Deadeye dick, p.15
Deadeye Dick, p.15Kurt Vonnegut
If he was going to catch her now, he would have to go wherever it was that the dead people went.
That would make a good scene in a movie: Felix in heaven, wearing a tuxedo for the senior prom carrying Celia's golden slippers, and calling out over and over again, "Celia! Celia! Where are you? I have your dancing shoes."
So nothing would do but that Felix come to the funeral with us. Methaqualone had persuaded him that he and Celia had been high school sweethearts, and that he should have married her. "She was what I was looking for all the time, and I never even realized it," he said.
I think now that Mother and I should have driven him to the County Hospital for detoxification. But we got into his car with him, and told him where the funeral was. The top was down, which was no way to go to a funeral, and Felix himself was a mess. His necktie was askew, and his shirt was filthy, and he had a two-day growth of beard. He had found time to buy a Rolls-Royce, but it hadn't occurred to him that he might have bought some new shirts with buttons, too. He wasn't going to have another shirt with buttons until he could find some woman who would sew all his buttons on.
Off we went to the First Methodist Church, with Felix at the wheel and Mother in the back seat. As luck would have it, Felix almost closed the peephole of his first wife, Donna, as she was getting out of her Thunderbird in front of her twin sister's house on Arsenal Avenue. It would have been her fault, if she had died, since she didn't look to see what was coming before she disembarked on the driver's side. But it would have made for an ugly case in court, since Felix had already put her through a windshield once, and he was still paying her a lot of alimony, and the business about all the pills he was taking would have come out, and so on. Worst of all, as far as a jury was concerned, I'm sure, would have been the fact that he was a bloated plutocrat in a Rolls-Royce.
Felix didn't even recognize her, and I don't think she recognized him, either. When I told him who it was he had almost hit, he spoke of her most unkindly. He recalled that her scalp was crisscrossed with scars, because of her trip through the windshield. When he used to run his fingers through her hair, he would encounter those scars, and he would get this crazy idea that he was a quarterback. "I would look downfield for an end who was open for a forward pass," he said.
It was at the church, though, that Felix and his good friend methaqualone became embarrassing. We got there late, so we had to sit toward the back, where those least concerned with the deceased should have been sitting anyway. If we were going to make any disturbance, people would have to swivel around in their pews to see who we were.
The service started quietly enough. I heard only one person crying, and she was way up front, and I think it was Lottie Davis, the Hoovers' black maid. She and Dwayne were the only people there to do a whole lot of crying, since practically nobody else had seen Celia for seven years--since she had starred in Katmandu.
Her son wasn't there.
Her doctor wasn't there.
Both her parents were dead, and all her brothers and sisters had drifted off to God-knows-where. One brother, I know, was killed in the Korean War. And somebody swore, I remember, that he had seen her sister Shirley as an extra in the remake of the movie King Kong. Maybe so.
There were maybe two hundred mourners there. Most of them were employees and friends and customers and suppliers of Dwayne's. The word was all over town of how in need of support he was, of how vocally ashamed he was to have been such a bad husband that his wife had committed suicide. He had been quoted to me as having made a public announcement in the Tally-ho Room of the new Holiday Inn, the day after Celia killed herself: "I take half the blame, but the other half goes to that son-of-bitching Doctor Jerry Mitchell. Watch out for the pills your doctor tells your wife to take. That's all I've got to say."
It must have been a startling scene. From five until six thirty or so every weekday night, the Tally-ho Room, the cocktail lounge, was a plenary session of the oligarchy of Midland City. A few powerful people, most notably Fred T. Barry, were involved in planetary games, so that the deliberations at the Tally-ho Room were beneath their notice. But anyone doing big business or hoping to do big business strictly within the county was foolish not to show his face there at least once a week, if only to drink a glass of ginger ale. The Tally-ho Room did a very big trade in ginger ale.
