Tuesday, March 1, 2011


The guys complained and kidded and joked about it, trying not to look at one another or those
floating slate masks working down the line behind the tubes, like nightmare faces in negative,
sighting down soft, squeezy nightmare gunbarrels. They kidded the black boys by saying things like
“He, Washington, what do you fellas do for fun the other sixteen hours?” “Hey, Williams, can you
tell me what I had for breakfast?”
Everybody laughed. The black boys clenched their jaws and didn’t answer; this wasn’t the way
things used to be before that damned redhead came around.
When Fredrickson spread his cheeks there was such a sound I thought the least black boy’d be
blown clear off his feet.
“Hark!” Harding said, cupping his hand to his ear. “The lovely voice of an angel.”
Everyone was roaring, laughing and kidding one another, until the black boy moved on and
stopped in front of the next man, and the room was suddenly absolutely quiet. The next man was
George. And in that one second, with the laughing and kidding and complaining stopped, with
Fredrickson there next to George straightening up and turning around and a big black boy about to
ask George to lean his head down for a squirt of that stinking salve—right at that time all of us had
a good idea about everything that was going to happen, and why [228] it had to happen, and why
we’d all been wrong about McMurphy.
George never used soap when he showered. He wouldn’t even let somebody hand him a towel to
dry himself with. The black boys on the evening shift who supervised the usual Tuesday and
Thursday evening showers had learned it was easier to leave it go like this, and they didn’t force him
to do any different. That was the way it’d been for a long time. All the black boys knew it. But now
everybody knew—even George, leaning backward, shaking his head, covering himself with big
oakleaf hands—that this black boy, with his nose busted and his insides soured and his two buddies
standing behind him waiting to see what he would do, couldn’t afford to pass up the chance.
“Ahhhh, bend you head down here, Geo’ge. …”
The guys were already looking to where McMurphy stood a couple of men down the line.
“Ahhhh, c’mon, Geo’ge. …”
Martini and Sefelt were standing in the shower, not moving. The drain at their feet kept choking
short little gulps of air and soapy water. George looked at the drain a second, as if it were speaking
to him. He watched it gurgle and choke. He looked back at the tube in the black hand before him,
slow mucus running out of the little hole at the top of the tube down over the pig-iron knuckles.
The black boy moved the tube forward a few inches, and George listed farther back, shaking his
“No—none that stoof.”
“You gonna have to do it, Rub-a-dub,” the black boy said, sounding almost sorry. “You gonna
have to. We can’t have the place crawlin’ with bugs, now, can we? For all I know you got bugs on you
a good inch deep!”
“No!” George said.
‘Ahhh, Geo’ge, you jes’ don’t have no idea. These bugs, they very, very teeny—no bigger’n a
pinpoint. An’, man, what they do is get you by the short hair an’ hang on, an’ drill, down inside you,
“No bugs!” George said.
“Ahhh, let me tell you, Geo’ge: I seen cases where these awful bugs achually—”
“Okay, Washington,” McMurphy said.
The scar where the black boy’s nose had been broken was a twist of neon. The black boy knew
who’d spoken to him, but he didn’t turn around; the only way we knew he’d even heard was by the
way he stopped talking and reached up a long gray finger and drew it across the scar he’d got in that
basketball game. He rubbed his nose a second, then shoved his hand out in front of [229] George’s
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
face, scrabbling the fingers around. “A crab, Geo’ge, see? See here? Now you know what a crab look
like, don’t you? Sure now, you get crabs on that fishin’ boat. We can’t have crabs drillin’ down into
you, can we, Geo’ge?”
“No crabs!” George yelled. “No!” He stood straight and his brow lifted enough so we could see
his eyes. The black boy stepped back a ways. The other two laughed at him. “Somethin’ the matter,
Washington, my man?” the big one asked. “Somethin’ holding up this end of the pro-ceedure, my
He stepped back in close. “Geo’ge, I’m tellin’ you: bend down! You either bend down and take
this stuff—or I lay my hand on you!” He held it up again; it was big and black as a swamp. “Put this
black! filthy! stinkin’! hand all over you!”
“No hand!” George said and lifted a fist above his head as if he would crash the slate skull to bits,
splatter cogs and nuts and bolts all over the floor. But the black boy just ran the tube up against
George’s belly-button and squeezed, and George doubled over with a suck of air. The black boy
squirted a load in his whispy white hair, then rubbed it in with his hand, smearing black from his
hand all over George’s head. George wrapped both arms around his belly and screamed.
“No! No!”
“Now turn around, Geo’ge—”
“I said that’s enough, buddy.” This time the way his voice sounded made the black boy turn and
face him. I saw the black boy was smiling, looking at McMurphy’s nakedness—no hat or boots or
pockets to hook his thumbs into. The black boy grinned up and down him.
“McMurphy,” he said, shaking his head. “Y’know, I was beginnin’ to think we might never get
down to it.”
“You goddamned coon,” McMurphy said, somehow sounding more tired than mad. The black
boy didn’t say anything. McMurphy raised his voice. “Goddamned motherfucking nigger!”
The black boy shook his head and giggled at his two buddies. “What you think Mr. McMurphy is
drivin’ at with that kind of talk, man? You think he wants me to take the initiative? Heeheehee. Don’t
he know we trained to take such awful-soundin’ insults from these crazies?”
“Cocksucker! Washington, you’re nothing but a—”
Washington bad turned his back on him, turning to George again. George was still bent over,
gasping from the blow of that salve in his belly. The black boy grabbed his arm and swung ‘him
facing the wall.
“Tha’s right, Geo’ge, now spread those cheeks.”
[230] “No-o-o!”
“Washington,” McMurphy said. He took a deep breath and stepped across to the black boy,
shoving him away from George. “Washington, all right, all right ...”
Everybody could hear the helpless, cornered despair in McMurphy’s voice.
“McMurphy, you forcing me to protect myself. Ain’t he forcing me, men?” The other two
nodded. He carefully laid down the tube on the bench beside George, came back up with his fist
swinging all in the same motion and busting McMurphy across the cheek by surprise. McMurphy
nearly fell. He staggered backward into the naked line of men, and the guys caught him and pushed
him back toward the smiling slate face. He got hit again, in the neck, before he gave up to the idea
that it had started, at last, and there wasn’t anything now but get what he could out of it. He caught
the next swing blacksnaking at him, and held him by the wrist while he shook his head clear.
They swayed a second that way, panting along with the panting drain; then McMurphy shoved
the black boy away and went into a crouch, rolling the big shoulders up to guard his chin, his fists
on each side of his head, circling the man in front of him.
And that neat, silent line of nude men changed into a yelling circle, limbs and bodies knitting in a
ring of flesh.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
The black arms stabbed in at the lowered red head and bull neck, chipped blood off the brow
and the cheek. The black boy danced away. Taller, arms longer than McMurphy’s thick red arms,
punches faster and sharper, he was able to chisel at the shoulders and the head without getting in
close. McMurphy kept walking forward—trudging, flatfooted steps, face down and squinting up
between those tattooed fists on each side of his head—till he got the black boy against the ring of
nude men and drove a fist square in the center of the white, starched chest. That slate face cracked
pink, ran a tongue the color of strawberry ice cream over the lips. He ducked away from
McMurphy’s tank charge and got in another couple of licks before that fist laid him another good
one. The mouth flew open wider this time, a blotch of sick color.
McMurphy had red marks on the head and shoulders, but he didn’t seem to be hurt. He kept
coming, taking ten blows for one. It kept on this way, back and forth in the shower room, till the
black boy was panting and staggering and working mainly at keeping out of the way of those
clubbing red arms. The guys were yelling for McMurphy to lay him out. McMurphy didn’t act in any
[231] The black boy spun away from a blow on his shoulder and looked quick to where the other
two were watching. “Williams … Warren ... damn you!” The other big one pulled the crowd apart
and grabbed McMurphy around the arms from behind. McMurphy shook him off like a bull shaking
off a monkey, but he was right back.
