The Children’s Crusade struck him as only slightly more sordid than the ten Crusades for grown-ups. O’Hare read this handsome passage out loud: History in her solemn page informs us that the crusaders were but ignorant and savage men, that their motives were those of bigotry unmitigated, and that their pathway was one of blood and tears. Romance, on the other hand, dilates upon their piety and heroism, and portrays, in her most glowing and impassioned hues, their virtue and magnanimity, the imperishable honor they acquired for themselves, and the great services they rendered to Christianity. And then O’Hare read this: Now what was the grand result of all these struggles? Europe expended millions of her treasures, and the blood of two million of her people; and a handful of quarrelsome knights retained possession of Palestine for about one hundred years! Mackay told us that the Children’s Crusade started in 1213, when two monks got the idea of raising armies of children in Germany and France, and selling them in North Africa as slaves. Thirty thousand children volunteered, thinking they were going to Palestine. They were no doubt idle and deserted children who generally swarm in great cities, nurtured on vice and daring, said Mackay, and ready for anything. Pope Innocent the Third thought they were going to Palestine, too, and he was thrilled. “These children are awake while we are asleep!” he said. Most of the children were shipped out of Marseilles, and about half of them drowned in shipwrecks. The other half got to North Africa where they were sold. Through a misunderstanding, some children reported for duty at Genoa, where no slave ships were waiting. They were fed and sheltered and questioned kindly by good people there—then given a little money and a lot of advice and sent back home. “Hooray for the good people of Genoa,” said Mary O’Hare. I slept that night in one of the children’s bedrooms. O’Hare had put a book for me on the bedside table. It was Dresden, History, Stage and Gallery, by Mary Endell. It was published in 1908, and its introduction began: It is hoped that this little book will make itself useful. It attempts to give to an English-reading public a bird’s-eye view of how Dresden came to look as it does, architecturally; of how it expanded musically, through the genius of a few men, to its present bloom; and it calls attention to certain permanent landmarks in art that make its Gallery the resort of those seeking lasting impressions. I read some history further on: Now, in 1760, Dresden underwent siege by the Prussians. On the fifteenth of July began the cannonade. The Picture-Gallery took fire. Many of the paintings had been transported to the Königstein, but some were seriously injured by splinters of bombshells,—notably Francia’s “Baptism of Christ.” Furthermore, the stately Kreuzkirche tower, from which the enemy’s movements had been watched day and night, stood in flames. It later succumbed. In sturdy contrast with the pitiful fate of the Kreuzkirche, stood the Frauenkirche, from the curves of whose stone dome the Prussian bombs rebounded like rain. Friederich was obliged finally to give up the siege, because he learned of the fall of Glatz, the critical point of his new conquests. “We must be off to Silesia, so that we do not lose everything.” The devastation of Dresden was boundless. When Goethe as a young student visited the city, he still found sad ruins: “Von der Kuppel der Frauenkirche sah ich diese leidigen Trümmer zwischen die schöne städtische Ordnung hineingesät; da rühmte mir der Küster die Kunst des Baumeisters, welcher Kirche und Kuppel auf einen so unerwünschten Fall schon eingerichtet und bombenfest erbaut hatte. Der gute Sakristan deutete mir alsdann auf Ruinene nach allen Seiten und sagte bedenklich lakonisch: Das hat der Feind gethan!” The two little girls and I crossed the Delaware River where George Washington had crossed it, the next morning. We went to the New York World’s Fair, saw what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors. And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep. I taught creative writing in the famous Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa for a couple of years after that. I got into some perfectly beautiful trouble, got out of it again. I taught in the afternoons. In the mornings I wrote. I was not to be disturbed. I was working on my famous book about Dresden. And somewhere in there a nice man named Seymour Lawrence gave me a three-book contract, and I said, “O.K., the first of the three will be my famous book about Dresden.” The friends of Seymour Lawrence call him “Sam.” And I say to Sam now: “Sam—here’s the book.” It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?” I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee. I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that. As I’ve said: I recently went back to Dresden with my friend O’Hare. We had a million laughs in Hamburg and West Berlin and East Berlin and Vienna and Salzburg and Helsinki, and in Leningrad, too. It was very good for me, because I saw a lot of authentic backgrounds for made-up stories which I will write later on. One of them will be “Russian Baroque” and another will be “No Kissing” and another will be “Dollar Bar” and another will be “If the Accident Will,” and so on. And so on. There was a Lufthansa plane that was supposed to fly from Philadelphia to Boston to Frankfurt. O’Hare was supposed to get on in Philadelphia and I was supposed to get on in Boston, and off we’d go. But Boston was socked in, so the plane flew straight to Frankfurt from Philadelphia. And I became a non-person in the Boston fog, and Lufthansa put me in a limousine with some other non-persons and sent us to a motel for a non-night. The time would not pass. Somebody was playing