Deadeye dick, p.18
Deadeye Dick, p.18Kurt Vonnegut
Our parents had no interest in sports.
Maybe twenty feet away from the obelisk was the most fanciful marker in the cemetery, a radial, air-cooled airplane engine reproduced in pink marble, and fitted with a bronze propeller. This was the headstone of Will Fairchild, the World War One ace in the Lafayette Escadrille, after whom the airport was named. He hadn't died in the war. He' had crashed and burned, again with thousands watching, in 1922, while stunt flying at the Midland County Fair.
He was the last of the Fairchilds, a pioneering family after which so much in the city was named. He had failed to reproduce before his peephole closed.
Inscribed in the bronze propeller were his name and dates, and the euphemism fliers in the Lafayette Escadrille used for death in an airplane in wartime: "Gone West."
"West," to an American in Europe, of course, meant "home."
Here he was home.
Somewhere near me, I knew, was the headless body of old August Gunther, who had taken Father when a youth to the fanciest whorehouses in the Corn Belt. Shame on him.
I raised my eyes to the horizon, and there, on the other side of shining Sugar Creek, was the white-capped slate roof of my childhood home. In the level rays of the setting sun, it did indeed resemble a postcard picture of Fujiyama, the sacred volcano of Japan.
Felix and Ketchum were at a distance, visiting more contemporary graves. Felix would tell me later that he had managed to maintain his aplomb while visiting Mother and Father, but that he had gone all to pieces when, turning away from their markers, he discovered that he had been standing on Celia Hoover's grave.
Eloise Metzger, the woman I had shot, was also over there somewhere. I had never paid her a call.
I heard my brother go to pieces over Celia Hoover's grave, and I looked in his direction. I saw that Hippolyte Paul De Mille was attempting to cheer him up.
I was not alone, by the way. A soldier with a loaded M-16 was with me, making certain that I kept my hands in my pockets. We weren't even to touch tombstones. And Felix and Hippolyte Paul and Bernard Ketchum also kept their hands in their pockets, no matter how much they might have wanted to gesticulate among the tombstones.
And then Hippolyte Paul De Mille said something to Felix in Creole which was so astonishing, so offensive, that Felix's grief dropped away like an iron mask. Hippolyte Paul had offered to raise the ghost of Celia Hoover from the grave, if Felix would really like to see her again.
There was a clash between two cultures, or I have never seen one.
To Hippolyte Paul, raising a spirit from a grave was the most ordinary sort of favor for a gifted metaphysician to offer a friend. He wasn't proposing to exhume a zombie, a walking corpse with dirt and rags clinging to it, and so on, a clearly malicious thing to do. He simply wanted to give Felix a misty but recognizable ghost to look at, and to talk to, although the ghost would not be able to reply to him, if that might somehow comfort him.
To Felix, it seemed that our Haitian headwaiter was offering to make him insane, for only a lunatic would gladly meet a ghost.
So these two very different sorts of human beings, their hands thrust deep into their pockets, talked past each other in a mixture of English and Creole, while Ketchum and Captain Pefko and a couple of other soldiers looked on.
Hippolyte Paul was at last so deeply hurt that he turned his back on Felix and walked away. He was coming in my direction, and I signaled with my head that he should keep coming, that I would explain the misunderstanding, that I understood his point of view as well as my brother's, and so on.
If he stayed mad at Felix, there went the Grand Hotel Oloffson.
"She doesn't feel anything. She doesn't know anything," he said to me in Creole. He meant that Celia's ghost wouldn't have caused any embarrassment or inconvenience or discomfort of any sort to Celia herself, who could feel nothing. The ghost would be nothing more than an illusion, based harmlessly on whatever Celia used to be.
"I know. I understand," I said. I explained that Felix had been upset about a lot of things lately, and that Hippolyte Paul would be mistaken to take anything Felix said too much to heart.
Hippolyte Paul nodded uncertainly, but then he brightened. He said that there was surely somebody in the cemetery that I would like to see again.
The soldier guarding us understood none of this, of course.
"You are nice," I said in Creole. "You are too generous, but I am happy as I am."
The old headwaiter was determined to work his miracle, whether we wanted it or not. He argued that we owed it both to the past and to the future to raise some sort of representative ghost which would haunt the city, no matter who lived there, for generations to come.
So, for the sake of the hotel, I told him to go ahead and raise one, but from the part of the cemetery where we stood, where I didn't know anyone.
So he raised the ghost of Will Fairchild. The old barnstormer was wearing goggles and a white silk scarf and a black leather helmet and all, but no parachute.
I remembered what Father had told me about him one time: "Will Fairchild would be alive today, if only he had worn a parachute."
So there was Hippolyte Paul De Mule's gift to whoever was going to inhabit Midland City next: the restless ghost of Will Fairchild.
And I, Rudy Waltz, the William Shakespeare of Midland City, the only serious dramatist ever to live and work there, will now make my own gift to the future, which is a legend. I have invented an explanation of why Will Fairchild's ghost is likely to be seen roaming almost anywhere in town--in the empty arts center, in the lobby of the bank, out among the little shitboxes of Avondale, out among the luxurious homes of Fairchild Heights, in the vacant lot where the public library stood for so many years....
Will Fairchild is looking for his parachute.
You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages--they haven't ended yet.
A Dial Press Trade Paperback Book Published by
The Dial Press
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New York, New York This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Copyright (c) 1982 by The Ramjac Corporation
The Dial Press and Dial Press Trade Paperbacks are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 82-13024
Kurt Vonnegut, Deadeye Dick
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