As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and
suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times. The best
outline I ever made, or anyway the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper.
I used my daughter's crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the
wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there
was all that middle part, which was the middle. And the blue line met the red line and
then the yellow line, and the yellow line stopped because the character represented by the
yellow line was dead. And so on. The destruction of Dresden was represented by a
vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed
through it, came out the other side.
The end, where all the lines stopped, was a beetfield on the Elbe, outside of Halle. The
rain was coming down. The war in Europe had been over for a couple of weeks. We were
formed in ranks, with Russian soldiers guarding us-Englishmen, Americans, Dutchmen,
Belgians, Frenchmen, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians,
thousands of us about to stop being prisoners of war.
And on the other side of the field were thousands of Russians and Poles and
Yugoslavians and so on guarded by American soldiers. An exchange was made there in
the rain-one for one. O'Hare and I climbed into the back of an American truck with a lot
of others. O'Hare didn't have any souvenirs. Almost everybody else did. I had a
ceremonial Luftwaffe saber, still do. The rabid little American I call Paul Lazzaro in this
book had about a quart of diamonds and emeralds and rubies and so on' He had taken
these from dead people in the cellars of Dresden.' So it goes.
An idiotic Englishman, who had lost all his teeth somewhere had his souvenir in a
canvas bag. The bag was resting on my insteps. He would peek into the bag every now
and then, and he would roll his eyes and swivel his scrawny neck,, trying to catch people
looking covetously at his bag. And he would bounce the bag on my insteps.
I thought this bouncing was accidental. But I was mistaken. He had to show somebody
what was in the bag, and he had decided he could trust me. He caught my eye, winked,
opened the bag. There was a plaster model of the Eiffel Tower in there. It was painted
gold. It had a clock in it.
'There's a smashin' thing,' he said.
And we were flown to a rest camp in France, where we were fed chocolate malted
milkshakes and other rich foods until we were all covered with baby fat. Then we were
sent home, and I married a pretty girl who was covered with baby fat, too.
And we had babies.
And they're all grown up now, and I'm an old fart with his memories and his Pall
Malls. My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in a lumbermill there.
Sometimes I try to call up old girl friends on the telephone late at night, after my wife
has gone to bed. 'Operator, I wonder if you could give me the number of a Mrs. So-and-
So. I think she lives at such-and-such.'
'I'm sorry, sir. There is no such listing.'
'Thanks, Operator. Thanks just the same.'
And I let the dog out or I let him in, and we talk some. I let him know I like him, and
he lets me know he likes me. He doesn't mind the smell of mustard gas and roses.
'You're all right, Sandy, I'll say to the dog. 'You know that, Sandy? You're O.K.'