with the clocks, and not only with the electric clocks, but the wind-up kind, too. The second hand on my watch would twitch once, and a year would pass, and then it would twitch again. There was nothing I could do about it. As an Earthling, I had to believe whatever clocks said—and calendars. I had two books with me, which I’d meant to read on the plane. One was Words for the Wind, by Theodore Roethke, and this is what I found in there: I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go. My other book was Erika Ostrovsky’s Céline and His Vision. Céline was a brave French soldier in the First World War—until his skull was cracked. After that he couldn’t sleep, and there were noises in his head. He became a doctor, and he treated poor people in the daytime, and he wrote grotesque novels all night. No art is possible without a dance with death, he wrote. The truth is death, he wrote. I’ve fought nicely against it as long as I could … danced with it, festooned it, waltzed it around … decorated it with streamers, titillated it … Time obsessed him. Miss Ostrovsky reminded me of the amazing scene in Death on the Installment Plan where Céline wants to stop the bustling of a street crowd. He screams on paper, Make them stop … don’t let them move anymore at all … There, make them freeze … once and for all! … So that they won’t disappear anymore! I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. The sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. So it goes. Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better off without them. And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore. I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt. It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet? 2 LISTEN: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between. He says. Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next. Billy was born in 1922 in Ilium, New York, the only child of a barber there. He was a funny-looking child who became a funny-looking youth—tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola. He graduated from Ilium High School in the upper third of his class, and attended night sessions at the Ilium School of Optometry for one semester before being drafted for military service in the Second World War. His father died in a hunting accident during the war. So it goes. Billy saw service with the infantry in Europe, and was taken prisoner by the Germans. After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, Billy again enrolled in the Ilium School of Optometry. During his senior year there, he became engaged to the daughter of the founder and owner of the school, and then suffered a mild nervous collapse. He was treated in a veteran’s hospital near Lake Placid, and was given shock treatments and released. He married his fiancée, finished his education, and was set up in business in Ilium by his father-in-law. Ilium is a particularly good city for optometrists because the General Forge and Foundry Company is there. Every employee is required to own a pair of safety glasses, and to wear them in areas where manufacturing is going on. GF&F has sixty-eight thousand employees in Ilium. That calls for a lot of lenses and a lot of frames. Frames are where the money is. Billy became rich. He had two children, Barbara and Robert. In time, his daughter Barbara married another optometrist, and Billy set him up in business. Billy’s son Robert had a lot of trouble in high school, but then he joined the famous Green Berets. He straightened out, became a fine young man, and he fought in Vietnam. Early in 1968, a group of optometrists, with Billy among them, chartered an airplane to fly them from Ilium to an international convention of optometrists in Montreal. The plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, in Vermont. Everybody was killed but Billy. So it goes. While Billy was recuperating in a hospital in Vermont, his wife died accidentally of carbon-monoxide poisoning. So it goes. When Billy finally got home to Ilium after the airplane crash, he was quiet for a while. He had a terrible scar across the top of his skull. He didn’t resume practice. He had a housekeeper. His daughter came over almost every day. And then, without any warning, Billy went to New York City, and got on an all-night radio program devoted to talk. He told about having come unstuck in time. He said, too, that he had been kidnapped by a flying saucer in 1967. The saucer was from the planet Tralfamadore, he said. He was taken to Tralfamadore, where he was displayed naked in a zoo, he said. He was mated there with a former Earthling movie star named Montana Wildhack. Some night owls in Ilium heard Billy on the radio, and one of them called Billy’s daughter Barbara. Barbara was upset. She and her husband went down to New York and brought Billy home. Billy insisted mildly that everything he had said on the radio was true. He said he had been kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians on the night of his daughter’s wedding. He hadn’t been missed, he said, because the Tralfamadorians had taken him through a time warp, so that he could be on Tralfamadore for years, and still be away from Earth for only a microsecond. Another month went by without incident, and then Billy wrote a letter to the Ilium News Leader, which the paper published. It described the creatures from Tralfamadore. The letter said that they were two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber’s friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings, especially about time. Billy promised to tell what some of those wonderful things were in his next letter. Billy was working on his second letter when the first letter was published. The second letter started out like this: “The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. “When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.’” And so on. Billy was working on this letter in the basement rumpus room of his empty house. It was his housekeeper’s day off. There was an old typewriter in the rumpus room. 