Dwayne owned a piece of the new Holiday Inn, incidentally. His automobile dealership was right next door, on the same continuous sheet of blacktop. And the Tally-ho Room was where his disinherited son, Bunny, played the piano. The story was that Bunny applied for the job there, and the manager of the Inn asked Dwayne how he felt about it, and Dwayne said he had never heard of Bunny, so he did not care if the Inn hired him or not, as long as he could play the piano.
And then Dwayne added, supposedly, that he himself hated piano music, since it interfered with conversation. All he asked was that there be no piano playing until eight o'clock at night. That way, although he did not say so, Dwayne Hoover would never have to lay eyes on his disgraceful son.
I daydreamed at Celia's funeral. There was no reason to expect that anything truly exciting or consoling would be said. Not even the minister, the Reverend Charles Harrell, believed in heaven or hell. Not even the minister thought that every life had a meaning, and that every death could startle us into learning something important, and so on. The corpse was a mediocrity who had broken down after a while. The mourners were mediocrities who would break down after a while.
The city itself was breaking down. Its center was already dead. Everybody shopped at the outlying malls. Heavy industry had gone bust. People were moving away.
The planet itself was breaking down. It was going to blow itself up sooner or later anyway, if it didn't poison itself first. In a manner of speaking, it was already eating Drno.
There in the back of the church, I daydreamed a theory of what life was all about. I told myself that Mother and Felix and the Reverend Harrell and Dwayne Hoover and so on were cells in what was supposed to be one great big animal. There was no reason to take us seriously as individuals. Celia in her casket there, all shot through with Drno and amphetamine, might have been a dead cell sloughed off by a pancreas the size of the Milky Way.
How comical that I, a single cell, should take my life so seriously!
I found myself smiling at a funeral.
I stopped smiling. I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. One person had. He was at the other end of our pew, and he did not look away when I caught him gazing at me. He went right on gazing, and it was I who faced forward again. I had not recognized him. He was wearing large sunglasses with mirrored lenses. He could have been anyone.
But then I became the center of attention for the full congregation, for Reverend Harrell had mentioned my name. He was talking about Rudy Waltz. I was Rudy Waltz. To whoever might be watching our insignificant lives under an electron microscope: We cells have names, and, if we know little else, we know our names.
Reverend Harrell told the congregation of the six weeks when he and the late Celia Hoover, nee Hildreth, and the playwright Rudy Waltz had known blissful unselfishness which could serve as a good example for the rest of the world. He was talking about the local production of Katmandu. He had played the part of John Fortune, the Ohio pilgrim to nowhere, and Celia had played the ghost of his wife. He was a gifted actor. He resembled a lion.
For all I know, Celia may have fallen in love with him. For all I know, Celia may have fallen in love with me. In any case, the Reverend and I were clearly unavailable.
As only a gifted actor could, the Reverend made the Mask and Wig Club's production of Katmandu, and especially Celia's performance, sound as though it had enriched lives all over town. My own calculation is that people were as moved by the play as they might have been by a good game of basketball. The auditorium was a nice enough place to be t
Reverend Harrell said it was sad that Celia had not lived to see the completion of the Mildred Barry Memorial Center for the Arts in Sugar Creek, but that her performance in Katmandu was proof that the arts were important in Midland City before the center was built.
He declared that the most important arts centers a city could have were human beings, not buildings. He called attention to me again. "There in the back sits an arts center named 'Rudy Waltz,' " he said.
It was then that Felix and his friend methaqualone began wailing. Felix was as loud as a fire engine, and he could not stop.
THERE WAS just a prayer and some music after that, thank God, and then the recessional, with the pallbearers wheeling the casket out to the hearse. Otherwise, Felix's sobbing could have wrecked the funeral. Mother and I gave up on going to the burial. We had no thought but to get Felix out of the church and into the County Hospital. It was all we could do not to get out ahead of the casket.
We had come late, so we were parked fairly far out on the parking lot, and there were a number of neighborhood children paying their respects to the Rolls-Royce. They had never seen one before, I'm sure, but they knew what it was. They were so reverent, that they might have been attending an open-casket funeral right there in the parking lot.