So I picked him off and threw him in the shower. He was full of tubes; he didn’t weigh more’n
ten or fifteen pounds.
The least black boy swung his head from side to side, turned, and ran for the door. While I was
watching him go, the other one came out of the shower and put a wrestling hold on me—arms up
under mine from behind and hands locked behind my neck—and I had to run backward into the
shower and mash him against the tile, and while I was lying there in the water trying to watch
McMurphy bust some more of Washington’s ribs, the one behind me with the wrestling hold went
to biting my neck and I had to break the hold. He laid still then, the starch washing from the
uniform down the choking drain.
And by the time the least black boy came running back in with straps and cuffs and blankets and
four more aides from Disturbed, everybody was getting dressed and shaking my hand and
McMurphy’s hand and saying they had it coming and what a rip-snorter of a fight it had been, what
a tremendous big victory. They kept talking like that, to cheer us up and make us feel better, about
what a fight, what a victory—as the Big Nurse helped the aides from Disturbed adjust those soft
leather cuffs to fit our arms.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Up on Disturbed there’s an everlasting high-pitched machine-room clatter, a prison mill stamping
out license plates. And time is measured out by the di-dock, di-dock of a Ping-pong table. Men pacing
their personal runways get to a wall and dip a shoulder and turn and pace back to another wall, dip a
shoulder and turn and back again, fast short steps, wearing crisscrossing ruts in the tile floor, with a
look of caged thirst. There’s a singed smell of men scared berserk and out of control, and in the
corners and under the Ping-pong table there’s things crouched gnashing their teeth that the doctors
and nurses can’t see and the aides can’t kill with disinfectant. When the ward door opened I smelled
that singed smell and heard that gnash of teeth.
A tall bony old guy, dangling from a wire screwed in between his shoulder blades, met
McMurphy and me at the door when the aides brought us in. He looked us over with yellow, scaled
eyes and shook his head. “I wash my hands of the whole deal,” he told one of the colored aides, and
the wire drug him off down the hall.
We followed him down to the day room, and McMurphy stopped at the door and spread his feet
and tipped his head back to look things over: he tried to put his thumbs in his pockets, but the cuffs
were too tight. “It’s a scene,” he said out of the side of his mouth. I nodded my head. I’d seen it all
A couple of the guys pacing stopped to look at us, and the old bony man came dragging by again,
washing his hands of the whole deal. Nobody paid us much mind at first. The aides went off to the
Nurses’ Station, leaving us standing in the dayroom door. Murphy’s eye was puffed to give him a
steady wink, and I could tell it hurt his lips to grin. He raised his cuffed hands and stood looking at
the clatter of movement and took a deep breath.
“McMurphy’s the name, pardners,” he said in his drawling cowboy actor’s voice, “an’ the thing I
want to know is who’s the peckerwood runs the poker game in this establishment?”
The Ping-pong clock died down in a rapid ticking on the floor.
“I don’t deal blackjack so good, hobbled like this, but I maintain I’m a fire-eater in a stud game.”
He yawned, hitched a shoulder, bent down and cleared his [233] throat, and spat something at a
wastepaper can five feet away; it rattled in with a ting and he straightened up again, grinned, and
licked his tongue at the bloody gap in his teeth.
“Had a run-in downstairs. Me an’ the Chief here locked horns with two greasemonkeys.”
All the stamp-mill racket had stopped by this time, and everybody was looking toward the two of
us at the door. McMurphy drew eyes to him like a sideshow barker. Beside him, I found that I was
obliged to be looked at too, and with people staring at me I felt I had to stand up straight and tall as
I could. That made my back hurt where I’d fallen in the shower with the black boy on me, but I
didn’t let on. One hungry looker with a head of shaggy black hair came up and held his hand like he
figured I had something for him. I tried to ignore him, but he kept running around in front of
whichever way I turned, like a little kid, holding that empty hand cupped out to me.
McMurphy talked a while about the fight, and my back got to hurting more and more.. I’d
hunkered in my chair in the corner for so long that it was hard to stand straight very long. I was glad
when a little lap nurse came to take us into the Nurses’ Station and I got a chance to sit and rest.
She asked if we were calm enough for her to take off the cuffs, and McMurphy nodded. He had
slumped over with his head hung and his elbows between his knees and looked completely
exhausted—it hadn’t occurred to me that it was just as hard for him to stand straight as it was for
The nurse—about as big as the small end of nothing whittled to a fine point, as McMurphy put it
later—undid our cuffs and gave McMurphy a cigarette and gave me a stick of gum. She said she
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
remembered that I chewed gum. I didn’t remember her at all. McMurphy smoked while she dipped
her little hand full of pink birthday candles into a jar of salve and worked over his cuts, flinching
every time he flinched and telling him she was sorry. She picked up one of his hands in both of hers
and turned it over and salved his knuckles. “Who was it?” she asked, looking at the knuckles. “Was
it Washington or Warren?”
McMurphy looked up at her. “Washington,” he said and grinned. “The Chief here took care of
She put his hand down and turned to me. I could see the little bird bones in her face. “Are you
hurt anywhere?” I shook my head.
“What about Warren and Williams?”
McMurphy told her he thought they might be sporting some [234] plaster the next time she saw
them. She nodded and looked at her feet. “It’s not all like her ward,” she said. “A lot of it is, but not
all. Army nurses, trying to run an Army hospital. They are a little sick themselves. 1 sometimes think
all single nurses should be fired after they reach thirty-five.”
“At least all single Army nurses,” McMurphy added. He asked how long we could expect to have
the pleasure of her hospitality.
“Not very long, I’m afraid.”
“Not very long, you’re afraid?” McMurphy asked her.
“Yes. I’d like to keep men here sometimes instead of sending them back, but she has seniority.
No, you probably won’t be very long—I mean—like you are now.”
The beds on Disturbed are all out of tune, too taut or too loose. We were assigned beds next to
each other. They didn’t tie a sheet across me, though they left a little dim light on near the bed.
Halfway through the night somebody screamed, “I’m starting to spin, Indian! Look me, look me!” I
opened my eyes and saw a set of long yellow teeth glowing right in front of my face. It was the
hungry-looking guy. “I’m starting to spin! Please look me!”
The aides got him from behind, two of them, dragged him laughing and yelling out of the dorm;
“I’m starting to spin, Indian!”—then just laugh. He kept saying it and laughing all the way down the
hall till the dorm was quiet again, and I could hear that one other guy saying, “Well ... I wash my
hands of the whole deal.”
“You had you a buddy for a second there, Chief,” McMurphy whispered and rolled over to sleep.
I couldn’t sleep much the rest of the night and I kept seeing those yellow teeth and that guy’s hungry
face, asking to Look me! Look me! Or, finally, as I did get to sleep, just asking. That face, just a
yellow, starved need, come looming out of the dark in front of me, wanting things ... asking things. I
wondered how McMurphy slept, plagued by a hundred faces like that, or two hundred, or a
They’ve got an alarm on Disturbed to wake the patients. They don’t just turn on the lights like
downstairs. This alarm sounds like a gigantic pencil-sharpener grinding up something awful.
McMurphy and I both sat bolt upright when we heard it and were about to lie back down when a
loudspeaker called for the two of us to come to the Nurses’ Station. I got out of bed, and my back
had stiffened up overnight to where I could just barely bend; I could tell by the way McMurphy
gimped around that he was as stiff as I was.
[235] “What they got on the program for us now, Chief?” he asked. “The boot? The rack? I hope
nothing too strenuous, because, man, am I stove up bad!”
I told him it wasn’t strenuous, but I didn’t tell him anything else, because I wasn’t sure myself till
I got to the Nurses’ Station, and the nurse, a different one, said, “Mr. McMurphy and Mr.
Bromden?” then handed us each a little paper cup.
I looked in mine, and there are three of those red capsules. This tsing whirs in any head I can’t
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Hold on,” McMurphy says. “These are those knockout pills, aren’t they?”
The nurse nods, twists her head to check behind her; there’s two guys waiting with ice tongs,
hunching forward with their elbows linked.
McMurphy hands back the cup, says, “No sir, ma’am, but I’ll forgo the blindfold. Could use a
cigarette, though.”
I hand mine back too, and she says she must phone and she slips the glass door across between
us, is at the phone before anybody can say anything else.
“I’m sorry if I got you into something, Chief,” McMurphy says, and I barely can hear him over
the noise of the phone wires whistling in the walls. I can feel the scared downhill rush of thoughts in
my head.
We’re sitting in the day room, those faces around us in a circle, when in the door comes the Big
Nurse herself, the two big black boys on each side, a step behind her. I try to shrink down in my
chair, away from her, but it’s too late. Too many people looking at me; sticky eyes hold me where I
“Good morning,” she says, got her old smile back now. McMurphy says good morning, and I
keep quiet even though she says good morning to me too, out loud. I’m watching the black boys;
one has tape on his nose and his arm in a sling, gray hand dribbling out of the cloth like a drowned
spider, and the other one is moving like he’s got some kind of cast around his ribs. They are both
grinning a little. Probably could of stayed home with their hurts, but wouldn’t miss this for nothing.
I grin back just to show them.
The Big Nurse talks to McMurphy, soft and patient, about the irresponsible thing he did, the
childish thing, throwing a tantrum like a little boy—aren’t you ashamed? He says he guesses not and
tells her to get on with it.
She talks to him about how they, the patients downstairs on our ward, at a special group meeting
yesterday afternoon, agreed with the staff that it might be beneficial that he receive some shock
therapy—unless he realizes his mistakes. All he has [236] to do is admit he was wrong, to indicate,
demonstrate rational contact, and the treatment would be canceled this time.
That circle of faces waits and watches. The nurse says it’s up to him.
“Yeah?” he says. “You got a paper I can sign?”
“Well, no, but if you feel it nec—”
“And why don’t you add some other things while you’re at it and get them out of the way—
things like, oh, me being part of a plot to overthrow the government and like how I think life on
your ward is the sweetest goddamned life this side of Hawaii—you know, that sort of crap.”
“I don’t believe that would—”
“Then, after I sign, you bring me a blanket and a package of Red Cross cigarettes. Hooee, those
Chinese Commies could have learned a few things from you, lady.”
“Randle, we are trying to help you.”
But he’s on his feet, scratching at his belly, walking on past her and the black boys rearing back,
toward the card tables. “O-kay, well well well, where’s this poker table, buddies ...?”
The nurse stares after him a moment, then walks into the Nurses’ Station to use the phone.
Two colored aides and a white aide with curly blond hair walk us over to the Main Building.
McMurphy talks with the white aide on the way over, just like he isn’t worried about a thing.
There’s frost thick on the grass, and the two colored aides in front trail puffs of breath like
locomotives. The sun wedges apart some of the clouds and lights up the frost till the grounds are
scattered with sparks. Sparrows fluffed out against the cold, scratching among the sparks for seeds.
We cut across the crackling grass, past the digger squirrel holes where I saw the dog. Cold sparks.
Frost down the holes, clear out of sight.
I feel that frost in my belly.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
We get up to that door, and there’s a sound behind like bees stirred up. Two men in front of us,
reeling under the red capsules, one bawling like a baby, saying, “It’s my cross, thank you Lord, it’s all
I got, thank you Lord. ...”
The other guy waiting is saying, “Guts ball, guts ball.” He’s the lifeguard from the pool. And he’s
crying a little too.
I won’t cry or yell. Not with McMurphy here.
The technician asks us to take off our shoes, and McMurphy asks him if we get our pants slit and
our heads shaved too. The technician says no such luck.
The metal door looks out with its rivet eyes.
[237] The door opens, sucks the first man inside. The lifeguard won’t budge. A beam like neon
smoke comes out of the black panel in the room, fastens on his cleat-marked forehead and drags
him in like a dog on a leash. The beam spins him around three times before the door closes, and his
face is scrambled fear. “Hut one,” he grunts. “Hut two! Hut three!”
I hear them in there pry up his forehead like a manhole cover, clash and snarl of jammed cogs.
Smoke blows the door open, and a Gurney comes out with the first man on it, and he rakes me
with his eyes. That face. The Gurney goes back in and brings the lifeguard out. I can hear the yellleaders
spelling out his name.
The technician says, “Next group.”
The floor’s cold, frosted, crackling. Up above the light whines, tube long and white and icy. Can
smell the graphite salve, like the smell in a garage. Can smell acid of fear. There’s one window, up
high, small, and outside I see those puffy sparrows strung up on a wire like brown beads. Their
heads sunk in the feathers against the cold. Something goes to blowing wind over my hollow bones,
higher and higher, air raid! air raid!
“Don’t holler, Chief. …”
Air raid!
“Take ‘er easy. I’ll go first. My skull’s too thick for them to hurt me. And if they can’t hurt me
they can’t hurt you.”
Climbs on the table without any help and spreads his arms out to fit the shadow. A switch snaps
the clasps on his wrists, ankles, clamping him into the shadow. A hand takes off his wristwatch, won
it from Scanion, drops it near the panel, it springs open, cogs and wheels and the long dribbling
spiral of spring jumping against the side of the panel and sticking fast.
He don’t look a bit scared. He keeps grinning at me.
They put the graphite salve on his temples. “What is it?” he says. “Conductant,” the technician
says. “Anointest my head with conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?”
They smear it on. He’s singing to them, makes their hands shake.
“ ‘Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Cholly. ...’ ”
Put on those things like headphones, crown of silver thorns over the graphite at his temples.
They try to hush his singing with a piece of rubber hose for him to bite on.
“ ‘Mage with thoothing lan-o-lin.’ ”
Twist some dials, and the machine trembles, two robot arms pick up soldering irons and hunch
down on him. He gives me the wink and speaks to me, muffled, tells me something, says [238]
something to me around that rubber hose just as those irons get close enough to the silver on his
temples—light arcs across, stiffens him, bridges him up off the table till nothing is down but his
wrists and ankles and out around that crimped black rubber hose a sound like hooeee! and he’s frosted
over completely with sparks.
And out the window the sparrows drop smoking off the wire.
They roll him out on a Gurney, still jerking, face frosted white. Corrosion. Battery acid. The
technician turns to me.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Watch that other moose. I know him. Hold him!
It’s not a will-power thing any more.
Hold him! Damn. No more of these boys without Seconal.
The clamps bite my wrists and ankles.
The graphite salve has iron filings in it, temples scratching.
He said something when he winked. Told me something.
Man bends over, brings two irons toward the ring on my head.
The machine hunches on me.
Hit at a lope, running already down the slope. Can’t get back, can’t go ahead, look down the
barrel an’ you dead dead dead.
We come up outa the bullreeds run beside the railroad track. I lay an ear to the track, and it burns
my cheek.
“Nothin’ either way,” I say, “a hundred miles ...”
“Hump,” Papa says.
“Didn’t we used to listen for buffalo by stickin’ a knife in the ground, catch the handle in our
teeth, hear a herd way off?”
“Hump,” he says again, but he’s tickled. Out across the other side of the track a fencerow of
wheat chats from last winter. Mice under that stuff, the dog says.
“Do we go up the track or down the track, boy?”
“We go across, is what the ol’ dog says.”
“That dog don’t heel.”
“He’ll do. There’s birds over there is what the of dog says.”
“Better hunting up the track bank is what your ol’ man says.”
“Best right across in the chats of wheat, the dog tells me.”
Across—next thing I know there’s people all over the track, blasting away at pheasants like
anything. Seems our dog got too far out ahead and run all the birds outa the chats to the track.
Dog got three mice.
… man, Man, MAN, MAN ... broad and big with a wink like a star.
