Tuesday, March 1, 2011


First time for a long, long time I’m in bed without taking that little red capsule (if I hide to keep
from taking it, the night nurse with the birthmark sends the black boy named Geever out to hunt me
down, hold me captive with his flashlight till she can get the needle ready), so I fake sleep when the
black boy’s coming past with his light.
When you take one of those red pills you don’t just go to sleep; you’re paralyzed with sleep, and
all night long you can’t wake, no matter what goes on around you. That’s why the staff gives me the
pills; at the old place I took to waking up at night and catching them performing all kinds of horrible
crimes on the patients sleeping around me.
I lie still and slow my breathing, waiting to see if something is going to happen. It is dark my lord
and I hear them slipping around out there in their rubber shoes; twice they peek in the dorm and
run a flashlight over everybody. I keep my eyes shut and keep awake. I hear a wailing from up on
Disturbed, loo loo looo—got some guy wired to pick up code signals.
“Oh, a beer, I think, fo’ the long night ahead,” I hear a black boy whisper to the other. Rubber
shoes squeak off toward the Nurses’ Station, where the refrigerator is. “You like a beer, sweet thing
with a birthmark? Fo’ the long night ahead?”
The guy upstairs hushes. The low whine of the devices in the walls gets quieter and quieter, till it
hums down to nothing. Not a sound across the hospital—except for a dull, padded rumbling
somewhere deep in the guts of the building, a sound that I never noticed before—a lot like the
sound you hear when you’re standing late at night on top of a big hydroelectric dam. Low, relentless,
brute power.
The fat black boy stands out there in the hall where I can see him, looking all around and
giggling. He walks toward the dorm door, slow, wiping the wet gray palms in his armpits. The light
from the Nurses’ Station throws his shadow on the dorm wall big as an elephant, gets smaller as he
walks to the dorm door and looks in. He giggles again and unlocks the [79] fuse box by the door and
reaches in. “Tha’s right, babies, sleep tight.”
Twists a knob, and the whole floor goes to slipping down away from him standing in the door,
lowering into the building like a platform in a grain elevator!
Not a thing but the dorm floor moves, and we’re sliding away from the walls and door and the
windows of the ward at a hell of a clip—beds, bedstands, and all. The machinery—probably a cogand-
track affair at each corner of the shaft-is greased silent as death. The only sound I hear is the
guys breathing, and that drumming under us getting louder the farther down we go. The light of the
dorm door five hundred yards back up this hole is nothing but a speck, dusting the square sides of
the shaft with a dim powder. It gets dimmer and dimmer till a faraway scream comes echoing down
the sides of the shaft—“Stay back!”—and the light goes out altogether.
The floor reaches some kind of solid bottom far down in the ground and stops with a soft jar.
It’s dead black, and I can feel the sheet around me choking off my wind. Just as I get the sheet
untied, the floor starts sliding forward with a little jolt. Some kind of castors under it I can’t hear. I
can’t even hear the guys around me breathing, and I realize all of a sudden it’s because that
drumming’s gradually got so loud I can’t hear anything else. We must be square in the middle of it. I
go to clawing at that damned sheet tied across me and just about have it loose when a whole wall
slides up, reveals a huge room of endless machines stretching clear out of sight, swarming with
sweating, shirtless men running up and down catwalks, faces blank and dreamy in firelight thrown
from a hundred blast furnaces.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
It—everything I see—looks like it sounded, like the inside of a tremendous dam. Huge brass
tubes disappear upward in the dark. Wires run to transformers out of sight. Grease and cinders catch
on everything, staining the couplings and motors and dynamos red and coal black.
The workers all move at the same smooth sprint, an easy, fluid stride. No one’s in a hurry. One
will hold up a second, spin a dial, push a button, throw a switch, and one side of his face flashes
white like lightning from the spark of the connecting switch, and run on, up steel steps and along a
corrugated iron catwalk—pass each other so smooth and close I hear the slap of wet sides like the
slap of a salmon’s tail on water—stop again, throw lightning from another switch, and run on again.
[80] They twinkle in all directions clean on out of sight, these flash pictures of the dreamy doll faces
of the workmen.
A workman’s eyes snap shut while he’s going at full run, and he drops in his tracks; two of his
buddies running by grab him up and lateral him into a furnace as they pass. The furnace whoops a
ball of fire and I hear the popping of a million tubes like walking through a field of seed pods. This
sound mixes with the whirr and clang of the rest of the machines.
There’s a rhythm to it, like a thundering pulse.
The dorm floor slides on out of the shaft and into the machine room. Right away I see what’s
straight above us—one of those trestle affairs like you find in meat houses, rollers on tracks to move
carcasses from the cooler to the butcher without much lifting. Two guys in slacks, white shirts with
the sleeves turned back, and thin black ties are leaning on the catwalk above our beds, gesturing to
each other as they talk, cigarettes in long holders tracing lines of red light. They’re talking but you
can’t make out the words above the measured roar rising all around them. One of the guys snaps his
fingers, and the nearest workman veers in a sharp turn and sprints to his side. The guy points down
at one of the beds with his cigarette holder, and the worker trots off to the steel stepladder and runs
down to our level, where he goes out of sight between two transformers huge as potato cellars.
When that worker appears again he’s pulling a hook along the trestle overhead and taking giant
strides as he swings along it. He passes my bed and a furnace whooping somewhere suddenly lights
his face up right over mine, a face handsome and brutal and waxy like a mask, wanting nothing. I’ve
seen a million faces like it.
He goes to the bed and with one hand grabs the old Vegetable Blastic by the heel and lifts him
straight up like Blastic don’t weigh more’n a few pounds; with the other hand the worker drives the
hook through the tendon back of the heel, and the old guy’s hanging there upside down, his moldy
face blown up big, scared, the eyes scummed with mute fear. He keeps flapping both arms and the
free leg till his pajama top falls around his head. The worker grabs the top and bunches and twists it
like a burlap sack and pulls the trolley clicking back over the trestle to the catwalk and looks up to
where those two guys in white shirts are standing. One of the guys takes a scalpel from a holster at
his belt. There’s a chain welded to the scalpel. The guy lowers it to the worker, loops the other end
of the chain around the railing so the worker can’t run off with a weapon.
[81] The worker takes the scalpel and slices up the front of old Blastic with a clean swing and the
old man stops thrashing around. I expect to be sick, but there’s no blood or innards falling out like I
was looking to see—just a shower of rust and ashes, and now and again a piece of wire or glass.
Worker’s standing there to his knees in what looks like clinkers.
A furnace got its mouth open somewhere, licks up somebody.
I think about jumping up and running around and waking up McMurphy and Harding and as
many of the guys as I can, but there wouldn’t be any sense in it. If I shook somebody awake he’d
say, Why you crazy idiot, what the hell’s eating you? And then probably help one of the workers lift
me onto one of those hooks himself, saying, How about let’s see what the insides of an Indian are
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I hear the high, cold, whistling wet breath of the fog machine, see the first wisps of it come
seeping out from under McMurphy’s bed. I hope he knows enough to hide in the fog.
I hear a silly prattle reminds me of somebody familiar, and I roll enough to get a look down the
other way. It’s the hairless Public Relation with the bloated face, that the patients are always arguing
about why it’s bloated. “I’ll say he does,” they’ll argue. “Me, I’ll say he doesn’t; you ever hear of a guy
really who wore one?” “Yeh, but you ever hear of a guy like him before?” The first patient shrugs and
nods, “Interesting point.”
Now he’s stripped except for a long undershirt with fancy monograms sewed red on front and
back. And I see once and for all (the undershirt rides up his back some as he comes walking past,
giving me a peek) that he definitely does wear one, laced so tight it might blow up any second.
And dangling from the stays he’s got half a dozen withered objects, tied by the hair like scalps.
He’s carrying a little flask of something that he sips from to keep his throat open for talking, and
a camphor hanky he puts in front of his nose from time to time to stop out the stink. There’s a
clutch of schoolteachers and college girls and the like hurrying after him. They wear blue aprons and
their hair in pin curls. They are listening to him give a brief lecture on the tour.
He thinks of something funny and has to stop his lecture long enough for a swig from the flask
to stop the giggling. During the pause one of his pupils stargazes around and sees the gutted
Chronic dangling by his heel. She gasps and jumps back. The Public Relation turns and catches sight
of the corpse and rushes to take one of those limp hands and give it a spin. The [82] student shrinks
forward for a cautious look, face in a trance.
“You see? You see?” He squeals and rolls his eyes and spews stuff from his flask he’s laughing so
hard. He’s laughing till i think he’ll explode.
When he finally drowns the laughing he starts back along the row of machines and goes into his
lecture again. He stops suddenly and slaps his forehead—“Oh, scatterbrained me!”—and comes
running back to the hanging Chronic to rip off another trophy and tie it to his girdle.
Right and left there are other things happening just as bad—crazy, horrible things too goofy and
outlandish to cry about and too much true to laugh about—but the fog is getting thick enough I
don’t have to watch. And somebody’s tugging at my arm. I know already what will happen:
somebody’ll drag me out of the fog and we’ll be back on the ward and there won’t be a sign of what
went on tonight and if I was fool enough to try and tell anybody about it they’d say, Idiot, you just
had a nightmare; things as crazy as a big machine room down in the bowels of a dam where people
get cut up by robot workers don’t exist.
But if they don’t exist, how can a man see them?
It’s Mr. Turkle that pulls me out of the fog by the arm, shaking me and grinning. He says, “You
havin’ a bad dream, Mistuh Bromden.” He’s the aide works the long lonely shift from 11 to 7, an old
Negro man with a big sleepy grin on the end of a long wobbly neck. He smells like he’s had a little
to drink. “Back to sleep now, Mistuh Bromden.”
Some nights he’ll untie the sheet from across me if it’s so tight I squirm around. He wouldn’t do
it if he thought the day crew knew it was him, because they’d probably fire him, but he figures the
day crew will think it was me untied it. I think he really does it to be kind, to help—but he makes
sure he’s safe first.
This time he doesn’t untie the sheet but walks away from me to help two aides I never saw
before and a young doctor lift old Blastic onto the stretcher and carry him out, covered with a
sheet—handle him more careful than anybody ever handled him before in all his life.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Come morning, McMurphy is up before I am, the first time anybody been up before me since
Uncle Jules the Wallwalker was here. Jules was a shrewd old white-haired Negro with a theory the
world was being tipped over on its side during the night by the black boys; he used to slip out in the
early mornings, aiming to catch them tipping it. Like Jules, I’m up early in the mornings to watch
what machinery they’re sneaking onto the ward or installing in the shaving room, and usually it’s just
me and the black boys in the hall for fifteen minutes before the next patient is out of bed. But this
morning I hear McMurphy out there in the latrine as I come out of the covers. Hear him singing!
Singing so you’d think he didn’t have a worry in the world. His voice is clear and strong slapping up
against the cement and steel.
“ ‘Your horses are hungry, that’s what she did say.’ ” He’s enjoying the way the sound rings in the
latrine. “ ‘Come sit down beside me, an’ feed them some hay.’ ” He gets a breath, and his voice
jumps a key, gaining pitch and power till it’s joggling the wiring in all the walls. “ ‘My horses ain’t
hungry, they won’t eat your hay-ay-aeee.’ ” He holds the note and plays with it, then swoops down
with the rest of the verse to finish it off. “ ‘So fare-thee-well, darlin’, I’m gone on my way.’ ”
Singing! Everybody’s thunderstruck. They haven’t heard such a thing in years, not on this ward.
Most of the Acutes in the dorm are up on their elbows, blinking and listening. They look at one
another and raise their eyebrows. How come the black boys haven’t hushed him up out there? They
never let anybody raise that much racket before, did they? How come they treat this new guy
different? He’s a man made outa skin and bone that’s due to get weak and pale and die, just like the
rest of us. He lives under the same laws, gotta eat, bumps up against the same troubles; these things
make him just as vulnerable to the Combine as anybody else, don’t they?
But the new guy is different, and the Acutes can see it, different from anybody been coming on
this ward for the past ten years, different from anybody they ever met outside. He’s just as
vulnerable, maybe, but the Combine didn’t get him.
[84] “ ‘My wagons are loaded,’ ” he sings, “ ‘my whip’s in my hand ...’ ”
How’d he manage to slip the collar? Maybe, like old Pete, the Combine missed getting to him
soon enough with controls. Maybe he growed up so wild all over the country, batting around from
one place to another, never around one town longer’n a few months when he was a kid so a school
never got much a hold on him, logging, gambling, running carnival wheels, traveling lightfooted and
fast, keeping on the move so much that the Combine never had a chance to get anything installed.
Maybe that’s it, he never gave the Combine a chance, just like he never gave the black boy a chance
to get to him with the thermometer yesterday morning, because a moving target is hard to hit.
No wife wanting new linoleum. No relatives pulling at him with watery old eyes. No one to care
about, which is what makes him free enough to be a good con man. And maybe the reason the black
boys don’t rush into that latrine and put a stop to his singing is because they know he’s out of
control, and they remember that time with old Pete and what a man out of control can do. And they
can see that McMurphy’s a lot bigger than old Pete; if it comes down to getting the best of him, it’s
going to take all three of them and the Big Nurse waiting on the sidelines with a needle. The Acutes
nod at one another; that’s the reason, they figure, that the black boys haven’t stopped his singing
where they would stop any of the rest of us.
I come out of the dorm into the hall just as McMurphy comes out of the latrine. He’s got his cap
on and not much else, just a towel grabbed around his hips. He’s holding a toothbrush in his other
hand. He stands in the hall, looking up and down, rocking up on his toes to keep off the cold tile as
much as he can. Picks him out a black boy, the least one, and walks up to him and whaps him on the
shoulder just like they’d been friends all their lives.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Hey there, old buddy, what’s my chance of gettin’ some toothpaste for brushin’ my grinders?”
The black boy’s dwarf head swivels and comes nose to knuckle with that hand. He frowns at it,
then takes a quick check where’s the other two black boys just in case, and tells McMurphy they
don’t open the cabinet till six-forty-five. “It’s a policy,” he says.
“Is that right? I mean, is that where they keep the toothpaste? In the cabinet?”
“Tha’s right, locked in the cabinet.”
[85] The black boy tries to go back to polishing the baseboards, but that hand is still lopped over
his shoulder like a big red clamp.
“Locked in the cabinet, is it? Well well well, now why do you reckon they keep the toothpaste
locked up? I mean, it ain’t like it’s dangerous, is it? You can’t poison a man with it, can you? You
couldn’t brain some guy with the tube, could you? What reason you suppose they have for puttin’
something as harmless as a little tube of toothpaste under lock and key?”
“It’s ward policy, Mr. McMurphy, tha’s the reason.” And when he sees that this last reason don’t
affect McMurphy like it should, he frowns at that hand on his shoulder and adds, “What you s’pose
it’d be like if evahbody was to brush their teeth whenever they took a notion to brush?”
McMurphy turns loose the shoulder, tugs at that tuft of red wool at his neck, and thinks this
over. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, I think I can see what you’re drivin’ at: ward policy is for those that can’t
brush after every meal.”
“My gaw, don’t you see?”
“Yes, now, I do. You’re saying people’d be brushin’ their teeth whenever the spirit moved them.”
“Tha’s right, tha’s why we—”
“And, lordy, can you imagine? Teeth bein’ brushed at six-thirty, six-twenty—who can tell? maybe
even six o’clock. Yeah, I can see your point.”
He winks past the black boy at me standing against the wall.
“I gotta get this baseboard cleaned, McMurphy.”
“Oh. I didn’t mean to keep you from your job.” He starts to back away as the black boy bends to
his work again. Then he comes forward and leans over to look in the can at the black boy’s side.
“Well, look here; what do we have here?”
The black boy peers down. “Look where?”
“Look here in this old can, Sam. What is the stuff in this old can?”
“Tha’s … soap powder.”
“Well, I generally use paste, but”—McMurphy runs his toothbrush down in the powder and
swishes it around and pulls it out and taps it on the side of the can—“but this will do fine for me. I
thank you. We’ll look into that ward policy business later.”
And he heads back to the latrine, where I can hear his singing garbled by the piston beat of his
That black boy’s standing there looking after him with his scrub rag hanging limp in his gray
hand. After a minute he [86] blinks and looks around and sees I been watching and comes over and
drags me down the hall by the drawstring on my pajamas and pushes me to a place on the floor I
just did yesterday.
“There! Damn you, right there! That’s where I want you workin’, not gawkin’ around like some
big useless cow! There! There!”
And I lean over and go to mopping with my back to him so he won’t see me grin. I feel good,
seeing McMurphy get that black boy’s goat like not many men could. Papa used to be able to do it—
spraddle-legged, dead-panned, squinting up at the sky that first time the government men showed up
to negotiate about buying off the treaty. “Canada honkers up there,” Papa says, squinting up.
Government men look, rattling papers. “What are you—? In July? There’s no—uh—geese this time
of year. Uh, no geese.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
They had been talking like tourists from the East who figure you’ve got to talk to Indians so
they’ll understand. Papa didn’t seem to take any notice of the way they talked. He kept looking at the
sky. “Geese up there, white man. You know it. Geese this year. And last year. And the year before
and the year before.”
The men looked at one another and cleared their throats. “Yes. Maybe true, Chief Bromden.
Now. Forget geese. Pay attention to contract. What we offer could greatly benefit you—your
people—change the lives of the red man.”
Papa said, “... and the year before and the year before and the year before ...”
By the time it dawned on the government men that they were being poked fun at, all the council
who’d been sitting on the porch of our shack, putting pipes in the pockets of their red and black
plaid wool shirts and taking them back out again, grinning at one another and at Papa—they had all
busted up laughing fit to kill. Uncle R & J Wolf was rolling on the ground, gasping with laughter and
saying, “You know it, white man.”
It sure did get their goat; they turned without saying a word and walked off toward the highway,
red-necked, us laughing behind them. I forget sometimes what laughter can do.
The Big Nurse’s key hits the lock, and the black boy is up to her soon as she’s in the door,
shifting from foot to foot like a kid asking to pee. I’m close enough I hear McMurphy’s name come
into his conversation a couple of times, so I know he’s telling her about McMurphy brushing his
teeth, completely [87] forgetting to tell her about the old Vegetable who died during the night.
Waving his arms and trying to tell her what that fool redhead’s been up to already, so early in the
morning—disrupting things, goin’ contrary to ward policy, can’t she do something?
She glares at the black boy till he stops fidgeting, then looks up the hall to where McMurphy’s
singing is booming out of the latrine door louder than ever. “ ‘Oh, your parents don’t like me, they
say I’m too po-o-or; they say I’m not worthy to enter your door.’ ”
Her face is puzzled at first; like the rest of us, it’s been so long since she’s heard singing it takes
her a second to recognize what it is.