Celia Hoover's casket, by the way, was closed. That must have been because of the Drno.
We got Felix into the back seat without any trouble. He sat there with the top down, sobbing away. I think we could have sent him up a tree, and he would have been up among the branches and birds' nests, sobbing away.
But he wouldn't give us the keys. The keys were too materialistic a concern for him to consider at such a time. So I had to go through his pockets, while Mother told me to hurry up, hurry up. I happened to glance in the direction of the church, and I saw that Dwayne Hoover, maybe having told everybody to stay behind, that he had some private business with Felix to conduct, was coming in our direction.
He might have been expected to remain close to the hearse, and to duck curious and possibly accusing eyes by getting into the undertaker's Cadillac limousine behind it. But, no--he was going to trudge fifty yards out into the parking lot instead, and we were the only people out there, since we had fled the church so quickly. So it was like a scene in a cowboy movie, with the townspeople all huddled together, and with a half-broken, tragic, great big man going to meet destiny all alone.
The hearse could wait.
He had business to settle first.
If this confrontation scene were done as a playlet, the set could be very simple. A curb along the back of the stage might indicate the edge of a parking lot. A Rolls-Royce with its top down, which is the expensive part, could be parked next to that, aimed left. Flats behind the curb could be painted with trees and shrubbery. A tasteful wooden sign might make the location more specific, saying:
FIRST METHODIST CHURCH
ALL PERSONS WELCOME.
Felix would be sobbing in the back seat of the Rolls-Royce. Mother, whose name was Emma, and I, whose name is Rudy, would be between the convertible and the audience. Emma would have the heebie-jeebies, wanting to get out of there, and Rudy would be frisking Felix for the keys.
FELIX: Who cares about the keys?
EMMA: Hurry up--oh, please hurry up.
RUDY: How many pockets can they put in a London suit? God damn it, Felix.
FELIX: You're making me sorry I came home.
EMMA: I could die.
FELIX: I loved her so much.
RUDY: Did you ever!
(RUDY happens to look in the direction of the church, off right, and is appalled to see DWAYNE approaching.)
RUDY: Oh, my God.
FELIX: Pray for her. That's what I'm going to do.
RUDY: Felix--get out of the car.
EMMA: Let him stay there. Get him to hunker down.
RUDY: Mother--look behind you. Here comes Dwayne. (EMMA looks, hates what she sees.)
EMMA: Oh. You'd think he'd stay with the body.
RUDY: Felix--get out of the car, because I think somebody just might want to beat the shit out of you.
FELIX: I just got home.
RUDY: I'm not kidding. Here comes Dwayne. He beat the shit out of Doctor Mitchell a week ago. This could be your turn.
FELIX: I've got to fight him?
RUDY: Get out of the car and run!
(FELIX gets out of the car, muttering and complaining. His tears have abated some. The danger is so unreal to him that he doesn't even look to see where the danger may be coming from. He is distracted by the dent and scratch on the side of the car as DWAYNE enters right and stops.)
FELIX: Oh, look at that. What a shame.
DWAYNE: It really is--a beautiful machine like that.
(FELIX straightens up and turns to look at him.)
FELIX: Hello. You're the husband.
DWAYNE: Where do you fit in?
DWAYNE: I'm the husband, and I never felt worse in my life--but I couldn't cry the way you cried. I never heard anybody cry like you did, male or female. Where do you fit in?
FELIX: We were sweethearts in high school.
(As DWAYNE thinks this over, FELIX takes a bottle of pills from a pocket and starts to open it.)
EMMA: NO more pills!
RUDY: My brother isn't well.
EMMA: He's insane--and I used to be so proud of him.
DWAYNE: I'd be sorry to believe he was crazy. I'm hoping he was crying because he was sane.
EMMA: He can't fight. He never could.
RUDY: We're on our way to the hospital.
