Deadeye dick, p.14
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       Deadeye Dick, p.14

           Kurt Vonnegut
 
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  CELIA: I always wanted a face like this. I wish I could have been born with a face like this. It would have saved a lot of trouble. Everybody could have said, "Just leave that crazy old lady alone."

  RUDY: IS your husband home?

  CELIA: You're my husband. That's what I came to tell you.

  RUDY: Celia--you are not well. What's your doctor's name?

  CELIA: YOU are my doctor. You are the only person in this town who ever made me glad to be alive--with the medicine of your magic words! Give me more words!

  RUDY: You've lost your shoes.

  CELIA: I threw my shoes away! In your honor! I threw all my shoes away. They're all in the garbage can.

  RUDY: HOW did you get here?

  CELIA: I walked here--and I'll walk home again.

  RUDY: There's broken glass everywhere in this neighborhood.

  CELIA: I would gladly walk over glowing coals for you. I love you. I need you so.

  (RUDY considers this declaration, comes to a cynical conclusion, which makes him tired.)

  RUDY (emptily): Pills.

  CELIA: What a team we'd make--the crazy old lady and Deadeye Dick.

  RUDY: YOU want pills from me--without a prescription.

  CELIA: I love you.

  RUDY: Sure. But it's pills, not love, that make people walk over broken glass at midnight. What'll it be, Celia-- amphetamine?

  CELIA: AS a matter of fact--

  RUDY: AS a matter of fact--?

  CELIA (as though it were a perfectly routine order, certain to be filled): Pennwalt Biphetamine, please.

  RUDY: "Black beauties."

  CELIA: I've never heard them called that.

  RUDY: YOU know how black and glistening they are.

  CELIA: YOU heard what I call them.

  RUDY: YOU can't get them here.

  CELIA (indignantly): They've been prescribed for me for years!

  RUDY: I'll bet they have! But you've never been here before--with or without a prescription.

  CELIA: I came here to ask you to write another play.

  RUDY: YOU came here because you've been shut off everyplace else. And I wouldn't give you any more of that poison, if you had a prescription signed by God Almighty. Now you're going to tell me you don't love me after all.

  CELIA: I can't believe you're so mean.

  RUDY: And who was it who was so nice to you for so long? Dr. Mitchell, I'll bet--hand in hand with the Fairchild Heights Pharmacy. Too late, they got scared to death of what they'd done to you.

  CELIA: What makes you so afraid of love?

  (Telephone behind prescription counter rings. RUDY goes to answer.)

  RUDY: EXCUSE ME. (Into telephone) Schramm's. (He listens to a brief question blankly) So they say. (He hangs up) Somebody wanted to know if I was Deadeye Dick. Now, then, Mrs. Hoover--my understanding of the effects of long-term use of amphetamine leads me to expect that you will very soon become abusive. I can take that if I have to, but I'd rather get you home some way.

  CELIA: YOU think you know so much.

  RUDY: IS there someplace I can reach your husband? Is he home?

  CELIA: Detroit.

  RUDY: Your son's just a few blocks away.

  CELIA: I hate his guts, and he hates mine.

  RUDY: We seem to be living the crazy-old-lady play. I'll call Dr. Mitchell.

  CELIA: He's not my doctor anymore. Dwayne beat him up last week--for giving me all those pills so long.

  RUDY: Good for Dwayne.

  CELIA: Isn't that nice? And as soon as Dwayne gets back from Detroit, he's going to put me in the crazy house.

  RUDY: You do need help. You need a lot of help.

  CELIA: Then put your arms around me! (RUDY freezes)

  And no Pennwalt Biphetamine, either. No anything here. (She gravely sweeps a display of cosmetics from a counter to the floor)

  RUDY: Please don't do any more of that.

  CELIA: Oh--I'll pay for all damages, any damages I decide to do. Money is not a problem. (She brings forth a handful of gold coins from her trenchcoat pocket) See?

  RUDY: Gold pieces!

  CELIA: Sure! I don't fool around. My husband's a coin collector, you know.

  RUDY: There's got to be several thousand dollars there.

