Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 9
Billy was unconscious in the hospital after the plane crash. Valencia drove up hysterically in the Cadillac and had an accident, but was unhurt. The Cadillac, however, was a mess in the back, and the narrator describes the trunk like the gaping mouth of a village idiot. The exhaust system had broken off. Valencia drove off. She arrived at the hospital and a doctor and a nurse came out and found her "a heavenly azure", dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. So it goes.
Billy knew nothing of it. He shared a hospital room with a Harvard history professor named Bertram Copeland Roomford, who was suffering from a broken leg from a skiing accident, and who heard Billy talking to himself. He was seventy, but had a young body and spirit. He was honeymooning with his fifth wife, Lily, who was twenty-three. Around when Valencia was pronounced dead, Lily came in with an armload of history books for Rumfoord, who was writing about battles that had happened before she was born. She was a high-school dropout. Billy scared her. Rumfoord roared that he bored him. He was a prolific author, professor, retired brigadier general in the Air Force, a historian, a multi-millionaire since birth, and a competitive sailor. He had written a book about strenuous sex for men over sixty-five. He looked at Billy and quoted Theodore Roosevelt, saying that he could carve a better man out of a banana. Lily brought him Truman's announcement of the dropping of the atomic bomb. He ordered her to read it, which she pretended to do, since she couldn't read much. The report described the bomb, which had two thousand times the blast of the largest bomb ever used. He said the Japanese were punished for Pearl Harbor and would continue to be punished. He described the bomb as a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. He went on about how they were going to obliterate Japan's power to make war.
Another book was about the destruction of Dresden. Rumfoord knew many of the men who had contributed to the book. One, an Englishman, criticized how people weeped about the death of enemy civilians but not their own, for as Germans were dying at Dresden, bombs were falling on England and concentration camps were killing people too. He acknowledged the deaths in Dresden, but remembered that Germany started the last war and found it necessary to destroy Nazism once and for all. So it goes.
Another man, an Air Marshal, wrote that the air-bombing of Dresden was unfortunate, but a military necessity. Those who approved it were not wicked or cruel, though they were too removed from the harsh realities of war to realize the full destructive power. He mentioned the death tolls in Tokyo and Hiroshima as well. So it goes.
Billy piped up with a random fragment of memory, speaking Wild Bob's collective invitation to visit him in Cody, Wyoming. Lily shuddered and pretended to read.
Barbara came to visit, glassy-eyed as Edgar Derby before his execution. She was on pills so she could deal with her dead mother and broken father. So it goes. She tried to talk to Billy, but he was ten years back, examining the eyes of a ten-year-old Mongolian idiot.
Then he was sixteen, in the waiting room with an old man who could not control his gas and tells him he did not know that getting old would be this bad. He opened his eyes again to see Robert, his son, decorated with war medals. Robert had flunked high school, been an alcoholic at sixteen, and run with a bad crowd, and been arrested for tipping tombstones. He was straightened out now. Billy closed his eyes again.
He missed Valencia's funeral. He was believed to be a vegetable, but his mind was preparing to reveal everything thrilling he had learned on Tralfamadore. Rumfoord thought he was a vegetable and said frightful things in front of him, like asking Lily why they wouldn't let Billy just die. Once, he told her about the bombing of Dresden. He was writing a book which would be a readable version of the twenty-seven-volume version the Air Force had published. There was no mention of Dresden in this volume. It was kept secret from the American people, but the narrator clarifies that it was no secret from the Germans, or from the Russians who occupied Dresden after the war, and still do.
Rumfoord told her that they kept it a secret out of fear of a lot of bleeding hearts. Billy said he was there. Rumfoord didn't take him seriously, since he considered him a non-person better off dead. Rumfoord said he had echolalia, which, the narrator explains, is a mental disease where the patient repeats what they hear. But Billy was telling the truth. "Rumfoord," the narrator explains, "was thinking in in military manner: that an inconvenient person, one whose death he wished for very much, for practical reasons, was suffering from a repulsive disease." Chapter 9, pg. 192
No one took Rumfoord seriously because they thought he was cruel and spiteful and often said that weak people should die, whereas they believed that weak people should be helped as much as possible.
Billy waited until there was nothing to echo, then told Rumfoord again that he was there in Dresden. He told him that they didn't have to talk about it, but he just wanted him to know. He closed his eyes and traveled to two days after the end of the war, when he and other soldiers were going back to the slaughterhouse to get souvenirs of war. Billy was happy in the warm, food-filled wagon, with his souvenirs. The owners of the house had heard that the Russians were coming, destroying and raping, and had fled. Billy did not see any Russians; only an old man pushing a baby buggy full of his own souvenirs.
Billy stayed in the wagon as the others looked for souvenirs. The Tralfamadorians later told him to focus on the happy moments of his life and ignore the unhappy ones, and he would have chosen this moment in the sun. He snoozed, armed against whatever might be on the surface of the moon. He had a ceremonial sword that he had extracted from a pole they drove by. There was an eagle and a swastika on the hilt. He woke to hear a couple speaking German with pity. It reminded him of the tones that might have been used when Jesus was taken from the cross. They were crooning at the horses, whose mouths and hooves were in terrible shape. The Americans treated the horses no better than machines.
They approached Billy, who they did not fear. They were both obstetricians, but had no children. They spoke nine languages between them, and when they found English, they scolded him about the horses. When Billy finally saw them, he burst into tears.
The narrator explains that the epigraph of the book, "The cattle are lowing,/ The Baby awakes./ But the little Lord Jesus/ No crying he makes," Chapter 9, pg. 197 is there because Billy makes no noise when he cries. He traveled back to the hospital in Vermont, where Rumfoord was slowly becoming interested in him. Billy told him about the horses, and that finally the Russians came and arrested everyone but the horses. Billy was shipped home on a ship named after a dead suffragette. So it goes.
Rumfoord insisted that the bombing had to be done. Billy was not arguing. He spouts a piece of Tralfamadorian wisdom: "Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly what he does." Chapter 9, pg. 198
Later, his daughter took him home and turned on the Magic Fingers. There was a nurse to observe him, but he snuck out to New York City to tell the world of Tralfamadore.
He checked into a hotel and looked over the balcony at the people like jerky little scissors. The French doors reminded him of his honeymoon. He watched TV for programs on which he could appear, but it was to early for people with strange opinions; it was early evening, explains the narrator, time for shows about silliness or murder. So it goes.
He saw a dirty bookstore. In the window, covered in fly shit and dust, were books by Kilgore Trout. He went in. The narrator describes the porn images, with the stereotypical vulnerable and dumb-looking females and the taut, erect males. Billy, though was attracted to the novels. He re-read a story he had seen in the hospital, about creatures on a planet called Zircon-212 who told their Earthling captives they had invested a million dollars for them, which they had to manage so they would get it upon returning to Earth. It was fake, just a series of stimulants so they would amuse the crowd.
Another novel was about a time machine which took a man back to Jesus' carpentry shop. Two Roman soldiers had them build an execution device. So it goes.
The bookstore was run by five short, bald men who looked alike, chewing wet, unlit cigars. They and Billy were the only ones in the store without hard-ons. A clerk told Billy that what he wanted to be looking at was in the back. Billy moved back, but only further into the story. The time-traveler wanted to find out if Jesus had died on or off the cross. He determined with a stethoscope that it was while he was on. So it goes. He, Lance Corwin, measured Jesus at five feet and three inches tall.
The clerks thought Billy a pervert when he wanted to buy the books. He laughed at one magazine headline which asked what became of Montana Wildhack because he knew she was on Tralfamadore. The magazine thought she had been sealed in cement in California. So it goes. He saw some dirty pictures that were supposed to be her, and a film of her on a bed peeling a banana. The clerk showed him a picture, identical to the one Weary had, of a woman attempting sex with a pony.
Billy made it onto the radio, mistaken for one of the literary critics that was supposed to be there. He was supposed to discuss whether or not the novel was dead. So it goes. The critics had much to say about the novel. One thought that people couldn't read well enough to process print into exciting situations. When Billy was allowed to speak, he went on and on about the saucers, etc. He was gently expelled and returned to his hotel, where he traveled to Tralfamadore. Montana, breast-feeding their child, asked where he had time-traveled to. He told her of his adventures in New York. She was not enthusastic about Kilgore Trout. He mentioned her obscene movie, and her guilt-free response was that she heard about what a clown he was in the war and the obscene movie Edgar Derby made with the firing squad. There was a silence. There was a silver chain around Montana Wildhack's neck. A locket hung between her breasts. It contained a dim photo of her alcoholic mother. Engraved were the words: "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." On the opposite page, there is an illustration of the locket and her breasts.