Transcriber's note. This etext was produced from Worlds of If, January Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed. Wehling, Jr. He was the only man waiting.
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Transcriber's note. This etext was produced from Worlds of If, January Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed. Wehling, Jr. He was the only man waiting. Not many people were born a day any more. Wehling was fifty-six, a mere stripling in a population whose average age was one hundred and twenty-nine. Young Wehling was hunched in his chair, his head in his hand. He was so rumpled, so still and colorless as to be virtually invisible.
His camouflage was perfect, since the waiting room had a disorderly and demoralized air, too. Chairs and ashtrays had been moved away from the walls.
The floor was paved with spattered dropcloths. The room was being redecorated. It was being redecorated as a memorial to 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 aged visibly, his age would have been guessed at thirty-five or so. Aging had touched him that much before the cure for aging was found. The mural he was working on depicted a very neat garden.
Men and women in 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 that were old and sickly, raked leaves, carried refuse to trash-burners. Never, never, never—not even in medieval Holland nor old Japan—had a garden been more formal, been better tended. Every plant had all the loam, light, water, air and nourishment it could use. 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. He gave a satiric smile. He was referring to one of the male figures in white, whose head was a portrait of Dr. Benjamin Hitz, the hospital's Chief Obstetrician. Hitz was a blindingly handsome man. He meant that the faces of many of the figures in the mural were still blank.
All blanks were to be filled with portraits of important people on either the hospital staff or from the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Termination. The painter's face curdled with scorn. The painter gestured at a foul dropcloth. The orderly shrugged. The zero in the telephone number he pronounced "naught. The painter thumbed his nose at the orderly. Why don't you have a little consideration for the people who have to clean up after you? The painter expressed with an obscenity his lack of concern for the tribulations of his survivors.
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 Service Division of the Federal Bureau of Termination, an eagle perched on a turnstile. The woman had a lot of facial hair—an unmistakable mustache, in fact.
A curious thing about gas-chamber hostesses was that, no matter how lovely and feminine they were when recruited, they all sprouted mustaches within five years or so. He took a list of names from his smock pocket. You're entitled to be immortalized. See any faceless body here you'd like me to stick your head on? We've got a few choice ones left. She studied the mural bleakly. I don't know anything about art. As a master of fine art, I recommend this body here. I mean, I'm in service.
I don't do any disposing. The painter clapped his hands in mock delight. Of course the sheave-carrier is wrong for a hostess!
A snipper, a pruner—that's more your line. It was the portrait of a tanned, white-haired, omnipotent Zeus, two hundred and forty years old. Sawing off a limb—that strikes you as appropriate?
She was demure about what she did. What she did was make people comfortable while she killed them. And, while Leora Duncan was posing for her portrait, into the waitingroom bounded Dr. Hitz himself. He was seven feet tall, and he boomed with importance, accomplishments, and the joy of living.
Miss Duncan! This is where they come in! Without women like you, this wonderful world we've got wouldn't be possible. He saluted her and moved toward the door that led to the delivery rooms. The law said that no newborn child could survive unless the parents of the child could find someone who would volunteer to die. Triplets, if they were all to live, called for three volunteers. Nothing but singles going through today, unless somebody called in after I left.
What's the name? He raised his right hand, looked at a spot on the wall, gave a hoarsely wretched chuckle. I'm on my way in to see them now. He gestured with his hands to symbolize care-free simplicity. Hitz became rather severe with Wehling, towered over him. Do you know what a drupelet is, Mr. Wehling, is one of the little knobs, one of the little pulpy grains of a blackberry," said Dr. Think of it! Hitz, "before scientists stepped in and laid down the law, there wasn't even enough drinking water to go around, and nothing to eat but sea-weed—and still people insisted on their right to reproduce like jackrabbits.
And their right, if possible, to live forever. Hitz gently, sympathetically. Wehling," said Dr. In a garden like that mural there. Now centuries of peace and plenty stretch before us as far as the imagination cares to travel.
And then he shot Leora Duncan. Room for two. The painter pondered the mournful puzzle of life demanding to be born and, once born, demanding to be fruitful All the answers that the painter could think of were grim. He thought of war. He thought of plague. He thought of starvation. He knew that he would never paint again. He let his paintbrush fall to the drop-cloths below. And then he decided he had had about enough of life in the Happy Garden of Life, too, and he came slowly down from the ladder.
And then he saw the telephone booth in the corner of the room. He went to it, dialed the well-remembered number: "2 B R 0 2 B. But the deepest thanks of all is from future generations.
2 B R 0 2 B
The title is pronounced "2 B R naught 2 B", referencing the famous phrase " to be, or not to be " from William Shakespeare 's Hamlet. In this story, the title refers to the telephone number one dials to schedule an assisted suicide with the Federal Bureau of Termination. Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater describes a story by this name, attributing it to his recurring character Kilgore Trout ,  although the plot summary given is closer in nature to the eponymous tale from his short-story collection Welcome to the Monkey House.
2BR02B Science Fiction Short Story Context Clues Activity & Full Text
2 B R 0 2 B (Dramatic Reading)
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