33. Thanksgiving

3/10/15
33. Thanksgiving

  • cute_smiley15Thanksgiving

    It was actually all Sergeant Knight’s fault that Yossarian busted Nately in the nose on Thanksgiving Day, after everyone in the squadron had given humble thanks to Milo for providing the fantastically opulent meal on which the officers and enlisted men had gorged themselves insatiably all afternoon and for dispensing like inexhaustible largess the unopened bottles of cheap whiskey he handed out unsparingly to every man who asked. Even before dark, young soldiers with pasty white faces were throwing up everywhere and passing out drunkenly on the ground. The air turned foul. Other men picked up steam as the hours passed, and the aimless, riotous celebration continued. It was a raw, violent, guzzling saturnalia that spilled obstreperously through the woods to the officers’ club and spread up into the hills toward the hospital and the antiaircraft-gun emplacements. There were fist fights in the squadron and one stabbing. Corporal Kolodny shot himself through the leg in the intelligence tent while playing with a loaded gun and had his gums and toes painted purple in the speeding ambulance as he lay on his back with the blood spurting from his wound. Men with cut fingers, bleeding heads, stomach cramps and broken ankles came limping penitently up to the medical tent to have their gums and toes painted purple by Gus and Wes and be given a laxative to throw into the bushes. The joyous celebration lasted long into the night, and the stillness was fractured often by wild, exultant shouts and by the cries of people who were merry or sick. There was the recurring sound of retching and moaning, of laughter, greetings, threats and swearing, and of bottles shattering against rock. There were dirty songs in the distance. It was worse than New Year’s Eve.

    Yossarian went to bed early for safety and soon dreamed that he was fleeing almost headlong down an endless wooden staircase, making a loud, staccato clatter with his heels. Then he woke up a little and realized someone was shooting at him with a machine gun. A tortured, terrified sob rose in his throat. His first thought was that Milo was attacking the squadron again, and he rolled of his cot to the floor and lay underneath in a trembling, praying ball, his heart thumping like a drop forge, his body bathed in a cold sweat. There was no noise of planes. A drunken, happy laugh sounded from afar. ‘Happy New Year, Happy New Year!’ a triumphant familiar voice shouted hilariously from high above between the short, sharp bursts of machine gun fire, and Yossarian understood that some men had gone as a prank to one of the sandbagged machine-gun emplacements Milo had installed in the hills after his raid on the squadron and staffed with his own men.

    Yossarian blazed with hatred and wrath when he saw he was the victim of an irresponsible joke that had destroyed his sleep and reduced him to a whimpering hulk. He wanted to kill, he wanted to murder. He was angrier than he had ever been before, angrier even than when he had slid his hands around McWatt’s neck to strangle him. The gun opened fire again. Voices cried ‘Happy New Year!’ and gloating laughter rolled down from the hills through the darkness like a witch’s glee. In moccasins and coveralls, Yossarian charged out of his tent for revenge with his.45, ramming a clip of cartridges up into the grip and slamming the bolt of the gun back to load it. He snapped off the safety catch and was ready to shoot. He heard Nately running after him to restrain him, calling his name. The machine gun opened fire once more from a black rise above the motor pool, and orange tracer bullets skimmed like low-gliding dashes over the tops of the shadowy tents, almost clipping the peaks. Roars of rough laughter rang out again between the short bursts. Yossarian felt resentment boil like acid inside him; they were endangering his life, the bastards! With blind, ferocious rage and determination, he raced across the squadron past the motor pool, running as fast as he could, and was already pounding up into the hills along the narrow, winding path when Nately finally caught up, still calling ‘Yo-Yo! Yo-Yo!’ with pleading concern and imploring him to stop. He grasped Yossarian’s shoulders and tried to hold him back. Yossarian twisted free, turning. Nately reached for him again, and Yossarian drove his fist squarely into Nately’s delicate young face as hard as he could, cursing him, then drew his arm back to hit him again, but Nately had dropped out of sight with a groan and lay curled up on the ground with his head buried in both hands and blood streaming between his fingers. Yossarian whirled and plunged ahead up the path without looking back.

    Soon he saw the machine gun. Two figures leaped up in silhouette when they heard him and fled into the night with taunting laughter before he could get there. He was too late. Their footsteps receded, leaving the circle of sandbags empty and silent in the crisp and windless moonlight. He looked about dejectedly. Jeering laughter came to him again, from a distance. A twig snapped nearby. Yossarian dropped to his knees with a cold thrill of elation and aimed. He heard a stealthy rustle of leaves on the other side of the sandbags and fired two quick rounds. Someone fired back at him once, and he recognized the shot.

    ‘ Dunbar? he called.

    ‘Yossarian?’ The two men left their hiding places and walked forward to meet in the clearing with weary disappointment, their guns down. They were both shivering slightly from the frosty air and wheezing from the labor of their uphill rush.

    ‘The bastards,’ said Yossarian. ‘They got away.’

    ‘They took ten years off my life,’ Dunbar exclaimed. ‘I thought that son of a bitch Milo was bombing us again. I’ve never been so scared. I wish I knew who the bastards were.

    ‘One was Sergeant Knight.’

    ‘Let’s go kill him.’ Dunbar’s teeth were chattering. ‘He had no right to scare us that way.’ Yossarian no longer wanted to kill anyone. ‘Let’s help Nately first. I think I hurt him at the bottom of the hill.’ But there was no sign of Nately along the path, even though Yossarian located the right spot by the blood on the stones. Nately was not in his tent either, and they did not catch up with him until the next morning when they checked into the hospital as patients after learning he had checked in with a broken nose the night before. Nately beamed in frightened surprise as they padded into the ward in their slippers and robes behind Nurse Cramer and were assigned to their beds. Nately’s nose was in a bulky cast, and he had two black eyes. He kept blushing giddily in shy embarrassment and saying he was sorry when Yossarian came over to apologize for hitting him. Yossarian felt terrible; he could hardly bear to look at Nately’s battered countenance, even though the sight was so comical he was tempted to guffaw. Dunbar was disgusted by their sentimentality, and all three were relieved when Hungry Joe came barging in unexpectedly with his intricate black camera and trumped-up symptoms of appendicitis to be near enough to Yossarian to take pictures of him feeling up Nurse Duckett. Like Yossarian, he was soon disappointed. Nurse Duckett had decided to marry a doctor—any doctor, because they all did so well in business—and would not take chances in the vicinity of the man who might someday be her husband. Hungry Joe was irate and inconsolable until—of all people—the chaplain was led in wearing a maroon corduroy bathrobe, shining like a skinny lighthouse with a radiant grin of self-satisfaction too tremendous to be concealed. The chaplain had entered the hospital with a pain in his heart that the doctors thought was gas in his stomach and with an advanced case of Wisconsin shingles.

    ‘What in the world are Wisconsin shingles?’ asked Yossarian.

    ‘That’s just what the doctors wanted to know!’ blurted out the chaplain proudly, and burst into laughter. No one had ever seen him so waggish, or so happy. ‘There’s no such thing as Wisconsin shingles. Don’t you understand? I lied. I made a deal with the doctors. I promised that I would let them know when my Wisconsin shingles went away if they would promise not to do anything to cure them. I never told a lie before. Isn’t it wonderful?’ The chaplain had sinned, and it was good. Common sense told him that telling lies and defecting from duty were sins. On the other hand, everyone knew that sin was evil, and that no good could come from evil. But he did feel good; he felt positively marvelous. Consequently, it followed logically that telling lies and defecting from duty could not be sins. The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character. With effervescent agility the chaplain ran through the whole gamut of orthodox immoralities, while Nately sat up in bed with flushed elation, astounded by the mad gang of companions of which he found himself the nucleus. He was flattered and apprehensive, certain that some severe official would soon appear and throw the whole lot of them out like a pack of bums. No one bothered them. In the evening they all trooped exuberantly out to see a lousy Hollywood extravaganza in Technicolor, and when they trooped exuberantly back in after the lousy Hollywood extravaganza, the soldier in white was there, and Dunbar screamed and went to pieces.

    ‘He’s back!’ Dunbar screamed. ‘He’s back! He’s back!’ Yossarian froze in his tracks, paralyzed as much by the eerie shrillness in Dunbar’s voice as by the familiar, white, morbid sight of the soldier in white covered from head to toe in plaster and gauze. A strange, quavering, involuntary noise came bubbling from Yossarian’s throat.

    ‘He’s back!’ Dunbar screamed again.

    ‘He’s back!’ a patient delirious with fever echoed in automatic terror.

    All at once the ward erupted into bedlam. Mobs of sick and injured men began ranting incoherently and running and jumping in the aisle as though the building were on fire. A patient with one foot and one crutch was hopping back and forth swiftly in panic crying, ‘What is it? What is it? Are we burning? Are we burning?’

    ‘He’s back!’ someone shouted at him. ‘Didn’t you hear him? He’s back! He’s back!’

    ‘Who’s back?’ shouted someone else. ‘Who is it?’

    ‘What does it mean? What should we do?’

    ‘Are we on fire?’

    ‘Get up and run, damn it! Everybody get up and run!’ Everybody got out of bed and began running from one end of the ward to the other. One C.I.D. man was looking for a gun to shoot one of the other C.I.D. men who had jabbed his elbow into his eye. The ward had turned into chaos. The patient delirious with the high fever leaped into the aisle and almost knocked over the patient with one foot, who accidentally brought the black rubber tip of his crutch down on the other’s bare foot, crushing some toes. The delirious man with the fever and the crushed toes sank to the floor and wept in pain while other men tripped over him and hurt him more in their blind, milling, agonized stampede. ‘He’s back!’ all the men kept mumbling and chanting and calling out hysterically as they rushed back and forth. ‘He’s back, he’s back!’ Nurse Cramer was there in the middle suddenly like a spinning policeman, trying desperately to restore order, dissolving helplessly into tears when she failed. ‘Be still, please be still,’ she urged uselessly through her massive sobs. The chaplain, pale as a ghost, had no idea what was going on. Neither did Nately, who kept close to Yossarian’s side, clinging to his elbow, or Hungry Joe, who followed dubiously with his scrawny fists clenched and glanced from side to side with a face that was scared.

    ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Hungry Joe pleaded. ‘What the hell is going on?’

    ‘It’s the same one!’ Dunbar shouted at him emphatically in a voice rising clearly above the raucous commotion. ‘Don’t you understand? It’s the same one.’

    ‘The same one!’ Yossarian heard himself echo, quivering with a deep and ominous excitement that he could not control, and shoved his way after Dunbar toward the bed of the soldier in white.

    ‘Take it easy, fellas,’ the short patriotic Texan counseled affably, with an uncertain grin. ‘There’s no cause to be upset. Why don’t we all just take it easy?’

    ‘The same one!’ others began murmuring, chanting and shouting.

    Suddenly Nurse Duckett was there, too. ‘What’s going on?’ she demanded.

    ‘He’s back!’ Nurse Cramer screamed, sinking into her arms. ‘He’s back, he’s back!’ It was, indeed, the same man. He had lost a few inches and added some weight, but Yossarian remembered him instantly by the two stiff arms and the two stiff, thick, useless legs all drawn upward into the air almost perpendicularly by the taut ropes and the long lead weights suspended from pulleys over him and by the frayed black hole in the bandages over his mouth. He had, in fact, hardly changed at all. There was the same zinc pipe rising from the hard stone mass over his groin and leading to the clear glass jar on the floor. There was the same clear glass jar on a pole dripping fluid into him through the crook of his elbow. Yossarian would recognize him anywhere. He wondered who he was.

    ‘There’s no one inside!’ Dunbar yelled out at him unexpectedly.

    Yossarian felt his heart skip a beat and his legs grow weak. ‘What are you talking about?’ he shouted with dread, stunned by the haggard, sparking anguish in Dunbar’s eyes and by his crazed look of wild shock and horror. ‘Are you nuts or something? What the hell do you mean, there’s no one inside?’

    ‘They’ve stolen him away!’ Dunbar shouted back. ‘He’s hollow inside, like a chocolate soldier. They just took him away and left those bandages there.’

    ‘Why should they do that?’

    ‘Why do they do anything?’

    ‘They’ve stolen him away!’ screamed someone else, and people all over the ward began screaming, ‘They’ve stolen him away. They’ve stolen him away!’

    ‘Go back to your beds,’ Nurse Duckett pleaded with Dunbar and Yossarian, pushing feebly against Yossarian’s chest. ‘Please go back to your beds.’

    ‘You’re crazy!’ Yossarian shouted angrily at Dunbar. ‘What the hell makes you say that?’

    ‘Did anyone see him?’ Dunbar demanded with sneering fervor.

    ‘You saw him, didn’t you?’ Yossarian said to Nurse Duckett. ‘Tell Dunbar there’s someone inside.’

    ‘Lieutenant Schmulker is inside,’ Nurse Duckett said. ‘He’s burned all over.’

    ‘Did she see him?’

    ‘You saw him, didn’t you?’

    ‘The doctor who bandaged him saw him.’

    ‘Go get him, will you? Which doctor was it?’ Nurse Duckett reacted to the question with a startled gasp. ‘The doctor isn’t even here!’ she exclaimed. ‘The patient was brought to us that way from a field hospital.’

    ‘You see?’ cried Nurse Cramer. ‘There’s no one inside!’

    ‘There’s no one inside!’ yelled Hungry Joe, and began stamping on the floor.

    Dunbar broke through and leaped up furiously on the soldier in white’s bed to see for himself, pressing his gleaming eye down hungrily against the tattered black hole in the shell of white bandages. He was still bent over staring with one eye into the lightless, unstirring void of the soldier in white’s mouth when the doctors and the M.P.s came running to help Yossarian pull him away. The doctors wore guns at the waist. The guards carried carbines and rifles with which they shoved and jolted the crowd of muttering patients back. A stretcher on wheels was there, and the solder in white was lifted out of bed skillfully and rolled out of sight in a matter of seconds. The doctors and M.P.s moved through the ward assuring everyone that everything was all right.

    Nurse Duckett plucked Yossarian’s arm and whispered to him furtively to meet her in the broom closet outside in the corridor. Yossarian rejoiced when he heard her. He thought Nurse Duckett finally wanted to get laid and pulled her skirt up the second they were alone in the broom closet, but she pushed him away. She had urgent news about Dunbar.

    ‘They’re going to disappear him,’ she said.

    Yossarian squinted at her uncomprehendingly. ‘They’re what?’ he asked in surprise, and laughed uneasily. ‘What does that mean?’

    ‘I don’t know. I heard them talking behind a door.’

    ‘Who?’

    ‘I don’t know. I couldn’t see them. I just heard them say they were going to disappear Dunbar.’

    ‘Why are they going to disappear him?’

    ‘I don’t know.’

    ‘It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t even good grammar. What the hell does it mean when they disappear somebody?’

    ‘I don’t know.’

    ‘Jesus, you’re a great help!’

    ‘Why are you picking on me?’ Nurse Duckett protested with hurt feelings, and began sniffing back tears. ‘I’m only trying to help. It isn’t my fault they’re going to disappear him, is it? I shouldn’t even be telling you.’ Yossarian took her in his arms and hugged her with gentle, contrite affection. ‘I’m sorry,’ he apologized, kissing her cheek respectfully, and hurried away to warn Dunbar, who was nowhere to be found.
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