Slaughterhouse-five; Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

Image from Slaughterhouse-five

Image from Slaughterhouse-five

 

First Edition Provenance:
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five; Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-dance with Death. New York: Delacorte, 1969. Print.

Current Edition Studied:
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five, Or, the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-dance with Death. New York, NY: Dell, 1991. Print.

Introduction to the Selection by Erin Pellegrino:

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Kurt Vonnegut Jr. requires little introduction in the literary world and even less within the Cornell community. Nevertheless, Vonnegut is known for his wonderfully sardonic yet poignant texts that lie somewhere between the depth of human imagination and the folly of human existence. Vonnegut himself seems to be a modern day renaissance man, having a background in the sciences yet an undeniable voice in his written work. One aspect of his that is quite unique is his scientific approach to the traditional plot arc, as well as his hilarious delineations that accompany his texts (see below).

 

Vonnegut explains the typical story arc of Kafka

 

These analyses of the traditional plot structure are a playful way that Vonnegut shows his irreverence for the idea of a traditional story, and he capitalizes on this in his writing. Explaining Slaughterhouse-five in any linear fashion would defeat its purpose.

Vonnegut passed away in November of 2007. So it goes. Sometime before that, he was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922.  As a writer, he was described as someone who could “make you laugh, make you think, and then punch you in the gut” according to Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.  Between the years of 1940 and 1942, Vonnegut attended Cornell University as a chemistry major, at the behest of his father: “He said I should become a chemist like my brother, and not waste my time and his money on subjects he considered so much junk jewelry — literature, history, philosophy.” He goes on to say “Cornell was a boozy dream, partly because of the booze itself, and partly because I was enrolled in courses I had no talent for… Being drunk was utterly acceptable. That’s when I first decided this country was crazy.” In 1993, Vonnegut was speaking at the Cornell campus and said: “If you really want to hurt your parents and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, at least go into the arts” And it is precisely that sense of honest and audacious voice that he brings to his stories.

After nearly failing out, Vonnegut voluntarily left to join the US Army. It was during WWII that he was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge, and then held captive in Dresden during the bombings. This particular experience is where Vonnegut draws the main inspiration for his story, Slaughterhouse-Five.

The book itself is a story that is non-linear. It focuses on the protagonist Billy Pilgrim, who experiences his life through a series of time-travelled experiences. He knows the beginning and the end, and jumps from different places in time using moments as if they could be rearranged. The architecture of time is challenged in the book, and spatial elements and object act as justifiers to whatever time period is being experienced, and prominence is placed on everyday objects to highlight the triviality of human idiosyncrasies.

It is speculated that the entire book is merely a mental episode that the main character, Billy Pilgrim, is experiencing due to post traumatic stress disorder, but that may be an over-simplification to the story and merely a human explanation to justify what is otherwise a science fiction novel.

Irony abound in the story, it seems redundant yet necessary to point out that Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, is saved from the fire-bombings of Dresden whilst being kept prisoner in a slaughterhouse. There are biographical implications here, as Vonnegut himself was present during the bombings of Dresden and was held in a slaughterhouse.

Billy Pilgrim, the main character, becomes “unstuck in time” thanks to the Tralfamadorians. These beings are aliens shaped like toilet plungers. They are described as being two feet tall, with one hand as a head with an eye in its palm. Their philosophy is completely distinct from any “earthly concerns”, meaning things such as death and time and family, become very influential in the narrative structure through their opposition. They consider time to be a series of predetermined moments that exist simultaneously, rather than in any linear progression. “[Tralfamadorians] were simply able to give [Billy] insights into what was really going on” (90). One point in particular in the story sums up the Tralfamadorian’s view, which is when they discuss the end of the world.

Architecturally, Billy is kept in an earth-inspired habitat at the zoo on the Tralfamadorian’s planet. The habitat is constructed of a dome, which seems to be a fairly logical choice for a science fiction setting on another planet. The habitats are meant to be microcosms of the worlds that the inhabitants come from, and Billy is given a series of earth-inspired trinkets to keep in his half-spherical environment.

