“One time,” said Castle, “when I was about fifteen, there was a mutiny near here on a Greek ship bound from Hong Kong to Havana with a load of wicker furniture. the mutineers got control of the ship, didn’t know how to run her, and smashed her up on the rocks near “Papa”Monzano’s castle. Everybody drowned but the rats. The rats and the wicker furniture came ashore.”
That seemed the end of the story, but I couldn’t be sure. “So?”
“So some people got free furniture, and some people got bubonic plague. At Father’s hospital, we had fourteen hundred deaths inside of ten days. Have you ever seen anyone die of bubonic plague?”
“That unhappiness has not bee mine.”
“The lymph glands in the groin and the armpits swell to the size of grapefruit.”
“I can well believe it.”
“After death, the body turns black—coals to Newcastle in the case of San Lorenzo. When the plague was having everything its own way, the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle looked like Auschwitz or Buchenwald. We had stacks of dead so deep and wide that a bulldozer actually stalled trying to shove them toward a common grave. Father worked without sleep for days, worked not only without sleep but without saving many lives, either.”
“Well, finish your story anyway.”
“Where was I?”
“The bubonic plague. The bulldozer was stalled by corpses.”
“Oh, yes. Anyway, one sleepless night I stayed up with Father while he worked. It was all we could do to find a live patient to treat. In bed after bed after bed we found dead people.
And Father started giggling,” Castle continued.
“He couldn’t stop. He walked out into the night with his flashlight. He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. He put his hand on my head, and do you know what that marvelous man said to me?” asked Castle.
“‘Son,’ my father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours.'”
Kurt Vonnegut 1963