“ ‘Hard livin’s my pleasure, my money’s my o-o-own, an’ them that don’t like me, they can leave
me alone.’ ”
She listens a minute more to make sure she isn’t hearing things; then she goes to puffing up. Her
nostrils flare open, and every breath she draws she gets bigger, as big and tough-looking’s I seen her
get over a patient since Taber was here. She works the hinges in her elbows and fingers. I hear a
small squeak. She starts moving, and I get back against the wall, and when she rumbles past she’s
already big as a truck, trailing that wicker bag behind in her exhaust like a semi behind a Jimmy
Diesel. Her lips are parted, and her smile’s going out before her like a radiator grill. I can smell the
hot oil and magneto spark when she goes past, and every step hits the floor she blows up a size
bigger, blowing and puffing, roll down anything in her path! I’m scared to think what she’ll do.
Then, just as she’s rolling along at her biggest and meanest, McMurphy steps out of the latrine
door right in front of her, holding that towel around his hips—stops her dead! She shrinks to about
head-high to where that towel covers him, and he’s grinning down on her. Her own grin is giving
way, sagging at the edges.
“Good morning, Miss Rat-shed! How’s things on the outside?”
“You can’t run around here—in a towel!”
“No?” He looks down at the part of the towel she’s eye to eye with, and it’s wet and skin tight.
“Towels against ward policy too? Well, I guess there’s nothin’ to do exec—”
“Stop! don’t you dare. You get back in that dorm and get your clothes on this instant!”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
She sounds like a teacher bawling out a student, so McMurphy hangs his head like a student and
says in a voice sounds like he’s about to cry, “I can’t do that, ma’am. I’m [88] afraid some thief in the
night boosted my clothes whilst I slept. I sleep awful sound on the mattresses you have here.”
“Somebody boosted ...?”
“Pinched. Jobbed. Swiped. Stole,” he says happily. “You know, man, like somebody boosted my
threads.” Saying this tickles him so he goes into a little barefooted dance before her.
“Stole your clothes?”
“That looks like the whole of it.”
“But—prison clothes? Why?”
He stops jigging around and hangs his head again. “All I know is that they were there when I
went to bed and gone when I got up. Gone slick as a whistle. Oh, I do know they were nothing but
prison clothes, coarse and faded and uncouth, ma’am, well I know it—and prison clothes may not
seem like much to those as has more. But to a nude man—”
“That outfit,” she says, realizing, “was supposed to be picked up. You were issued a uniform of
green convalescents this morning.”
He shakes his head and sighs, but still don’t look up. “No. No, I’m afraid I wasn’t. Not a thing
this morning but the cap that’s on my head and—”
“Williams,” she hollers down to the black boy who’s still at the ward door like he might make a
run for it. “Williams, can you come here a moment?”
He crawls to her like a dog to a whipping.
“Williams, why doesn’t this patient have an issue of convalescents?”
The black boy is relieved. He straightens up and grins, raises that gray hand and points down the
other end of the hall to one of the big ones. “Mistuh Washington over there is ‘signed to the laundry
duty this mornin’. Not me. No.”
“Mr. Washington!” She nails him with his mop poised over the bucket, freezes him there. “Will
you come here a moment!” The mop slides without a sound back in the bucket, and with slow,
careful movements he leans the handle against the wall. He turns around and looks down at
McMurphy and the least black boy and the nurse. He looks then to his left and to his right, like she
might be yelling at somebody else.
“Come down here!”
He puts his hands in his pockets and starts shuffling down the hall to her. He never walks very
fast, and I can see how if he don’t get a move on she might freeze him and shatter him all to hell by
just looking; all the hate and fury and frustration she was planning to use on McMurphy is beaming
out down the hall at the black boy, and he can feel it blast against him [89] like a blizzard wind,
slowing him more than ever. He has to lean into it, pulling his arms around him. Frost forms in his
hair and eyebrows. He leans farther forward, but his steps are getting slower; he’ll never make it.
Then McMurphy takes to whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and the nurse looks away from the
black boy just in time. Now she’s madder and more frustrated than ever, madder’n I ever saw her
get. Her doll smile is gone, stretched tight and thin as a red-hot wire. If some of the patients could
be out to see her now, McMurphy could start collecting his bets.
The black boy finally gets to her, and it took him two hours. She draws a long breath.
“Washington, why wasn’t this man issued a change of greens this morning? Couldn’t you see he had
nothing on but a towel?”
“And my cap,” McMurphy whispers, tapping the brim with his finger.
“Mr. Washington?”
The big black boy looks at the little one who pointed him out, and the little black boy
commences to fidget again. The big boy looks at him a long time with those radio-tube eyes, plans
to square things with him later; then the head turns and he looks McMurphy up and down, taking in
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
the hard, heavy shoulders, the lopsided grin, the scar on the nose, the hand clamping the towel in
place, and then he looks at the nurse.
“I guess—” he starts out.
“You guess! You’ll do more than guess! You’ll get him a uniform this instant, Mr. Washington, or
spend the next two weeks working on Geriatrics Ward! Yes. You may need a month of bedpans and
slab baths to refresh your appreciation of just how little work you aides have to do on this ward. If
this was one of the other wards, who do you think would be scouring the hall all day? Mr. Bromden
here? No, you know who it would be. We excuse you aides from most of your housekeeping duties
to enable you to see to the patients. And that means seeing that they don’t parade around exposed.
What do you think would have happened if one of the young nurses had come in early and found a
patient running round the halls without a uniform? What do you think!”
The big black boy isn’t too sure what, but he gets her drift and ambles off to the linen room to
get McMurphy a set of greens—probably ten sizes too small—and ambles back and holds it out to
him with a look of the clearest hate I ever saw. McMurphy just looks confused, like he don’t know
how to take the outfit the black boy’s handing to him, what with one hand holding the toothbrush
and the other hand holding up [90] the towel. He finally winks at the nurse and shrugs and unwraps
the towel, drapes it over her shoulder like she was a wooden rack.
I see he had his shorts on under the towel all along.
I think for a fact that she’d rather he’d of been stark naked under that towel than had on those
shorts. She’s glaring at those big white whales leaping round on his shorts in pure wordless outrage.
That’s more’n she can take. It’s a full minute before she can pull herself together enough to turn on
the least black boy; her voice is shaking out of control, she’s so mad.
“Williams … I believe … you were supposed to have the windows of the Nurses’ Station
polished by the time I arrived this morning.” He scuttles off like a black and white bug. “And you,
Washington—and you ...” Washington shuffles back to his bucket in almost a trot. She looks around
again, wondering who else she can light into. She spots me, but by this time some of the other
patients are out of the dorm and wondering about the little clutch of us here in the hall. She closes
her eyes and concentrates. She can’t have them see her face like this, white and warped with fury.
She uses all the power of control that’s in her. Gradually the lips gather together again under the
little white nose, run together, like the red-hot wire had got hot enough to melt, shimmer a second,
then click solid as the molten metal sets, growing cold and strangely dull. Her lips part, and her
tongue comes between them, a chunk of slag. Her eyes open again, and they have that strange dull
and cold and flat look the lips have, but she goes into her good-morning routine like there was
nothing different about her, figuring the patients’ll be too sleepy to notice.
“Good morning, Mr. Sefelt, are your teeth any better? Good morning, Mr. Fredrickson, did you
and Mr. Sefelt have a good night last night? You bed right next to each other, don’t you?
Incidentally, it’s been brought to my attention that you two have made some arrangement with your
medication—you are letting Bruce have your medication, aren’t you, Mr. Sefelt? We’ll discuss that
later. Good morning, Billy; I saw your mother on the way in, and she told me to be sure to tell you
she thought of you all the time and knew you wouldn’t disappoint her. Good morning, Mr.
Harding—why, look, your fingertips are red and raw. Have you been chewing your fingernails
Before they could answer, even if there was some answer to make, she turns to McMurphy still
standing there in his shorts. Harding looks at the shorts and whistles.
[91] “And you, Mr. McMurphy,” she says, smiling, sweet as sugar, “if you are finished showing
off your manly physique and your gaudy underpants, I think you had better go back in the dorm and
put on your greens.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
He tips his cap to her and to the patients ogling and poking fun at his white-whale shorts, and
goes to the dorm without a word. She turns and starts off in the other direction, her flat red smile
going out before her; before she’s got the door closed on her glass station, his singing is rolling from
the dorm door into the hall again.
“ ‘She took me to her parlor, and coo-oo-ooled me with her fan’ ”—I can hear the whack as he
slaps his bare belly—“ ‘whispered low in her mamma’s ear, I luh-uhvvv that gamblin’ man.’ ”
Sweeping the dorm soon’s it’s empty, I’m after dust mice under his bed when I get a smell of
something that makes me realize for the first time since I been in the hospital that this big dorm full
of beds, sleeps forty grown men, has always been sticky with a thousand other smells—smells of
germicide, zinc ointment, and foot powder, smell of piss and sour old-man manure, of Pablum and
eyewash, of musty shorts and socks musty even when they’re fresh back from the laundry, the stiff
odor of starch in the linen, the acid stench of morning mouths, the banana smell of machine oil, and
sometimes the smell of singed hair—but never before now, before he came in, the man smell of
dust and dirt from the open fields, and sweat, and work.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
All through breakfast McMurphy’s talking and laughing a mile a minute. After this morning he
thinks the Big Nurse is going to be a snap. He don’t know he just caught her off guard and, if
anything, made her strengthen herself.
He’s being the clown, working at getting some of the guys to laugh. It bothers him that the best
they can do is grin weakly and snigger sometimes. He prods at Billy Bibbit, sitting across the table
from him, says in a secret voice, “Hey, Billy boy, you remember that time in Seattle you and me
picked up those two twitches? One of the best rolls I ever had.”
Billy’s eyes bob up from his plate. He opens his mouth but can’t say a thing. McMurphy turns to
“We’d never have brought it off, neither, picking them up on the spur of the moment that way,
except that they’d heard tell of Billy Bibbit. Billy ‘Club’ Bibbit, he was known as in them days. Those
girls were about to take off when one looked at him and says ‘Are you the renowned Billy Club
Bibbit? Of the famous fourteen inches?’ And Billy ducked his head and blushed—like he’s doin’
now—and we were a shoo-in. And I remember, when we got them up to the hotel, there was this
woman’s voice from over near Billy’s bed, says, ‘Mister Bibbit, I’m disappointed in you; I heard that
you had four—four—for goodness sakes!’ ”
And whoops and slaps his leg and gooses Billy with his thumb till I think Billy will fall in a dead
faint from blushing and grinning.
McMurphy says that as a matter of fact a couple of sweet twitches like those two is the only thing
this hospital does lack. The bed they give a man here, finest he’s ever slept in, and what a fine table
they do spread. He can’t figure why everybody’s so glum about being locked up here.
“Look at me now,” he tells the guys and lifts a glass to the light, “getting my first glass of orange
juice in six months. Hooee, that’s good. I ask you, what did I get for breakfast at that work farm?
What was I served? Well, I can describe what it looked like, but I sure couldn’t hang a name on it;
morning noon and night it was burnt black and had potatoes in it and [93] looked like roofing glue. I
know one thing; it wasn’t orange juice. Look at me now: bacon, toast, butter, eggs—coffee the little
honey in the kitchen even asks me if I like it black or white thank you—and a great! big! cold glass
of orange juice. Why, you couldn’t pay me to leave this place!”
He gets seconds on everything and makes a date with the girl pours coffee in the kitchen for
when he gets discharged, and he compliments the Negro cook on sunnysiding the best eggs he ever
ate. There’s bananas for the corn flakes, and he gets a handful, tells the black boy that he’ll filch him
one ‘cause he looks so starved, and the black boy shifts his eyes to look down the hall to where the
nurse is sitting in her glass case, and says it ain’t allowed for the help to eat with the patients.
“Against ward policy?”
“Tha’s right.”
“Tough luck”—and peels three bananas right under the black boy’s nose and eats one after the
other, tells the boy that any time you want one snuck outa the mess hall for you, Sam, you just give
the word.
When McMurphy finishes his last banana he slaps his belly and gets up and heads for the door,
and the big black boy blocks the door and tells him the rule that patients sit in the mess hall till they
all leave at seven-thirty. McMurphy stares at him like he can’t believe he’s hearing right, then turns
and looks at Harding. Harding nods his head, so McMurphy shrugs and goes back to his chair. “I
sure don’t want to go against that goddamned policy.”
The clock at the end of the mess hall shows it’s a quarter after seven, lies about how we only
been sitting here fifteen minutes when you can tell it’s been at least an hour. Everybody is finished
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
eating and leaned back, watching the big hand to move to seven-thirty. The black boys take away the
Vegetables’ splattered trays and wheel the two old men down to get hosed off. In the mess hall
about half the guys lay their heads on their arms, figuring to get a little sleep before the black boys
get back. There’s nothing else to do, with no cards or magazines or picture puzzles. Just sleep or
watch the clock.
But McMurphy can’t keep still for that; he’s got to be up to something. After about two minutes
of pushing food scraps around his plate with his spoon, he’s ready for more excitement. He hooks
his thumbs in his pockets and tips back and one-eyes that clock up on the wall. Then he rubs his
“You know—that old clock up there puts me in mind of the targets at the target range at Fort
Riley. That’s where I got my first medal, a sharpshooter medal. Dead-Eye McMurphy. [94] Who
wants to lay me a pore little dollar that I can’t put this dab of butter square in the center of the face
of that clock up there, or at least on the face?”
He gets three bets and takes up his butter pat and puts it on his knife, gives it a flip. It sticks a
good six inches or so to the left of the clock, and everybody kids him about it until he pays his bets.
They’re still riding him about did he mean Dead-Eye or Dead-Eyes when the least black boy gets
back from hosing Vegetables and everybody looks into his plate and keeps quiet. The black boy
senses something is in the air, but he can’t see what. And he probably never would of known except
old Colonel Matterson is gazing around, and he sees the butter stuck up on the wall and this causes
him to point up at it and go into one of his lessons, explaining to us all in his patient, rumbling
voice, just like what he said made sense.
“The but-ter ... is the Re-pub-li-can party. ...”
The black boy looks where the colonel is pointing, and there that butter is, easing down the wall
like a yellow snail. He blinks at it but he doesn’t say a word, doesn’t even bother looking around to
make certain who flipped it up there.
McMurphy is whispering and nudging the Acutes sitting around him, and in a minute they all
nod, and he lays three dollars on the table and leans back. Everybody turns in his chair and watches
that butter sneak on down the wall, starting, hanging still, shooting ahead and leaving a shiny trail
behind it on the paint. Nobody says a word. They look at the butter, then at the clock, then back at
the butter. The clock’s moving now.
The butter makes it down to the floor about a half a minute before seven-thirty, and McMurphy
gets back all the money he lost.
The black boy wakes up and turns away from the greasy stripe on the wall and says we can go,
and McMurphy walks out of the mess hall, folding his money in his pocket. He puts his arms around
the black boy’s shoulders and half walks, half carries him, down the hall toward the day room. “The
day’s half gone, Sam, of buddy, an’ I’m just barely breaking even. I’ll have to hustle to catch up.
How about breaking out that deck of cards you got locked securely in that cabinet, and I’ll see if I
can make myself heard over that loudspeaker.”
Spends most of that morning hustling to catch up by dealing more blackjack, playing for IOUs
now instead of cigarettes. He moves the blackjack table two or three times to try to get [95] out
from under the speaker. You can tell it’s getting on his nerves. Finally he goes to the Nurses’ Station
and raps on a pane of glass till the Big Nurse swivels in her chair and opens the door, and he asks
her how about turning that infernal noise off for a while. She’s calmer than ever now, back in her
seat behind her pane of glass; there’s no heathen running around half-naked to unbalance her. Her
smile is settled and solid. She closes her eyes and shakes her head and tells McMurphy very
pleasantly, No.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Can’t you even ease down on the volume? It ain’t like the whole state of Oregon needed to hear
Lawrence Welk play ‘Tea for Two’ three times every hour, all day long! If it was soft enough to hear
a man shout his bets across the table I might get a game of poker going—”
“You’ve been told, Mr. McMurphy, that it’s against the policy to gamble for money on the ward.”
“Okay, then down soft enough to gamble for matches, for fly buttons—just turn the damn thing
“Mr. McMurphy”—she waits and lets her calm schoolteacher tone sink in before she goes on;
she knows every Acute on the ward is listening to them—”do you want to know what I think? I
think you are being very selfish. Haven’t you noticed there are others in this hospital besides
yourself? There are old men here who couldn’t hear the radio at all if it were lower, old fellows who
simply aren’t capable of reading, or working puzzles—or playing cards to win other men’s cigarettes.
Old fellows like Matterson and Kittling, that music coming from the loudspeaker is all they have.
And you want to take that away from them. We like to hear suggestions and requests whenever we
can, but I should think you might at least give some thought to others before you make your

He turns and looks over at the Chronic side and sees there’s something to what she says. He
takes off his cap and runs his hand in his hair, finally turns back to her. He knows as well as she
does that all the Acutes are listening to everything they say.
“Okay—I never thought about that.”
“I thought you hadn’t.”
He tugs at that little tuft of red showing out of the neck of his greens, then says. “Well, hey; what
do you say to us taking the card game someplace else? Some other room? Like, say, that room you
people put the tables in during that meeting. There’s nothing in there all the rest of the day. You
could unlock that room and let the card-players go in there, and leave [96] the old men out here with
their radio—a good deal all around.”
She smiles and closes her eyes again and shakes her head gently. “Of course, you may take the
suggestion up with the rest of the staff at some time, but I’m afraid everyone’s feelings will
correspond with mine: we do not have adequate coverage for two day rooms. There isn’t enough
personnel. And I wish you wouldn’t lean against the glass there, please; your hands are oily and
staining the window. That means extra work for some of the other men.”
He jerks his hand away, and I see he starts to say something and then stops, realizing she didn’t
leave him anything else to say, unless he wants to start cussing at her. His face and neck are red. He
draws a long breath and concentrates on his will power, the way she did this morning, and tells her
that he is very sorry to have bothered her, and goes back to the card table.
Everybody on the ward can feel that it’s started.
At eleven o’clock the doctor comes to the day-room door and calls over to McMurphy that he’d
like to have him come down to his office for an interview. “I interview all new admissions on the
second day.”
McMurphy lays down his cards and stands up and walks over to the doctor. The doctor asks him
how his night was, but McMurphy just mumbles an answer.
“You look deep in thought today, Mr. McMurphy.”
