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       2 B R 0 2 B, p.1
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           Kurt Vonnegut
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2 B R 0 2 B


  Produced by Robert Cicconetti, Geetu Melwani and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  2_B_R_0_2_B

  By Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

  Transcriber note: This etext was produced from Worlds of If, January 1962.Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright onthis publication was renewed.

  Got a problem? Just pick up the phone.It solved them all--and all the same way!

  2 B R 0 2 B

  by KURT VONNEGUT, JR.

  Everything was perfectly swell.

  There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, nopoverty, no wars.

  All diseases were conquered. So was old age.

  Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.

  The population of the United States was stabilized at forty-millionsouls.

  One bright morning in the Chicago Lying-in Hospital, a man named EdwardK. Wehling, Jr., waited for his wife to give birth. He was the only manwaiting. Not many people were born a day any more.

  Wehling was fifty-six, a mere stripling in a population whose averageage was one hundred and twenty-nine.

  X-rays had revealed that his wife was going to have triplets. Thechildren would be his first.

  Young Wehling was hunched in his chair, his head in his hand. He was sorumpled, so still and colorless as to be virtually invisible. Hiscamouflage was perfect, since the waiting room had a disorderly anddemoralized air, too. Chairs and ashtrays had been moved away from thewalls. The floor was paved with spattered dropcloths.

  The room was being redecorated. It was being redecorated as a memorialto a man who had volunteered to die.

  A sardonic old man, about two hundred years old, sat on a stepladder,painting a mural he did not like. Back in the days when people agedvisibly, his age would have been guessed at thirty-five or so. Aging hadtouched him that much before the cure for aging was found.

  The mural he was working on depicted a very neat garden. Men and womenin white, doctors and nurses, turned the soil, planted seedlings,sprayed bugs, spread fertilizer.

  Men and women in purple uniforms pulled up weeds, cut down plants thatwere old and sickly, raked leaves, carried refuse to trash-burners.

  Never, never, never--not even in medieval Holland nor old Japan--had agarden been more formal, been better tended. Every plant had all theloam, light, water, air and nourishment it could use.

  A hospital orderly came down the corridor, singing under his breath apopular song:

  If you don't like my kisses, honey, Here's what I will do: I'll go see a girl in purple, Kiss this sad world toodle-oo. If you don't want my lovin', Why should I take up all this space? I'll get off this old planet, Let some sweet baby have my place.

  The orderly looked in at the mural and the muralist. "Looks so real,"he said, "I can practically imagine I'm standing in the middle of it."

  "What makes you think you're not in it?" said the painter. He gave asatiric smile. "It's called 'The Happy Garden of Life,' you know."

  "That's good of Dr. Hitz," said the orderly.

  * * * * *

  He was referring to one of the male figures in white, whose head was aportrait of Dr. Benjamin Hitz, the hospital's Chief Obstetrician. Hitzwas a blindingly handsome man.

  "Lot of faces still to fill in," said the orderly. He meant that thefaces of many of the figures in the mural were still blank. All blankswere to be filled with portraits of important people on either thehospital staff or from the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau ofTermination.

  "Must be nice to be able to make pictures that look like something,"said the orderly.

  The painter's face curdled with scorn. "You think I'm proud of thisdaub?" he said. "You think this is my idea of what life really lookslike?"

  "What's your idea of what life looks like?" said the orderly.

  The painter gestured at a foul dropcloth. "There's a good picture ofit," he said. "Frame that, and you'll have a picture a damn sight morehonest than this one."

  "You're a gloomy old duck, aren't you?" said the orderly.

  "Is that a crime?" said the painter.

  The orderly shrugged. "If you don't like it here, Grandpa--" he said,and he finished the thought with the trick telephone number that peoplewho didn't want to live any more were supposed to call. The zero in thetelephone number he pronounced "naught."

  The number was: "2 B R 0 2 B."

  It was the telephone number of an institution whose fanciful sobriquetsincluded: "Automat," "Birdland," "Cannery," "Catbox," "De-louser,""Easy-go," "Good-by, Mother," "Happy Hooligan," "Kiss-me-quick," "LuckyPierre," "Sheepdip," "Waring Blendor," "Weep-no-more" and "Why Worry?"

  "To be or not to be" was the telephone number of the municipal gaschambers of the Federal Bureau of Termination.

  * * * * *

  The painter thumbed his nose at the orderly. "When I decide it's time togo," he said, "it won't be at the Sheepdip."

  "A do-it-yourselfer, eh?" said the orderly. "Messy business, Grandpa.Why don't you have a little consideration for the people who have toclean up after you?"

  The painter expressed with an obscenity his lack of concern for thetribulations of his survivors. "The world could do with a good deal moremess, if you ask me," he said.

  The orderly laughed and moved on.

  Wehling, the waiting father, mumbled something without raising his head.And then he fell silent again.

  A coarse, formidable woman strode into the waiting room on spike heels.Her shoes, stockings, trench coat, bag and overseas cap were all purple,the purple the painter called "the color of grapes on Judgment Day."

  The medallion on her purple musette bag was the seal of the ServiceDivision of the Federal Bureau of Termination, an eagle perched on aturnstile.

  The woman had a lot of facial hair--an unmistakable mustache, in fact. Acurious thing about gas-chamber hostesses was that, no matter how lovelyand feminine they were when recruited, they all sprouted mustacheswithin five years or so.

  "Is this where I'm supposed to come?" she said to the painter.

  "A lot would depend on what your business was," he said. "You aren'tabout to have a baby, are you?"

  "They told me I was supposed to pose for some picture," she said. "Myname's Leora Duncan." She waited.

  "And you dunk people," he said.

  "What?" she said.

  "Skip it," he said.

  "That sure is a beautiful picture," she said. "Looks just like heaven orsomething."

  "Or something," said the painter. He took a list of names from his smockpocket. "Duncan, Duncan, Duncan," he said, scanning the list. "Yes--hereyou are. You're entitled to be immortalized. See any faceless body hereyou'd like me to stick your head on? We've got a few choice ones left."

  She studied the mural bleakly. "Gee," she said, "they're all the same tome. I don't know anything about art."

  "A body's a body, eh?" he said. "All righty. As a master of fine art, Irecommend this body here." He indicated a faceless figure of a woman whowas carrying dried stalks to a trash-burner.

  "Well," said Leora Duncan, "that's more the disposal people, isn't it? Imean, I'm in service. I don't do any disposing."

  The painter clapped his hands in mock delight. "You say you don't knowanything about art, and then you prove in the next breath that you knowmore about it than I do! Of course the sheave-carrier is wrong for ahostess! A snipper, a pruner--that's more your line." He pointed to afigure in purple who was sawing a dead branch from an apple tree. "Howabout her?" he said. "You like her at all?"

  "Gosh--" she said, and she blushed and became humble--"that--that putsme right next to Dr
. Hitz."

  "That upsets you?" he said.

  "Good gravy, no!" she said. "It's--it's just such an honor."

  "Ah, You... you admire him, eh?" he said.

  "Who doesn't admire him?" she said, worshiping the portrait of Hitz. Itwas the portrait of a tanned, white-haired, omnipotent Zeus, two hundredand forty years old. "Who doesn't admire him?" she said again. "He wasresponsible for setting up the very first gas chamber in
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