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 thermostat. 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, than 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.” Billy’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 apart.” “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?” “Of course.” “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 World War Two 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 Army. 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—vox humana and vox celeste. Billy also had charge of a portable altar, an olive-drab attaché 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 congregation 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 Germans 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 the zipper on the fly of God Almighty. The gun lapped up snow and vegetation with a blowtorch thirty 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 them 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 Nuremberg.” 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. The front of the woman was composed of two hinged doors. The idea was to put a criminal inside and then close the doors slowly. There were two special spikes where his eyes would be. There was a drain in the bottom to let out all the blood. So it goes. Weary had told Billy Pilgrim about the Iron Maiden, about the drain in her bottom—and what that was for. He had talked to Billy about dum-dums. He told him about his father’s Derringer pistol, which could be carried in a vest pocket, which was yet capable of making a hole in a man “which a bull bat could fly through without touching either wing.” Weary scornfully bet Billy one time that he didn’t even know what a blood gutter was. Billy guessed that it was the drain in the bottom of the Iron Maiden, but that was wrong. A blood gutter, Billy learned, was the shallow groove in the side of the blade of a sword or bayonet. Weary told Billy about neat tortures he’d read about or seen in the movies or heard on the radio—about other neat tortures he himself had invented. One of the inventions was sticking a dentist’s drill into a guy’s ear. He asked Billy what he thought the worst form of execution was. Billy had no opinion. The correct answer turned out to be this: “You stake a guy out on an anthill in the desert—see? He’s facing upward, and you put honey all over his balls and pecker, and you cut off his eyelids so he has to stare at the sun till he dies.” So it goes. Now, lying in the ditch with Billy and the scouts after having been shot at, Weary made Billy take a very close look at his trench knife. It wasn’t government issue. It was a present from his father. It had a ten-inch blade that was triangular in cross section. Its grip consisted of brass knuckles, was a chain of rings through which Weary slipped his stubby fingers. The rings weren’t simple. They bristled with spikes. Weary laid the spikes along Billy’s cheek, roweled the cheek with savagely affectionate restraint. “How’d you like to be hit with this—hm? Hmmmmmmmmm?” he wanted to know. “I wouldn’t,” said Billy. “Know why the blade’s triangular?” “No.” “Makes a wound that won’t close up.” “Oh.” “Makes a three-sided hole in a guy. You stick an ordinary knife in a guy—makes a slit. Right? A slit closes right up. Right?” “Right.” “Shit. What do you know? What the hell they teach in college?” “I wasn’t there very long,” said Billy, which was true. He had had only six months of college, and the college hadn’t been a regular college, either. It had been the night school of the Ilium School of Optometry. “Joe College,” said Weary scathingly. Billy shrugged. “There’s more to life than what you read in books,” said Weary. “You’ll find that out.” Billy made no reply to this, either, there in the ditch, since he didn’t want the conversation to go on any longer than necessary. He was dimly tempted to say, though, that he knew a thing or two about gore. Billy, after all, had contemplated torture and hideous wounds at the beginning and the end of nearly every day of his childhood. Billy had an extremely gruesome crucifix hanging on the wall of his little bedroom in Ilium. A military surgeon would have admired the clinical fidelity of the artist’s rendition of all Christ’s wounds—the spear wound, the thorn wounds, the holes that were made by the iron spikes. Billy’s Christ died horribly. He was pitiful. So it goes. Billy wasn’t a Catholic, even though he grew up with a ghastly crucifix on the wall. His father had no religion. His mother was a substitute organist for several churches around town. She took Billy with her whenever she played, taught him to play a little, too. She said she was going to join a church as soon as she decided which one was right. She never did decide. She did develop a terrific hankering for a crucifix, though. And she bought one from a Santa Fe gift shop during a trip the little family made out West during the Great Depression. Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops. And the crucifix went up on the wall of Billy Pilgrim. The two scouts, loving the walnut stocks of their rifles in the ditch, whispered that it was time to move out again. Ten minutes had gone by without anybody’s coming to see if they were hit or not, to finish them off. Whoever had shot was evidently far away and all alone. And the four crawled out of the ditch without drawing any more fire. They crawled into a forest like the big, unlucky mammals they were. Then they stood up and began to walk quickly. The forest was dark and old. The pines were planted in ranks and files. There was no undergrowth. Four inches of unmarked snow blanketed the ground. The Americans had no choice but to leave trails in the snow as unambiguous as diagrams in a book on ballroom dancing—step, slide, rest—step, slide, rest. “Close it up and keep it closed!” Roland Weary warned Billy Pilgrim as they moved out. Weary looked like Tweedledum or Tweedledee, all bundled up for battle. He was short and thick. He had every piece of equipment he had ever been issued, every present he’d received from home: helmet, helmet liner, wool cap, scarf, gloves, cotton undershirt, woolen undershirt, wool shirt, sweater, blouse, jacket, overcoat, cotton underpants, woolen underpants, woolen trousers, cotton socks, woolen socks, combat boots, gas mask, canteen, mess kit, first-aid kit, trench knife, blanket, shelter-half, raincoat, bulletproof Bible, a pamphlet entitled “Know Your Enemy,” another pamphlet entitled “Why We Fight,” and another pamphlet of German phrases rendered in English phonetics, which would enable Weary to ask Germans questions such as “Where is your headquarters?” and “How many howitzers have you?” or to tell them, “Surrender. Your situation is hopeless,” and so on. Weary had a block of balsa wood which was supposed to be a foxhole pillow. He had a prophylactic kit containing two tough condoms “For the Prevention of Disease Only!” He had a whistle he wasn’t going to show anybody until he got promoted to corporal. He had a dirty picture of a woman attempting sexual intercourse with a Shetland pony. He had made Billy Pilgrim admire that picture several times. The woman and the pony were posed before velvet draperies which were fringed with deedlee-balls. They were flanked by Doric columns. In front of one column was a potted palm. The picture that Weary had was a print of the first dirty photograph in history. The word photography was first used in 1839, and it was in that year, too, that Louis J. M. Daguerre revealed to the French Academy that an image formed on a silvered metal plate covered with a thin film of silver iodide could be developed in the presence of mercury vapor. In 1841, only two years later, an assistant to Daguerre, André Le Fèvre, was arrested in the Tuileries Gardens for attempting to sell a gentleman a picture of the woman and the pony. That was where Weary bought his picture, too—in the Tuileries. Le Fèvre argued that the picture was fine art, and that his intention was to make Greek mythology come alive. He said the columns and the potted palm proved that. When asked which myth he meant to represent, Le Fèvre replied that there were thousands of myths like that, with the woman a mortal and the pony a god. He was sentenced to six months in prison. He died there of pneumonia. So it goes. Billy and the scouts were skinny people. Roland Weary had fat to burn. He was a roaring furnace under all his layers of wool and straps and canvas. He had so much energy that he bustled back and forth between Billy and the scouts, delivering dumb messages which nobody had sent and which nobody was pleased to receive. He also began to suspect, since he was so much busier than anybody else, that he was the leader. He was so hot and bundled up, in fact, that he had no sense of danger. His vision of the outside world was limited to what he could see through a narrow slit between the rim of his helmet and his scarf from home, which concealed his baby face from the bridge of his nose on down. He was so snug in there that he was able to pretend that he was safe at home, having survived the war, and that he was telling his parents and his sister a true war story—whereas the true war story was still going on. Weary’s version of the true war story went like this: There was a big German attack, and Weary and his antitank buddies fought like hell until everybody was killed but Weary. So it goes. And then Weary tied in with two scouts, and they became close friends immediately, and they decided to fight their way back to their own lines. They were going to travel fast. They were damned if they’d surrender. They shook hands all around. They called themselves “The Three Musketeers.” But then this damn college kid, who was so weak he shouldn’t even have been in the army, asked if he could come along. He didn’t even have a gun or a knife. He didn’t even have a helmet or a cap. He couldn’t even walk right—kept bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down, driving everybody crazy, giving their position away. He was pitiful. The Three Musketeers pushed and carried and dragged the college kid all the way back to their own lines, Weary’s story went. They saved his Goddamned hide for him. In real life, Weary was retracing his steps, trying to find out what had happened to Billy. He had told the scouts to wait while he went back for the college bastard. He passed under a low branch now. It hit the top of his helmet with a clonk. Weary didn’t hear it. Somewhere a big dog was barking. Weary didn’t hear that, either. His war story was at a very exciting point. An officer was congratulating the Three Musketeers, telling them that he was going to put them in for Bronze Stars. “Anything else I can do for you boys?” said the officer. “Yes, sir,” said one of the scouts. “We’d like to stick together for the rest of the war, sir. Is there some way you can fix it so nobody will ever break up the Three Musketeers?” Billy Pilgrim had stopped in the forest. He was leaning against a tree with his eyes closed. His head was tilted back and his nostrils were flaring. He was like a poet in the Parthenon. This was when Billy first came unstuck in time. His attention began to swing grandly through the full arc of his life, passing into death, which was violet light. There wasn’t anybody else there, or any thing. There was just violet light—and a