“You can do it, champ,” said Kilgore Trout, as he slapped rubbing alcohol on Eliot number two’s broad shoulders. Trout rubbed it in hard, leaning into Rosewater’s trapezius muscle and jamming his thumbs down into the meat, tenderizing the fighter for his last fight, his final round against the Empire of Evil.
Meanwhile, forty-year-old Sylvia Rosewater, looking confused and angry, was locked inside a stage made up to resemble a fifties’ era bedroom. Like Eliot number two, she was also on Tralfamadore. Unlike Eliot number two, she was not aware of why she was here or how she had gotten here. She had been plucked out of time by the electronic geniuses of Tralfamadore. Still emotionally exhausted by her divorce, and stinging with the conviction that she was a failure as a human and as a wife, she was almost as disoriented as a person could get. Plus, she was irritated and growing angrier by the second. She was getting hungry, too. That might have been the reason she would soon go wild and abuse Eliot number one. Or it might have simply been bad chemicals in her brain going berserk.
It’s not as if she didn’t have lots of reasons for going berserk: she did. Many of those reasons were the direct result of Eliot’s behavior, things that had led her to divorce him. The Tralfamadorians, in an effort to calm her down, told her that she would soon be reunited with him. That was the wrong approach. Eliot was the last person she wanted to see.
Imagine her surprise when, with a heavy bouquet of red roses in his ancient, wrinkled hands, a wizened old bag of a man came wheeling in to her nicely-appointed room and introduced himself.
“Sylvia?” he said.
“Yes?” she said.
“I’m confused,” he said.
“You’re confused?” she said. “Where are we? What are those little things that look like plumber’s helpers? Who are you? You remind me of someone.”
His lounger/hovercraft backed a few inches away from her.
“Look into my eyes,” he said.
She started screaming. Whenever it seemed that she had run out of air, she started in all over again. For a few seconds, it was just a tone. Then, as she grew weary, harsh words were barked out between the screams.
The screams sounded like, “Whooo-wah. Yaaaagh. Oh no. No. No. Aaaaah.” The first words out of her mouth were, “It can’t be.” Most of the rest was just obscenity, directed at Eliot.
He covered his ears and rocked miserably in his chair, afraid to face the woman who had once pledged to love him for better or for worse. The roses lay forgotten on the floor. Water poured out of the vase. It was a mess. Eliot’s ears adjusted to the screaming, just as we do when we stand next to the base of a waterfall. It just becomes white noise. Eliot slid the palms of his hands from his ears to cover his eyes. He rested the backs of his hands on his knees and he rocked and rocked and rocked in his super-modern, super-comfortable chair.
How long did it take before the shrieks became slaps? Nobody could have said. Certainly not Eliot. Time had stopped for him. Certainly not Sylvia. She was caught up in the moment. An observer would have been so embarrassed that he or she couldn’t say how much time passed. Time is funny that way.
She whacked the back of his nearly-bald skull three times before she realized what she was doing. She knelt down next to him and pulled his left hand away from his face. She held the hand softly, with both of hers. “I’m sorry, honey-bunny,” she said. “I’ve had quite a day.”
Eliot was crying, now. His shoulders jumped with each spasm. He didn’t want to cry. He didn’t want her to see him cry. He turned his head away. Finally, he croaked, “I’m an old man. I’m old, too old for you.”
She didn’t feel like arguing. She saw no reason to. She just patted the back of the old duffer’s hand and wondered how to get out of this nightmare.
“I thought, I thought, I thought,” he choked, “I thought you would be my age.”
“Why would I be?” she asked. “I was just kidnapped and sent into the future, apparently. What’s going on, Eliot?”
To the best of his ability, he explained to his ex-wife what he thought was going on. It did nothing to calm her down.
“What am I supposed to do?” she said. “I couldn’t stand to live with you when you were young. What are you, now, a hundred?”
“I’m eighty-nine years old, Sylvia,” said Eliot.
“How are things going?” asked Cthulbanana, who had just materialized.
Eliot looked away. Sylvia marched straight over to the little creature, put her hands on her hips, leaned over and said, “Send me home.”
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “If we send you home, you will die.”
The silence was suffocating.
“Mr. Rosewater had hoped we would bring an age-appropriate companion for him. He imagined that you would be nearly his age. Unfortunately, you never lived as long as he did,” said Cthulbanana.
“What are you saying?” asked Eliot.
Cthulbanana continued to address Sylvia. “What was your last memory on Earth?” he asked her.
“I was waiting for a train,” she said. “It was pulling into the station. I was getting ready to board.”
“Did you feel someone push you?”
“No. Wait. Yes. I did feel something, just before you grabbed me and kidnapped me.”
“Sylvia, if I returned you to Earth, you would be accidentally shoved in front of that subway train. You would die.”
“That’s it? There’s nothing you can do to stop it?” she asked.
“Not a thing,” answered Cthulbanana.
She looked down at the crippled remains of her one-time husband and she began to sob. Coughing, mumbling, shamed tears dropped onto her ashen cheeks.
“Do you need a chair?” asked Cthulbanana, pulling one out of mid-air for her to sit on.
She hobbled into it as if she had aged fifty years. She looked into the sky, into the milky, vastness of the imaginary Tralfamadorian ecosphere that had been created for her and her kind, and she just sat there.
Not far from her, in a spotless gymnasium, Kilgore Trout was giving his champion a last-minute pep talk. “Look into my eyes, kid,” said Kilgore Trout. “Look into my eyes.” He emphasized this by pointing into his own eyes with two of his left fingers. “You, my friend, are the champion of the universe. No one is tougher than you. You have never been defeated. Those goddamned freaks are taking over Earth and you are going to stop them. You are the Only One that can do it. This is the real deal, champ. You have followers on Earth, millions of fans, people who are just like me: They believe in you, Eliot. Believe in yourself.”
“I can do it, coach,” said Eliot, slamming his 12-ounce boxing gloves down onto his own thighs. “I can do it,” he said.
And then, he disappeared.