“Oh, I’m a thinker all right,” McMurphy says, and they walk off together down the hall. When
they come back what seems like days later, they’re both grinning and talking and happy about
something. The doctor is wiping tears off his glasses and looks like he’s actually been laughing, and
McMurphy is back as loud and full of brass and swagger as ever. He’s that way all through lunch,
and at one o’clock he’s the first one in his seat for the meeting, his eyes blue and ornery from his
place in the corner.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
The Big Nurse comes into the day room with her covey of student nurses and her basket of
notes. She picks the log book up from the table and frowns into it a minute (nobody’s informed on
anybody all day long), then goes to her seat beside the door. She picks up some folders from the
basket on her lap and riffles through them till she finds the one on Harding.
“As I recall, we were making quite a bit of headway yesterday with Mr. Harding’s problem—”
“Ah—before we go into that,” the doctor says, “I’d like to interrupt a moment, if I might.
Concerning a talk Mr. [97] McMurphy and I had in my office this morning. Reminiscing, actually.
Talking over old times. You see Mr. McMurphy and I find we have something in common—we
went to the same high school.”
The nurses look at one another and wonder what’s got into this man. The patients glance at
McMurphy grinning from his corner and wait for the doctor to go on. He nods his head.
“Yes, the same high school. And in the course of our reminiscing we happened to bring up the
carnivals the school used to sponsor—marvelous, noisy, gala occasions. Decorations, crepe
streamers, booths, games—it was always one of the prime events of the year. I—as I mentioned to
McMurphy—was the chairman of the high-school carnival both my junior and senior years—
wonderful carefree years ...”
It’s got real quiet in the day room. The doctor raises his head, peers around to see if he’s making
a fool of himself. The Big Nurse is giving him a look that shouldn’t leave any doubts about it, but he
doesn’t have on his glasses and the look misses him.
“Anyway—to put an end to this maudlin display of nostalgia—in the course of our conversation
McMurphy and I wondered what would be the attitude of some of the men toward a carnival here
on the ward?”
He puts on his glasses and peers around again. Nobody’s jumping up and down at the idea. Some
of us can remember Taber trying to engineer a carnival a few years back, and what happened to it.
As the doctor waits, a silence rears up from out of the nurse and looms over everybody, daring
anybody to challenge it. I know McMurphy can’t because he was in on the planning of the carnival,
and just as I’m thinking that nobody will be fool enough to break that silence, Cheswick, who sits
right next to McMurphy, gives a grunt and is on his feet, rubbing his ribs, before he knows what
“Uh—I personally believe, see”—he looks down at McMurphy’s fist on the chair arm beside
him, with that big stiff thumb sticking straight up out of it like a cow prod—“that a carnival is a real
good idea. Something to break the monotony.”
“That’s right, Charley,” the doctor says, appreciating Cheswick’s support, “and not altogether
without therapeutic value.”
“Certainly not,” Cheswick says, looking happier now. “No. Lots of therapeutics in a carnival.
You bet.”
“It would b-b-be fun,” Billy Bibbit says.
“Yeah, that too,” Cheswick says. “We could do it, Doctor Spivey, sure we could. Scanlon can do
his human bomb act, and I can make a ring toss in Occupational Therapy.”
[98] “I’ll tell fortunes,” Martini says and squints at a spot above his head.
“I’m rather good at diagnosing pathologies from palm reading, myself,” Harding says.
“Good, good,” Cheswick says and claps his hands. He’s never had anybody support anything he
said before.
“Myself,” McMurphy drawls, “I’d be honored to work a skillo wheel. Had a little experience ...”
“Oh, there are numerous possibilities,” the doctor says, sitting up straight in his chair and really
warming to it. “Why, I’ve got a million ideas ...”
He talks full steam ahead for another five minutes. You can tell a lot of the ideas are ideas he’s
already talked over with McMurphy. He describes games, booths, talks of selling tickets, then stops
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
as suddenly as though the Nurse’s look had hit him right between the eyes. He blinks at her and
asks, “What do you think of the idea, Miss Ratched? Of a carnival? Here, on the ward?”
“I agree that it may have a number of therapeutic possibilities,” she says, and waits. She lets that
silence rear up from her again. When she’s sure nobody’s going to challenge it, she goes on. “But I
also believe that an idea like this should be discussed in staff meeting before a decision is reached.
Wasn’t that your idea, Doctor?”
“Of course. I merely thought, understand, I would feel out some of the men first. But certainly, a
staff meeting first. Then we’ll continue our plans.”
Everybody knows that’s all there is to the carnival.
The Big Nurse starts to bring things back into hand by rattling the folio she’s holding. “Fine.
Then if there is no other new business—and if Mr. Cheswick will be seated—I think we might go
right on into the discussion. We have”—she takes her watch from the basket and looks at it—
“forty-eight minutes left. So, as I—”
“Oh. Hey, wait. I remember there is some other new business.” McMurphy has his hand up,
fingers snapping. She looks at the hand for a long time before she says anything.
“Yes, Mr. McMurphy?”
“Not me, Doctor Spivey has. Doc, tell ‘em what you come up with about the hard-of-hearing
guys and the radio.”
The nurse’s head gives one little jerk, barely enough to see, but my heart is suddenly roaring. She
puts the folio back in the basket, turns to the doctor.
“Yes,” says the doctor. “I very nearly forgot.” He leans back and crosses his legs and puts his
fingertips together; I can see [99] he’s still in good spirits about his carnival. “You see, McMurphy
and I were talking about that age-old problem we have on this ward: the mixed population, the
young and the old together. It’s not the most ideal surroundings for our Therapeutic Community,
but Administration says there’s no helping it with the Geriatric Building overloaded the way it is. I’ll
be the first to admit it’s not an absolutely pleasant situation for anyone concerned. In our talk,
however, McMurphy and I did happen to come up with an idea which might make things more
pleasant for both age groups. McMurphy mentioned that he had noticed some of the old fellows
seemed to have difficulty hearing the radio. He suggested the speaker might be turned up louder so
the Chronics with auditory weaknesses could hear it. A very humane suggestion, I think.”
McMurphy gives a modest wave of his hand, and the doctor nods at him and goes on.
“But I told him I had received previous complaints from some of the younger men that the radio
is already so loud it hinders conversation and reading. McMurphy said he hadn’t thought of this, but
mentioned that it did seem a shame that those who wished to read couldn’t get off by themselves
where it was quiet and leave the radio for those who wished to listen. I agreed with him that it did
seem a shame and was ready to drop the matter when I happened to think of the old tub room
where we store the tables during the ward meeting. We don’t use the room at all otherwise; there’s
no longer a need for the hydrotherapy it was designed for, now that we have the new drugs. So how
would the group like to have that room as a sort of second day room, a game room, shall we say?”
The group isn’t saying. They know whose play it is next. She folds Harding’s folio back up and
puts it on her lap and crosses her hands over it, looking around the room just like somebody might
dare have something to say. When it’s clear nobody’s going to talk till she does, her head turns again
to the doctor. “It sounds like a fine plan, Doctor Spivey, and I appreciate Mr. McMurphy’s interest
in the other patients, but I’m terribly afraid we don’t have the personnel to cover a second day
And is so certain that this should be the end of it she starts to open the folio again. But the
doctor has thought this through more than she figured.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“I thought of that too, Miss Ratched. But since it will be largely the Chronic patients who remain
here in the day room with the speaker—most of whom are restricted to lounges or wheel chairs—
one aide and one nurse in here should easily be [100] able to put down any riots or uprisings that
might occur, don’t you think?”
She doesn’t answer, and she doesn’t care much for his joking about riots and uprisings either, but
her face doesn’t change. The smile stays.
“So the other two aides and nurses can cover the men in the tub room, perhaps even better than
here in a larger area. What do you think, men? Is it a workable idea? I’m rather enthused about it
myself, and I say we give it a try, see what it’s like for a few days. If it doesn’t work, well, we’ve still
got the key to lock it back up, haven’t we?”
“Right!” Cheswick says, socks his fist into his palm. He’s still standing, like he’s afraid to get near
that thumb of McMurphy’s again. “Right, Doctor Spivey, if it don’t work, we’ve still got the key to
lock it back up. You bet.”
The doctor looks around the room and sees all the other Acutes nodding and smiling and looking
so pleased with what he takes to be him and his idea that he blushes like Billy Bibbit and has to
polish his glasses a time or two before he can go on. It tickles me to see the little man so happy with
himself. He looks at all the guys nodding, and nods himself and says, “Fine, fine,” and settles his
hands on his knees. “Very good. Now. If that’s decided—I seem to have forgotten what we were
planning to talk about this morning?”
The nurse’s head gives that one little jerk again, and she bends over her basket, picks up a folio.
She fumbles with the papers, and it looks like her hands are shaking. She draws out a paper, but
once more, before she can start reading out of-it, McMurphy is standing and holding up his hand
and shifting from foot to foot, giving a long, thoughtful, “Saaaay,” and her fumbling stops, freezes
as though the sound of his voice froze her just like her voice froze that black boy this morning. I get
that giddy feeling inside me again when she freezes. I watch her close while McMurphy talks.
“Saaaaay, Doctor, what I been dyin’ to know is what did this dream I dreamt the other night
mean? You see, it was like I was me, in the dream, and then again kind of like I wasn’t me—like I was
somebody else that looked like me—like—like my daddy! Yeah, that’s who it was. It was my daddy
because sometimes when I saw me—him—I saw there was this iron bolt through the jawbone like
daddy used to have—”
“Your father has an iron bolt through his jawbone?”
“Well, not any more, but he did once when I was a kid. He went around for about ten months
with this big metal bolt going in here and coming out here! God, he was a regular [101] Frankenstein.
He’d been clipped on the jaw with a pole ax when he got into some kinda hassle with this pond man
at the logging mill—Hey! Let me tell you how that incident came about. …”
Her face is still calm, as though sbe had a cast made and painted to just the look she wants.
Confident, patient, and unruffled. No more little jerk, just that terrible cold face, a calm smile
stamped out of red plastic; a clean, smooth forehead, not a line in it to show weakness or worry; flat,
wide, painted-on green eyes, painted on with an expression that says I can wait, I might lose a yard
now and then but I can wait, and be patient and calm and confident, because I know there’s no real
losing for me.
I thought for a minute there I saw her whipped. Maybe I did. But I see now that it don’t make
any difference. One by one the patients are sneaking looks at her to see how she’s taking the way
McMurphy is dominating the meeting, and they see the same thing. She’s too big to be beaten. She
covers one whole side of the room like a Jap statue. There’s no moving her and no help against her.
She’s lost a little battle here today, but it’s a minor battle in a big war that she’s been winning and
that she’ll go on winning. We mustn’t let McMurphy get our hopes up any different, lure us into
making some kind of dumb play. She’ll go on winning, just like the Combine, because she has all the
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
power of the Combine behind her. She don’t lose on her losses, but she wins on ours. To beat her
you don’t have to whip her two out of three or three out of five, but every time you meet. As soon
as you let down your guard, as soon as you lose once, she’s won for good. And eventually we all got
to lose. Nobody can help that.
Right now, she’s got the fog machine switched on, and it’s rolling in so fast I can’t see a thing but
her face, rolling in thicker and thicker, and I feel as hopeless and dead as I felt happy a minute ago,
when she gave that little jerk—even more hopeless than ever before, on account of I know now
there is no real help against her or her Combine. McMurphy can’t help any more than I could.
Nobody can help. And the more I think about how nothing can be helped, the faster the fog rolls in.
And I’m glad when it gets thick enough you’re lost in it and can let go, and be safe again.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
There’s a Monopoly game going on in the day room. They’ve been at it for three days, houses
and hotels everywhere, two tables pushed together to take care of all the deeds and stacks of play
money. McMurphy talked them into making the game interesting by paying a penny for every play
dollar the bank issues them; the monopoly box is loaded with change.
“It’s your roll, Cheswick.”
“Hold it a minute before he rolls. What’s a man need to buy thum hotels?”
“You need four houses on every lot of the same color, Martini. Now let’s go, for Christsakes.”
“Hold it a minute.”
There’s a flurry of money from that side of the table, red and green and yellow bills blowing in
every direction.
“You buying a hotel or you playing happy new year, for Christsakes?”
“It’s your dirty roll, Cheswick.”
“Snake eyes! Hoooeee, Cheswicker, where does that put you? That don’t put you on my Marvin
Gardens by any chance? That don’t mean you have to pay me, let’s see, three hundred and fifty
“What’s thum other things? Hold it a minute. What’s thum other things all over the board?”
“Martini, you been seeing them other things all over the board for two days. No wonder I’m
losing my ass. McMurphy, I don’t see how you can concentrate with Martini sitting there
hallucinating a mile a minute.”
“Cheswick, you never mind about Martini. He’s doing real good. You just come on with that
three fifty, and Martini will take care of himself; don’t we get rent from him every time one of his
‘things’ lands on our property?”
“Hold it a minute. There’s so many of thum.”
“That’s okay, Mart. You just keep us posted whose property they land on. You’re still the man
with the dice, Cheswick. You rolled a double, so you roll again. Atta boy. Faw! a big six.”
[103] “Takes me to ... Chance: ‘You Have Been Elected Chairman of the Board; Pay Every
Player—’ Boogered and double boogered!”
“Whose hotel is this here for Christsakes on the Reading Railroad?”
“My friend, that, as anyone can see, is not a hotel; it’s a depot.”
“Now hold it a minute—”
McMurphy surrounds his end of the table, moving cards, rearranging money, evening up his
hotels. There’s a hundred. dollar bill sticking out of the brim of his cap like a press card; mad
money, he calls it.
“Scanlon? I believe it’s your turn, buddy.”
“Gimme those dice. I’ll blow this board to pieces. Here we go. Lebenty Leben, count me over
eleven, Martini.”
“Why, all right.”
“Not that one, you crazy bastard; that’s not my piece, that’s my house.”
“It’s the same color.”
“What’s this little house doing on the Electric Company?”
“That’s a power station.”
“Martini, those ain’t the dice you’re shaking—”
“Let him be; what’s the difference?”
“Those are a couple of houses!”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Faw. And Martini rolls a big, let me see, a big nineteen. Good goin’, Mart; that puts you—
Where’s your piece, buddy?”
“Eh? Why here it is.”
“He had it in his mouth, McMurphy. Excellent. That’s two moves over the second and third
bicuspid, four moves to the board, which takes you on to—to Baltic Avenue, Martini. Your own
and only property. How fortunate can a man get, friends? Martini has been playing three days and lit
on his property practically every time.”
“Shut up and roll, Harding. It’s your turn.”
Harding gathers the dice up with his long fingers, feeling the smooth surfaces with his thumb as
if he was blind. The fingers are the same color as the dice and look like they were carved by his other
hand. The dice rattle in his hand as he shakes it. They tumble to a stop in front of McMurphy.
“Faw. Five, six, seven. Tough luck, buddy. That’s another o’ my vast holdin’s. You owe me—oh,
two hundred dollars should about cover it.”
The game goes round and round, to the rattle of dice and the shuffle of play money.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
There’s long spells—three days, years—when you can’t see a thing, know where you are only by
the speaker sounding overhead like a bell buoy clanging in the fog. When I can see, the guys are
usually moving around as unconcerned as though they didn’t notice so much as a mist in the air. I
believe the fog affects their memory some way it doesn’t affect mine.
Even McMurphy doesn’t seem to know he’s been fogged in. If he does, he makes sure not to let
on that he’s bothered by it. He’s making sure none of the staff sees him bothered by anything; he
knows that there’s no better way in the world to aggravate somebody who’s trying to make it hard
for you than by acting like you’re not bothered.
He keeps up his high-class manners around the nurses and the black boys in spite of anything
they might say to him, in spite of every trick they pull to get him to lose his temper. A couple of
times some stupid rule gets him mad, but he just makes himself act more polite and mannerly than
ever till he begins to see how funny the whole thing is—the rules, the disapproving looks they use to
enforce the rules, the ways of talking to you like you’re nothing but a three-year-old—and when he
sees how funny it is he goes to laughing, and this aggravates them no end. He’s safe as long as he
can laugh, he thinks, and it works pretty fair. Just once he loses control and shows he’s mad, and
then it’s not because of the black boys or the Big Nurse and something they did, but it’s because of
the patients, and something they didn’t do.
It happened at one of the group meetings. He got mad at the guys for acting too cagey—too
chicken-shit, he called it. He’d been taking bets from all of them on the World Series coming up
Friday. He’d had it in mind that they would get to watch the games on TV, even though they didn’t
come on during regulation TV time. During the meeting a few days before he asks if it wouldn’t be
okay if they did the cleaning work at night, during TV time, and watched the games during the
afternoon. The nurse tells him no, which is about what he expected. She tells him how the schedule
has been set up for a [105] delicately balanced reason that would be thrown into turmoil by the
switch of routines.
This doesn’t surprise him, coming from the nurse; what does surprise him is how the Acutes act
when he asks them what they think of the idea. Nobody says a thing. They’re all sunk back out of
sight in little pockets of fog. I can barely see them.
“Now look here,” he tells them, but they don’t look. He’s been waiting for somebody to say
something, answer his question. Nobody acts like they’ve heard it. “Look here, damn it,” he says
when nobody moves, “there’s at least twelve of you guys I know of myself got a leetle personal
interest who wins these games. Don’t you guys care to watch them?”
“I don’t know, Mack,” Scanlon finally says, “I’m pretty used to seeing that six-o’clock news. And
if switching times would really mess up the schedule as bad as Miss Ratched says—”
“The hell with the schedule. You can get back to the bloody schedule next week, when the Series
is over. What do you say, buddies? Let’s take a vote on watching the TV during the afternoon instead
of at night. All those in favor?”
“Ay,” Cheswick calls out and gets to his feet.
“I mean all those in favor raise their hands. Okay, all those in favor?”
Cheswick’s hand comes up. Some of the other guys look around to see if there’s any other fools.
McMurphy can’t believe it.
“Come on now, what is this crap? I thought you guys could vote on policy and that sort of thing.
Isn’t that the way it is, Doc?”
The doctor nods without looking up.
“Okay then; now who wants to watch those games?”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Cheswick shoves his hand higher and glares around. Scanlon shakes his head and then raises his
hand, keeping his elbow on the arm of the chair. And nobody else. McMurphy can’t say a word.
“If that’s settled, then,” the nurse says, “perhaps we should get on with the meeting.”
“Yeah,” he says, slides down in his chair till the brim of his cap nearly touches his chest. “Yeah,
perhaps we should get on with the sonofabitchin’ meeting at that.”
“Yeah,” Cheswick says, giving all the guys a hard look and sitting down, “yeah, get on with the
godblessed meeting.” He nods stiffly, then settles his chin down on his chest, scowling. He’s pleased
to be sitting next to McMurphy, feeling brave like this. It’s the first time Cheswick ever had
somebody along with him on his lost causes.
[106] After the meeting McMurphy won’t say a word to any of them, he’s so mad and disgusted.
It’s Billy Bibbit who goes up to him.
“Some of us have b-been here for fi-fi-five years, Randle,” Billy says. He’s got a magazine rolled
up and is twisting at it with his hands; you can see the cigarette burns on the backs of his hands.
“And some of us will b-be here maybe th-that muh-muh-much longer, long after you’re g-g-gone,
long after this Wo-world Series is over. And ... don’t you see …” He throws down the magazine and
walks away. “Oh, what’s the use of it anyway.”
McMurphy stares after him, that puzzled frown knotting his bleached eyebrows together again.
He argues for the rest of the day with some of the other guys about why they didn’t vote, but
they don’t want to talk about it, so he seems to give up, doesn’t say anything about it again till the
day before the Series starts. “Here it is Thursday,” he says, sadly shaking his head.
He’s sitting on one of the tables in the tub room with his feet on a chair, trying to spin his cap
around one finger. Other Acutes mope around the room and try not to pay any attention to him.
Nobody’ll play poker or blackjack with him for money any more—after the patients wouldn’t vote
he got mad and skinned them so bad at cards that they’re all so in debt they’re scared to go any
deeper—and they can’t play for cigarettes because the nurse has started making the men keep their
cartons on the desk in the Nurses’ Station, where she doles them out one pack a day, says it’s for
their health, but everybody knows it’s to keep McMurphy from winning them all at cards. With no
poker or blackjack, it’s quiet in the tub room, just the sound of the speaker drifting in from the day
room. It’s so quiet you can hear that guy upstairs in Disturbed climbing the wall, giving out an
occasional signal, loo loo looo, a bored, uninterested sound, like a baby yells to yell itself to sleep.
“Thursday,” McMurphy says again.
“Looooo,” yells that guy upstairs.
“That’s Rawler,” Scanlon says, looking up at the ceiling. He don’t want to pay any attention to
McMurphy. “Rawler the Squawler. He came through this ward a few years back. Wouldn’t keep still
to suit Miss Ratched, you remember, Billy? Loo loo loo all the time till I thought I’d go nuts. What
they should do with that whole bunch of dingbats up there is toss a couple of grenades in the dorm.
They’re no use to anybody—”
[107] “And tomorrow is Friday,” McMurphy says. He won’t let Scanlon change the subject.
“Yeah,” Cheswick says, scowling around the room, “tomorrow is Friday.”
Harding turns a page of his magazine. “And that will make nearly a week our friend McMurphy
has been with us without succeeding in throwing over the government, is that what you’re saying,
Cheswickle? Lord, to think of the chasm of apathy in which we have fallen—a shame, a pitiful
“The hell with that,” McMurphy says. “What Cheswick means is that the first Series game is
gonna be played on TV tomorrow, and what are we gonna be doin’? Mopping up this damned
nursery again.”
“Yeah,” Cheswick says. “Ol’ Mother Ratched’s Therapeutic Nursery.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Against the wall of the tub room I get a feeling like a spy; the mop handle in my hands is made of
metal instead of wood (metal’s a better conductor) and it’s hollow; there’s plenty of room inside it to
hide a miniature microphone. If the Big Nurse is hearing this, she’ll really get Cheswick. I take a hard
ball of gum from my pocket and pick some fuzz off it and hold it in my mouth till it softens.
“Let me see again,” McMurphy says. “How many of you birds will vote with me if I bring up that
time switch again?”
About half the Acutes nod yes, a lot more than would really vote. He puts his hat back on his
head and leans his chin in his hands.
“I tell ya, I can’t figure it out. Harding, what’s wrong with you, for crying out loud? You afraid if
you raise your hand that old buzzard’ll cut it off.”
Harding lifts one thin eyebrow. “Perhaps I am; perhaps I am afraid she’ll cut it off if I raise it.”
“What about you, Billy? Is that what you’re scared of?” “No. I don’t think she’d d-d-do anything,
but”—he shrugs and sighs and climbs up on the big panel that controls the nozzles on the shower,
perches up there like a monkey”—but I just don’t think a vote wu-wu-would do any good. Not in
the l-long run. It’s just no use, M-Mack.”
“Do any good? Hooee! It’d do you birds some good just to get the exercise lifting that arm.”
“It’s still a risk, my friend. She always has the capacity to make things worse for us. A baseball
game isn’t worth the risk,” Harding says.
“Who the hell says so? Jesus, I haven’t missed a World Series in years. Even when I was in the
cooler one September they [108] let us bring in a TV and watch the Series, they’d of had a riot on
their hands if they hadn’t. I just may have to kick that damned door down and walk to some bar
downtown to see the game, just me and my buddy Cheswick.”
“Now there’s a suggestion with a lot of merit,” Harding says, tossing down his magazine. “Why
not bring that up for vote in group meeting tomorrow? ‘Miss Ratched, I’d like to move that the
ward be transported en masse to the Idle Hour for beer and television.’ ”
“I’d second the motion,” Cheswick says. “Damn right.”
“The hell with that in mass business,” McMurphy says. “I’m tired of looking at you bunch of old
ladies; when me and Cheswick bust outta here I think by God I’m gonna nail the door shut behind
me. You guys better stay behind; your mamma probably wouldn’t let you cross the street.”
“Yeah? Is that it?” Fredrickson has come up behind McMurphy. “You’re just going to raise one
of those big he-man boots of yours and kick down the door? A real tough guy.”
McMurphy don’t hardly look at Fredrickson; he’s learned that Fredrickson might act hard-boiled
now and then, but it’s an act that folds under the slightest scare.
“What about it, he-man,” Fredrickson keeps on, “are you going to kick down that door and show
us how tough you are?”
“No, Fred, I guess not I wouldn’t want to scuff up my boot”
“Yeah? Okay, you been talking so big, just how would you go about busting out of here?”
McMurphy takes a look around him. “Well, I guess I could knock the mesh outa one of these
windows with a chair when and if I took a notion. ...”
“Yeah? You could, could you? Knock it right out? Okay, let’s see you try. Come on, he-man, I’ll
bet you ten dollars you can’t do it.”
“Don’t bother trying, Mack,” Cheswick says. “Fredrickson knows you’ll just break a chair and
end up on Disturbed. The first day we arrived over here we were given a demonstration about these
screens. They’re specially made. A technician picked up a chair just like that one you’ve got your feet
on and beat the screen till the chair was no more than kindling wood. Didn’t hardly dent the
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Okay then,” McMurphy says, taking a look around him. I can see he’s getting more interested. I
hope the Big Nurse isn’t hearing this; he’ll be up on Disturbed in an hour. “We need something
heavier. How about a table?”
“Same as the chair. Same wood, same weight.”
“All right, by God, let’s just figure out what I’d have to toss [109] through that screen to bust out.
And if you birds don’t think I’d do it if I ever got the urge, then you got another think coming.
Okay—something bigger’n a table or a chair … Well, if it was night I might throw that fat coon
through it; he’s heavy enough.”
“Much too soft,” Harding says. “He’d hit the screen and it would dice him like an eggplant.”
“How about one of the beds?”
“A bed is too big even if you could lift it. It wouldn’t go through the window.”
“I could lift it all right. Well, hell, right over there you are: that thing Billy’s sittin’ on. That big
control panel with all the handles and cranks. That’s hard enough, ain’t it? And it damn well should
be heavy enough.”
“Sure,” Fredrickson says. “That’s the same as you kicking your foot through the steel door at the
“What would be wrong with using the panel? It don’t look nailed down.”
“No, it’s not bolted—there’s probably nothing holding it but a few wires—but look at it, for
Everybody looks. The panel is steel and cement, half the size of one of the tables, probably
weighs four hundred pounds.
“Okay, I’m looking at it. It don’t look any bigger than hay bales I’ve bucked up onto truck beds.”
“I’m afraid, my friend, that this contrivance will weigh a bit more than your bales of hay.”
“About a quarter-ton more, I’d bet,” Fredrickson says.
“He’s right, Mack,” Cheswick says. “It’d be awful heavy.”
“Hell, are you birds telling me I can’t lift that dinky little gizmo?”
“My friend, I don’t recall anything about psychopaths being able to move mountains in addition
to their other noteworthy assets.”
“Okay, you say I can’t lift it. Well by God ...”
McMurphy hops off the table and goes to peeling off his green jacket; the tattoos sticking half
out of his T-shirt jump around the muscles on his arms.
“Then who’s willing to lay five bucks? Nobody’s gonna convince me I can’t do something till I
try it. Five bucks ...”
“McMurphy, this is as foolhardy as your bet about the nurse.”
“Who’s got five bucks they want to lose? You hit or you sit. ...”
The guys all go to signing liens at once; he’s beat them so many times at poker and blackjack they
can’t wait to get back [110] at him, and this is a certain sure thing. I don’t know what he’s driving at;
broad and big as he is, it’d take three of him to move that panel, and he knows it. He can just look at
it and see he probably couldn’t even tip it, let alone lift it. It’d take a giant to lift it off the ground.
But when the Acutes all get their IOUs signed, he steps up to the panel and lifts Billy Bibbit down
off it and spits in his big callused palms and slaps them together, rolls his shoulders.
“Okay, stand outa the way. Sometimes when I go to exertin’ myself I use up all the air nearby and
grown men faint from suffocation. Stand back. There’s liable to be crackin’ cement and flying steel.
Get the women and kids someplace safe. Stand back. ...”
“By golly, he might do it,” Cheswick mutters.
“Sure, maybe he’ll talk it off the floor,” Fredrickson says.
“More likely he’ll acquire a beautiful hernia,” Harding says. “Come now, McMurphy, quit acting
like a fool; there’s no man can lift that thing.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Stand back, sissies, you’re using my oxygen.”
McMurphy shifts his feet a few times to get a good stance, and wipes his hands on his thighs
again, then leans down and gets hold of the levers on each side of the panel. When he goes to
straining, the guys go to hooting and kidding him. He turns loose and straightens up and shifts his
feet around again.
“Giving up?” Fredrickson grins.
“Just limbering up. Here goes the real effort”—and grabs those levers again.
And suddenly nobody’s hooting at him any more. His arms commence to swell, and the veins
squeeze up to the surface. He clinches his eyes, and his lips draw away from his teeth. His head leans
back, and tendons stand out like coiled ropes running from his heaving neck down both arms to his
hands. His whole body shakes with the strain as he tries to lift something he knows he can’t lift,
something everybody knows he can’t lift.
But, for just a second, when we hear the cement grind at our feet, we think, by golly, he might do
Then his breath explodes out of him, and he falls back limp against the wall. There’s blood on
the levers where he tore his hands. He pants for a minute against the wall with his eyes shut. There’s
no sound but his scraping breath; nobody’s saying a thing.
He opens his eyes and looks around at us. One by one he looks at the guys—even at me—then
he fishes in his pockets for all the IOUs he won the last few days at poker. He bends over [111] the
table and tries to sort them, but his hands are froze into red claws, and he can’t work the fingers.
Finally he throws the whole bundle on the floor—probably forty or fifty dollars’ worth from
each man—and turns to walk out of the tub room. He stops at the door and looks back at
everybody standing around.
“But I tried, though,” he says. “Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didn’t I?”
And walks out and leaves those stained pieces of paper on the floor for whoever wants to sort
through them.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
A visiting doctor covered with gray cobwebs on his yellow skull is addressing the resident boys in
the staff room.
I come sweeping past him. “Oh, and what’s this here.” He gives me a look like I’m some kind of
bug. One of the residents points at his ears, signal that I’m deaf, and the visiting doctor goes on.
I push my broom up face to face with a big picture Public Relation brought in one time when it
was fogged so thick I didn’t see him. The picture is a guy fly-fishing somewhere in the mountains,
looks like the Ochocos near Paineville—snow on the peaks showing over the pines, long white
aspen trunks lining the stream, sheep sorrel growing in sour green patches. The guy is flicking his fly
in a pool behind a rock. It’s no place for a fly, it’s a place for a single egg on a number-six hook—
he’d do better to drift the fly over those riffles downstream.
There’s a path running down through the aspen, and I push my broom down the path a ways and
sit down on a rock and look back out through the frame at that visiting doctor talking with the
residents. I can see him stabbing some point in the palm of his hand with his finger, but I can’t hear
what he says because of the crash of the cold, frothy stream coming down out of the rocks. I can
smell the snow in the wind where it blows down off the peaks. I can see mole burrows humping
along under the grass and buffalo weed. It’s a real nice place to stretch your legs and take it easy.
You forget—if you don’t sit down and make the effort to think back—forget how it was at the
old hospital. They didn’t have nice places like this on the walls for you to climb into. They didn’t
have TV or swimming pools or chicken twice a month. They didn’t have nothing but walls and
chairs, confinement jackets it took you hours of hard work to get out of. They’ve learned a lot since
then. “Come a long way,” says fat-faced Public Relation. They’ve made life look very pleasant with
paint and decorations and chrome bathroom fixtures. “A man that would want to run away from a
place as nice as this,” says fat-faced Public Relation, “why, there’d be something wrong with him.”
[113] Out in the staff room the visiting authority is hugging his elbows and shivering like he’s
cold while he answers questions the resident boys ask him. He’s thin and meatless, and his clothes
flap around his bones. He stands there, hugging his elbows and shivering. Maybe he feels the cold
snow wind off the peaks too.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
It’s getting hard to locate my bed at night, have to crawl around on my hands and knees feeling
underneath the springs till I find my gobs of gum stuck there: Nobody complains about all the fog. I
know why, now: as bad as it is, you can slip back in it and feel safe. That’s what McMurphy can’t
understand, us wanting to be safe. He keeps trying to drag us out of the fog, out in the open where
we’d be easy to get at.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
There’s a shipment of frozen parts come Tin downstairs—hearts and kidneys and brains and the
like. I can hear them rumble into cold storage down the coal chute. A guy sitting in the room
someplace I can’t see is talking about a guy up on Disturbed killing himself. Old Rawler. Cut both
nuts off and bled to death, sitting right on the can in the latrine, half a dozen people in there with
him didn’t know it till he fell off to the floor, dead.
What makes people so impatient is what I can’t figure; all the guy had to do was wait.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I know how they work it, the fog machine. We had a whole platoon used to operate fog
machines around airfields overseas. Whenever intelligence figured there might be a bombing attack,
or if the generals had something secret they wanted to pull-out of sight, hid so good that even the
spies on the base couldn’t see what went on—they fogged the field.
It’s a simple rig: you got an ordinary compressor sucks water out of one tank and a special oil out
of another tank, and compresses them together, and from the black stem at the end of the machine
blooms a white cloud of fog that can cover a whole airfield in ninety seconds. The first thing I saw
when I landed in Europe was the fog those machines make. There were some interceptors close
after our transport, and soon as it hit ground the fog crew started up the machines. We could look
out the transport’s round, scratched windows and watch the jeeps draw the machines up close to the
plane and watch the fog boil out till it rolled across the field and stuck against the windows like wet
You found your way off the plane by following a little referees’ horn the lieutenant kept blowing,
sounded like a goose honking. Soon as you were out of the hatch you couldn’t see no more than
maybe three feet in any direction. You felt like you were out on that airfield all by yourself. You were
safe from the enemy, but you were awfully alone. Sounds died and dissolved after a few yards, and
you couldn’t hear any of the rest of your crew, nothing but that little horn squeaking and honking
out of a soft furry whiteness so thick that your body just faded into white below the belt; other than
that brown shirt and brass buckle, you couldn’t see nothing but white, like from the waist down you
were being dissolved by the fog too.
And then some guy wandering as lost as you would all of a sudden be right before your eyes, his
face bigger and clearer than you ever saw a man’s face before in your life. Your eyes were working
so hard to see in that fog that when something did come in sight every detail was ten times as clear
as usual, so clear both of you had to look away. When a man showed [117] up you didn’t want to
look at his face and he didn’t want to look at yours, because it’s painful to see somebody so clear
that it’s like looking inside him, but then neither did you want to look away and lose him completely.
You had a choice: you could either strain and look at things that appeared in front of you in the fog,
painful as it might be, or you could relax and lose yourself.
When they first used that fog machine on the ward, one they bought from Army Surplus and hid
in the vents in the new place before we moved in, I kept looking at anything that appeared out of
the fog as long and hard as I could, to keep track of it, just like I used to do when they fogged the
airfields in Europe. Nobody’d be blowing a horn to show the way, there was no rope to hold to, so
fixing my eyes on something was the only way I kept from getting lost. Sometimes I got lost in it
anyway, got in too deep, trying to hide, and every time I did, it seemed like I always turned up at that
same place, at that same metal door with the row of rivets like eyes and no number, just like the
room behind that door drew me to it, no matter how hard I tried to stay away, just like the current
generated by the fiends in that room was conducted in a beam along the fog and pulled me back
along it like a robot. I’d wander for days in the fog, scared I’d never see another thing, then there’d
be that door, opening to show me the mattress padding on the other side to stop out the sounds, the
men standing in a line like zombies among shiny copper wires and tubes pulsing light, and the bright
scrape of arcing electricity. I’d take my place in the line and wait my turn at the table. The table
shaped like à cross, with shadows of a thousand murdered men printed on it, silhouette wrists and
ankles running under leather straps sweated green with use, a silhouette neck and head running up to
a silver band goes across the forehead. And a technician at the controls beside the table looking up
from his dials and down the line and pointing at me with a rubber glove. “Wait, I know that big
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
bastard there—better rabbit-punch him or call for some more help or something. He’s an awful case
for thrashing around.”
So I used to try not to get in too deep, for fear I’d get lost and turn up at the Shock Shop door. I
looked hard at anything that came into sight and hung on like a man in a blizzard hangs on a fence
rail. But they kept making the fog thicker and thicker, and it seemed to me that, no matter how hard
I tried, two or three times a month I found myself with that door opening in front of me to the acid
smell of sparks and [118] ozone. In spite of all I could do, it was getting tough to keep from getting
Then I discovered something: I don’t have to end up at that door if I stay still when the fog
comes over me and just keep quiet. The trouble was I’d been finding that door my own self because
I got scared of being lost so long and went to hollering so they could track me. In a way, I was
hollering for them to track me; I had figured that anything was better’n being lost for good, even the
Shock Shop. Now, I don’t know. Being lost isn’t so bad.
All this morning I been waiting for them to fog us in again. The last few days they been doing it
more and more. It’s my idea they’re doing it on account of McMurphy. They haven’t got him fixed
with controls yet, and they’re trying to catch him off guard. They can see he’s due to be a problem; a
half a dozen times already he’s roused Cheswick and Harding and some of the others to where it
looked like they might actually stand up to one of the black boys—but always, just the time it looked
like the patient might be helped, the fog would start, like it’s starting now.