hum. And then Billy swung into life again, going backwards until he was in pre-birth, which was red light and bubbling sounds. And then he swung into life again and stopped. He was a little boy taking a shower with his hairy father at Ilium Y.M.C.A. He smelled chlorine from the swimming pool next door, heard the springboard boom. Little Billy was terrified, because his father had said Billy was going to learn to swim by the method of sink-or-swim. His father was going to throw Billy into the deep end, and Billy was going to damn well swim. It was like an execution. Billy was numb as his father carried him from the shower room to the pool. His eyes were closed. When he opened his eyes, he was on the bottom of the pool, and there was beautiful music everywhere. He lost consciousness, but the music went on. He dimly sensed that somebody was rescuing him. Billy resented that. From there he traveled in time to 1965. He was forty-one years old, and he was visiting his decrepit mother at Pine Knoll, an old people’s home he had put her in only a month before. She had caught pneumonia, and wasn’t expected to live. She did live, though, for years after that. 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, 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 had accumulated enough to whisper this complete sentence: “How did I get so old?” 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 blinked in 1965, traveled in time to 1958. He was at a banquet in honor 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 right,” 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 still felt drunk, was still angered by the stolen steering wheel. He was back in World War Two 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 pulled 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. Billy 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.” This was the first the scouts had heard that Weary thought of himself and them as 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, warm, 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 German 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 anymore. And they ditched Weary and Billy in the creek-bed. Billy Pilgrim went on skating, doing tricks in sweatsocks, 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 knife 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 his 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 German soldiers and a police dog on a leash were looking down into the bed of the creek. The soldiers’ blue eyes were filled with a bleary civilian curiosity as to why one American would try to murder another one so far from home, and why the victim should laugh. 3 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 name 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, armed 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 commander was a middle-aged corporal—red-eyed, scrawny, tough as dried beef, sick of war. 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 and Eve.” 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 a 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 pencil stub. 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 disarmed. 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? Hmmm?” 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 yours, all yours, you lucky lad.” 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 in 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 that, either. “Doctor—” said the patient tentatively. “Hm?” he said. “You’re so quiet.” “Sorry.” “You were talking away there—and then you got so quiet.” “Um.” “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 there. 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 center. 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 slightly. What happens in 1968 will rule the fate 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 World War Three 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 World War Two again. His head was on the wounded rabbi’s shoulder. A German 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 German war correspondent 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 Germany 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 halftracks had been. “Blood brother,” said a message written in pink paint on the side of a shattered grocery store. 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, COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN, AND WISDOM ALWAYS TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE. Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future. 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. 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 married, 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 neighborhood 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 a 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 smiles 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 groaned. 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 westbound lane boiled and boomed with vehicles which were rushing German reserves to the front. The reserves were violent, windburned, 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 hero’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 fourragère 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 machines, 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 cockeyed doorway was a German colonel. With him was his unpainted whore. Billy crashed into Weary’s shoulder, and Weary cried out sobbingly. “Walk right! Walk right!” 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 Germany’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 Germans 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 Billy’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 corners 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 corner brace to make more room. This 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 corner 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 finger 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 air-planes—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. German 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, “Hello.” Even though Billy’s train wasn’t moving, its boxcars were kept locked tight. Nobody was to get off until the final destination. To the guards who walked up and down outside, each car became a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators, too. In went water and loaves of blackbread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language. Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared. Human beings in there took turns standing or lying down. The legs of those who stood were like fence posts driven into a warm, squirming, farting, sighing earth. The queer earth was a mosaic of sleepers who nestled like spoons. Now the train began to creep eastward. Somewhere in there was Christmas. Billy Pilgrim nestled like a spoon with the hobo on Christmas night, and he fell asleep, and he traveled in time to 1967 again—to the night he was kidnapped by a flying saucer from Tralfamadore. 4 BILLY PILGRIM could not sleep on his daughter’s wedding night. He was forty-four. The wedding had taken place that afternoon in a gaily striped tent in Billy’s backyard. The stripes were orange and black. Billy and his wife, Valencia, nestled like spoons in their big double bed. They were jiggled by Magic Fingers. Valencia didn’t need to be jiggled to sleep. Valencia was snoring like a bandsaw. The poor woman didn’t have ovaries or a uterus any more. They had been removed by a surgeon—by one of Billy’s partners in the new Holiday Inn. There was a full moon. Billy got out of bed in the moonlight. He felt spooky and luminous, felt as though he were wrapped in cool fur that was full of static electricity. He looked down at his bare feet. They were ivory and blue. Billy now shuffled down his upstairs hallway, knowing he was about to be kidnapped by a flying saucer. The hallway was zebra-striped with darkness and moonlight. The moonlight came into the hallway through doorways of the empty rooms of Billy’s two children, children no more. They were gone forever. Billy was guided by dread and the lack of dread. Dread told him when to stop. Lack of it told him when to move again. He stopped. He went into his daughter’s room. Her drawers were dumped. Her closet was empty. Heaped in the middle of her room were all the possessions she could not take on a honeymoon. She had a Princess telephone extension all her own—on her windowsill. Its tiny night light stared at Billy. And then it rang. Billy answered. There was a drunk on the other end. Billy could almost smell his breath—mustard gas and roses. It was a wrong number. Billy hung up. There was a soft drink bottle on the windowsill. Its label boasted that it contained no nourishment whatsoever. Billy Pilgrim padded downstairs on his blue and ivory feet. He went into the kitchen, where the moonlight called his attention to a half bottle of champagne on the kitchen table, all that was left from the reception in the tent. Somebody had stoppered it again. “Drink me,” it seemed to say. So Billy uncorked it with his thumbs. It didn’t make a pop. The champagne was dead. So it goes. Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation. The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new. When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again. The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed. Billy saw the war movies backwards then forwards—and then it was time to go out into his backyard to meet the flying saucer. Out he went, his blue and ivory feet crushing the wet salad of the lawn. He stopped, took a swig of the dead champagne. It was like 7-Up. He would not raise his eyes to the sky, though he knew there was a flying saucer from Tralfamadore up there. He would see it soon enough, inside and out, and he would see, too, where it came from soon enough—soon enough. Overhead he heard the cry of what might have been a melodious owl, but it wasn’t a melodious owl. It was a flying saucer from Tralfamadore, navigating in both space and time, therefore seeming to Billy Pilgrim to have come from nowhere all at once. Somewhere a big dog barked. • • • The saucer was one hundred feet in diameter, with portholes around its rim. The light from the portholes was a pulsing purple. The only noise it made was the owl song. It came down to hover over Billy, and to enclose him in a cylinder of pulsing purple light. Now there was the sound of a seeming kiss as an airtight hatch in the bottom of the saucer was opened. Down snaked a ladder that was outlined in pretty lights like a Ferris wheel. Billy’s will was paralyzed by a zap gun aimed at him from one of the portholes. It became imperative that he take hold of the bottom rung of the sinuous ladder, which he did. The rung was electrified, so that Billy’s hands locked onto it hard. He was hauled into the airlock, and machinery closed the bottom door. Only then did the ladder, wound onto a reel in the airlock, let him go. Only then did Billy’s brain start working again. There were two peepholes inside the airlock—with yellow eyes pressed to them. There was a speaker on the wall. The Tralfamadorians had no voice boxes. They communicated telepathically. They were able to talk to Billy by means of a computer and a sort of electric organ which made every Earthling speech sound. “Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim,” said the loudspeaker. “Any questions?” Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?” “That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgri