What’s one of the most famous author surrogates been doing since Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s death?
I caught up with Kilgore Trout in a small white house just outside of Illium, NY, at the end of a long dirt road. I asked Trout if he considered this area rural, but he just shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s my sister’s place,” he said, by way of explanation.
“I didn’t know you had a sister,” I said.
“You got me. It’s not my sister’s place. You want coffee?” Trout lit the ancient gas stove with a flimsy cardboard match from a book that promised “Real Live Girls” at its location of origin. Beside the stove was a Mr. Coffee that may have been white once, but was now the color of Boston crème doughnut filling.
“I must say, I was surprised to find you, Mr. Trout,” I said. We were seated at the kitchen table, rough wood worn smooth with use, covered in ball-point-pen doodles. “I thought you were dead. We all thought you were dead.”
“That’s happened before.”
“You mean people thinking you’re dead? Or actually being dead?”
“There’s a difference?” The tea kettle blew a sharp, sputter note. Trout rose to pour the scalding water over the grounds in the Mr. Coffee. “Don’t pump water no more. Plate stays hot, though. That’s the important part, staying hot. Anyway, which one was it? The death in ’81? Or 2001?”
I had to look back at my notes. “2004. Suicide by drinking Drano.”
Trout drummed his fingers by the Mr. Coffee as the brown liquid slowly dripped down. “Draino, hunh? There are worse ways to go. Why’d I do it?”
“According to Vonnegut?”
“Well, He’d know, wouldn’t He? Was it over a woman?”
I looked at my notes again. Those details were written in another notebook, and I had to rustle around in my satchel before I found it. “Of a sort. A female psychic using tarot cards predicted that George W. Bush would be re-elected president by a five-to-four decision of the Supreme Court.”
“Huh.” The Mr. Coffee dripped its last drop. Trout lifted the glass carafe to his lips, not bothering with a cup, and took a satisfied swig. “And that’s what He killed me for, that time? Good thing He didn’t live long enough to see Trump. He’d probably have me drown myself in battery acid.”
“About that? Did you vote in the election?”
“I don’t vote. I don’t want to be complicit.” Trout set the carafe back on Mr. Coffee’s waiting hot plate, and pulled up a rickety chair. “Is that all you wanted to know? If I vote?”
“No, I wanted to know…what my publication wanted to know, is…well…what have you been doing all this time?”
Trout shrugged. “I drink a lot of coffee. Stare out the window occasionally. The library will give you newspapers the day after they come out. I only read comics these days, so I get the color ones on Monday. Helps take the edge off. I live the good life.”
“No writing.” Trout sighed and folded his arms defensively. There was a scar that snaked down the center of his chest that I hadn’t noticed until then. It peaked out of the collar of his shirt like a puppet saying hello. “All my novels and short-stories not enough for you? I think I’ve done my fair share.”
“Well, that’s just it. You seemed awfully prolific. To just stop…”
“I was prolific because He wanted me to be prolific. Now, He doesn’t want much of anything, from me or anyone else.”
This was clearly a sore subject, but I had already broached it. Might as well keep going. “It’s just…He gave you free will.
“I then I have the free will not to write, don’t I? That’s free will right, there. The free will to do nothing.” Trout stood up suddenly, knocking the chair to the floor behind him. He stalked over to the Mr. Coffee. Trout stood there for a long time, hand on the carafe handle, as if the remainder of the murky fluid was too heavy to lift.
“No, not even the free will to do that. It’s hard thing, when your Creator dies, and you realize all of your ideas were His.” Trout turned back around to me, his clothes loose and sagging, the borrowed threads of a larger man. A flicker of a smile cha-cha-ed across his lips. “Are you going to capitalize the “H?” You should capitalize the “H” when I talk about him. He would have found that funny.”
“I’ll put a note in for my editor.”
“You do that. Seems like everyone’s got an editor these days. And they all need notes.” Trout sat back down. He traced a doodle on the kitchen table with his finger, the angular face of a man, with far too many eyes and an immense head of curly hair. “I’m an old man, now. When we first met, I asked Him to make me young. And He couldn’t do that. Because He needed me to be an old man. Do you understand that? I’ve always been an old man, because He needed me to be an old man. Such is the life of a fictional character.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “So it goes.”
Trout wriggled, shaking my hand off. “Don’t quote Him. You don’t do it right.”