Catch-22 Alternate Ending
"God's a black man," Dunbar deadpanned. The Chaplain's fork clattered to the table as he stared at Dunbar in open-mouthed in disbelief.
"No he isn't," he protested after he recovered, a hint of doubt creasing his brow.
"That's ridiculous!" Nately added heatedly, his face flushing. "Haven't you seen the paintings? All of them portray God as a white man."
Dunbar shrugged offhandedly. "Well how do you know? Have you ever seen God?"
"Nobody's ever seen God," the Chaplain declared wisely.
"In the paintings He's always white," Natley insisted.
"When did the artists ever see God?" Dunbar demanded.
"Nobody's ever seen God," the Chaplain repeated.
Nately brought his fist down on the table, believing he'd finally gained the upper hand. "That's right. So how can you say He's not white?" he taunted.
"How do you know He's not black?" Dunbar shot back.
The Chaplain and Nately were taken aback. How did they know He wasn't black? It seemed a completely foreign idea that He should be anything other than the same as they were. After all, there is a brotherhood among the races that makes appealing to a god of one's color easier than appealing to a god of another color.
"Jesus was born in the middle East. Mankind originated in Africa. Doesn't it make sense to assume God is a black man?" Dunbar continued.
"Well…" Nately drew out, a heavy weight beginning to crash down on him. Suddenly, an idea struck him that dissipated any doubts that Dunbar had planted. "You're an atheist. What does it matter to you what color God is?"
"It doesn't," Dunbar admitted.
"Then why do you say He's black?" the Chaplain asked.
"Because if I did believe in God, I'd believe in a black God," Dunbar answered.
"But you don't believe in God. So what does it matter to you?" Nately asked again.
"It doesn't," Dunbar repeated.
"Then why do you say He's black?" the Chaplain inquired.
"Because if I did believe in God, I'd believe in a black God," Dunbar replied.
"What kind of an answer is that?" Nately groaned in frustration.
"It's my answer," Dunbar stated.
The sheets rustled as Dunbar sat up.
"How ya doin', kid?" the nurse questioned. She didn't really care, but it was part of her job description to ask.
Dunbar clutched his side, feeling a row of newly sewn stitches protrude from his skin. A piece of shrapnel had caught him when Orr's plane went down. It was a serious injury. Yet because it struck his internal organs rather than an appendage, he had more missions to fly.
"I saw God," Dunbar announced after a time.
The nurse rolled her eyes. "Sure ya did."
"Well how do you know I didn't?" Dunbar demanded, hurt.
"Nobody's ever seen God," the nurse muttered.
"I did," Dunbar informed her solemnly. "Hey, where's the Chaplain?"
Yossarian stood up beside the bed. "I can get him for you," he offered.
"And Nately. Where's Nately?" Dunbar continued.
"He's dead," Yossarian informed him.
"Oh. Well then, he knows," Dunbar said breezily.
"Knows what?" Yossarian inquired.
"God's a black man," Dunbar averred.
"I thought you were an atheist," Yossarian snickered.
"I am," Dunbar divulged.
"What do you mean then, that God's a black man?" Yossarian sputtered.
"What does being an atheist have to do with seeing God?" Dunbar frowned, offended. "I thought you of all people would understand, Yossarian."
"Alright then, how do you know He's black?" Yossarian asked, exasperated.
"I saw Him," Dunbar proclaimed proudly.
"But nobody's ever seen Him," Yossarian argued.
"I did," Dunbar insisted.
"Then how are you still an atheist?" Yossarian cried.
Dunbar smiled and shook his head. "Well, I imagine that there's some sort of scientific explanation for near-death experiences."
"Oh, for the love of God!" the nurse shouted.
"Exactly," Dunbar agreed, "Where's the Chaplain? I want to tell him."
"Where's the Chaplain?" Colonel Cathcart demanded.
Corporal Whitcomb sneered and rolled his eyes. "Dunno."
"The C.I.D. men were looking for him. They said he was actually Washington Irving," Colonel Cathcart whined, "Oh, you don't understand how much of a black eye it is for me to have a man in my squadron suspected of being Washington Irving!"
"Sir?" Corporal Whitcomb asked.
"When you see him, tell him I want to see him in my office right away," the Colonel ordered, "I have to reprimand him for his suspicious behavior."
"Yes, sir," Corporal Whitcomb saluted.
Colonel Cathcart climbed clumsily back into his Jeep and drove away distractedly, swerving all over the road. He appeared drunk, but truly he was nervous. He already had so many black eyes. He didn't need another.
Just before the Colonel's Jeep disappeared from sight the C.I.D. men showed up. "Who was that?" the first inquired.
"Colonel Cathcart," Corporal Whitcomb shrugged.
"What did he want?" the second C.I.D. man demanded.
"He wanted me to tell the Chaplain to meet him in his office," Corporal Whitcomb replied.
"Is that so?" the first C.I.D. man murmured, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
"Is that so?" the second C.I.D. man uttered wisely shortly afterward.
"If Colonel Cathcart wanted to meet with the Chaplain…?" the first C.I.D. man wondered aloud.
"And the Chaplain is Washington Irving…" the second C.I.D. man continued.
"Could the Colonel truly be…?" the first sustained.
"An accomplice of Washington Irving?" they proclaimed in tandem.
"What is all this about Washington Irving?" Corporal Whitcomb asked.
The C.I.D. men looked mischievously at each other through the corners of their eyes. "A Washington Irving has been intercepting Major Major's top secret documents," the first C.I.D. man announced.
"And he improperly censored countless letters in the hospital," the second attested.
"But Washington Irving's long dead," Coroporal Whitcomb protested.
"The Chaplian died?" the first C.I.D. man exclaimed.
"No, Washington Irving did," Corporal Whitcomb explained impatiently.
"The Chaplain is Washington Irving! He's dead!" the second C.I.D. man wailed, "Headquarters will be so upset that we have no one to court martial!"
"What about Corporal Whitcomb? He's the Chaplain's assistant," the first C.I.D. man suggested.
The Corporal's eyes widened. "No, no, I have nothing to do with a Washington Irving!"
"Is that so?" the first C.I.D. man murmured, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
"Is that so?" the second C.I.D. man uttered wisely shortly afterward, "I know! Let's court martial Colonel Cathcart!"
"The Colonel…? Why, yes, of course! I always knew there was something suspicious about him. He's been working with Washington Irving!"
Just then the Chaplain returned from a long walk on which he had pondered the mystery of the naked man in the tree. "C.I.D. men?" he inquired, "Can I help you with anything?"
"No, no," the first C.I.D. man soothed, "You see, we have it all sorted out. You are Washington Irving, but Washington Irving is long dead. So we are going to court martial Colonel Cathcart instead."
"They're going to court martial Colonel Cathcart!" Yossarian cried delightedly, "We can all go home now!"
"Who's going home?" General Dreedle bellowed. The mess hall fell silent. "Yossarian!" the General continued, "You are aware there the position of Colonel is now open."
"Yes, sir," Yossarian answered suspiciously.
"Against my better judgment, I'm promoting you to fill it," General Dreedle decreed.
"Wh-what?" Yossarian sputtered, "But I'm only a captain. Surely you should promote one of the majors?"
"Do you presume to question me?" the General roared, "There is only one Major Major available to us, and promoting him would be a loss of a valuable commodity. Major Danby is a moaning imbecile, and Major ––––– de Coverly is MIA. You the most dispensable yet capable person in a high rank, so I'm promoting you."
Yossarian felt all the blood drain from his face. He had been so close to returning to the States that the smell of freedom still lingered in his nostrils. As a Colonel, he would be forced to remain indefinitely- until the end of the war. He sank to his knees, choking on a sob.
"What is this now? You should be happy to achieve such a high rank. To serve your country!" General Dreedle shouted in disgust, "Get to your feet, Colonel, so I can pin this to your uniform."
"I'm not a Colonel!" Yossarian objected.
"You are by my order, so get up before I have you taken outside to be shot!" the General yelled. Hearing these familiar words Major Danby paled and passed out. Offended that no one had called upon him to revive the poor man, Doc Daneeka sniffed and looked away.
On the other side of the room Captain Black glowered murderously at Yossarian. First had lost the rank of major to Major Major, and now Yossarian was being promoted to colonel over him! He wanted so badly to make someone, anyone, eat his own liver. His first instinct was to fly to Rome and ravish Nately's whore, but that was no fun since Natley had died. He decided instead to report Major Major to the C.I.D. men for being a communist.
"Major Major is a communist," Captain Black informed them importantly.
"Well how do you know?" the C.I.D. men inquired.
"Because he didn't sign any loyalty oaths," Captain Black explained.
"Is that so?" the first C.I.D. man murmured, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
"Is that so?" the second C.I.D. man uttered wisely shortly afterward, "Headquarters will be pleased to hear this."
But Headquarters never heard about it because the C.I.D. men's reports were selected at random by ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen for malicious destruction. This part of the mail distribution process was what drove Colonel Yossarian to simply announce to the squadron that all men who had flown 50 missions were free to go home.
"But Colonel," Nately complained, "I don't want to go home just yet."
"Why the hell not?" Yossarian admonished, "And I told you to just call me Yossarian."
"Yes, sir, Colonel," Nately consented, "But Colonel sir, if I go home now I can't bring my girl with me."
"Well who says you have to fly missions in order to stay here?" Yossarian countered.
"I have to do something with myself," Nately contended, "I don't want to be a burden."
"Are you crazy?" Yossarian accused, "You could get killed out there! Even a milk run is not guaranteed to be safe. You can keep Doc Daneeka's ghost company if you want to be useful."
"Sir, with all due respect, keeping Doc Daneeka's ghost company won't win this war for America," Nately argued, "I want to do what I can while I remain here."
Yossarian looked at his friend thoughtfully. Nately was careful. If he wanted to fly more missions, well, he was crazy, but who was Yossarian to stop him?
"Alright, you crazy son of a bitch," Yossarian relented, "You can fly more missions. Just watch out for yourself, ya hear?"
"Thank you so much, Colonel! How can I ever repay you?" Nately gushed.
"I told you to call me Yossarian," Yossarian scolded. Nately nodded vehemently and his face shone and he skipped away merrily. "What a nut job," Yossarian reproved fondly.
That image of Nately was the last Yossarian had the privilege to experience. On his next mission Dobb's plane flew into the side of Natley's, tearing off a wing and sending him plummeting silently into an apple-colored sea calm as glass. It didn't take long. Dobb's plane drifted and the wing fell and the plane sank. There was no anti-aircraft fire, no dramatic sunset, no rain. Dobbs messed up and Nately died. Just like that. Boom, down.
"You're gonna be okay kid," Yossarian told the man dying in the back of his plane.
"Cold. Cold," the man whispered, "Cold."
"You're going to be home soon, kid," Yossarian soothed. He pulled the zipper down on his flak suit to make sure no small piece of shrapnel had gotten caught in his upper body. The floor was flooded with blood. It filled Yossarian's every pore and was trapped in the crevasses around his eyes. Slowly it migrated inward, filling the whites and then his iris and just before his pupils were swallowed he caught sight of Nately's face just above the mutilated body in the flak suit.
"Cold," Nately moaned, and then Yossarian's ears were filled with blood as well and he was drowning, drowning, drowning…
"You should decide how you're going to die," Chief Whitehalfoat recommended to Yossarian later that morning. He and Dunbar had been following Yossarian around since the announcement that they could go home; they didn't have anything better to do since ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen had failed to give them their release letters.
"I'm really not in the mood," Yossarian muttered.
"But it really is such a stress reliever," Chief Whitehalfoat continued, "I know when I go out on missions that the flak won't get me, no siree. I'm dyin' of pneumonia, and that's that."
Yossarian shook his head. "You might have decided to die of pneumonia, but that doesn't mean that the Germans don't have other plans."
"What does it matter what the Germans think? I'm dyin' of pneumonia. It's almost certain now- I think I'm going soon. Flume moved back in my tent. If that's not an omen, I don't know what is. That guy's scared to death of me," Chief Whitehalfoat explained cheerily.
"I don't know about deciding how I'm going to die," Dunbar cut in, "I just want to live as long as I can."
"Well if you have to die, how do you want to go?" Chief Whitehalfoat asked him.
"Hmm… I think I want to die of a withering disease, like cancer. The pain would make time seem to go on forever!" Dunbar decided, "And it takes a long time to kill you, besides."
"What about you, Yossarian?" Chief Whitehalfoat prodded.
"I don't want to die," he replied tiredly, "Look, I didn't sleep well last night. Just leave me alone, you bastard."
"Did you have a fish dream?" Dunbar asked sympathetically.
"No, you idiot," Yossarin answered, "That was your dream."
"Well what did you dream about?" Chief Whitehalfoat inquired.
"I don't want to talk about it," Yossarian sighed.
"Then let's talk about uniforms," Milo suggested, catching the tail end of their conversation. "I need to get rid of this Egyptian cotton. If you could put a word in for me Colonel I, and the syndicate, of course, would be much obliged- we need to start making uniforms out of Egyptian cotton."
"It's Yossarian, Milo," Yossarian reminded him.
"Yossarian could you put a word in-" Milo began.
"What the hell control do I have over what material the uniforms are made out of, Milo?" Yossarian interrupted.
Milo looked around thoughtfully. "You know you're right, Yossarian, you're right. Who do I have to talk to?"
"I don't know." Yossarian sighed.
"What about you boys?" Milo asked, turning to address Dunbar and Chief Whitehalfoat, "Do you know who's in charge of uniform manufacturing?"
"Why the hell should I know?" Chief Whitehalfoat shrugged.
Dunbar grinned. "I dunno either, but he sounds like a dreadfully boring individual. I'll help you find him."
And so for half the night Dunbar and Milo could be heard running here and there, noisily knocking over pots and pans to search the countertops and opening every available barrel to ensure the uniform manufacturer was not hiding inside. This exertion so exhausted them that they fell asleep in the kitchen.
In the morning a squat little man with a Russian accent, handlebar mustache and a cane came to measure the new recruits for uniforms. "Ve vant to make sure our standard size iz still standard," the man informed Yossarian importantly, seeing that he was the person of the highest rank in the area.
"Some men are larger or smaller than the standard, you know," Yossarian offered helpfully, "Maybe you should look into producing three sizes rather than the one."
"Ve vant to make sure our standard size iz still standard," the man repeated, suddenly suspicious. His beady eyes bored into Yossarian's. "Do not question. It iz the way it iz done."
"But-" Yossarian began.
"Do not question!" the little Russian man ordered, shoving his cane into Yossarian's chest. As Yossarian himself was of the standard size, he saw no reason to further argue. If the smaller or larger men had a problem with the one-size-fits-all model, he felt they should fight for it themselves.
And so the strange little man made his rounds around to every tent that morning to measure the men for sizing without further hassle. He did not, however, visit the kitchens. His helicopter lifted off just as Milo and Dunbar finally emerged from hibernation.
"Where else should we look for the uniform manufacturer?" Milo wondered.
"How the hell should I know?" Yossarian sniffed.
And how the hell should he know? Time is fickle and spills like sand through the hourglass, sometimes a grain at a time and sometimes more. No one knows how tall their hourglass is, or how many grains of sand it many contain. No one knows the pattern in which each grain will fall, and where it will land in comparison to the rest.
No one knows his purpose in this life, but that it is to seek a purpose. No one knows where interpretation ends and reality begins. No one knows the boundary between his own sanity and madness. Perhaps there is none. How the hell should anyone know?