[239] Ants again oh Jesus and I got ‘em bad this time, prickle-footed bastards. Remember the
time we found those ants tasted like dill pickles? Hee? You said it wasn’t dill pickles and I said it was,
and your mama kicked the living tar outa me when she heard: Teachin’ a kid to eat bugs!
Ugh. Good Injun boy should know how to survive on anything he can eat that won’t eat him
We ain’t Indians. We’re civilized and you remember it.
You told me Papa. When I die pin me up against the sky.
Mama’s name was Bromden. Still is Bromden. Papa said he was born with only one name, born
smack into it the way a calf drops out in a spread blanket when the cow insists on standing up. Tee
Ah Millatoona, the Pine-That-Stands-Tallest-on-the-Mountain, and I’m the biggest by God Injun in
the state of Oregon and probly California and Idaho. Born right into it.
You’re the biggest by God fool if you think that a good Christian woman takes on a name like
Tee Ah Millatoona. You were born into a name, so okay, I’m born into a name. Bromden. Mary
Louise Bromden.
And when we move into town, Papa says, that name makes gettin’ that Social Security card a lot
Guy’s after somebody with a riveter’s hammer, get him too, if he keeps at it. I see those lightning
flashes again, colors striking.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Ting. Tingle, tingle, tremble toes, she’s a good fisherman, catches hens, puts ‘em inna pens ... wire
blier, limber lock, three geese inna flock ... one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s
nest ... O-U-T spells out ... goose swoops down and plucks you out.
My old grandma chanted this, a game we played by the hours, sitting by the fish racks scaring
flies. A game called Tingle Tingle Tangle Toes. Counting each finger on my two outspread hands,
one finger to a syllable as she chants.
Tingle, ting-le, tang-le toes (seven fingers) she’s a good fisherman, catches hens (sixteen fingers,
tapping a finger on each beat with her black crab hand, each of my fingernails looking up at her like
a little face asking to be the you that the goose swoops down and plucks out).
I like the game and I like Grandma. I don’t like Mrs. Tingle Tangle Toes, catching hens. I don’t
like her. I do like that goose flying over the cuckoo’s nest. I like him, and I like Grandma, dust in her
Next time I saw her she was stone cold dead, right in the middle of The Dalles on the sidewalk,
colored shirts standing [240] around, some Indians, some cattlemen, some wheatmen. They cart her
down to the city burying ground, roll red clay into her eyes.
I remember hot, still electric-storm afternoons when jackrabbits ran under Diesel truck wheels.
Joey Fish-in-a-Barrel has twenty thousand dollars and three Cadillacs since the contract. And he
can’t drive none of ‘em.
I see a dice.
I see it from the inside, me at the bottom. I’m the weight, loading the dice to throw that number
one up there above me. They got the dice loaded to throw a snake eyes, and I’m the load, six lumps
around me like white pillows is the other side of the dice, the number six that will always be down
when he throws. What’s the other dice loaded for? I bet it’s loaded to throw one too. Snake eyes.
They’re shooting with crookies against him, and I’m the load.
Look out, here comes a toss. Ay, lady, the smokehouse is empty and baby needs a new pair of
opera pumps. Comin’ at ya. Faw!
Crapped out.
Water. I’m lying in a puddle.
Snake eyes. Caught him again. I see that number one up above me: he can’t whip frozen dice
behind the feedstore in an alley—in Portland.
The alley is a tunnel it’s cold because the sun is late afternoon. Let me ... go see Grandma. Please,
What was it he said when he winked?
One flew east one flew west.
Don’t stand in my way.
Damn it, nurse, don’t stand in my way Way WAY!
My roll. Faw. Damn. Twisted again. Snake eyes.
The schoolteacher tell me you got a good head, boy, be something. ...
Be what, Papa? A rug-weaver like Uncle R & J Wolf? A basket-weaver? Or another drunken
I say, attendant, you’re an Indian, aren’t you?
Yeah, that’s right.
Well, I must say, you speak the language quite well.
Well ... three dollars of regular.
They wouldn’t be so cocky if they knew what me and the moon have going. No damned regular
Indian ... He who—what was it?—walks out of step, hears another drum.
Snake eyes again. Hoo boy, these dice are cold.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
[241] After Grandma’s funeral me and Papa and Uncle Runningand-Jumping Wolf dug her up.
Mama wouldn’t go with us; she never heard of such a thing. Hanging a corpse in a tree! It’s enough
to make a person sick.
Uncle R & J Wolf and Papa spent twenty days in the drunk tank at The Dalles jail, playing
rummy, for Violation of the Dead.
But she’s our goddanged mother!
It doesn’t make the slightest difference, boys. You shoulda left her buried. I don’t know when
you blamed Indians will learn. Now, where is she? you’d better tell.
Ah go fuck yourself, paleface, Uncle R & J said, rolling himself a cigarette. I’ll never tell.
High high high in the hills, high in a pine tree bed, she’s tracing the wind with that old hand,
counting the clouds with that old chant: ... three geese in a flock …
What did you say to me when you winked?
Band playing. Look—the sky, it’s the Fourth of July.
Dice at rest.
They got to me with the machine again ... I wonder ...
What did he say?
… wonder how McMurphy made me big again.
He said Guts ball.
They’re out there. Black boys in white suits peeing under the door on me, come in later and
accuse me of soaking all six these pillows I’m lying on! Number six. I thought the room was a dice.
The number one, the snake eye up there, the circle, the white light in the ceiling ... is what I’ve been
seeing ... in this little square room ... means it’s after dark. How many hours have I been out? It’s
fogging a little, but I won’t slip off and hide in it. No ... never again ...
I stand, stood up slowly, feeling numb between the shoulders. The white pillows on the floor of
the Seclusion Room were soaked from me peeing on them while I was out. I couldn’t remember all
of it yet, but I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands and tried to clear my head. I worked at it.
I’d never worked at coming out of it before.
I staggered toward the little round chicken-wired window in the door of the room and tapped it
with my knuckles. I saw an aide coming up the hall with a tray for me and knew this time I had them
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
There had been times when I’d wandered around in a daze for as long as two weeks after a shock
treatment, living in that foggy, jumbled blur which is a whole lot like the ragged edge of sleep, that
gray zone between light and dark, or between sleeping and waking or living and dying, where you
know you’re not unconscious any more but don’t know yet what day it is or who you are or what’s
the use of coming back at all—for two weeks. If you don’t have a reason to wake up you can loaf
around in that gray zone for a long, fuzzy time, or if you want to bad enough I found you can come
fighting right out of it. This time I came fighting out of it in less than a day, less time than ever.
And when the fog was finally swept from my head it seemed like I’d just come up after a long,
deep dive, breaking the surface after being under water a hundred years. It was the last treatment
they gave me.
They gave McMurphy three more treatments that week. As quick as he started coming out of
one, getting the click back in his wink, Miss Ratched would arrive with the doctor and they would
ask him if he felt like he was ready to come around and face up to his problem and come back to the
ward for a cure. And he’d swell up, aware that every one of those faces on Disturbed had turned
toward him and was waiting, and he’d tell the nurse he regretted that he had but one life to give for
his country and she could kiss his rosy red ass before he’d give up the goddam ship. Yeh!
Then stand up and take a couple of bows to those guys grinning at him while the nurse led the
doctor into the station to phone over to the Main Building and authorize another treatment.
Once, as she turned to walk away, he got hold of her through the back of her uniform, gave her a
pinch that turned her face red as his hair. I think if the doctor hadn’t been there, hiding a grin
himself, she would’ve slapped McMurphy’s face.
I tried to talk him into playing along with her so’s to get out of the treatments, but he just
laughed and told me Hell, all they was doin’ was chargin’ his battery for him, free for nothing.
“When I get out of here the first woman that takes [243] on ol’ Red McMurphy the ten-thousandwatt
psychopath, she’s gonna light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars! No, I ain’t
scared of their little battery-charger.”