FELIX: Just a damn minute here. I was crying because I'm sane. I'm the sanest person in this whole shit-storm! What the hell's going on?
EMMA: GO ahead and get your brains beat out.
FELIX: YOU must be the worst mother a person ever had.
EMMA: I never disgraced myself and my family in public, I'll tell you that.
FELIX: YOU never sewed on a button, either. You never hugged or kissed me.
EMMA: Who could blame me?
FELIX: You never did anything a mother's supposed to do.
DWAYNE: Just tell me more about why you cried!
FELIX: We were raised by servants--do you know that? This lady here ought to get switches and coal every Mother's Day! My brother and I know so much about black people and so little about white people, we should be in a minstrel show.
DWAYNE: He really is crazy, isn't he?
FELIX: Amos 'n' Andy.
EMMA: I have never been so humiliated in my life, and as a younger woman I have traveled all over this world.
DWAYNE: At least you never had a wife commit suicide. Or a husband.
EMMA: I know you've been through so much, and then all this on top of it.
DWAYNE: I don't know what part of the world you could have visited, where having the person you were married to commit suicide wasn't the most humiliating thing that could happen.
EMMA: YOU go back to your friends. And again, I'm so ashamed of my son, I wish he were dead. Go back to your friends.
DWAYNE: Those people back there? You know something? I think maybe I would have come walking out here alone, even if you hadn't been out here. If you hadn't given me a logical place to stop, I might have kept walking until I was in Katmandu. I'm the only person in town who hasn't been to Katmandu. My dentist's been to Katmandu.
EMMA: YOU go to Herb Stacks, too?
DWAYNE: Sure. Celia, too--or used to.
EMMA: I wonder why we never met there?
FELIX: Because he uses Gleem toothpaste with Fluoristan.
EMMA: I can't be responsible for what he says. I can't imagine how he got control of an entire major television network.
DWAYNE: Celia never told me that you and she were sweethearts. That was her big complaint right up to the end, you know--that nobody had ever loved her, so why s
EMMA: Radio, too. He was also in charge of radio.
FELIX: You're interrupting an important conversation--as usual. Mr. Hoover--yes, Celia and I were not only sweethearts in high school, but I realized there in church that she was the only woman I had ever loved, and maybe the only woman I will ever love. I hope I have not offended you.
DWAYNE: I'm glad. I may not look glad, but I am glad. They're going to honk the horn of the hearse any minute--to tell me to hurry up, that the cemetery's about to close. She was like this Rolls-Royce here, you know?
FELIX: The most beautiful woman I ever knew. No offense, no offense.
DWAYNE: No offense. Anybody who wants to can say she was the most beautiful woman he ever saw. You should have married her, not me.
FELIX: I wasn't worthy of her. Look at the dent I put in the Rolls-Royce.
DWAYNE: YOU scraped up against something blue.
FELIX: Listen. She lasted a lot longer with you than she would have lasted with me. I'm one of the worst husbands there ever was.
DWAYNE: Not as bad as me. I just ran away from her, she was so unhappy, and I didn't know what to do about it--and there wasn't anybody else to take her off my hands. I'm good for selling cars. I can really sell cars. I can fix cars. I can really fix cars. But I sure couldn't fix that woman. Never even knew where to get the tools. I put her up on blocks and forgot her. I only wish you'd come along in time to rescue the both of us. But you did me a big favor today. At least I don't have to think my poor wife went all the way through life without finding out what love was.
FELIX: Where am I? What have I said? What have I done?
DWAYNE: You come on along to the cemetery. I don't care if you're crazy or not. You'll make this automobile dealer feel a little bit better, if you'll just cry some more--while we put my poor wife in the ground.
WE ALL SEE our lives as stories, it seems to me, and I am convinced that psychologists and sociologists and historians and so on would find it useful to acknowledge that. If a person survives an ordinary span of sixty years or more, there is every chance that his or her life as a shapely story has ended, and all that remains to be experienced is epilogue. Life is not over, but the story is.
Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes