In a way it was all Yossarian’s fault, for if he had not moved the bomb line during the Big Siege of Bologna, Major—de Coverley might still be around to save him, and if he had not stocked the enlisted men’s apartment with girls who had no other place to live, Nately might never have fallen in love with his whore as she sat naked from the waist down in the room full of grumpy blackjack players who ignored her. Nately stared at her covertly from his over-stuffed yellow armchair, marveling at the bored, phlegmatic strength with which she accepted the mass rejection. She yawned, and he was deeply moved. He had never witnessed such heroic poise before.
The girl had climbed five steep flights of stairs to sell herself to the group of satiated enlisted men, who had girls living there all around them; none wanted her at any price, not even after she had stripped without real enthusiasm to tempt them with a tall body that was firm and full and truly voluptuous. She seemed more fatigued than disappointed. Now she sat resting in vacuous indolence, watching the card game with dull curiosity as she gathered her recalcitrant energies for the tedious chore of donning the rest of her clothing and going back to work. In a little while she stirred. A little while later she rose with an unconscious sigh and stepped lethargically into her tight cotton panties and dark skirt, then buckled on her shoes and left. Nately slipped out behind her; and when Yossarian and Aarfy entered the officers’ apartment almost two hours later, there she was again, stepping into her panties and skirt, and it was almost like the chaplain’s recurring sensation of having been through a situation before, except for Nately, who was moping inconsolably with his hands in his pockets.
‘She wants to go now,’ he said in a faint, strange voice. ‘She doesn’t want to stay.’
‘Why don’t you just pay her some money to let you spend the rest of the day with her?’ Yossarian advised.
‘She gave me my money back,’ Nately admitted. ‘She’s tired of me now and wants to go looking for someone else.’ The girl paused when her shoes were on to glance in surly invitation at Yossarian and Aarfy. Her breasts were pointy and large in the thin white sleeveless sweater she wore that squeezed each contour and flowed outward smoothly with the tops of her enticing hips. Yossarian returned her gaze and was strongly attracted. He shook his head.
‘Good riddance to bad rubbish,’ was Aarfy’s unperturbed response.
‘Don’t say that about her!’ Nately protested with passion that was both a plea and a rebuke. ‘I want her to stay with me.’
‘What’s so special about her?’ Aarfy sneered with mock surprise. ‘She’s only a whore.’
‘And don’t call her a whore!’ The girl shrugged impassively after a few more seconds and ambled toward the door. Nately bounded forward wretchedly to hold it open. He wandered back in a heartbroken daze, his sensitive face eloquent with grief.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Yossarian counseled him as kindly as he could. ‘You’ll probably be able to find her again. We know where all the whores hang out.’
‘Please don’t call her that,’ Nately begged, looking as though he might cry.
‘I’m sorry,’ murmured Yossarian.
Aarfy thundered jovially, ‘There are hundreds of whores just as good crawling all over the streets. That one wasn’t even pretty.’ He chuckled mellifluously with resonant disdain and authority. ‘Why, you rushed forward to open that door as though you were in love with her.’
‘I think I am in love with her,’ Nately confessed in a shamed, far-off voice.
Aarfy wrinkled his chubby round rosy forehead in comic disbelief. ‘Ho, ho, ho, ho!’ he laughed, patting the expansive forest-green sides of his officer’s tunic prosperously. ‘That’s rich. You in love with her? That’s really rich.’ Aarfy had a date that same afternoon with a Red Cross girl from Smith whose father owned an important milk-of-magnesia plant. ‘Now, that’s the kind of girl you ought to be associating with, and not with common sluts like that one. Why, she didn’t even look clean.’
‘I don’t care!’ Nately shouted desperately. ‘And I wish you’d shut up, I don’t even want to talk about it with you.’
‘Aarfy, shut up,’ said Yossarian.
‘Ho, ho, ho, ho!’ Aarfy continued. ‘I just can’t imagine what your father and mother would say if they knew you were running around with filthy trollops like that one. Your father is a very distinguished man, you know.’
‘I’m not going to tell him,’ Nately declared with determination. ‘I’m not going to say a word about her to him or Mother until after we’re married.’
‘Married?’ Aarfy’s indulgent merriment swelled tremendously. ‘Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! Now you’re really talking stupid. Why, you’re not even old enough to know what true love is.’ Aarfy was an authority on the subject of true love because he had already fallen truly in love with Nately’s father and with the prospect of working for him after the war in some executive capacity as a reward for befriending Nately. Aarfy was a lead navigator who had never been able to find himself since leaving college. He was a genial, magnanimous lead navigator who could always forgive the other man in the squadron for denouncing him furiously each time he got lost on a combat mission and led them over concentrations of antiaircraft fire. He got lost on the streets of Rome that same afternoon and never did find the eligible Red Cross girl from Smith with the important milk-of-magnesia plant. He got lost on the mission to Ferrara the day Kraft was shot down and killed, and he got lost again on the weekly milk run to Parma and tried to lead the planes out to sea over the city of Leghorn after Yossarian had dropped his bombs on the undefended inland target and settled back against his thick wall of armor plate with his eyes closed and a fragrant cigarette in his fingertips. Suddenly there was flak, and all at once McWatt was shrieking over the intercom, ‘Flak! Flak! Where the hell are we? What the hell’s going on?’ Yossarian flipped his eyes open in alarm and saw the totally unexpected bulging black puffs of flak crashing down in toward them from high up and Aarfy’s complacent melon-round tiny-eyed face gazing out at the approaching cannon bursts with affable bemusement. Yossarian was flabbergasted. His leg went abruptly to sleep. McWatt had started to climb and was yelping over the intercom for instructions. Yossarian sprang forward to see where they were and remained in the same place. He was unable to move. Then he realized he was sopping wet. He looked down at his crotch with a sinking, sick sensation. A wild crimson blot was crawling upward rapidly along his shirt front like an enormous sea monster rising to devour him. He was hit! Separate trickles of blood spilled to a puddle on the floor through one saturated trouser leg like countless unstoppable swarms of wriggling red worms. His heart stopped. A second solid jolt struck the plane. Yossarian shuddered with revulsion at the queer sight of his wound and screamed at Aarfy for help.
‘I lost my balls! Aarfy, I lost my balls!’ Aarfy didn’t hear, and Yossarian bent forward and tugged at his arm. ‘Aarfy, help me,’ he pleaded, almost weeping, ‘I’m hit! I’m hit!’ Aarfy turned slowly with a bland, quizzical grin. ‘What?’
‘I’m hit, Aarfy! Help me!’ Aarfy grinned again and shrugged amiably. ‘I can’t hear you,’ he said.
‘Can’t you see me?’ Yossarian cried incredulously, and he pointed to the deepening pool of blood he felt splashing down all around him and spreading out underneath. ‘I’m wounded! Help me, for God’s sake! Aarfy, help me!’
‘I still can’t hear you,’ Aarfy complained tolerantly, cupping his podgy hand behind the blanched corolla of his ear. ‘What did you say?’ Yossarian answered in a collapsing voice, weary suddenly of shouting so much, of the whole frustrating, exasperating, ridiculous situation. He was dying, and no one took notice. ‘Never mind.’
‘What?’ Aarfy shouted.
‘I said I lost my balls! Can’t you hear me? I’m wounded in the groin!’
‘I still can’t hear you,’ Aaxfy chided.
‘I said never mind!’ Yossarian screamed with a trapped feeling of terror and began to shiver, feeling very cold suddenly and very weak.
Aarfy shook his head regretfully again and lowered his obscene, lactescent ear almost directly into Yossarian’s face. ‘You’ll just have to speak up, my friend. You’ll just have to speak up.’
‘Leave me alone, you bastard! You dumb, insensitive bastard, leave me alone!’ Yossarian sobbed. He wanted to pummel Aarfy, but lacked the strength to lift his arms. He decided to sleep instead and keeled over sideways into a dead faint.
He was wounded in the thigh, and when he recovered consciousness he found McWatt on both knees taking care of him. He was relieved, even though he still saw Aarfy’s bloated cherub’s face hanging down over McWatt’s shoulder with placid interest. Yossarian smiled feebly at McWatt, feeling ill, and asked, ‘Who’s minding the store?’ McWatt gave no sign that he heard. With growing horror, Yossarian gathered in breath and repeated the words as loudly as he could.
McWatt looked up. ‘Christ, I’m glad you’re still alive!’ he exclaimed, heaving an enormous sigh. The good-humored, friendly crinkles about his eyes were white with tension and oily with grime as he kept unrolling an interminable bandage around the bulky cotton compress Yossarian felt strapped burdensomely to the inside of one thigh. ‘Nately’s at the controls. The poor kid almost started bawling when he heard you were hit. He still thinks you’re dead. They knocked open an artery for you, but I think I’ve got it stopped. I gave you some morphine.’
‘Give me some more.’
‘It might be too soon. I’ll give you some more when it starts to hurt.’
‘It hurts now.’
‘Oh, well, what the hell,’ said McWatt and injected another syrette of morphine into Yossarian’s arm.
‘When you tell Nately I’m all right…’ said Yossarian to McWatt, and lost consciousness again as everything went fuzzy behind a film of strawberry-strained gelatin and a great baritone buzz swallowed him in sound. He came to in the ambulance and smiled encouragement at Doc Daneeka’s weevil-like, glum and overshadowed countenance for the dizzy second or two he had before everything went rose-petal pink again and then turned really black and unfathomably still.
Yossarian woke up in the hospital and went to sleep. When he woke up in the hospital again, the smell of ether was gone and Dunbar was lying in pajamas in the bed across the aisle maintaining that he was not Dunbar but a fortiori. Yossarian thought he was cracked. He curled his lip skeptically at Dunbar’s bit of news and slept on it fitfully for a day or two, then woke up while the nurses were elsewhere and eased himself out of bed to see for himself. The floor swayed like the floating raft at the beach and the stitches on the inside of his thigh bit into his flesh like fine sets of fish teeth as he limped across the aisle to peruse the name on the temperature card on the foot of Dunbar’s bed, but sure enough, Dunbar was right: he was not Dunbar any more but Second Lieutenant Anthony F. Fortiori.
‘What the hell’s going on?’ A. Fortiori got out of bed and motioned to Yossarian to follow. Grasping for support at anything he could reach, Yossarian limped along after him into the corridor and down the adjacent ward to a bed containing a harried young man with pimples and a receding chin. The harried young man rose on one elbow with alacrity as they approached. A. Fortiori jerked his thumb over his shoulder and said, ‘Screw.’ The harried young man jumped out of bed and ran away. A. Fortiori climbed into the bed and became Dunbar again.
‘That was A. Fortiori,’ Dunbar explained. ‘They didn’t have an empty bed in your ward, so I pulled my rank and chased him back here into mine. It’s a pretty satisfying experience pulling rank. You ought to try it sometime. You ought to try it right now, in fact, because you look like you’re going to fall down.’ Yossarian felt like he was going to fall down. He turned to the lantern jawed, leather-faced middle-aged man lying in the bed next to Dunbar’s, jerked his thumb over his shoulder and said ‘Screw.’ The middle-aged man stiffened fiercely and glared.
‘He’s a major,’ Dunbar explained. ‘Why don’t you aim a little lower and try becoming Warrant Officer Homer Lumley for a while? Then you can have a father in the state legislature and a sister who’s engaged to a champion skier. Just tell him you’re a captain.’ Yossarian turned to the startled patient Dunbar had indicated. ‘I’m a captain,’ he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. ‘Screw.’ The startled patient jumped down to the floor at Yossarian’s command and ran away. Yossarian climbed up into his bed and became Warrant Officer Homer Lumley, who felt like vomiting and was covered suddenly with a clammy sweat. He slept for an hour and wanted to be Yossarian again. It did not mean so much to have a father in the state legislature and a sister who was engaged to a champion skier. Dunbar led the way back to Yossarian’s ward, where he thumbed A. Fortiori out of bed to become Dunbar again for a while. There was no sign of Warrant Officer Homer Lumley. Nurse Cramer was there, though, and sizzled with sanctimonious anger like a damp firecracker. She ordered Yossarian to get right back into his bed and blocked his path so he couldn’t comply. Her pretty face was more repulsive than ever. Nurse Cramer was a good-hearted, sentimental creature who rejoiced unselfishly at news of weddings, engagements, births and anniversaries even though she was unacquainted with any of the people involved.
‘Are you crazy?’ she scolded virtuously, shaking an indignant finger in front of his eyes. ‘I suppose you just don’t care if you kill yourself, do you?’
‘It’s my self,’ he reminded her.
‘I suppose you just don’t care if you lose your leg, do you?’
‘It’s my leg.’
‘It certainly is not your leg!’ Nurse Cramer retorted. ‘That leg belongs to the U. S. government. It’s no different than a gear or a bedpan. The Army has invested a lot of money to make you an airplane pilot, and you’ve no right to disobey the doctor’s orders.’ Yossarian was not sure he liked being invested in. Nurse Cramer was still standing directly in front of him so that he could not pass. His head was aching. Nurse Cramer shouted at him some question he could not understand. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder and said, ‘Screw.’ Nurse Cramer cracked him in the face so hard she almost knocked him down. Yossarian drew back his fist to punch her in the jaw just as his leg buckled and he began to fall. Nurse Duckett strode up in time to catch him. She addressed them both firmly.
‘Just what’s going on here?’
‘He won’t get back into his bed,’ Nurse Cramer reported zealously in an injured tone. ‘Sue Ann, he said something absolutely horrible to me. Oh, I can’t even make myself repeat it!’
‘She called me a gear,’ Yossarian muttered.
Nurse Duckett was not sympathetic. ‘Will you get back into bed,’ she said, ‘or must I take you by your ear and put you there?’
‘Take me by my ear and put me there,’ Yossarian dared her.
Nurse Duckett took him by his ear and put him back in bed.
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