He insisted it wasn’t hurting him. He wouldn’t even take his capsules. But every time that
loudspeaker called for him to forgo breakfast and prepare to walk to Building One, the muscles in
his jaw went taut and his whole face drained of color, looking thin and scared—the face I had seen
reflected in the windshield on the trip back from the coast.
I left Disturbed at the end of the week and went back to the ward. I had a lot of things I wanted
to say to him before I went, but he’d just come back from a treatment and was sitting following the
ping-pong ball with his eyes like he was wired to it. The colored aide and the blond one took me
downstairs and let me onto our ward and locked the door behind me. The ward seemed awful quiet
after Disturbed. I walked to our day room and for some reason stopped at the door; everybody’s
face turned up to me with a different look than they’d ever given me before. Their faces lighted up
as if they were looking into the glare of a sideshow platform. “Here, in fronta your very eyes,”
Harding spiels, “is the Wildman who broke the arm … of the black boy! Hey-ha, lookee, lookee.” I
grinned back at them, realizing how McMurphy must’ve felt these months with these faces
screaming up at him.
All the guys came over and wanted me to tell them everything that had happened: how was he
acting up there? What was he doing? Was it true, what was being rumored over at the gym, that
they’d been hitting him every day with EST and he was shrugging it off like water, makin’ book with
the technicians on how long he could keep his eyes open after the poles touched.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I told them all I could, and nobody seemed to think a thing about me all of a sudden talking with
people—a guy who’d been considered deaf and dumb as far back as they’d known him, talking,
listening, just like anybody. I told them everything that they’d heard was true, and tossed in a few
stories of my own. They laughed so hard about some of the things he’d said to the nurse that the
two Vegetables under their wet sheets on the Chronics’ side grinned and snorted along with the
laughter, just like they understood.
When the nurse herself brought the problem of Patient McMurphy up in group the next day, said
that for some unusual reason he did not seem to be responding to EST at all and that more drastic
means might be required to make contact with him, Harding said, “Now, that is possible, Miss
Ratched, yes— [244] but from what I hear about your dealings upstairs with McMurphy, he hasn’t
had any difficulty making contact with you.”
She was thrown off balance and flustered so bad with everybody in the room laughing at her, that
she didn’t bring it up again.
She saw that McMurphy was growing bigger than ever while he was upstairs where the guys
couldn’t see the dent she was making on him, growing almost into a legend. A man out of sight can’t
be made to look weak, she decided, and started making plans to bring him back down to our ward.
She figured the guys could see for themselves then that he could be as vulnerable as the next man.
He couldn’t continue in his hero role if he was sitting around the day room all the time in a shock
The guys anticipated this, and that as long as he was on the ward for them to see she would be
giving him shock every time he came out of it. So Harding and Scanlon and Fredrickson and I talked
over how we could convince him that the best thing for everybody concerned would be his escaping
the ward. And by the Saturday when he was brought back to the ward—footworking into the day
room like a boxer into a ring, clasping his hands over his head and announcing the champ was
back—we had our plan all worked out. We’d wait until dark, set a mattress on fire, and when the
firemen came we’d rush him out the door. It seemed such a fine plan we couldn’t see how he could
But we didn’t think about its being the day he’d made a date to have the girl, Candy, sneak onto
the ward for Billy.
They brought him back to the ward about ten in the morning—“Fulla piss an’ vinegar, buddies;
they checked my plugs and cleaned my points, and I got a glow on like a Model T spark coil. Ever
use one of those coils around Halloween time? Zam! Good clean fun.” And he batted around the
ward bigger than ever, spilled a bucket of mop water under the Nurses’ Station door, laid a pat of
butter square on the toe of the least black boy’s white suede shoes without the black boy noticing,
and smothered giggles all through lunch while it melted to show a color Harding referred to as a
“most suggestive yellow,”—bigger than ever, and each time he brushed close by a student nurse she
gave a yip and rolled her eyes and pitter-patted off down the hall, rubbing her flank.
We told him of our plan for his escape, and he told us there was no hurry and reminded us of
Billy’s date. “We can’t disappoint Billy Boy, can we, buddies? Not when he’s about to [245] cash in
his cherry. And it should be a nice little party tonight if we can pull it off; let’s say maybe it’s my
going-away party.”
It was the Big Nurse’s weekend to work—she didn’t want to miss his return—and she decided
we’d better have us a meeting to get something settled. At the meeting she tried once more to bring
up her suggestion for a more drastic measure, insisting that the doctor consider such action “before
it is too late to help the patient.” But McMurphy was such a whirligig of winks and yawns and
belches while she talked, she finally hushed, and when she did, he gave the doctor and all the
patients fits by agreeing with everything she said.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Y’know, she might be right, Doc; look at the good that few measly volts have done me. Maybe
if we doubled the charge I could pick up channel eight, like Martini; I’m tired of layin’ in bed
hallucinatin’ nothing but channel four with the news and weather.”
The nurse cleared her throat, trying to regain control of her meeting. “I wasn’t suggesting that we
consider more shock, Mr. McMurphy—”
“I was suggesting—that we consider an operation. Very simple, really. And we’ve had a history of
past successes eliminating aggressive tendencies in certain hostile cases—”
“Hostile? Ma’am, I’m friendly as a pup. I haven’t kicked the tar out of an aide in nearly two
weeks. There’s been no cause to do any cuttin’, now, has there?”
She held out her smile, begging him to see how sympathetic she was. “Randle, there’s no cutting
“Besides,” he went on, “it wouldn’t be any use to lop ‘em off; I got another pair in my
“One about as big as a baseball, Doc.”
“Mr. McMurphy!” Her smile broke like glass when she realized she was being made fun of.
“But the other one is big enough to be considered normal.”
He went on like this clear up to the time we were ready for bed. By then there was a festive,
county-fair feeling on the ward as the men whispered of the possibility of having a party if the girl
came with drinks. All the guys were trying to catch Billy’s eye and grinning and winking at him every
time he looked. And when we lined up for medication McMurphy came by and asked the little nurse
with the crucifix and the birthmark if he could have a couple of vitamins. She looked surprised and
said she didn’t see that there was any reason why [246] not and gave him some pills the size of birds’
eggs. He put them in his pocket.
“Aren’t you going to swallow them?” she asked.
“Me? Lord no, I don’t need vitamins. I was just gettin’ them for Billy Boy here. He seems to me
to have a peaked look of late—tired blood, most likely.”
“Then—why don’t you give them to Billy?”
“I will, honey, I will, but I thought I’d wait till about midnight when he’d have the most need for
them”—and walked to the dorm with his arm crooked around Billy’s flushing neck, giving Harding
a wink and me a goose in the side with his big thumb as he passed us, and left that nurse pop-eyed
behind him in the Nurses’ Station, pouring water on her foot.
You have to know about Billy Bibbit: in spite of him having wrinkles in his face and specks of
gray in his hair, he still looked like a kid—like a jug-eared and freckled-faced and buck-toothed kid
whistling barefoot across one of those calendars, with a string of bullheads dragging behind him in
the dust—and yet he was nothing like this. You were always surprised to find when he stood up
next to one of the other men he was just as tall as anyone, and that he wasn’t jug-eared or freckled
or buck-toothed at all under a closer look, and was, in fact, thirty-some years old.
I heard him give his age only one time, overheard him, to tell the truth, when he was talking to
his mother down in the lobby. She was receptionist down there, a solid, well-packed lady with hair
revolving from blond to blue to black and back to blond again every few months, a neighbor of the
Big Nurse’s, from what I’d heard, and a dear personal friend. Whenever we’d go on some activity
Billy would always be obliged to stop and lean a scarlet cheek over that desk for her to dab a kiss on.
It embarrassed the rest of us as much as it did Billy, and for that reason nobody ever teased him
about it, not even McMurphy.
One afternoon, I don’t recall how long back, we stopped on our way to activities and sat around
the lobby on the big plastic sofas or outside in the two-o’clock sun while one of the black boys used
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
the phone to call his bookmaker, and Billy’s mother took the opportunity to leave her work and
come out from behind her desk and take her boy by the hand and lead him outside to sit near where
I was on the grass. She sat stiff there on the grass, tight at the bend with her short round legs out in
front of her in stockings, reminding me of the color of bologna skins, and Billy lay beside her and
put his head in her lap and let her tease at his ear with a dandelion [247] fluff. Billy was talking about
looking for a wife and going to college someday. His mother tickled him with the fluff and laughed
at such foolishness.
“Sweetheart, you still have scads of time for things like that. Your whole life is ahead of you.”
“Mother, I’m th-th-thirty-one years old!”
She laughed and twiddled his ear with the weed. “Sweetheart, do I look like the mother of a
middle-aged man?”
She wrinkled her nose and opened her lips at him and made a kind of wet kissing sound in the air
with her tongue, and I had to admit she didn’t look like a mother of any kind. I didn’t believe myself
that he could be thirty-one years old till later when I edged up close enough to act a look at the birth
date on his wristband.
At midnight, when Geever and the other black boy and the nurse went off duty, and the old
colored fellow, Mr. Turkle, came on for his shift, McMurphy and Billy were already up, taking
vitamins, I imagined. I got out of bed and put on a robe and walked out to the day room, where they
were talking with Mr. Turkle. Harding and Scanlon and Sefelt and some of the other guys came out
too. McMurphy was telling Mr. Turkle what to expect if the girl did come,—reminding him, actually,
because it looked like they’d talked it all over beforehand a couple of weeks back. McMurphy said
that the thing to do was let the girl in the window, instead of risking having her come through the
lobby, where the night supervisor might be. And to unlock the Seclusion Room then. Yeah, won’t
that make a fine honeymoon shack for the lovers? Mighty secluded. (“Ahh, McM-Murphy,” Billy
kept trying to say.) And to keep the lights out. So the supervisor couldn’t see in. And close the dorm
doors and not wake up every slobbering Chronic in the place. And to keep quiet; we don’t want to
disturb them.
“Ah, come on, M-M-Mack,” Billy said.
Mr. Turkle kept nodding and bobbing his head, appearing to fall half asleep. When McMurphy
said, “I guess that pretty well covers things,” Mr. Turkle said, “No—not en-tiuhly,” and sat there
grinning in his white suit with his bald yellow head floating at the end of his neck like a balloon on a
“Come on, Turkle. It’ll be worth your while. She should be bringin’ a couple of bottles.”
“You gettin’ closer,” Mr. Turkle said. His head lolled and bobbled. He acted like he was barely
able to keep awake. I’d heard he worked another job during the day, at a race track. McMurphy
turned to Billy.
[248] “Turkle is holdin’ out for a bigger contract, Billy Boy. How much is it worth to you to lose
your ol’ cherry?”
Before Billy could stop stuttering and answer, Mr. Turkle shook his head. “It ain’ that. Not
money. She bringin’ more than the bottle with her, though, ain’t she, this sweet thing? You people
be sharing more’n a bottle, won’t you.” He grinned around at the faces.
Billy nearly burst, trying to stutter something about not Candy, not his girl! McMurphy took him
aside and told him not to worry about his girl’s chastity—Turkle’d likely be so drunk and sleepy by
the time Billy was finished that the old coon couldn’t put a carrot in a washtub.
The girl was late again. We sat out in the day room in our robes, listening to McMurphy and Mr.
Turkle tell Army stories while they passed one of Mr. Turkle’s cigarettes back and forth, smoking it a
funny way, holding the smoke in when they inhaled till their eyes bugged. Once Harding asked what
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
manner of cigarette they were smoking that smelled so provocative, and Mr. Turkle said in a high,
breath-holding voice, “Jus’ a plain old cigarette. Hee hoe, yes. You want a toke?”
Billy got more and more nervous, afraid the girl might not show up, afraid she might. He kept
asking why didn’t we all go to bed, instead off sitting out here in the cold dark like hounds waiting at
the kitchen for table scraps, and we just grinned at him. None of us felt like going to bed; it wasn’t
cold at all, and it was pleasant to relax in the half-light and listen to McMurphy and Mr. Turkle tell
tales. Nobody acted sleepy, or not even very worried that it was after two o’clock and the girl hadn’t
showed up yet. Turkle suggested maybe she was late because the ward was so dark she couldn’t see to
tell which one to come to, and McMurphy said that was the obvious truth, so the two of them ran
up and down the halls, turning on every light in the place, were even about to turn on the big
overhead wake-up lights in the dorm when Harding told them this would just get all the other men
out of bed to share things with. They agreed and settled for all the lights in the doctor’s office
No sooner did they have the ward lit up like full daylight than there came a tapping at the
window. McMurphy ran to the window and put his face to it, cupping his hands on, each side so he
could see. He drew back and grinned at us.
“She walks like beauty, in the night,” he said. He took Billy by the wrist and dragged him to the
window. “Let her in, Turkle. Let this mad stud at her.”
[249] “Look, McM-M-M-Murphy, wait.” Billy was balking like a mule.
“Don’t you mamamamurphy me, Billy Boy. It’s too late to back out now. You’ll pull through. I’ll
tell you what: I got five dollars here says you burn that woman down; all right? Open the window,
There were two girls in the dark, Candy and the other one that hadn’t shown up for the fishing
trip. “Hot dog,” Turkle said, helping them through, “enough for ever’body.”
We all went to help: they had to lift their tight skirts up to their thighs to step through the
window. Candy said, “You damn McMurphy,” and tried so wild to throw her arms around him that
she came near to breaking the bottles she held by the neck in each hand. She was weaving around
quite a bit, and her hair was falling out of the hairdo she had piled on top of her head. I thought she
looked better with it swung at the back like she’d worn it on the fishing trip. She gestured at the
other girl with a bottle as she came through the window.
“Sandy came along. She just up and left that maniac from Beaverton that she married; isn’t that
The girl came trough the window and kissed McMurphy and said, “Hello, Mack. I’m sorry I
didn’t show up. But that’s over. You can take just so many funsies like white mice in your pillowcase
and worms in your cold cream and frogs in your bra.” She shook her head once and wiped her hand
in front of her like she was wiping away the memory of her animal-loving, husband. “Cheesus, what
a maniac.”
They were both in skirts and sweaters and nylons and barefoot, and both red-cheeked and
giggling. “We had to keep asking for directions,” Candy explained, “at every bar we came to.
Sandy was turning around in a big wide-eyed circle. “Whoee, Candy girl, what are we in now? Is
this real? Are we in an asylum? Man!” She was bigger than Candy, and maybe five years older, and
had tried to lock her bay-colored hair in a stylish bun at the back of her head, but it kept stringing
down around her broad milk-fed cheekbones, and she looked like a cowgirl trying to pass herself off
as a society lady. Her shoulders and breasts and hips were too wide and her grin too big and open
for her to ever be called beautiful, but she was pretty and she was healthy and she had one long
finger crooked in the ring of a gallon of red wine, and it swung at her side like a purse.
“How, Candy, how, how, how do these wild things happen [250] to us?” She turned around once
more and stopped, with her bare feet spread, giggling.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“These things don’t happen,” Harding said to the girl solemnly. “These things are fantasies you
lie awake at night dreaming up and then are afraid to tell your analyst. You’re not really here. That
wine isn’t real; none of this exists. Now, let’s go on from there.”
“Hello, Billy,” Candy said.
“Look at that stuff,” Turkle said.
Candy straight-armed one of the bottles awkwardly toward Billy. “I brought you a present.”
“These things are Thorne Smithian daydreams!” Harding said.
“Boy!” the girl named Sandy said. “What have we got ourselves into?”
“Shhhh,” Scanlon said and scowled around him. “You’ll wake up those other bastards, talking so
“What’s the matter, stingy?” Sandy giggled, starting to turn in her circle again. “You scared there’s
not enough to go around?”
“Sandy, I mighta known you’d bring that damn cheap port.”
“Boy!” She stopped her turning to look up at me. “Dig this one, Candy. A Goliath—fee, fi, fo,
Mr. Turkle said, “Hot dog,” and locked the screen back, and Sandy said, “Boy,” again. We were
all in an awkward little cluster in the middle of the day room, shifting around one another, saying
things just because nobody knew what else to do yet—never been up against a situation like it—and
I don’t know when this excited, uneasy flurry of talk and giggling and shuffling around the day room
would’ve stopped if that ward door hadn’t rung with a key knocking it open down the hall—jarred
everybody like a burglar alarm going off.
“Oh, Lord God,” Mr. Turkle said, clapping his hand on the top of his bald head, “it’s the soopervisor,
come to fire my black ass.”
We all ran into the latrine and turned out the light and stood in the dark, listening to one another
breathe. We could hear that supervisor wander around the ward, calling for Mr. Turkle in a loud,
half-afraid whisper. Her voice was soft and worried, rising at the end as she called, “Mr. Tur-kull?
Mis-tur Turkle?”
“Where the hell is he?” McMurphy whispered. “Why don’t he answer her?”
“Don’t worry,” Scanlon said. “She won’t look in the can.”
“But why don’t he answer? Maybe he got too high.”
[251] “Man, what you talkin’? I don’t get too high, not on a little middlin’ joint like that one.” It
was Mr. Turkle’s voice somewhere in the dark latrine with us.
“Jesus, Turkle, what are you doing in here?” McMurphy was trying to sound stern and keep from
laughing at the same time. “Get out there and see what she wants. What’ll she think if she doesn’t
find you?”
“The end is upon us,” Harding said and sat down. “Allah be merciful.”
Turkle opened the door and slipped out and met her in the hall. She’d come over to see what all
the lights were on about. What made it necessary to turn on every fixture in the ward? Turkle said
every fixture wasn’t on; that the dorm lights were off and so were the ones in the latrine. She said
that was no excuse for the other lights; what possible reason could there be for all this light? Turkle
couldn’t come up with an answer for this, and during the long pause I heard the battle being passed
around near me in the dark. Out in the hall she asked him again, and Turkle told her, well, he was
just cleanin’ up, policing the areas. She wanted to know why, then, was the latrine, the place that his
job description called for him to have clean, the only place that was dark? And the bottle went
around again while we waited to see what he’d answer. It came by me, and I took a drink. I felt I
needed it. I could hear Turkle swallowing all the way out in the hall, umming and ahing for
something to say.
“He’s skulled,” McMurphy hissed. “Somebody’s gonna have to go out and help him.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I heard a toilet flush behind me, and the door opened and Harding was caught in the hall light as
he went out, pulling up his pajamas. I heard the supervisor gasp at the sight of him and he told her
to pardon him, but he hadn’t seen her, being as it was so dark.
“It isn’t dark.”
“In the latrine, I meant. I always switch off the lights to achieve a better bowel movement. Those
mirrors, you understand; when the light is on the mirrors seem to be sitting in judgment over me to
arbitrate a punishment if everything doesn’t come out right.”
“But Aide Turkle said he was cleaning in there …”
“And doing quite a good job, too, I might add—considering the restrictions imposed on him by
the dark. Would you care to see?”
Harding pushed the door open a crack, and a slice of light cut across the latrine floor tile. I
caught a glimpse of the [252] supervisor backing off, saying she’d have to decline his offer but she
had further rounds to make. I heard the ward door unlock again up the hall, and she let herself off
the ward. Harding called to her to return soon for another visit, and everybody rushed out and
shook his hand and pounded his back for the way he’d pulled it off.
We stood there in the hall, and the wine went around again. Sefelt said he’d as leave have that
vodka if there was something to mix it with. He asked Mr. Turkle if there wasn’t something on the
ward to put in it and Turkle said nothing but water. Fredrickson asked what about the cough sirup?
“They give me a little now and then from a half-gallon jug in the drug room. It’s not bad tasting.
You have a key for that room, Turkle?”
Turkle said the supervisor was the only one on nights who had a key to the drug room, but
McMurphy talked him into letting us have a try at picking the lock. Turkle grinned and nodded his
head lazily. While he and McMurphy worked at the lock on the drug room with paper clips, the girls
and the rest of us ran around in the Nurses’ Station opening files and reading records.
“Look here,” Scanlon said, waving one of those folders. “Talk about complete. They’ve even got
my first-grade report card in here. Aaah, miserable grades, just miserable.”
Bill and his girl were going over his folder. She stepped back to look him over. “All these things,
Billy? Phrenic this and pathic that? You don’t look like you have all these things.”
The other girl had opened a supply drawer and was suspicious about what the nurses needed with
all those hot-water bottles, a million of ‘em, and Harding was sitting on the Big Nurse’s desk,
shaking his head at the whole affair.
McMurphy and Turkle got the door of the drug room open and brought out a bottle of thick
cherry-colored liquid from the ice box. McMurphy tipped the bottle to the light and read the label
out loud.
“Artificial flavor, coloring, citric acid. Seventy per cent inert materials—that must be water—and
twenty per cent alcohol—that’s fine—and ten per cent codeine Warning Narcotic May Be Habit
Forming.” He unscrewed the bottle and took a taste of it, closing his eyes. He worked his tongue
around his teeth and took another swallow and read the label again. “Well,” he said, and clicked his
teeth together like they’d just been sharpened, “if we cut it a leetle bit with the vodka, I think it’ll be
all right. How are we fixed for ice cubes, Turkey, old buddy?”
[253] Mixed in paper medicine cups with the liquor and the port wine, the sirup had a taste like a
kid’s drink but a punch like the cactus apple wine we used to get in The Dalles, cold and soothing on
the throat and hot and furious once it got down. We turned out the lights in the day room and sat
around drinking it. We threw the first couple of cups down like we were taking our medication,
drinking it in serious and silent doses and looking one another over to see if it was going to kill
anybody. McMurphy and Turkle switched back and forth from the drink to Turkle’s cigarettes and
got to giggling again as they discussed how it would be to lay that little nurse with the birthmark who
went off, at midnight.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“I’d be scared,” Turkle said, “that she might go to whuppin’ me with that big of cross on that
chain. Wun’t that be a fix to be in, now?”
“I’d be scared,” McMurphy said, “that just about the time I was getting my jellies she’d reach
around behind me with a thermometer and take my temperature!”
That busted everybody up. Harding stopped laughing long enough to join the joking.
“Or worse yet,” he said. “Just lie there under you with a dreadful concentration on her face, and
tell you—oh Jesus, listen—tell you what your pulse was!”
“Oh don’t ... oh my Gawd ...”
“Or even worse, just lie there, and be able to calculate your pulse and temperature both—sans
“Oh Gawd, oh please don’t …”
We laughed till we were rolling about the couches and chairs, choking and teary-eyed. The girls
were so weak from laughing they had to try two or three times to get to their feet. “I gotta ... go
tinkle,” the big one said and went weaving and giggling toward the latrine and missed the door,
staggered into the dorm while we all hushed one another with fingers to the lips, waiting, till she
gave a squeal and we heard old Colonel Matterson roar, “The pillow is … a horse!”—and come
whisking out of the dorm right behind her in his wheelchair.
Sefelt wheeled the colonel back to the dorm and showed the girl where the latrine was personally,
told her it was generally used by males only but he would stand at the door while she was in there
and guard against intrusions on her privacy, defend it against all comers, by gosh. She thanked him
solemnly and shook his hand and they saluted each other and while she was inside here came the
colonel out of the dorm in his wheelchair again, and Sefelt had his hands full keeping him out of the
latrine. When the girl came out of the door he was trying [254] to ward off the charges of the
wheelchair with his foot while we stood on the edge of the fracas cheering one guy or the other. The
girl helped Sefelt put the colonel back to bed, and then the two of them went down the hall and
waltzed to music nobody could hear.
Harding drank and watched and shook his head. “It isn’t happening. It’s all a collaboration of
Kafka and Mark Twain and Martini.”