I heard the compressor start pumping in the grill a few minutes back, just as the guys went to
moving tables out of the day room for the therapeutic meeting, and already the mist is oozing across
the floor so thick my pants legs are wet. I’m cleaning the windows in the door of the glass station,
and I hear the Big Nurse pick up the phone and call the doctor to tell him we’re just about ready for
the meeting, and tell him perhaps he’d best keep an hour free this afternoon for a staff meeting.
“The reason being,” she tells him, “I think it is past time to have a discussion of the subject of
Patient Randle McMurphy and whether he should be on this ward or not.” She listens a minute,
then tells him, “I don’t think it’s wise to let him go on upsetting the patients the way he has the last
few days.”
That’s why she’s fogging the ward for the meeting. She don’t usually do that. But now she’s going
to do something with McMurphy today, probably ship him to Disturbed. I put down my window
rag and go to my chair at the end of the line of Chronics, barely able to see the guys getting into
their chairs and the doctor coming through the door wiping his glasses like he thinks the blurred
look comes from his steamed lenses instead of the fog.
It’s rolling in thicker than I ever seen it before.
I can hear them out there, trying to go on with the meeting, talking some nonsense about Billy
Bibbit’s stutter and how it came about. The words come to me like through water, it’s so [119] thick.
In fact it’s so much like water it floats me right up out of my chair and I don’t know which end is up
for a while. Floating makes me a little sick to the stomach at first. I can’t see a thing. I never had it
so thick it floated me like this.
The words get dim and loud, off and on, as I float around, but as loud as they get, loud enough
sometimes I know I’m right next to the guy that’s talking, I still can’t see a thing.
I recognize Billy’s voice, stuttering worse than ever because he’s nervous. “… fuh-fuh-flunked
out of college be-be-cause I quit ROTC. I c-c-couldn’t take it. Wh-wh-wh-whenever the officer in
charge of class would call roll, call ‘Bibbit,’ I couldn’t answer. You were s-s-supposed to say heh—
heh—heh ... He’s choking on the word, like it’s a bone in his throat. I hear him swallow and start
again. “You were supposed to say, ‘Here sir,’ and I never c-c-could get it out.”
His voice gets dim; then the Big Nurse’s voice comes cutting from the left. “Can you recall, Billy,
when you first had speech trouble? When did you first stutter, do you remember?”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I can’t tell is he laughing or what. “Fir-first stutter? First stutter? The first word I said I st-stuttered:
Then the talking fades out altogether: I never knew that to happen before. Maybe Billy’s hid
himself in the fog too. Maybe all the guys finally and forever crowded back into the fog.
A chair and me float past each other. It’s the first thing I’ve seen. It comes sifting out of the fog
off to my right, and for a few seconds it’s right beside my face, just out of my reach. I been
accustomed of late to just let things alone when they appear in the fog, sit still and not try to hang
on. But this time I’m scared, the way I used to be scared. I try with all I got to pull myself over to
the chair and get hold of it, but there’s nothing to brace against and all I can do is thrash the air, all I
can do is watch the chair come clear, clearer than ever before to where I can even make out the
fingerprint where a worker touched the varnish before it was dry, looming out for a few seconds,
then fading on off again. I never seen it where things floated around this way. I never seen it this
thick before, thick to where I can’t get down to the floor and get on my feet if I wanted to and walk
around. That’s why I’m so scared; I feel I’m going to float off someplace for good this time.
I see a Chronic float into sight a little below me. It’s old Colonel Matterson, reading from the
wrinkled scripture of that long yellow hand. I look close at him because I figure it’s the last time I’ll
ever see him. His face is enormous, almost more than I can bear. Every hair and wrinkle of him is
big, as though [120] I was looking at him with one of those microscopes. I see him so clear I see his
whole life. The face is sixty years of southwest Army camps, rutted by iron-rimmed caisson wheels,
worn to the bone by thousands of feet on two-day marches.
He holds out that long hand and brings it up in front of his eyes and squints into it, brings up his
other hand and underlines the words with a finger wooden and varnished the color of a gunstock by
nicotine. His voice as deep and slow and patient, and I see the words come out dark and heavy over
his brittle lips when he reads.
“No ... The flag is ... Ah-mer-ica. America is ... the plum. The peach. The wah-ter-mel-on.
America is ... the gumdrop. The pump-kin seed. America is ... tell-ah-vision.”
It’s true. It’s all wrote down on that yellow hand. I can read it along with him myself.
“Now ... The cross is ... Mex-i-co.” He looks up to see if I’m paying attention, and when he sees I
am he smiles at me and goes on. “Mexico is ... the wal-nut. The hazelnut. The ay-corn. Mexico is ...
the rain-bow. The rain-bow is ... wooden. Mexico is ... woo-den.”
I can see what he’s driving at. He’s been saying this sort of thing for the whole six years he’s been
here, but I never paid him any mind, figured he was no more than a talking statue, a thing made out
of bone and arthritis, rambling on and on with these goofy definitions of his that didn’t make a lick
of sense. Now, at last, I see what he’s saying. I’m trying to hold him for one last look to remember
him, and that’s what makes me look hard enough to understand. He pauses and peers up at me again
to make sure I’m getting it, and I want to yell out to him Yes, I see: Mexico is like the walnut; it’s
brown and hard and you feel it with your eye and it feels like the walnut! You’re making sense, old
man, a sense of your own. You’re not crazy the way they think. Yes ... I see ...
But the fog’s clogged my throat to where I can’t make a sound. As he sifts away I see him bend
back over that hand.
“Now ... The green sheep is ... Can-a-da. Canada is … the fir tree. The wheat field. The cal-en-dar
I strain to see him drifting away. I strain so hard my eyes ache and I have to close them, and
when I open them again the colonel is gone. I’m floating by myself again, more lost than ever.
This is the time, I tell myself. I’m going for good.
There’s old Pete, face like a searchlight. He’s fifty yards off to my left, but I can see him plain as
though there wasn’t any fog at all. Or maybe he’s up right close and real small, I can’t [121] be sure.
He tells me once about how tired he is, and just his saying it makes me see his whole life on the
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
railroad, see him working to figure out how to read a watch, breaking a sweat while he tries to get
the right button in the right hole of his railroad overalls, doing his absolute damnedest to keep up
with a job that comes so easy to the others they can sit back in a chair padded with cardboard and
read mystery stories and girlie books. Not that he ever really figured to keep up—he knew from the
start he couldn’t do that—but he had to try to keep up, just to keep them in sight. So for forty years
he was able to live, if not right in the world of men, at least on the edge of it.
I can see all that, and be hurt by it, the way I was hurt by seeing things in the Army, in the war.
The way I was hurt by seeing what happened to Papa and the tribe. I thought I’d got over seeing
those things and fretting over them. There’s no sense in it. There’s nothing to be done.
“I’m tired,” is what he says.
“I know you’re tired, Pete, but I can’t do you no good fretting about it. You know I can’t.”
Pete floats on the way of the old colonel.
Here comes Billy Bibbit, the way Pete come by. They’re all filing by for a last look. I know Billy
can’t be more’n a few feet away, but he’s so tiny he looks like he’s a mile off. His face is out to me
like the face of a beggar, needing so much more’n anybody can give. His mouth works like a little
doll’s mouth.
“And even when I pr-proposed, I flubbed it. I said ‘Huh-honey, will you muh-muh-muh-muhmuh
…’ till the girl broke out l-laughing.”
Nurse’s voice, I can’t see where it comes from: “Your mother has spoken to me about this girl,
Billy. Apparently she was quite a bit beneath you. What would you speculate it was about her that
frightened you so, Billy?”
“I was in luh-love with her.”
I can’t do nothing for you either, Billy. You know that. None of us can. You got to understand
that as soon as a man goes to help somebody, he leaves himself wide open. He has to be cagey, Billy,
you should know that as well as anyone. What could I do? I can’t fix your stuttering. I can’t wipe the
razorblade scars off your wrists or the cigarette burns off the back of your hands. I can’t give you a
new mother. And as far as the nurse riding you like this, rubbing your nose in your weakness till
what little dignity you got left is gone and you shrink up to nothing from humiliation, I can’t do
anything about that, either. At Anzio, I saw a buddy of mine tied to a tree fifty yards [122] from me,
screaming for water, his face blistered in the sun. They wanted me to try to go out and help him.
They’d of cut me in half from that farmhouse over there.
Put your face away, Billy.
They keep filing past.
It’s like each face was a sign like one of those “I’m Blind” signs the dago accordion players in
Portland hung around their necks, only these signs say “I’m tired” or “I’m scared” or “I’m dying of
a bum liver” or “I’m all bound up with machinery and people pushing me alla time.” I can read all the
signs, it don’t make any difference how little the print gets. Some of the faces are looking around at
one another and could read the other fellow’s if they would, but what’s the sense? The faces blow
past in the fog like confetti.
I’m further off than I’ve ever been. This is what it’s like to be dead. I guess this is what it’s like to
be a Vegetable; you lose yourself in the fog. You don’t move. They feed your body till it finally stops
eating; then they burn it. It’s not so bad. There’s no pain. I don’t feel much of anything other than a
touch of chill I figure will pass in time.
I see my commanding officer pinning notices on the bulletin board, what we’re to wear today. I
see the US Department of Interior bearing down on our little tribe with a gravel-crushing machine.
I see Papa come loping out of a draw and slow up to try and take aim at a big six-point buck
springing off through the cedars. Shot after shot puffs out of the barrel, knocking dust all around
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
the buck. I come out of the draw behind Papa and bring the buck down with my second shot just as
it starts climbing the rimrock. I grin at Papa.
I never knew you to miss a shot like that before, Papa. Eye’s gone, boy. Can’t hold a bead. Sights on my gun just
now was shakin’ like a dog shittin’ peach pits.
Papa, I’m telling you: that cactus moon of Sid’s is gonna make you old before your time.
A man drinks that cactus moon of Sid’s boy, he’s already old before his time. Let’s go gut that animal out before
the flies blow him.
That’s not even happening now. You see? There’s nothing you can do about a happening out of
the past like that.
Look there, my man …
I hear whispers, black boys.
Look there, that old fool Broom, slipped off to sleep.
Tha’s right, Chief Broom, tha’s right. You sleep an’ keep outta trouble. Yasss.
[123] I’m not cold any more. I think I’ve about made it. I’m off to where the cold can’t reach me.
I can stay off here for good. I’m not scared any more. They can’t reach me. Just the words reach me,
and those’re fading.
Well ... in as much as Billy has decided to walk out on the discussion, does anyone else have a problem to bring
before the group?
As a matter of fact, ma’am, there does happen to be something …
That’s that McMurphy. He’s far away. He’s still trying to pull people out of the fog. Why don’t he
leave me be?
“... remember that vote we had a day or so back-about the TV time? Well, today’s Friday and I
thought I might just bring it up again, just to see if anybody else has picked up a little guts.”
“Mr. McMurphy, the purpose of this meeting is therapy, group therapy, and I’m not certain these
petty grievances—”
“Yeah, yeah, the hell with that, we’ve heard it before. Me and some of the rest of the guys
“One moment, Mr. McMurphy, let me pose a question to the group: do any of you feel that Mr.
McMurphy is perhaps imposing his personal desires on some of you too much? I’ve been thinking
you might be happier if he were moved to a different ward.”
Nobody says anything for a minute. Then someone says, “Let him vote, why dontcha? Why ya
want to ship him to Disturbed just for bringing up a vote? What’s so wrong with changing time?”
“Why, Mr. Scanlon, as I recall, you refused to eat for three days until we allowed you to turn the
set on at six instead of six-thirty.”
“A man needs to see the world news, don’t he? God, they coulda bombed Washington and it’d
been a week before we’d of heard.”
“Yes? And how do you feel about relinquishing your world news to watch a bunch of men play
“We can’t have both, huh? No, I suppose not. Well, what the dickens—I don’t guess they’ll
bomb us this week.” “Let’s let him have the vote, Miss Ratched.”
“Very well. But I think this is ample evidence of how much he is upsetting some of you patients.
What is it you are proposing, Mr. McMurphy?”
“I’m proposing a revote on watching the TV in the afternoon.”
[124] “You’re certain one more vote will satisfy you? We have more important things—”
“It’ll satisfy me. I just’d kind of like to see which of these birds has any guts and which doesn’t.”
“It’s that kind of talk, Doctor Spivey, that makes me wonder if the patients wouldn’t be more
content if Mr. McMurphy were moved.”
“Let him call the vote, why dontcha?”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Certainly, Mr. Cheswick. A vote is now before the group. Will a show of hands be adequate, Mr.
McMurphy, or are you going to insist on a secret ballot?”
“I want to see the hands. I want to see the hands that don’t go up, too.”
“Everyone in favor of changing the television time to the afternoon, raise his hand.”
The first hand that comes up, I can tell, is McMurphy’s, because of the bandage where that
control panel cut into him when he tried to lift it. And then off down the slope I see them, other
hands coming up out of the fog. It’s like ... that big red hand of McMurphy’s is reaching into the fog
and dropping down and dragging the men up by their hands, dragging them blinking into the open.
First one, then another, then the next. Right on down the line of Acutes, dragging them out of the
fog till there they stand, all twenty of them, raising not just for watching TV, but against the Big
Nurse, against her trying to send McMurphy to Disturbed, against the way she’s talked and acted
and beat them down for years.
Nobody says anything. I can feel how stunned everybody is, the patients as well as the staff. The
nurse can’t figure what happened; yesterday, before he tried lifting that panel, there wasn’t but four
or five men might of voted. But when she talks she don’t let it show in her voice how surprised she
“I count only twenty, Mr. McMurphy.”
“Twenty? Well, why not? Twenty is all of us there—” His voice hangs as he realizes what she
means. “Now hold on just a goddamned minute, lady—”
“I’m afraid the vote is defeated.”
“Hold on just one goddamned minute!”
“There are forty patients on the ward, Mr. McMurphy. Forty patients, and only twenty voted.
You must have a majority to change the ward policy. I’m afraid the vote is closed.”
The hands are coming down across the room. The guys know they’re whipped, are trying to slip
back into the safety of the fog. McMurphy is on his feet.
“Well, I’ll be a sonofabitch. You mean to tell me that’s how [125] you’re gonna pull it? Count the
votes of those old birds over there too?”
“Didn’t you explain the voting procedure to him, Doctor?”
“I’m afraid—a majority is called for, McMurphy. She’s right, she’s right.”
“A majority, Mr. McMurphy; it’s in the ward constitution.” “And I suppose the way to change
the damned constitution is with a majority vote. Sure. Of all the chicken-shit things I’ve ever seen,
this by God takes the cake!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. McMurphy, but you’ll find it written in the policy if you’d care for me to—”
“So this’s how you work this democratic bullshit—hell’s bells!”
“You seem upset, Mr. McMurphy. Doesn’t he seem upset, Doctor? I want you to note this.”
“Don’t give me that noise, lady. When a guy’s getting screwed he’s got a right to holler. And
we’ve been damn well screwed.”
“Perhaps, Doctor, in view of the patient’s condition, we should bring this meeting to a close early
“Wait! Wait a minute, let me talk to some of those old guys.”
“The vote is closed, Mr. McMurphy.”
“Let me talk to ‘em.”
He’s coming across the day room at us. He gets bigger and bigger, and he’s burning red in the
face. He reaches into the fog and tries to drag Ruckly to the surface because Ruckly’s the youngest.
“What about you, buddy? You want to watch the World Series? Baseball? Baseball games? Just
raise that hand up there—”
“Fffffffuck da wife.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“All right, forget it. You, partner, how about you? What was your name—Ellis? What do you say,
Ellis, to watching a ball game on TV? Just raise your hand. ...”
Ellis’s hands are nailed to the wall, can’t be counted as a vote.
“I said the voting is closed, Mr. McMurphy. You’re just making a spectacle of yourself.”
He don’t pay any attention to her. He comes on down the line of Chronics. “C’mon, c’mon, just
one vote from you birds, just raise a hand. Show her you can still do it.”
“I’m tired,” says Pete and wags his head.
“The night is ... the Pacific Ocean.” The Colonel is reading off his hand, can’t be bothered with
“One of you guys, for cryin’ out loud! This is where you get [126] the edge, don’t you see that? We
have to do this—or we’re whipped! Don’t a one of you clucks know what I’m talking about enough to
give us a hand? You, Gabriel? George? No? You, Chief, what about you?
He’s standing over me in the mist. Why won’t he leave me be?
“Chief, you’re our last bet.”
The Big Nurse is folding her papers; the other nurses are standing up around her. She finally gets
to her feet.
“The meeting is adjourned, then, I hear her say. “And I’d like to see the staff down in the staff
room in about an hour. So, if there is nothing el—”
It’s too late to stop it now. McMurphy did something to it that first day, put some kind of hex on
it with his hand so it won’t act like I order it. There’s no sense in it, any fool can see; I wouldn’t do it
on my own. Just by the way the nurse is staring at me with her mouth empty of words I can see I’m
in for trouble, but I can’t stop it. McMurphy’s got hidden wires hooked to it, lifting it slow just to
get me out of the fog and into the open where I’m fair game. He’s doing it, wires ...
No. That’s not the truth. I lifted it myself.
McMurphy whoops and drags me standing, pounding my back.
“Twenty-one! The Chief’s vote makes it twenty-one! And by God if that ain’t a majority I’ll eat
my hat!”
“Yippee,” Cheswick yells. The other Acutes are coming across toward me.
“The meeting was closed,” she says. Her smile is still there, but the back of her neck as she walks
out of the day room and into the Nurses’ Station, is red and swelling like she’ll blow apart any
But she don’t blow up, not right off, not until about an hour later. Behind the glass her smile is
twisted and queer, like we’ve never seen before. She just sits. I can see her shoulders rise and fall as
she breathes.
McMurphy looks up at the clock and he says it’s time for the game. He’s over by the drinking
fountain with some of the other Acutes, down on his knees scouring off the baseboard. I’m
sweeping out the broom closet for the tenth time that day. Scanlon and Harding, they got the buffer
going up and down the hall, polishing the new wax into shining figure eights. McMurphy says again
that he guesses it must be game time and he stands up, leaves the scouring rag where it lies. Nobody
else stops work. McMurphy walks past the window where she’s [127] glaring out at him and grins at
her like he knows he’s got her whipped now. When he tips his head back and winks at her she gives
that little sideways jerk of her head.
Everybody keeps on at what he’s doing, but they all watch out of the corners of their eyes while
he drags his armchair out to in front of the TV set, then switches on the set and sits down. A picture
swirls onto the screen of a parrot out on the baseball field singing razor-blade songs. McMurphy
gets up and turns up the sound to drown out the music coming down from the speaker in the
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
ceiling, and he drags another chair in front of him and sits down and crosses his feet on the chair
and leans back and lights a cigarette. He scratches his belly and yawns.
“Hoo-weee! Man, all I need me now is a can of beer and a red-hot.”
We can see the nurse’s face get red and her mouth work as she stares at him. She looks around
for a second and sees everybody’s watching what she’s going to do—even the black boys and the
little nurses sneaking looks at her, and the residents beginning to drift in for the staff meeting,
they’re watching. Her mouth clamps shut. She looks back at McMurphy and waits till the razor-blade
song is finished; then she gets up and goes to the steel door where the controls are, and she flips a
switch and the TV picture swirls back into the gray. Nothing is left on the screen but a little eye of
light beading right down on McMurphy sitting there.
That eye don’t faze him a bit. To tell the truth, he don’t even let on he knows the picture is
turned off; he puts his cigarette between his teeth and pushes his cap forward in his red hair till he
has to lean back to see out from under the brim.
And sits that way, with his hands crossed behind his head and his feet stuck out in a chair, a
smoking cigarette sticking out from under his hatbrim—watching the TV screen.
The nurse stands this as long as she can; then she comes to the door of the Nurses’ Station and
calls across to him he’d better help the men with the housework. He ignores her.
“I said, Mr. McMurphy, that you are supposed to be working during these hours.” Her voice has
a tight whine like an electric saw ripping through pine. “Mr. McMurphy, I’m warning you!”
Everybody’s stopped what he was doing. She looks around her, then takes a step out of the
Nurses’ Station toward McMurphy.
“You’re committed, you realize. You are ... under the jurisdiction of me ... the staff.” She’s holding
up a fist, all [128] those red-orange fingernails burning into her palm. “Under jurisdiction and
Harding shuts off the buffer, and leaves it in the hall, and goes pulls him a chair up alongside
McMurphy and sits down and lights him a cigarette too.
“Mr. Harding! You return to your scheduled duties!”
I think how her voice sounds like it hit a nail, and this strikes me so funny I almost laugh.
“Mr. Har-ding!”
Then Cheswick goes and gets him a chair, and then Billy Bibbit goes, and then Scanlon and then
Fredrickson and Sefelt, and then we all put down our mops and brooms and scouring rags and we
all go pull us chairs up.
“You men—Stop this. Stop!”
And we’re all sitting there lined up in front of that blanked-out TV set, watching the gray screen
just like we could see the baseball game clear as day, and she’s ranting and screaming behind us.
If somebody’d of come in and took a look, men watching a blank TV, a fifty-year-old woman
hollering and squealing at the back of their heads about discipline and order and recriminations,
they’d of thought the whole bunch was crazy as loons.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
part 2
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Just at the edge of my vision I can see that white enamel face in the Nurses’ Station, teetering
over the desk, see it warp and flow as it tries to pull back into shape. The rest of the guys are
watching too, though they’re trying to act like they aren’t. They’re trying to act like they still got their
eyes on nothing but that blank TV in front of us, but anyone can see they’re all sneaking looks at the
Big Nurse behind her glass there, just the same as I am. For the first time she’s on the other side of
the glass and getting a taste of how it feels to be watched when you wish more than anything else to
be able to pull a green shade between your face and all the eyes that you can’t get away from.
The residents, the black boys, all the little nurses, they’re watching her too, waiting for her to go
down the hall where it’s time for the meeting she herself called, and waiting to see how she’ll act
now that it’s known she can be made to lose control. She knows they’re watching, but she don’t
move. Not even when they start strolling down to the staff room without her. I notice all the
machinery in the wall is quiet, like it’s still waiting for her to move.
[130] There’s no more fog any place.
All of a sudden I remember I’m supposed to clean the staff room. I always go down and clean
the staff room during these meetings they have, been doing it for years. But now I’m too scared to
get out of my chair. The staff always let me clean the room because they didn’t think I could hear,
but now that they saw me lift my hand when McMurphy told me to, won’t they know I can hear?
Won’t they figure I been hearing all these years, listening to secrets meant only for their ears? What’ll
they do to me in that staff room if they know that?
Still, they expect me to be in there. If I’m not, they’ll know for sure that I can hear, be way ahead
of me, thinking, You see? He isn’t in here cleaning, don’t that prove it? It’s obvious what’s to be
done. …
I’m just getting the full force of the dangers we let ourselves in for when we let McMurphy lure
us out of the fog.
There’s a black boy leaning against the wall near the door, arms crossed, pink tongue tip darting
back and forth over his lips, watching us sitting in front of the TV set. His eyes dart back and forth
like his tongue and stop on me, and I see his leather eyelids raise a little. He watches me for a long
time, and I know he’s wondering about the way I acted in the group meeting. Then he comes off the
wall with a lurch, breaking contact, and goes to the broom closet and brings back a bucket of soapy
water and a sponge, drags my arms up and hangs the bucket bale over it, like hanging a kettle on a
fireplace boom.
“Le’s go, Chief,” he says. “Le’s get up and get to your duties.”
I don’t move. The bucket rocks on my arm. I don’t make a sign I heard. He’s trying to trick me.
He asks me again to get up, and when I don’t move he rolls his eyes up to the ceiling and sighs,
reaches down and takes my collar, and tugs a little, and I stand up. He stuffs the sponge in my
pocket and points up the hall where the staff room is, and I go.
And while I’m walking up the hall with the bucket, zoom, the Big Nurse comes past me with all
her old calm speed and power and turns into the door. That makes me wonder.
Out in the hall all by myself, I notice how clear it is—no fog any place. It’s a little cold where the
nurse just went past, and the white tubes in the ceiling circulate frozen light like rods of glowing ice,
like frosted refrigerator coils rigged up to glow white. The rods stretch down to the staff-room door
where the nurse just turned in at the end of the hall—a heavy steel door like the door of the Shock
Shop in Building One, except there are numbers printed on this one, and this one has a little glass
[131] peephole up head-high to let the staff peek out at who’s knocking. As I get closer I see there’s
light seeping out this peephole, green light, bitter as bile. The staff meeting is about to start in there,
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
is why there’s this green seepage; it’ll be all over the walls and windows by the time the meeting is
halfway through, for me to sponge off and squeeze in my bucket, use the water later to clear the
drains in the latrine.
Cleaning the staff room is always bad. The things I’ve had to clean up in these meetings
nobody’d believe; horrible things, poisons manufactured right out of skin pores and acids in the air
strong enough to melt a man. I’ve seen it.
I been in some meetings where the table legs strained and contorted and the chairs knotted and
the walls gritted against one another till you could of wrung sweat out the room. 1 been in meetings
where they kept talking about a patient so long that the patient materialized in the flesh, nude on the
coffee table in front of them, vulnerable to any fiendish notion they took; they’d have him smeared
around in an awful mess before they were finished.
That’s why they have me at the staff meetings, because they can be such a messy affair and
somebody has to clean up, and since the staff room is open only during the meetings it’s got to be
somebody they think won’t be able to spread the word what’s going on. That’s me. I been at it so
long, sponging and dusting and mopping this staff room and the old wooden one at the other place,
that the staff usually don’t even notice me; I move around in my chores, and they see right through
me like I wasn’t there—the only thing they’d miss if I didn’t show up would be the sponge and the
water bucket floating around.
But this time when I tap at the door and the Big Nurse looks through the peephole she looks
dead at me, and she takes longer than ordinary unlocking that door to let me in. Her face has come
back into shape, strong as ever, it seems to me. Everybody else goes ahead spooning sugar in their
coffee and borrowing cigarettes, the way they do before every meeting, but there’s a tenseness in the
air. I think it’s because of me at first. Then I notice that the Big Nurse hasn’t even sat down, hasn’t
even bothered to get herself a cup of coffee.
She lets me slip through the door and stabs me again with both eyes as I go past her, closes that
door when I’m in and locks it, and pivots around and glares at me some more. I know she’s
suspicious. I thought she might be too upset by the way McMurphy defied her to pay any attention
to me, but she don’t look shook at all. She’s clear-headed and wondering now just how did Mr.
Bromden hear that Acute McMurphy asking [132] him to raise his hand on that vote? She’s
wondering how did he know to lay down his mop and go sit with the Acutes in front of that TV set?
None of the other Chronics did that. She’s wondering if it isn’t time we did some checking on our
Mr. Chief Bromden.
I put my back to her and dig into the corner with my sponge. I lift the sponge up above my head
so everybody in the room can see how it’s covered with green slime and how hard I’m working; then
I bend over and rub harder than ever. But hard as I work and hard as I try to act like I’m not aware
of her back there, I can still feel her standing at the door and drilling into my skull till in a minute
she’s going to break through, till I’m just about to give up and yell and tell them everything if she
don’t take those eyes off me.
Then she realizes that she’s being stared at too—by all the rest of the staff. Just like she’s
wondering about me, they are wondering about her and what she’s planning to do about that
redhead back down there in the day room. They’re watching to see what she’ll say about him, and
they don’t care anything about some fool Indian on his hands and knees in the corner. They’re
waiting for her so she quits looking at me and goes and draws a cup of coffee and sits down, stirs
sugar in it so careful the spoon never touches the side of the cup.
It’s the doctor who starts things off. “Now, people, if we can get things rolling?”
He smiles around at the residents sipping coffee. He’s trying not to look at the Big Nurse. She’s
sitting there so silent it makes him nervous and fidgety. He grabs out his glasses and puts them on
for a look at his watch, goes to winding it while he talks.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Fifteen after. It’s past time we started. Now. Miss Ratched, as most of you know, called this gettogether.
She phoned me before the Therapeutic Community meeting and said that in her opinion
McMurphy was due to constitute a disturbance on the ward. Ever so intuitive, considering what
went on a few minutes ago, don’t you think?”
He stops winding his watch on account of it’s tight enough another twist is going to spray it all
over the place, and he sits there smiling at it, drumming the back of his hand with pink little fingers,
waiting. Usually at about this point in the meeting she’ll take over, but she doesn’t say anything.
“After today,” the doctor goes on, “no one can say that this is an ordinary man we’re dealing
with. No, certainly not. And he is a disturbing factor, that’s obvious. So—ah—as I see it, our course
in this discussion is to decide what action to take [133] in dealing with him. I believe the nurse called
this meeting—correct me if I’m off base here, Miss Ratched—to talk the situation out and unify the
staff’s opinion of what should be done about Mr. McMurphy?”
He gives her a pleading look, but she still doesn’t say anything. She’s lifted her face toward the
ceiling, checking for dirt most likely, and doesn’t appear to have heard a thing he’s been saying.
The doctor turns to the line of residents across the room; all of them got the same leg crossed
and coffee cup on the same knee. “You fellows,” the doctor says, “I realize you haven’t had
adequate time to arrive at a proper diagnosis of the patient, but you have had a chance at observing
him in action. What do you think?”
The question pops their heads up. Cleverly, he’s put them on the carpet too. They all look from
him to the Big Nurse. Some way she has regained all her old power in a few short minutes. Just
sitting there, smiling up at the ceiling and not saying anything, she has taken control again and made
everyone aware that she’s the force in here to be dealt with. If these boys don’t play it just right
they’re liable to finish their training up in Portland at the alky hospital. They begin to fidget around
like the doctor.
“He’s quite a disturbing influence, all right.” The first boy plays it safe.
They all sip their coffee and think about that. Then the next one says, “And he could constitute
an actual danger.”
“That’s true, that’s true,” the doctor says.
The boy thinks he may have found the key and goes on. “Quite a danger, in fact,” he says and
moves forward in his chair. “Keep in mind that this man performed violent acts for the sole purpose
of getting away from the work farm and into the comparative luxury of this hospital.”
“Planned violent acts,” the first boy says.
And the third boy mutters, “Of course, the very nature of this plan could indicate that he is
simply a shrewd con man, and not mentally ill at all.”
He glances around to see how this strikes her and sees she still hasn’t moved or given any sign.
But the rest of the staff sits there glaring at him like he’s said some awful vulgar thing. He sees how
he’s stepped way out of bounds and tries to bring it off as a joke by giggling and adding, “You
know, like ‘He Who Marches Out Of Step Hears Another Drum’ ”—but it’s too late. The first
resident turns on him after setting down his [134] cup of coffee and reaching in his pocket for a pipe
big as your fist.
“Frankly, Alvin,” he says to the third boy, “I’m disappointed in you. Even if one hadn’t read his
history all one should need to do is pay attention to his behavior on the ward to realize how absurd
the suggestion is. This man is not only very very sick, but I believe he is definitely a Potential
Assaultive. I think that is what Miss Ratched was suspecting when she called this meeting. Don’t you
recognize the arch type of psychopath? I’ve never heard of a clearer case. This man is a Napoleon, a
Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun.”
Another one joins in. He remembers the nurse’s comments about Disturbed. “Robert’s right,
Alvin. Didn’t you see the way the man acted out there today? When one of his schemes was
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
thwarted he was up out of his chair, on the verge of violence. You tell us, Doctor Spivey, what do
his records say about violence?”
“There is a marked disregard for discipline and authority,” the doctor says.
“Right. His history shows, Alvin, that time and again he has acted out his hostilities against
authority figures—in school, in the service, in jail! And I think that his performance after the voting
furor today is as conclusive an indication as we can have of what to expect in the future.” He stops
and frowns into his pipe, puts it back in his mouth, and strikes a match and sucks the flame into the
bowl with a loud popping sound. When it’s lit he sneaks a look up through the yellow cloud of
smoke at the Big Nurse; he must take her silence as agreement because he goes on, more
enthusiastic and certain than before.
“Pause for a minute and imagine, Alvin,” he says, his words cottony with smoke, “imagine what
will happen to one of us when we’re alone in Individual Therapy with Mr. McMurphy. Imagine you
are approaching a particularly painful breakthrough and he decides he’s just had all he can take of
your—how would he put it?—your ‘damn fool collitch-kid pryin’!’ You tell him he mustn’t get
hostile and he says ‘to hell with that,’ and tell him to calm down, in an authoritarian voice, of course,
and here he comes, all two hundred and ten red-headed psychopathic Irishman pounds of him, right
across the interviewing table at you. Are you—are any of us, for that matter—prepared to deal with
Mr. McMurphy when these moments arise?”
He puts his size-ten pipe back in the corner of his mouth and spreads his hands on his knees and
waits. Everybody’s thinking about McMurphy’s thick red arms and scarred hands [135] and how his
neck comes out of his T-shirt like a rusty wedge. The resident named Alvin has turned pale at the
thought, like that yellow pipe smoke his buddy was blowing at him had stained his face.
“So you believe it would be wise,” the doctor asks, “to send him up to Disturbed?”
“I believe it would be at the very least safe,” the guy with the pipe answers, closing his eyes.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to withdraw my suggestion and go along with Robert,” Alvin tells them all,
“if only for my own protection.”
They all laugh. They’re all more relaxed now, certain they’ve come round to the plan she was
wanting. They all have a sip of coffee on it except the guy with the pipe, and he has a big to-do with
the thing going out all the time, goes through a lot of matches and sucking and puffing and popping
of his lips. It finally smokes up again to suit him, and he says, a little proudly, “Yes, Disturbed Ward
for ol’ Red McMurphy, I’m afraid. You know what I think, observing him these few days?”
“Schizophrenic reaction?” Alvin asks.
Pipe shakes his head.
“Latent Homosexual with Reaction Formation?” the third one says.
Pipe shakes his head again and shuts his eyes. “No,” he says and smiles round the room, “Negative
They all congratulate him.
“Yes, I think there is a lot pointing to it,” he says. “But whatever the final diagnosis is, we must
keep one thing in mind: we’re not dealing with an ordinary man.”
“You—are very, very wrong, Mr. Gideon.” It’s the Big Nurse.
Everybody’s head jerks toward her—mine too, but I check myself and pass the motion off like
I’m trying to scrub a speck I just discovered on the wall above my head. Everybody’s confused all to
hell for sure now. They figured they were proposing just what she’d want, just what she was
planning to propose in the meeting herself. I thought so too. I’ve seen her send men half the size of
McMurphy up to Disturbed for no more reason than there was a chance they might spit on
somebody; now she’s got this bull of a man who’s bucked her and everybody else on the staff, a guy
she all but said was on his way off the ward earlier this afternoon, and she says no.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“No. I don’t agree. Not at all.” She smiles around at all of them. “I don’t agree that he should be
sent up to Disturbed, which would simply be an easy way of passing our problem on [136] to
another ward, and I don’t agree that he is some kind of extraordinary being—some kind of ‘super’
She waits but nobody is about to disagree. For the first time she takes a sip of her coffee; the cup
comes away from her mouth with that red-orange color on it. I stare at the rim of the cup in spite of
myself; she couldn’t be wearing lipstick that color. That color on the rim of the cup must be from
heat, touch of her lips set it smoldering.
“I’ll admit that my first thought when I began to recognize Mr. McMurphy for the disturbing
force that he is was that he should most definitely be sent up to Disturbed. But now I believe.it is
too late. Would removing him undo the harm that he has done to our ward? I don’t believe it would,
not after this afternoon. I believe if he were sent to Disturbed now it would be exactly what the
patients would expect. He would be a martyr to them. They would never be given the opportunity to
see that this man is not an—as you put it, Mr. Gideon—‘extraordinary person.’ ”
She takes another sip and sets the cup on the table; the whack of it sounds like a gavel; all three
residents sit bold upright.
“No. He isn’t extraordinary. He is simply a man and no more, and is subject to all the fears and
all the cowardice and all the timidity that any other man is subject to. Given a few more days, I have
a very strong feeling that he will prove this, to us as well as the rest of the patients. If we keep him
on the ward I am certain his brashness will subside, his self-made rebellion will dwindle to nothing,
and”—she smiles, knowing something nobody else does—“that our redheaded hero will cut himself
down to something the patients will all recognize and lose respect for: a braggart and a blowhard of
the type who may climb up on a soapbox and shout for a following, the way we’ve all seen Mr.
Cheswick do, then back down the moment there is any real danger to him personally.”
“Patient McMurphy”—the boy with the pipe feels he should try to defend his position and save
face just a little bit “does not strike me as a coward.”
I expect her to get mad, but she doesn’t; she just gives him that let’s-wait-and-see look and says,
“I didn’t say he was exactly a coward, Mr. Gideon; oh, no. He’s simply very fond of someone. As a
psychopath, he’s much too fond of a Mr. Randle Patrick McMurphy to subject him to any needless
danger.” She gives the boy a smile that puts his pipe out for sure this time. “If we just wait for a
while, our hero will—what is it you college boys say?—give up his bit? Yes?”
[137] “But that may take weeks—” the boy starts.
“We have weeks,” she says. She stands up, looking more pleased with herself than I’ve seen her
look since McMurphy came to trouble her a week ago. “We have weeks, or months, or even years if
need be. Keep in mind that Mr. McMurphy is committed. The length of time he spends in this
hospital is entirely up to us. Now, if there is nothing else ...”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
The way the Big Nurse acted so confident in that staff meeting, that worried me for a while, but
it didn’t make any difference to McMurphy. All weekend, and the next week, he was just as hard on
her and her black boys as he ever was, and the patients were loving it. He’d won his bet; he’d got the
nurse’s goat the way he said he would, and had collected on it, but that didn’t stop him from going
right ahead and acting like he always had, hollering up and down the hall, laughing at the black boys,
frustrating the whole staff, even going so far as to step up to the Big Nurse in the hall one time and
ask her, if she didn’t mind tellin’, just what was the actual inch-by-inch measurement on them great
big of breasts that she did her best to conceal but never could. She walked right on past, ignoring
him just like she chose to ignore the way nature had tagged her with those outsized badges of
femininity, just like she was above him, and sex, and everything else that’s weak and of the flesh.
When she posted work assignments on the bulletin board, and he read that she’d given him
latrine duty, he went to her office and knocked on that window of hers and personally thanked her
for the honor, and told her he’d think of her every time he swabbed out a urinal. She told him that
wasn’t necessary; just do his work and that would be sufficient, thank you.
The most work he did on them was to run a brush around the bowls once or twice apiece,
singing some song as loud as he could in time to the swishing brush; then he’d splash in some
Clorox and he’d be through. “That’s clean enough,” he’d tell the black boy who got after him for the
way he hurried through his job, “maybe not clean enough for some people, but myself I plan to piss
in ‘em, not eat lunch out of ‘em.” And when the Big Nurse gave in to the black boy’s frustrated
pleading and came in to check McMurphy’s cleaning assignment personally, she brought a little
compact mirror and she held it under the rim of the bowls. She walked along shaking her head and
saying, “Why, this is an outrage … an outrage …” at every bowl. McMurphy sidled right along
beside her, winking down his nose and saying in answer, “No; that’s a toilet bowl ... a toilet bowl.”
[139] But she didn’t lose control again, or even act at all like she might. She would get after him
about the toilets, using that same terrible, slow, patient pressure she used on everybody, as he stood
there in front of her, looking like a little kid getting a bawling out, hanging his head, and the toe of
one boot on top of the other, saying, “I try and try, ma’am, but I’m afraid I’ll never make my mark as
head man of the crappers.”
Once he wrote something on a slip of paper, strange writing that looked like a foreign alphabet,
and stuck it up under one of those toilet bowl rims with a wad of gum; when she came to that toilet
with her mirror she gave a short gasp at what she read reflected and dropped her mirror in the toilet.
But she didn’t lose control. That doll’s face and that doll’s smile were ‘ forged in confidence. She
stood up from the toilet bowl and gave him a look that would peel paint and told him it was his job
to make the latrine cleaner, not dirtier.
Actually, there wasn’t much cleaning of any kind getting done on the ward. As soon as it came
time in the afternoon when the schedule called for house duties, it was also time for the baseball
games to be on TV, and everybody went and lined the chairs up in front of the set and they didn’t
move out of them until dinner. It didn’t make any difference that the power was shut off in the
Nurses’ Station and we couldn’t see a thing but that blank gray screen, because McMurphy’d
entertain us for hours, sit and talk and tell all kinds of stories, like how he made a thousand dollars in
one month driving truck for a gyppo outfit and then lost every penny of it to some Canadian in an
ax-throwing contest, or how he and a buddy slick-tongued a guy into riding a brahma bull at a rodeo
in Albany, into riding him while he wore a blindfold: “Not the bull, I mean, the guy had on the
blindfold.” They told the guy that the blindfold would keep him from getting dizzy when the bull
went to spinning; then, when they got a bandanna wrapped around his eyes to where he couldn’t
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
see, they set him on that bull backward. McMurphy told it a couple of times and slapped his thigh
with his hat and laughed everytime he remembered it. “Blindfolded and backwards ... And I’m a
sonofagun if he didn’t stay the limit and won the purse. And I was second; if he’d been throwed I’d
of took first and a neat little purse. I swear the next time I pull a stunt like that I’ll blindfold the
damn bull instead.”
Whack his leg and throw back his head and laugh and laugh, digging his thumb into the ribs of
whoever was sitting next to him, trying to get him to laugh too.
There was times that week when I’d hear that full-throttled [140] laugh, watch him scratching his
belly and stretching and yawning and leaning back to wink at whoever he was joking with,
everything coming to him just as natural as drawing breath, and I’d quit worrying about the Big
Nurse and the Combine behind her. I’d think he was strong enough being his own self that he
would never back down the way she was hoping he would. I’d think, maybe he truly is something
extraordinary. He’s what he is, that’s it. Maybe that makes him strong enough, being what he is. The
Combine hasn’t got to him in all these years; what makes that nurse think she’s gonna be able to do
it in a few weeks? He’s not gonna let them twist him and manufacture him.
And later, hiding in the latrine from the black boys, I’d take a look at my own self in the mirror
and wonder how it was possible that anybody could manage such an enormous thing as being what
he was. There’d be my face in the mirror, dark and hard with big, high cheekbones like the cheek
underneath them had been hacked out with a hatchet, eyes all black and hard and mean-looking, just
like Papa’s eyes or the eyes of all those tough, mean-looking Indians you see on TV, and I’d think,
That ain’t me, that ain’t my face. It wasn’t even me when I was trying to be that face. I wasn’t even
really me then; I was just being the way I looked, the way people wanted. It don’t seem like I ever
have been me. How can McMurphy be what he is?
I was seeing him different than when he first came in; I was seeing more to him than just big
hands and red sideburns and a broken-nosed grin. I’d see him do things that didn’t fit with his face
or hands, things like painting a picture at OT with real paints on a blank paper with no lines or
numbers anywhere on it to tell him where to paint, or like writing letters to somebody in a beautiful
flowing hand. How could a man who looked like him paint pictures or write letters to people, or be
upset and worried like I saw him once when he got a letter back? These were the kind of things you
expected from Billy Bibbit or Harding. Harding had hands that looked like they should have done
paintings, though they never did; Harding trapped his hands and forced them to work sawing planks
for doghouses. McMurphy wasn’t like that. He hadn’t let what he looked like run his life one way or
the other, any more than he’d let the Combine mill him into fitting where they wanted him to fit.
I was seeing lots of things different. I figured the fog machine had broke down in the walls when
they turned it up too high for that meeting on Friday, so now they weren’t able to [141] circulate fog
and gas and foul up the way things looked. For the first time in years 1 was seeing people with none
of that black outline they used to have, and one night I was even able to see out the windows.
Like I explained, most nights before they ran me to bed they gave me this pill, knocked me out
and kept me out. Or if something went haywire with the dose and I woke up, my eyes were all
crusted over and the dorm was full of smoke, wires in the walls loaded to the limit, twisting and
sparking death and hate in the air—all too much for me to take so I’d ram my head under the pillow
and try to get back to sleep. Every time I peeked back out there would be the smell of burning hair
and a sound like sidemeat on a hot griddle.
But this one night, a few nights after the big meeting, I woke up and the dorm was clean and
silent; except for the soft breathing of the men and the stuff rattling around loose under the brittle
ribs of the two old Vegetables, it was dead quiet. A window was up, and the air in the dorm was
clear and had a taste to it made me feel kind of giddy and drunk, gave me this sudden yen to get up
out of bed and do something.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I slid from between the sheets and walked barefoot across the cold tile between the beds. I felt
the tile with my feet and wondered how many times, how many thousand times, had I run a mop
over this same tile floor and never felt it at all. That mopping seemed like a dream to me, like I
couldn’t exactly believe all those years of it had really happened. Only that cold linoleum under my
feet was real right then, only that moment.
I walked among the guys heaped in long white rows like snowbanks, careful not to bump into
somebody, till I came to the wall with the windows. I walked down the windows to one where the
shade popped softly in and out with the breeze, and I pressed my forehead up against the mesh. The
wire was cold and sharp, and I rolled my head against it from side to side to feel it with my cheeks,
and I smelled the breeze. It’s fall coming, I thought, I can smell that sour-molasses smell of silage,
clanging the air like a bell—smell somebody’s been burning oak leaves, left them to smolder
overnight because they’re too green.
It’s fall coming, I kept thinking, fall coming; just like that was the strangest thing ever happened.
Fall. Right outside here it was spring a while back, then it was summer, and now it’s fall—that’s sure
a curious idea.
I realized I still had my eyes shut. I had shut them when I put my face to the screen, like I was
scared to look outside. Now I had to open them. I looked out the window and saw for [142] the first
time how the hospital was out in the country. The moon was ‘low in the sky over the pastureland;
the face of it was scarred and scuffed where it had just torn up out of the snarl of scrub oak and
madrone trees on the horizon. The stars up close to the moon were pale; they got brighter and
braver the farther they got out of the circle of light ruled by the giant moon. It called to mind how I
noticed the exact same thing when I was off on a hunt with Papa and the uncles and I lay rolled in
blankets Grandma had woven, lying off a piece from where the men hunkered around the fire as
they passed a quart jar of cactus liquor in a silent circle. I watched that big Oregon prairie moon
above me put all the stars around it to shame. I kept awake watching, to see if the moon ever got
dimmer or if the stars got brighter, till the dew commenced to drift onto my cheeks and I had to pull
a blanket over my head.
Something moved on the grounds down beneath my window—cast a long spider of shadow out
across the grass as it ran out of sight behind a hedge. When it ran back to where I could get a better
look, I saw it was a dog, a young, gangly mongrel slipped off from home to find out about things
went on after dark. He was sniffing digger squirrel holes, not with a notion to go digging after one
but just to get an idea what they were up to at this hour. He’d run his muzzle down a hole, butt up
in the air and tail going, then dash off to another. The moon glistened around him on the wet grass,
and when he ran he left tracks like dabs of dark paint spattered across the blue shine of the lawn.
Galloping from one particularly interesting hole to the next, he became so took with what was
coming off—the moon up there, the night, the breeze full of smells so wild makes a young dog
drunk—that he had to lie down on his back and roll. He twisted and thrashed around like a fish,
back bowed and belly up, and when he got to his feet and shook himself a spray came off him in the
moon like silver scales.
He sniffed all the holes over again one quick one, to get the smells down good, then suddenly
froze still with one paw lifted and his head tilted, listening. I listened too, but I couldn’t hear
anything except the popping of the window shade. I listened for a long time. Then, from a long way
off, I heard a high, laughing gabble, faint and coming closer. Canada honkers going south for the
winter. I remembered all the hunting and belly-crawling I’d ever done trying to kill a honker, and
that I never got one.
I tried to look where the dog was looking to see if I could find the flock, but it was too dark. The
honking came closer and [143] closer till it seemed like they must be flying right through the dorm,
right over my head. Then they crossed the moon—a black, weaving necklace, drawn into a V by that
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
lead goose. For an instant that lead goose was right in the center of that circle, bigger than the
others, a black cross opening and closing, then he pulled his V out of sight into the sky once more.
I listened to them fade away till all I could hear was my memory of the sound. The dog could still
hear them a long time after me. He was still standing with his paw up; he hadn’t moved or barked
when they flew over. When he couldn’t hear them any more either, he commenced to lope off in the
direction they had gone, toward the highway, loping steady and solemn like he had an appointment.
I held my breath and I could hear the flap of his big paws on the grass as he loped; then I could hear
a car speed up out of a turn. The headlights loomed over the rise and peered ahead down the
highway. I watched the dog and the car making for the same spot of pavement.
The dog was almost to the rail fence at the edge of the grounds when I felt somebody slip up
behind me. Two people. I didn’t turn, but I knew it was the black boy named Geever and the nurse
with the birthmark and the crucifix. I heard a whir of fear start up in my head. The black boy took
my arm and pulled me around. “I’ll get ‘im,” he says.
“It’s chilly at the window there, Mr. Bromden,” the nurse tells me. “Don’t you think we’d better
climb back into our nice toasty bed?”
“He cain’t hear,” the black boy tells her. “I’ll take him. He’s always untying his sheet and roaming
And I move and she draws back a step and says, “Yes, please do,” to the black boy. She’s fiddling
with the chain runs down her neck. At home she locks herself in the bathroom out of sight, strips
down, and rubs that crucifix all over that stain running from the corner of her mouth in a thin line
down across her shoulders and breasts. She rubs and rubs and hails Mary to beat thunder, but the
stain stays. She looks in the mirror, sees it’s darker’n ever. Finally takes a wire brush used to take
paint off boats and scrubs the stain away, puts a nightgown on over the raw, oozing hide, and crawls
in bed.
But she’s too full of the stuff. While she’s asleep it rises in her throat and into her mouth, drains
out of that corner of her mouth like purple spit and down her throat, over her body. In the morning
she sees how she’s stained again and somehow she figures it’s not really from inside her—how could
it be? a good Catholic girl like her?—and she figures it’s on account of [144] working evenings
among a whole wardful of people like me. It’s all our fault, and she’s going to get us for it if it’s the
last thing she does. I wish McMurphy’d wake up and help me.
“You get him tied in bed, Mr. Geever, and I’ll prepare a medication.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
In the group meetings there were gripes coming up that had been buried so long the thing being
griped about had already changed. Now that McMurphy was around to back them up, the guys
started letting fly at everything that had ever happened on the ward they didn’t like.
“Why does the dorms have to be locked on the weekends?” Cheswick or somebody would ask.
“Can’t a fellow even have the weekends to himself?”
“Yeah, Miss Ratched,” McMurphy would say. “Why?”
“If the dorms were left open, we have learned from past experience, you men would return to
bed after breakfast.”
“Is that a mortal sin? I mean, normal people get to sleep late on the weekends.”
“You men are in this hospital,” she would say like she was repeating it for the hundredth time,
“because of your proven inability to adjust to society. The doctor and I believe that every minute
spent in the company of others, with some exceptions, is therapeutic, while every minute spent
brooding alone only increases your separation.”
“Is that the reason that there has to be at least eight guys together before they can be taken off
the ward to OT or PT or one of them Ts?”
“That is correct.”
“You mean it’s sick to want to be off by yourself?”
“I didn’t say that—”
“You mean if I go into latrine to relieve myself I should take along at least seven buddies to keep
me from brooding on the can?”
Before she could come up with an answer to that, Cheswick bounced to his feet and hollered at
her, “Yeah, is that what you mean?” and the other Acutes sitting around the meeting would say,
“Yeah, yeah, is that what you mean?”
She would wait till they all died down and the meeting was quiet again, then say quietly, “If you
men can calm yourself enough to act like a group of adults at a discussion instead of children on the
playground, we will ask the doctor if he thinks [146] it would be beneficial to consider a change in
the ward policy at this time. Doctor?”
Everybody knew the kind of answer the doctor would make, and before he even had the chance
Cheswick would be off on another complaint. “Then what about our cigarettes, Miss Ratched?”
“Yeah, what about that,” the Acutes grumbled.
McMurphy turned to the doctor and put the question straight to him this time before the nurse
had a chance to answer. “Yeah, Doc, what about our cigarettes? How does she have the right to
keep the cigarettes—our cigarettes—piled up on her desk in there like she owned them, bleed a pack
out to us now and again whenever she feels like it. I don’t care much about the idea of buying a
carton of cigarettes and having somebody tell me when I can smoke them.”
The doctor tilted his head so he could look at the nurse through his glasses. He hadn’t heard
about her taking over the extra cigarettes to stop the gambling. “What’s this about cigarettes, Miss
Ratched? I don’t believe I’ve heard—”
“I feel, Doctor, that three and four and sometimes five packages of cigarettes a day are entirely
too many for a man to smoke. That is what seemed to be happening last week—after Mr.
McMurphy’s arrival—and that is why I thought it might be best to impound the cartons the men
purchased at the canteen and allow each man only one pack a day.”
McMurphy leaned forward and whispered loudly to Cheswick, “Hear tell her next decision is
about trips to the can; not only does a guy have to take his seven buddies into the latrine with him
but he’s also limited to two trips a day, to be taken when she says so.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
And leaned back in his chair and laughed so hard that nobody else could say anything for nearly a
McMurphy was getting a lot of kick out of all the ruckus he was raising, and I think was a little
surprised that he wasn’t getting a lot of pressure from the staff too, especially surprised that the Big
Nurse wasn’t having any more to say to him than she was. “I thought the old buzzard was tougher
than this,” he said to Harding after one meeting. “Maybe all she needed to straighten her out was a
good bringdown. The thing is”—he frowned—“she acts like she still holds all the cards up that
white sleeve of hers.”
He went on getting a kick out of it till about Wednesday of the next week. Then he learned why
the Big Nurse was so sure of her hand. Wednesday’s the day they pack everybody up who hasn’t got
some kind of rot and move to the swimming [147] pool, whether we want to go or not. When the
fog was on the ward I used to hide in it to get out of going. The pool always scared me; I was always
afraid I’d step in over my head and drown, be sucked off down the drain and clean out to sea. I used
to be real brave around water when I was a kid on the Columbia; I’d walk the scaffolding around the
falls with all the other men, scrambling around with water roaring green and white all around me and
the mist making rainbows, without even any hobnails like the men wore. But when I saw my Papa
start getting scared of things, I got scared too, got so I couldn’t even stand a shallow pool.
We came out of the locker room and the pool was pitching and splashing and full of naked men;
whooping and yelling bounced off the high ceiling the way it always does in indoor swimming pools.
The black boys herded us into it. The water was a nice warm temperature but I didn’t want to get
away from the side (the black boys walk along the edge with long bamboo poles to shove you away
from the side if you try to grab on) so I stayed close to McMurphy on account of I knew they
wouldn’t try to make him go into deep water if he didn’t want to.
He was talking to the lifeguard, and I was standing a few feet away. McMurphy must of been
standing in a hole because he was having to tread water where I was just standing on the bottom.
The lifeguard was standing on the edge of the pool; he had a whistle and a T-shirt on with his ward
number on it. He and McMurphy had got to talking about the difference between hospital and jail,
and McMurphy was saying how much better the hospital was. The lifeguard wasn’t so sure. I heard
him tell McMurphy that, for one thing, being committed ain’t like being sentenced. “You’re
sentenced in a jail, and you got a date ahead of you when you know you’re gonna be turned loose,”
he said.
McMurphy stopped splashing around like he had been. He swam slowly to the edge of the pool
and held there, looking up at the lifeguard. “And if you’re committed?” he asked after a pause.
The lifeguard raised his shoulders in a musclebound shrug and tugged at the whistle around his
neck. He was an old pro-footballer with cleat marks in his forehead, and every so often when he was
off his ward a signal would click back of his eyes and his lips’d go to spitting numbers and he’d drop
to all fours in a line stance and cut loose on some strolling nurse, drive a shoulder in her kidneys just
in time to let the halfback shoot past through the hole behind him. That’s why he was up on [148]
Disturbed; whenever he wasn’t lifeguarding he was liable to do something like that.
He shrugged again at McMurphy’s question, then looked back and forth to see if any black boys
were around, and knelt close to the edge of the pool. He held his arm out for McMurphy to look at.
“You see this cast?”
McMurphy looked at the big arm. “You don’t have a cast on that arm, buddy.”
The lifeguard just grinned. “Well, that cast’s on there because I got a bad fracture in the last game
with the Browns. I can’t get back in togs till the fracture knits and I get the cast off. The nurse on
my ward tells me she’s curing the arm in secret. Yeah, man, she says if I go easy on that arm, don’t
exert it or nothing, she’ll take the cast off and I can get back with the ball club.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
He put his knuckles on the wet tile, went into a three-point stance to test how the arm was
coming along. McMurphy watched him a minute, then asked bow long he’d been waiting for them
to tell him his arm was healed so he could leave the hospital. The lifeguard raised up slowly and
rubbed his arm. He acted hurt that McMurphy had asked that, like he thought he was being accused
of being soft and licking his wounds. “I’m committed,” he said. “I’d of left here before now if it was
up to me. Maybe I couldn’t play first string, with this bum arm, but I could of folded towels,
couldn’t I? I could of done something. That nurse on my ward, she keeps telling the doctor I ain’t
ready. Not even to fold towels in the crummy old locker room, I ain’t ready.”
He turned and walked over to his lifeguard chair, climbed up the chair ladder like a drugged
gorilla, and peered down at us, his lower lip pushed way out. “I was picked up for drunk and
disorderly, and I been here eight years and eight months,” he said.
McMurphy pushed backward from the edge of the pool and trod water and thought this over:
he’d had a six months’ sentence at the work farm with two months finished, four more to go—and
four more months was the most he wanted to spend locked up any place. He’d been close to a
month in this nuthouse and it might be a lot better than a work farm, what with good beds and
orange juice for breakfast, but it wasn’t better to the point that he’d want to spend a couple of years
He swam over to the steps at the shallow end of the pool and sat there the rest of the period,
tugging that little tuft of wool [149] at his throat and frowning. Watching him sitting there frowning
all to himself, I remembered what the Big Nurse had said in the meeting, and I began to feel afraid.
When they blew the whistle for us to leave the pool and we all were straggling toward the locker
room, we ran into this other ward coming into the swimming pool for their period, and in the
footbath at the shower you had to go through was this one kid from the other ward. He had a big
spongy pink head and bulgy hips and legs—like somebody’d grabbed a balloon full of water and
squeezed it in the middle—and he was lying on his side in the footbath, making noises like a sleepy
seal. Cheswick and Harding helped him stand up, and he lay right back down in the footbath. The
head bobbed around in the disinfectant. McMurphy watched them lift him standing again.
“What the devil is he?” he asked.
“He has hydrocephalus,” Harding told him. “Some manner of lymph disorder, I believe. Head
fills up with liquid. Give us a hand helping him stand up.”
They turned the kid loose, and he lay back down in the footbath again; the look on his face was
patient and helpless and stubborn; his mouth sputtered and blew bubbles in the milky-looking water.
Harding repeated his request to McMurphy to give them a hand, and he and Cheswick bent down to
the kid again. McMurphy pushed past them and stepped across the kid into the shower.
“Let him lay,” he said, washing himself down in the shower. “Maybe he don’t like deep water.”
I could see it coming. The next day he surprised everybody on the ward by getting up early and
polishing that latrine till it sparkled, and then went to work on the hall floors when the black boys
asked him to. Surprised everybody but the Big Nurse; she acted like it was nothing surprising at all.
And that afternoon in the meeting when Cheswick said that everybody’d agreed that there should
be some kind of showdown on the cigarette situation, saying, “I ain’t no little kid to have cigarettes
kept from me like cookies! We want something done about it, ain’t that right, Mack?” and waited for
McMurphy to back him up, all he got was silence.
He looked over at McMurphy’s corner. Everybody did. McMurphy was there, studying the deck
of cards that slid in and out of sight in his hands. He didn’t even look up. It was awfully quiet; there
was just that slap of greasy cards and Cheswick’s heavy breathing.
“I want something done!” Cheswick suddenly yelled again. [150] “I ain’t no little kid!” He stamped
his foot and looked around him like he was lost and might break out crying any minute. He clenched
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
both fists and held them at his chubby round chest. His fists made little pink balls against the green,
and they were clenched so hard he was shaking.
He never had looked big; he was short and too fat and had a bald spot in the back of his head
that showed like a pink dollar, but standing there by himself in the center of the day room like that
he looked tiny. He looked at McMurphy and got no look back, and went down the line of Acutes
looking for help. Each time a man looked away and refused to back him up, and the panic on his
face doubled. His looking finally came to a stop at the Big Nurse. He stamped his foot again.
“I want something done! Hear me? I want something done! Something! Something! Some—”
The two big black boys clamped his arms from behind, and the least one threw a strap around
him. He sagged like he’d been punctured, and the two big ones dragged him up to Disturbed; you
could hear the soggy bounce of him going up the steps. When they came back and sat down, the Big
Nurse turned to the line of Acutes across the room and looked at them. Nothing had been said since
Cheswick left.
“Is there any more discussion,” she said, “on the rationing of cigarettes?”
Looking down the canceled row of faces hanging against the wall across the room from me, my
eyes finally came to McMurphy in his chair in the corner, concentrating on improving his onehanded
card cut ... and the white tubes in the ceiling begin to pump their refrigerated light again ... I
can feel it, beams all the way into my stomach.
After McMurphy doesn’t stand up for us any longer, some of the Acutes talk and say he’s still
outsmarting the Big Nurse, say that he got word she was about to send him to Disturbed and
decided to toe the line a while, not give her any reason. Others figure he’s letting her relax, then he’s
going to spring something new on her, something wilder and more ornery than ever. You can hear
them talking in groups, wondering.
But me, I know why. I heard him talk to the lifeguard. He’s finally getting cagey, is all. The way
Papa finally did when he came to realize that he couldn’t beat that group from town who wanted the
government to put in the dam because of the money and the work it would bring, and because it
would get rid of the village: Let that tribe of fish Injuns take their stink and their two hundred
thousand dollars the government is [151] paying them and go some place else with it! Papa had done
the smart thing signing the papers; there wasn’t anything to gain by bucking it. The government
would of got it anyhow, sooner or later; this way the tribe would get paid good. It was the smart
thing. McMurphy was doing the smart thing. I could see that. He was giving in because it was the
smartest thing to do, not because of any of these other reasons the Acutes were making up. He
didn’t say so, but I knew and 1 told myself it was the smart thing to do. I told myself that over and
over: It’s safe. Like hiding. It’s the smart thing to do, nobody could say any different. I know what
he’s doing.
Then one morning all the Acutes know too, know his real reason for backing down and that the
reasons they been making up were just lies to kid themselves. He never says a thing about the talk he
had with the lifeguard, but they know. I figure the nurse broadcast this during the night along all the
little lines in the dorm floor, because they know all at once. I can tell by the way they look at
McMurphy that morning when he comes in to the day room. Not looking like they’re mad with him,
or even disappointed, because they can understand as well as I can that the only way he’s going to
get the Big Nurse to lift his commitment is by acting like she wants, but still looking at him like they
wished things didn’t have to be this way.
Even Cheswick could understand it and didn’t hold anything against McMurphy for not going
ahead and making a big fuss over the cigarettes. He came back down from Disturbed on the same
day that the nurse broadcast the information to the beds, and he told McMurphy himself that he
could understand how he acted and that it was surely the sharpest thing to do, considering, and that
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
if he’d thought about Mack being committed he’d never have put him on the spot like he had the
other day. He told McMurphy this while we were all being taken over to the swimming pool. But
just as soon as we got to the pool he said he did wish something mighta been done, though, and dove
into the water. And got his fingers stuck some way in the grate that’s over the drain at the bottom of
the pool, and neither the big lifeguard nor McMurphy nor the two black boys could pry him loose,
and by the time they got a screwdriver and undid the grate and brought Cheswick up, with the grate
still clutched by his chubby pink and blue fingers, he was drowned.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Up ahead of me in the lunch line I see a tray sling in the air, a green plastic cloud raining milk and
peas and vegetable soup. Sefelt’s jittering out of the line on one foot with his arms both up in the air,
falls backward in a stiff arch, and the whites of his eyes come by me upside down. His head hits the
tile with a crack like rocks under water, and he holds the arch, like a twitching, jerking bridge.
Fredrickson and Scanlon make a jump to help, but the big black boy shoves them back and grabs a
flat stick out of his back pocket, got tape wrapped around it and covered with a brown stain. He
pries Sefelt’s mouth open and shoves the stick between his teeth, and I hear the stick splinter with
Sefelt’s bite. I can taste the slivers. Sefelt’s jerks slow down and get more powerful, working and
building up to big stiff kicks that lift him to a bridge, then falling—lifting and falling, slower and
slower, till the Big Nurse comes in and stands over him and he melts limp all over the floor in a gray
She folds her hands in front of her, might hold a candle, and looks down at what’s left of him
oozing out of the cuffs of his pants and shirt. “Mr. Sefelt?” she says to the black boy.
“Tha’s right—uhn.” The black boy is jerking to get his stick back. “Mistuh See-fel’.”
“And Mr. Sefelt has been asserting he needs no more medication.” She nods her head, steps back a
step out of the way of him spreading toward her white shoes. She raises her head and looks round
her at the circle of Acutes that’ve come up to see. She nods again and repeats, “... needs no more
medication.” Her face is smiling, pitying, patient, and disgusted all at once—a trained expression.
McMurphy’s never seen such a thing. “What’s he got wrong with him?” he asks.
She keeps her eye on the puddle, not turning to McMurphy. “Mr. Sefelt is an epileptic, Mr.
McMurphy. This means he may be subject to seizures like this at any time if he doesn’t follow
medical advice. He knows better. We’d told him this would happen when he didn’t take his
medication. Still, he will insist on acting foolish.”
Fredrickson comes out of the line with his eyebrows bristling. [153] He’s a sinewy, bloodless guy
with blond hair and stringy blond eyebrows and a long jaw, and he acts tough every so often the way
Cheswick used to try to do—roar and rant and cuss out one of the nurses, say he’s gonna leave this
stinkin’ place! They always let him yell and shake his fist till he quiets down, then ask him if you are
through, Mr. Fredrickson, we’ll go start typing the release—then make book in the Nurses’ Station
how long it’ll be till he’s tapping at the glass with a guilty look and asking to apologize and how
about just forgetting those hotheaded things he said, just pigeonhole those old forms for a day or so,
He steps up to the nurse, shaking his fist at her. “Oh, is that it? Is that it, huh? You gonna crucify
old Seef just as if he was doing it to spite you or something?”
She lays a comforting hand on his arm, and his fist unrolls.
“It’s okay, Bruce. Your friend will be all right. Apparently he hasn’t been swallowing his Dilantin.
I simply don’t know what he is doing with it.”
She knows as well as anybody; Sefelt holds the capsules in his mouth and gives them to
Fredrickson later. Sefelt doesn’t like to take them because of what he calls “disastrous side effects,”
and Fredrickson likes a double dose because he’s scared to death of having a fit. The nurse knows
this, you can tell by her voice, but to look at her there, so sympathetic and kind, you’d think she was
ignorant of anything at all between Fredrickson and Sefelt.
“Yeahhh,” says Fredrickson, but he can’t work his attack up again. “Yeah, well, you don’t need to
act like it was as simple as just take the stuff or don’t take it. You know how Seef worries about what
he looks like and how women think he’s ugly and all that, and you know how he thinks the
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“I know,” she says and touches his arm again. “He also blames his falling hair on the drug. Poor
old fellow.”
“He’s not that old!”
“I know, Bruce. Why do you get so upset? I’ve never understood what went on between you and
your friend that made you get so defensive!”
“Well, heck, anyway!” he says and jams his fists in his pockets.
The nurse bends over and brushes a little place clean on the floor and puts her knee on it and
starts kneading Sefelt back to some shape. She tells the black boy to stay with the poor old fellow
and she’ll go send a Gurney down for him; wheel him into the dorm and let him sleep the rest of the
day. When she stands she gives Fredrickson a pat on the arm, and he grumbles, [154] “Yeah, I have
to take Dilantin too, you know. That’s why I know what Seef has to face. I mean, that’s why I—well,
“I understand, Bruce, what both of you must go through, but don’t you think anything is better
than that?”
Fredrickson looks where she points. Sefelt has pulled back halfway normal, swelling up and down
with big wet, rattling breaths. There’s a punk-knot rising on the side of his head where he landed,
and a red foam around the black boy’s stick where it goes into his mouth, and his eyes are beginning
to roll back into the whites. His hands are nailed out to each side with the palms up and the fingers
jerking open and shut, just the way I’ve watched men jerk at the Shock Shop strapped to the crossed
table, smoke curling up out of the palms from the current. Sefelt and Fredrickson never been to the
Shock Shop. They’re manufactured to generate their own voltage, store it in their spines and can be
turned on remote from the steel door in the Nurses’ Station if they get out of line—be right in the
best part of a dirty joke and stiffen like the jolt hit square in the small of the back. It saves the
trouble of taking them over to that room.
The nurse gives Fredrickson’s arm a little shake like he’d gone to sleep, and repeats, “Even if you
take into consideration the harmful effects of the medicine, don’t you think it’s better than that?”
As he stares down at the floor, Fredrickson’s blond eyebrows are raised like he’s seeing for the
first time just how he looks at least once a month. The nurse smiles and pats his arm and heads for
the door, glares at the Acutes to shame them for gathering around watching such a thing; when she’s
gone, Fredrickson shivers and tries to smile.
“I don’t know what I got mad at the old girl about—I mean, she didn’t do anything to give me a
reason to blow up like that, did she?”
It isn’t like he wants an answer; it’s more sort of realizing that he can’t put his finger on a reason.
He shivers again and starts to slip back away from the group. McMurphy comes up and asks him in
a low voice what is it they take?
“Dilantin, McMurphy, an anti-convulsant, if you must know.”
“Don’t it work or something?”
“Yeah, I guess it works all right—if you take it.”
“Then what’s the sweat about taking it or not?”
“Look, if you must know! Here’s the dirty sweat about taking it.” Fredrickson reaches up and
grabs his lower lip between [155] his thumb and finger, pulls it down to show gums ragged and pink
and bloodless around long shiny teeth. “Your gungs,” he says, hanging onto the lip. “Dilantin gnakes
your gungs rot. And a seizure gnakes you grit your teeth. And you—”
There’s a noise on the floor. They look to where Sefelt is moaning and wheezing, just as the black
boy draws two teeth out with his taped stick.
Scanlon takes his tray and walks away from the bunch, saying, “Hell of a life. Damned if you do
and damned if you don’t. Puts a man in one confounded bind, I’d say.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
McMurphy says, “Yeah, I see what you mean,” looking down into Sefelt’s gathering face. His face
has commenced to take on that same haggard, puzzled look of pressure that the face on the floor
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Whatever it was went haywire in the mechanism, they’ve just about got it fixed again. The clean,
calculated arcade movement is coming back: six-thirty out of bed, seven into the mess hall, eight the
puzzles come out for the Chronics and the cards for the Acutes. in the Nurses’ Station I can see the
white hands of the Big Nurse float over the controls.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
They take me with the Acutes sometimes, and sometimes they don’t. They take me once with
them over to the library and I walk over to the technical section, stand there looking at the titles of
books on electronics, books I recognize from that year I went to college; I remember inside the
books are full of schematic drawings and equations and theories—hard, sure, safe things.
I want to look at one of the books, but I’m scared to. I’m scared to do anything. I feel like I’m
floating in the dusty yellow air of the library, halfway to the bottom, halfway to the top. The stacks
of books teeter above me, crazy, zig-zagging, running all different angles to one another. One shelf
bends a little to the left, one to the right. Some of them are leaning over me, and I don’t see how the
books keep from falling out. It goes up and up this way, clear out of sight, the rickety stacks nailed
together with slats and two-by-fours, propped up with poles, leaning against ladders, on all sides of
me. If I pulled one book out, lord knows what awful thing might result.
I hear somebody walk in, and it’s one of the black boys from our ward and he’s got Harding’s
wife with him. They’re talking and grinning to each other as they come into the library.
“See here, Dale,” the black boy calls over to Harding where he’s reading a book, “look here who
come to visit you. I tole her it wun’t visitin’ hours but you know she jus’ sweet-talk me into bringin’
her right on over here anyhow.” He leaves her standing in front of Harding and goes off, saying
mysteriously, “Don’t you forget now, you hear?”
She blows the black boy a kiss, then turns to Harding, slinging her hips forward. “Hello, Dale.”
“Honey,” he says, but he doesn’t make any move to take the couple of steps to her. He looks
around him at everybody watching.
She’s as tall as he is. She’s got on high-heeled shoes and is carrying a black purse, not by the
strap, but holding it the way you hold a book. Her fingernails are red as drops of blood against the
shiny black patent-leather purse.
“Hey, Mack,” Harding calls to McMurphy, who’s sitting across the room, looking at a book of
cartoons. “If you’ll curtail [158] your literary pursuits a moment I’ll introduce you to my counterpart
and Nemesis; I would be trite and say, ‘to my better half,’ but I think that phrase indicates some kind
of basically equal division, don’t you?”
He tries to laugh, and his two slim ivory fingers dip into his shirt pocket for cigarettes, fidget
around getting the last one from the package. The cigarette shakes as he places it between his lips.
He and his wife haven’t moved toward each other yet.
McMurphy heaves up out of his chair and pulls his cap off as he walks over. Harding’s wife looks
at him and smiles, lifting one of her eyebrows. “Afternoon, Miz Harding,” McMurphy says.
She smiles back bigger than before and says, “I hate Mrs. Harding, Mack; why don’t you call me
They all three sit back down on the couch where Harding was sitting, and he tells his wife about
McMurphy and how McMurphy got the best of the Big Nurse, and she smiles and says that it
doesn’t surprise her a bit. While Harding’s telling the story he gets enthusiastic and forgets about his
hands, and they weave the air in front of him into a picture clear enough to see, dancing the story to
the tune of his voice like two beautiful ballet women in white. His hands can be anything. But as
soon as the story’s finished he notices McMurphy and his wife are watching the hands, and he traps
them between his knees. He laughs about this, and his wife says to him, “Dale, when are you going
to learn to laugh instead of making that mousy little squeak?”
It’s the same thing that McMurphy said about Harding’s laugh on that first day, but it’s different
somehow; where McMurphy saying it calmed Harding down, her saying it makes him more nervous
than ever.

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