This particular set of excerpts was taken from chapters four and five, at precisely the time when Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” and begins to understand earth from the view of the Tralfamadorians. Interspersed with Billy’s descriptions of the habitat built for him to resemble earth, he talks about moments he has experienced throughout his life, but through the lens of the new world he has entered. Instead of following a linear format, we are taken through the random neuron firing of Billy’s brain, as he explains certain events in his life from moments in his childhood, to the war, to moments with his wife.

The book not only uses architectural elements to denote time periods and root the story within some degree of believability, but also to spatialize time within a notion of separate moments. There is a point in which the book discusses how Tralfamadorians read stories, which is not through a series of events but rather all of them at once. It brings the linear idea of time to that of a collective of moments, which are meant to be understood at once, and this simplification of time seems to be a rather architectural way to make physical something that is inherently intangible. The beginning, middle and end is understood simultaneously, and Billy begins to experience these moments without the earthly construct of time.

Excerpt Provenance: 

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five, Or, the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-dance with Death. New York, NY: Dell, 1991. 87-124. Print.

Billy meets the Flying Saucer (72-77):

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 in 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. Pilgrim. Why you?  Why us for that matter?  Why anything?  Because this moment simply is.  Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?’

‘Yes.’ Billy in fact, had a paperweight in his office, which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.

‘Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.’

They introduced an anesthetic into Billy’s atmosphere now, put him to sleep. They carded him to a cabin where he was strapped to a yellow Barca-Lounger which they had stolen from a Sears & Roebuck warehouse. The hold of the saucer was crammed with other stolen merchandise, which would be used to furnish Billy’s artificial habitat in a zoo on Tralfamadore.

The terrific acceleration of the saucer as it left Earth twisted Billy’s slumbering body, distorted his face, dislodged him in time, sent him back to the war.

When he regained consciousness, he wasn’t on the flying saucer.  He was in a boxcar crossing Germany again.

Tralfamdorians explain time to Billy (85-87)

And then Billy was a middle-aged optometrist again, playing hacker’s golf this time- on a blazing summer Sunday morning. Billy never went to church any more. He was hacking with three other optometrists. Billy was on the green in seven strokes, and it was his turn to putt.

It was an eight-foot putt and he made it. He bent over to take the ball out of the cup, and the sun went behind a cloud. Billy was momentarily dizzy. When he recovered, he wasn’t on the golf course any more. He was strapped to a yellow contour chair in a white chamber aboard a flying saucer, which was bound for Tralfamadore.

‘Where am I?’ said Billy Pilgrim.

‘Trapped in another blob of amber, Mr. Pilgrim. We are where we have to be just now- three hundred million miles from Earth, bound for a time warp which will get us to Tralfamadore in hours rather than centuries.’

‘How-how did I get here?’

‘It would take another Earthling to explain it to you. Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.’

‘You sound to me as though you don’t believe in free will,’ said Billy Pilgrim.

 

‘If I hadn’t spent so  much  time  studying  Earthlings,’  said  the  Tralfamadorian,  ‘I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by “free will.” I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.’

Billy is taken to his habitat at the Tralfamdorian’s Zoo (87-115)

Billy Pilgrim says that the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures from Tralfamadore. The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going,  so  that  the   heavens   are  filled  with  rarefied,  luminous  spaghetti.  And Tralfamadorians don’t see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millipedes with babies’ legs at one end and old people’s legs at the other,’ says Billy Pilgrim.

 

Billy asked for something to read on the trip to Tralfamadore. His captors had five million Earthling books on microfilm, but no way to project them in Billy’s cabin. They had only  one  actual  book  in  English,  which  would  be  placed  in  a  Tralfamadorian museum. It was Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann.

Billy read it, thought it was pretty good in spots. The people in it certainly had their ups-and-downs, ups-and-downs. But Billy didn’t want to read about the same ups-and- downs over and over again. He asked if there wasn’t, please, some other reading matters around.

‘Only Tralfamadorian novels, which I’m afraid you couldn’t begin to understand,’ said the speaker on the wall.

‘Let me look at one anyway.’

So they sent him in several. They were little things. A dozen of them might have had the bulk of Valley of the Dolls-with all its ups-and-downs, up-and-downs.

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid  out-in  brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

‘Exactly,’ said the voice.

‘They are telegrams?’

‘There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of-symbols is a brief, urgent message describing a situation, a scene, We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the  other.  There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has  chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep.  There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects.  What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.’

Moments after that, the saucer entered a time warp, and Billy was flung back into his childhood. He was twelve years old, quaking as he stood with his mother and father on Bright Angel Point, at the rim of Grand Canyon. The little human family was staring at the floor of the canyon, one mile straight down.

‘Well,’ said Billy’s father, manfully kicking a pebble into space, ‘there it is.’ They had come to this famous place by automobile. They had had several blowouts on the way.

‘It was worth the trip,’ said Billy’s mother raptly. ‘Oh, God was it ever worth it.’

Billy hated the canyon. He was sure that he was going to fall in. His mother touched him, and he wet his pants.

There were other tourists looking down into the canyon, too, and a ranger was there to answer questions. A Frenchman who had come all the way from France asked the ranger in broken English if many people committed suicide by jumping in.

‘Yes, sir,’ said the ranger. ‘About three folks a year.’ So it goes.

And Billy took a very short trip through time, made a peewee jump of only ten days, so he was still twelve, still touring the West with his family. Now they were down in Carlsbad Caverns, and Billy was praying to God to get him out of there before the ceiling fell in.

A ranger was explaining that the Caverns had been discovered by a cowboy who saw a huge cloud of bats come out of a hole in the ground. And then he said that he was going to turn out all the lights., and that it would probably be the first time in the lives of most people there that they had ever been in darkness that was total.

Out went the lights. Billy didn’t even know whether he was still alive or not. And then something ghostly floated in air to his left. It had numbers on it. His father had taken out his Pocket watch. The watch had a radium dial.

(111)

And Billy traveled in time to the zoo on Tralfamadore.  He was forty-four years old, on display under a geodesic dome.  He was reclining on the lounge chair which had been his cradle during his trip through space.  He was naked.  The Tralfamadorians were

interested in his body-all of it.  There were thousands of them outside, holding up their little hands so that their eyes could see him.  Billy had been on Tralfamadore for six Earthling months now.  He was used to the crowd.

Escape was out of the question.  The atmosphere outside the dome was cyanide, and

Earth was 446,120,000,000,000,000 miles away.

Billy was displayed there in the zoo in a simulated Earthling habitat.  Most of the furnishings had been stolen from the Sears & Roebuck warehouse in Iowa City, Iowa. There was a color television set and a couch that could be converted into a bed.  There were end tables with lamps and ashtrays on them by the couch.  There was a home bar and two stools.  There was a little pool table.  There was wall-to-wall carpeting in federal gold, except in the kitchen and bathroom areas and over the iron manhole cover in the center of the floor.  There were magazines arranged in a fan on the coffee table in front of the couch.

There was a stereophonic phonograph.  The phonograph worked.  The television didn’t. There was a picture of one cowboy shooting another one pasted to the television tube.  So it goes.

There were no walls in the dome, nor places for Billy to hide. The mint green bathroom fixtures were right out in the open.  Billy got off his lounge chair now, went into the bathroom and took a leak.  The crowd went wild.

Billy brushed his teeth on Tralfamadore, put in his partial denture, and went into his kitchen.  His bottled-gas range and his refrigerator and his dishwasher were mint green, too.  There was a picture painted on the door of the refrigerator.  The refrigerator had come that way.  It was a picture of a Gay Nineties couple on a bicycle built for two. Billy looked at that picture now, tried to think something about the couple.  Nothing came to him.  There didn’t seem to be anything to think about those two people.

Billy ate a good breakfast from cans.  He washed his cup and plate and knife and fork and spoon and saucepan, put them away.  Then he did exercises he had learned in the Army-straddle jumps, deep knee bends, sit-ups and push-ups.  Most Tralfamadorians had no way of knowing Bill’s body and face were not beautiful.  They supposed that he was a splendid specimen.  This had a pleasant effect on Billy, who began to enjoy his body for the first time.

He showered after his exercises and trimmed his toenails.  He shaved and sprayed deodorant under his arms, while a zoo guide on a raised platform outside explained what Billy was doing-and why.  The guide was lecturing telepathically, simply standing there, sending out thought waves to the crowd.  On the platform with him was the little keyboard instrument with which he would relay questions to Billy from the crowd.

Now the first question came-from the speaker on the television set: ‘Are you happy here?’

‘About as happy as I was on Earth,’ said Billy Pilgrim, which was true.

There were fives sexes on Tralfamadore, each of them performing a step necessary in the creation of a new individual.  They looked identical to Billy-because their sex differences were all in the fourth dimension.

One of the biggest moral bombshells handed to Billy by the Tralfamadorians, incidentally, had to do with sex on Earth.  They said their flying-saucer crews had identified no fewer than seven sexes on Earth, each essential to reproduction.  Again: Billy couldn’t possibly imagine what five of those seven sexes had to do with the making of a baby, since they were sexually active only in the fourth dimension.

The Tralfamadorians tried to give Billy clues that would help him imagine sex in the invisible dimension.  They told him that there could be no Earthling babies without male homosexuals.  There could be babies without female homosexuals.  There couldn’t be babies without women over sixty-five years old.  There could be babies without men over sixty-five.  There couldn’t be babies without other babies who had lived an hour or less after birth.  And so on.

It was gibberish to Billy.

There was a lot that Billy said that was gibberish to the Tralfamadorians, too.  They couldn’t imagine what time looked like to him.  Billy had given up on explaining that. The guide outside had to explain as best he could.

The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear.  They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them.  But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of pipe.

This was only the beginning of Billy’s miseries in the metaphor.  He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, And there was no way he could

turn his head or touch the pipe.  The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar.  All Billy could see was the dot at the end of the pipe.  He didn’t know he was on a flatcar, didn’t even know there was anything peculiar about his situation.

The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped-went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways.  Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, ‘That’s life.’

 

Billy expected the Tralfamadorians to be baffled and alarmed by all the wars and other forms of murder on Earth.  He expected them to fear that the Earthling combination of ferocity and spectacular weaponry might eventually destroy part or maybe all of the innocent Universe.  Science fiction had led him to expect that.

But the subject of war never came up until Billy brought it up himself.  Somebody in the zoo crowd asked him through the lecturer what the most valuable thing he had learned on Tralfamadore was so far, and Billy replied, ‘How the inhabitants of a whole planet can live in peace I As you know, I am from a planet that has been engaged in senseless slaughter since the beginning of time.  I myself have seen the bodies of schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were proud of fighting pure evil at the time. ‘ This was true.  Billy saw the boiled bodies in Dresden.  ‘And I have lit my way in a prison at night with candles from the fat of human beings who were butchered by the brothers and fathers of those school girls who were boiled.  Earthlings must be the terrors of the Universe!  If other planets aren’t now in danger from Earth, they soon will be.  So tell me the secret so I can take it back to Earth and save us all: How can a planet live at peace?’

Billy felt that he had spoken soaringly.  He was baffled when he saw the Tralfamadorians close their little hands on their eyes.  He knew from past experience what this meant: He was being stupid.

‘Would-would you mind telling me,’ he said to the guide, much deflated, ‘what was so stupid about that?’

‘We know how the Universe ends,’ said the guide, ‘and Earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too.’

‘How-how does the Universe end?’ said Billy.

‘We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers.  A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.’ So it goes.

“If you know this,” said Billy, ‘isn’t there some way you can prevent it?  Can’t you keep the pilot from pressing the button?’

‘He has always pressed it, and he always will.  We always let him and we always will let him.  The moment is structured that way.

‘So,’ said Billy gropingly, I suppose that the idea of, preventing war on Earth is stupid, too. ‘

‘Of course.’

‘But you do have a peaceful planet here.’

‘Today we do.  On other days we have wars as horrible as any you’ve ever seen or read about.  There isn’t anything we can do about them, so we simply don’t look at them.  We ignore them.  We spend eternity looking at pleasant moments-like today at the zoo.  Isn’t this a nice moment?’

‘Yes.’

‘That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.’

‘Um,’ said Billy Pilgrim.

 

Shortly after he went to sleep that night, Billy traveled in time to another moment, which was quite nice, his wedding night with the former Valencia Merble.  He had been out of the veterans’ hospital for six months. He was all well.  He had graduated from the Ilium School of Optometry-third in his class of forty-seven.

Now he was in bed with Valencia in a delightful studio apartment which was built on the end of a wharf on Cape Ann, Massachusetts.  Across the water were the lights of Gloucester.  Billy was on top of Valencia, making love to her. One result of this act would be the birth of Robert Pilgrim, who would become a problem in high school, but who would then straighten out as a member of the famous Green Berets.

Valencia wasn’t a time-traveler, but she did have a lively imagination. While Billy was making love to her, she imagined that she was a famous woman in history. She was being Queen Elizabeth the First of England, and Billy was supposedly Christopher Columbus.

Billy made a noise like a small, rusty hinge.  He had just emptied his seminal vesicles into Valencia, had contributed his share of the Green Beret. According to the Tralfamadorians, of course, the Green Beret would have seven parents in all.

Now he rolled off his huge wife, whose rapt expression did not change when he departed.  He lay with the buttons of his spine along the edge of the mattress, folded his hands behind his head.  He was rich now.  He had been rewarded for marrying a girl nobody in his right mind would have married.  His father-in-law had given him a new Buick Roadmaster, an all-electric home, and had made him manager of his most prosperous office, his Ilium office, where Billy could expect to make at least thirty thousand dollars a year.  That was good.  His father had been only a barber.

As his mother said, “The Pilgrims are coming up in the world,’

The honeymoon was taking place in the bittersweet mysteries of Indian summer in New England.  The lovers’ apartment had one romantic wall which was all French doors. They opened onto a balcony and the oily harbor beyond.

A green and orange dragger, black in the night, grumbled and drummed past their balcony, not thirty feet from their wedding bed.  It was going to sea with only its running lights on.  Its empty holds were resonant, made the song of the engines rich and loud.

The wharf began to sing the same song, and then the honeymooners’ headboard sang, too. And it continued to sing long after the dragger was gone.

‘Thank you,’ said Valencia at last.  The headboard was singing a mosquito song.

‘You’re welcome.’

‘It was nice.’

‘I’m glad.’

Then she began to cry.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘I’m so happy.’

‘Good.’

‘I never thought anybody would marry me.’

‘Um,’ said Billy Pilgrim.

‘I’m going to lose weight for you,’ she said.

‘What?’

‘I’m going to go on a diet.  I’m going to become beautiful for you.’

‘I like you just the way you are.’

‘Do you really?’

‘Really,’ said Billy Pilgrim.  He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time- travel, knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way.

 

A great motor yacht named the Scheherezade now slid past the marriage bed.  The song its engines sang was a very low organ note. All her lights were on.

Two beautiful people, a young man and a young woman in evening clothes, were at the rail at the stem, loving each other and their dreams and the wake.  They were honeymooning, too.  They were Lance Rumfoord, of Newport, Rhode Island, and his bride, the former Cynthia Landry., who had been a childhood sweetheart of John F. Kennedy in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

There was a slight coincidence here.  Billy Pilgrim would later share a hospital room with Rumfoord’s uncle, Professor Bertram Copeland Rumfoord of Harvard, official Historian of the United States Air Force.

 

When the beautiful people were past, Valencia questioned her funny-looking husband about war.  It was a simple-minded thing for a female Earthling to do, to associate sex and glamor with war.

‘Do you ever think about the war?’ she said, laying a hand on his thigh.

‘Sometimes,’ said Billy Pilgrim.

‘I look at you sometimes,’ said Valencia, ‘and I get a funny feeling that you’re full of secrets.’

‘I’m not,’ said Billy. This was a lie, of course.  He hadn’t told anybody about all the time traveling he’d done, about Tralfamadore and so on.

‘You must have secrets about the war. Or, not secrets, I guess, but things you don’t want to talk about.’

‘No.’

‘I’m proud you were a soldier.  Do you know that?’

‘Good.’

‘Was it awful?’

‘Sometimes.’ A crazy thought now occurred to Billy. The truth of it startled him. It would make a good epitaph for Billy Pilgrim-and for me, too.

‘Would you talk about the war now, if I wanted you to?’ said Valencia.  In a tiny cavity in her great body she was assembling the materials for a Green Beret.

‘It would sound like a dream,’ said Billy.  ‘Other people’s dreams aren’t very interesting usually.’

‘I heard you tell Father one time about a German firing squad.’ She was referring to the execution of poor old Edgar Derby.

‘Um.’

‘You had to bury him? ‘

‘Yes.’

Did he see you with your shovels before he was shot?’

‘Yes.’

‘Did he say anything?’

‘No.’

‘Was he scared?’

‘They had him doped up.  He was sort of glassy-eyed.’ And they pinned a target to him?’

A piece of paper,’ said Billy. He got out of bed, said, ‘Excuse me,’ went to the darkness of the bathroom to take a leak.  He groped for the light, realized as he felt the rough wall that he had traveled back to 1944, to the prison hospital again.

The candle in the hospital had gone out. Poor old Edgar Derby had fallen asleep on the cot next to Billy’s. Billy was out of bed, groping along a wall, trying to find a way out because he had to take a leak so badly.

He suddenly found a door, which opened, let him reel out into the prison night.  Billy was loony with time-travel and morphine.  He delivered himself to a barbed-wire fence which snagged him in a dozen places.  Billy tried to back away from it but the barbs wouldn’t let go.  So Billy did a silly little dance with the fence, taking a step this way, then that way, then returning to the beginning again.

A Russian, himself out in the night to take a leak, saw Billy dancing-from the other side of the fence.  He came over to the curious scarecrow, tried to talk with it gently, asked it what country it was from.  The scarecrow paid no attention, went on dancing.  So the Russian undid the snags one by one, and the scarecrow danced off into the night again without a word of thanks.

The Russian waved to him, and called after him in Russian, ‘Good-bye.’

Billy took his pecker out, there in the prison night, and peed and peed on the ground. Then he put it away again, more or less, and contemplated a new problem: Where had he come from, and where should he go now?

 

Image Sources:

  1. Tombstone Image: Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five, Or, the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-dance with Death. New York, NY: Dell, 1991. Print.
  2. Vonnegut, Kurt, and Daniel Simon. A Man without a Country. New York: Seven Stories, 2005. Print.  (A few can also be found here: Story Arcs)
  3. Self Portrait Doodle: Vonnegut, Kurt, and Daniel Simon. A Man without a Country. New York: Seven Stories, 2005. Print.
  4. “Biography” Masterpieces of American Literature Ed. Steven G. Kellman. eNotes.com, Inc. 2006 eNotes.com 21 May, 2014 <http://www.enotes.com/topics/kurt-vonnegut#biography-biography> (Link to Portrait)

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