  CELIA: Yours, all yours, honeybunch. (She scatters the coins at his feet) Now give me a hug, or give me some Pennwalt Biphetamine.

  (RUDY goes to the telephone, dials.)

  RUDY (singing softly to himself waiting for an answer on the phone): Skeedee-wah, skeedee-woo. (Etc.)

  CELIA: Who are you calling?

  RUDY: The police.

  CELIA: YOU big tub of lard! (She topples a carousel of dark glasses.) You, fat Nazi bastard!

  RUDY (into telephone): This is Rudy Waltz--over at Schramm's. Who's this? Oh--Bob! I didn't recognize your voice. I need a little help here.

  CELIA: YOU need a lot of help here! (She sets about wrecking everything she can get her hands on) Killer! Mama's boy!

  RUDY (into telephone): Not a criminal matter. It's a mental case.

  (Curtain.)

  *

  But she got out of there before the police could come. When they arrived, they could see all the damage she had done, but she herself was roaming shoeless out in the night again. That is the second story I have told about Celia which ends with her fleeing barefoot.

  History repeats itself.

  The police went looking for her--to protect her. She could get robbed or raped. She could be attacked by dogs. She could be hit by a car.

  Meanwhile, I set about cleaning up the mess she had made. The store wasn't mine, so I was in no position to forgive and forget. Celia's husband was going to have to find out what she had done, and then he would be asked to cough up a thousand dollars or more. Celia had gone after the most expensive perfumes. Celia had gone after the watches, too, but they were still okay. It is virtually impossible to harm a Timex watch. For some reason, the less you pay for a watch, the surer you can be that it will never stop.

  My conscience was active as I worked. Should I have hugged her or given her amphetamine? My feeling was that chemicals had wrecked her brains, and that she wasn't Celia Hoover anymore. She was a monster. If I did write a play for her new face, I thought, she wouldn't be able to learn her lines. Somebody else would have to play her--in a fright wig, and with several teeth blacked out.

  What wonderful things could a writer put into the mouth of a crazy old lady like her anyway? My mind got this far with the problem, anyway: She could certainly shake up an audience if she let it think she was about a hundred years old for a while, and then told her true age. Celia was only forty-four when she took the drugstore apart.

  I tinkered, too, with the idea of having the voice of God coming from the back of the theater. Whoever played God would have to have a voice like my brother's.

  The actress playing Celia could ask why God had ever put her on earth.

  And then the voice from the back of the theater could rumble: "To reproduce. Nothing else really interests Me. All the rest is frippery."

  *

  She had reproduced, of course, which was certainly more than I had done. And I got it into my head to stop cleaning up for a minute and call up her son, Bunny. He would probably be in his room at the Fairchild Hotel, fresh home from work at the new Holiday Inn.

  He was wide awake. Somebody had told me that Bunny was heavily into cocaine. That could merely be a rumor.

  I told him who I was, and I said his mother had just been in the store, and that, in my opinion, she really needed help. "I just, thought you should know," I said.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that a mouse was listening to me. It was going to have to guess what was going on, since it could hear only my half of the conversation.

  So this disinherited young homosexual at the other end of the line laughed and laughed. Bunny wouldn't make any specific comments on his mother's poor health. His laughter was a terrible thing to hear. He sure hated her.


  But then he settled down some, and he told me that maybe I should spend more time worrying about my own relatives.

  "What do you mean by that?" I said. The little ears of the mouse were fine-tuning themselves to my voice, not wishing to miss a syllable.

  "Your brother's just been canned by NBC," he said.

  I said that that was just gossip.

  He said it wasn't gossip anymore. He had just heard it over the radio. "It's official," he said. "They finally caught up with him."

  "What is that supposed to mean?" I asked him.

  "He's just another big fake from Midland City," he said. "Everybody here is fake."

  "That's a nice thing to say about your own hometown," I said.

  "Your father was a fake. He couldn't paint good pictures. I'm a fake. I can't really play the piano. You're a fake. You can't write decent plays. It's perfectly all right, as long as we all stay home. That's where your brother made his mistake. He went away from home. They catch fakes out in the real world, you know. They catch 'em all the time."

  He laughed some more, and I hung up on him.

  But then the phone rang right away, and it was my brother calling from his penthouse in Manhattan. It was absolutely true, he said. It was official: He had been canned. "It's the best thing that ever happened to me," he said.

  "If that's the case, I'm glad for you," I said. I was standing there, with broken eyeglasses and gold pieces crunching under my feet. The police had come and gone so quickly that I hadn't had a chance to tell them about the gold.

  Gold! Gold! Gold!

  "For the first time in my life," said Felix, "I have the opportunity to find out who I really am. From now on, women can see me as a real human being, instead of a high-ranking corporate executive who can make them big shots, too."

  I told him that I could see how that might be a relief. His wife at that time was named Charlotte, so I asked him how Charlotte was taking things.

  "She is what I am talking about," he said. "She didn't marry Felix Waltz. She married the president of the National Broadcasting Company."

  I had never met Charlotte. She had sounded nice enough, the few times I had talked to her on the phone-- maybe just a touch insincere. She was trying to treat me like family, I guess. She thought she had to be warm, no matter what I really was. I don't know whether she ever found out I was a murderer.

  But now Felix was saying that she was insane.

  "That's putting it a little strong, I expect," I said.

  It turned out that Charlotte was so mad at him that she had cut all the buttons off his clothes--every coat, every suit, every shirt, every pair of pajamas. Then she had thrown all the buttons down the incinerator.

  People can sure get mad at each other. They are liable to do anything.

  "What's Mom's reaction?" he said.

  "She hasn't heard yet," I said. "I guess it'll be in the paper in the morning."

  "Tell her I've never been happier," he said.

  "Okay," I said.

  "She's going to take it pretty hard, I guess," he said.

  "Not as hard as she might have a few months ago," I said. "She's got some exciting problems of her own, for a change."

  "She's sick?" he said.

  "No, no, no," I said. Of course, she was sick, but I had no way of knowing that. "She's been appointed to the board of directors of the new arts center--"

  "You told me," he said. "That was certainly very nice of Fred T. Barry to appoint her."

  "Well--now she's fighting him tooth and nail about modern art," I said. "She's raising hell about the first two works of art he's bought, even though he paid for them with his own money."

  "That doesn't sound like Mother," said Felix.

  "One of them's a statue by Henry Moore--" I said.

  "The English sculptor?" said Felix.

  "Right. And the other one is a painting by somebody named Rabo Karabekian," I said. "The statue is already in the sculpture garden, and Mother says it's nothing but a figure eight on its side. The picture is supposed to go up just inside the front door, so it's the first thing you see when you come in. It's green. It's about the size of a barn door. It has one vertical orange stripe, and it's called 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony.' Mother wrote a letter to the paper, saying the picture was an insult to the memory of Father, and to the memory of every serious artist who ever lived."

  The telephone went dead. I will never know why. It was nothing I did on my end. It could have been caused by something the mouse on my end did. The mouse had gone away. It could have been fooling with the telephone wires in the wall. Or maybe, in the basement of my brother's building in New York City, somebody was putting a tap on his line. Maybe a private detective, working for his wife, wanted to get the goods on him--to be used in a divorce action later on. Anything is possible.

  Then the telephone came alive again. Felix was talking about coming home to Midland City to rediscover his roots. He said the exact opposite of what Bunny Hoover had said to me. He said that everybody in New York City was phony, and that it was the people of Midland City who were real. He named a lot of friends from high school. He was going to drink beer with them and go hunting with them.

  He mentioned some girls, too. It wasn't quite clear what he could do with them, since they were all married, and had children, or had left town. But he didn't mention Celia Hoover, and I didn't remind him of her--didn't tell him that she had become a crazy old bat, and that she had just taken the drugstore apart.

  It's interesting that he didn't mention Celia for this reason: He would later declare, under the influence of drugs a doctor had prescribed for him, that she was the only woman he had ever loved, and that he should have married her.

  Celia was dead by then.

  24

  I WOULD BE GLAD to attempt a detailed analysis of Celia Hoover's character, if I thought her character had much of anything to do with her suicide by Drno. As a pharmacist, though, I see no reason not to give full credit to amphetamine.

  Here is the warning which the law requires as a companion now for each shipment of amphetamine as it leaves the factory:

  "Amphetamine has been extensively abused. Tolerance, extreme psychological dependence, and severe social disability have occurred. There are reports of patients who have increased dosages to many times that recommended. Abrupt cessation following prolonged high dosage results in extreme fatigue and mental depression; changes are also noted in the sleep EEG.

  "Manifestations of chronic intoxication with amphetamine include severe dermatoses, marked insomnia, irritability, hyperactivity, and personality changes. The most severe manifestation of chronic intoxication is psychosis, often indistinguishable from schizophrenia."

  Want some?

  *

  The late twentieth century will go down in history, I'm sure, as an era of pharmaceutical buffoonery. My own brother came home from New York City--bombed on Darvon and Ritalin and methaqualone and Valium, and God only knows what all. He had prescriptions for every bit of it. He said he was home to discover his roots, but, after I heard about all the pills he was taking, I thought he would be lucky to find his own behind with both hands. I thought it was a miracle that he had even found the right exit off the Interstate.

  As it was, he had an accident on his way home--in a brand new white Rolls-Royce convertible. The car itself was drug-inspired madness. The day after he was fired and his fourth wife walked out on him, he bought a seventy-thousand-dollar motorcar.

  He loaded it up like a truck with his buttonless wardrobe, and took off for Midland City. And when he first got home, his conversation, if you could call it that, was repetitious, obsessed. There were only two things he wanted to do: One was to find his roots, and the other was to find some woman who would sew all his buttons back on. The only buttons he had were on the clothes on his back. He had been particularly vulnerable to an attack on his buttons, too, since his suits and coats were made in London, with buttons instead of zippers on their flies, and w
ith buttons at the wrists which actually buttoned and unbuttoned. He put on one of his buttonless coats for Mother and me, and those floppy cuffs made him look like a pirate in Peter Pan.

  *

  There was a big dent in the left front fender of that brand new Rolls-Royce, and a crease and a sort of chalky blue stripe that ran back from the dent and across the left-hand door. Felix had sideswiped something blue, and he was as curious about what it might have been as we were.

  It remains a mystery to the present day, although Felix, I am happy to say, is now drug free, except for alcohol and caffeine, which he uses in moderation. He remembers proposing marriage to a girl he picked up at a tollbooth on the Ohio Turnpike. "She bailed out in downtown Mansfield," he said the other night. He had swung off the turnpike and into Mansfield, to buy her a color television set or a stereo or anything she wanted, as proof of how much he liked her.

  "That could have been where I got the dent," he said.

  He was able to identify the drug which had made him so brainlessly ardent, too. "Methaqualone," he said.

  *

  I think now about all the little shitbox houses I have driven by in my life, and that all Americans have driven by in their lives--shitbox houses with very expensive cars in the driveway, and maybe even a yacht on a trailer, too. And suddenly there was Mother's and my little shitbox, with a new Mercedes under the carport, and a new Rolls-Royce convertible on the front lawn. That was where Felix first parked his car when he got home--on the lawn. We were lucky he didn't take down the post lantern, and half the shrubbery, too.

  So in he came, saying, "The prodigal son is home! Kill the fatted calf!" and so on. Mother and I had known he was coming, but we hadn't known exactly when. We were all dressed up, and about to go out, and were going to leave the side door unlocked for him.

  I was wearing my best suit, which was as tight as the skin of a knackwurst. I had put on a lot of weight recently. It was the fault of my own good cooking. I had been trying out a lot of new recipes, with considerable success. And Mother, who hadn't put on an ounce in fifty years, was wearing the black dress Felix had bought her for Father's funeral.

  "Where do you two think you're going?" said Felix.

  So Mother told him. "We're going to Celia Hoover's funeral," she said.

  That was the first Felix had heard that his date for the senior prom was no longer among the living. The last he had seen of her, she had been running away from him barefoot, and into a vacant lot--at night.

 
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