McMurphy and Turkle got to worrying that there might still be too many lights, so they went up
and down the hall turning out everything that glowed, even the little knee-high night lights, till the
place was pitch black. Turkle got out flashlights, and we played tag up and down the hall with
wheelchairs from storage, having a big time till we heard one of Sefelt’s convulsion cries and went to
find him sprawled twitching beside that big girl, Sandy. She was sitting on the floor brushing at her
skirt, looking down at Sefelt. “I never experienced anything like it,” she said with quiet awe.
Fredrickson knelt beside his friend and put a wallet between his teeth to keep him from chewing
his tongue, and helped him get his pants buttoned. “You all right, Seef? Seef?”
Sefelt didn’t open his eyes, but he raised a limp hand and picked the wallet out of his mouth. He
grinned through his spit. “I’m all right,” he said. “Medicate me and turn me loose again.”
You really need some medication, Seef?”
“Medication,” Fredrickson said over his shoulder, still kneeling. “Medication,” Harding repeated
and weaved off with his flashlight to the drug room. Sandy watched him go with glazed eyes. She
was sitting beside Sefelt, stroking his head in wonderment.
“Maybe you better bring me something too,” she called drunkenly after Harding. “I never
experienced anything to come even close to it.”
Down the hall we heard glass crash and Harding came back with a double handful of pills; he
sprinkled them over Sefelt and the woman like he was crumbling clods into a grave. He raised his
eyes toward the ceiling.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Most merciful God, accept these two poor sinners into your arms. And keep the doors ajar for
the coming of the rest of us, because you are witnessing the end, the absolute, irrevocable, fantastic
end. I’ve finally realized what is happening. It is our last fling. We are doomed henceforth. Must
screw our courage to the sticking point and face up to our impending fate. We [255] shall be all of us
shot at dawn. One hundred cc’s apiece. Miss Ratched shall line us all against the wall, where we,,,
face the terrible maw of a muzzle-loading shotgun which she has loaded with Miltowns! Thorazines!
Libriums! Stelazines! And with a wave of her sword, blooie! Tranquilize all of us completely out of
He sagged against the wall and slid to the floor, pills hopping out of his hands in all directions
like red and green and orange bugs. “Amen,” he said and closed his eyes.
The girl on the floor smoothed down her skirt over her long hard-working legs and looked at
Sefelt still grinning and twitching there under the lights beside her, and said, “Never in my life
experienced anything to come even halfway near it.”
Harding’s speech, if it hadn’t actually sobered people, had at least made them realize the
seriousness of what we were doing. The night was getting on, and some thought had to be given to
the arrival of the staff in the morning. Billy Bibbit and his girl mentioned that it was after four
o’clock and, if it was all right, if people didn’t mind, they’d like to have Mr. Turkle unlock the
Seclusion Room. They went off under an arch of flashlight beams, and the rest of us went into the
day room to see what we could decide about cleaning up. Turkle was all but passed out when he got
back from Seclusion, and we had to push him into the day room in a wheel chair.
As I walked after them it came to me as a kind of sudden surprise that I was drunk, actually
drunk, glowing and grinning and staggering drunk for the first time since the Army, drunk along
with half a dozen other guys and a couple of girls—right on the Big Nurse’s ward! Drunk and
running and laughing and carrying on with women square in the center of the Combine’s most
powerful stronghold! I thought back on the night, on what we’d been doing, and it was near
impossible to believe. I had to keep reminding myself that it had truly happened, that we had made it
happen. We had just unlocked a window and let it in like you let in the fresh air. Maybe the Combine
wasn’t all-powerful. What was to stop us from doing it again, now that we saw we could? Or keep us
from doing other things we wanted? I felt so good thinking about this that I gave a yell and swooped
down on McMurphy and the girl Sandy walking along in front of me, grabbed them both up, one in
each arm, and ran all the way to the day room with them hollering and kicking like kids. I felt that
Colonel Matterson got up again, bright-eyed and full of lessons, and Scanlon wheeled him back
to bed. Sefelt and [256] Martini and Fredrickson said they’d better hit the sack too. McMurphy and I
and Harding and the girl and Mr. Turkle stayed up to finish off the cough sirup and decide what we
were going to do about the mess the ward was in. Me and Harding acted like we were the only ones
really very worried- about it; McMurphy and the big girl just sat there and sipped that sirup and
grinned at each other and played hand games in the shadows, and Mr. Turkle kept dropping off to
sleep. Harding did his best to try to get them concerned.
“All of you fail to compren’ the complexities of the situation,” he said.
“Bull,” McMurphy said.
Harding slapped the table. “McMurphy, Turkle, you fail to realize what has occurred here
tonight. On a mental ward. Miss Ratched’s ward! The reekerputions will be ... devastating!”
McMurphy bit the girl’s ear lobe. Turkle nodded and opened one eye and said, “Tha’s true. She’ll
be on tomorrow, too.”
“I, however, have a plan,” Harding said. He got to his feet. He said McMurphy was obviously too
far gone to handle the situation himself and someone else would have to take over. As he talked he
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
stood straighter and became more sober. He spoke in an earnest and urgent voice, and his hands
shaped what he said. I was glad he was there to take over.
His plan was that we were to tie up Turkle and make it look like McMurphy’d snuck up behind
him, tied him up with oh, say, strips of torn sheet, and relieved him of his keys, and after getting the
keys had broken into the drug room, scattered drugs around, and raised hell with the files just to
spite the nurse—she’d believe that part—then he’d unlocked the screen and made his escape.
McMurphy said it sounded like a television plot and it was so ridiculous it couldn’t help but work,
and he complimented Harding on his clear-headedness. Harding said the plan had its merits; it
would keep the other guys out of trouble with the nurse, and keep Turkle his job, and get
McMurphy off the ward. He said McMurphy could have the girls drive him to Canada or Tiajuana,
or even Nevada if he wanted, and be completely safe; the police never press too hard to pick up
AWOLs from the hospital because ninety per cent of them always show back up in a few days, broke
and drunk and looking for that free bed and board. We talked about it for a while and finished the
cough sirup. We finally talked it to silence. Harding sat back down.
McMurphy took his arm from around the girl and looked from me to Harding, thinking, that
strange, tired expression [257] on his face again. He asked what about us, why didn’t we just up and
get our clothes on and make it out with him?
“I’m not quite ready yet, Mack,” Harding told him.
“Then what makes you think I am?”
Harding looked at him in silence for a time and smiled, then said, “No, you don’t understand. I’ll
be ready in a few weeks. But I want to do it on my own, by myself, right out that front door, with all
the traditional red tape and complications. I want my wife to be here in a car at a certain time to pick
me up. I want them to know I was able to do it that way.”
McMurphy nodded. “What about you, Chief?”
“I figure I’m all right. Just I don’t know where I want to go yet. And somebody should stay here
a few weeks after you’re gone to see that things don’t start sliding back.”
“What about Billy and Sefelt and Fredrickson and the rest?”
“I can’t speak for them,” Harding said. “They’ve still got their problems, just like all of us.
They’re still sick men in lots of ways. But at least there’s that: they are sick men now. No more
rabbits, Mack. Maybe they can be well men someday. I can’t say.”
McMurphy thought this over, looking at the backs of his hands. He looked back up to Harding.
“Harding, what is it? What happens?”
“You mean all this?”
McMurphy nodded.
Harding shook his head. “I don’t think I can give you an answer. Oh, I could give you Freudian
reasons with fancy talk, and that would be right as far as it went. But what you want are the reasons
for the reasons, and I’m not able to give you those. Not for the others, anyway. For myself? Guilt.
Shame. Fear. Self-belittlement. I discovered at an early age that I was—shall we be kind and say
different? It’s a better, more general word than the other one. I indulged in certain practices that our
society regards as shameful. And I got sick. It wasn’t the practices, I don’t think, it was the feeling
that the great, deadly, pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me—and the great voice of
millions chanting, ‘Shame. Shame. Shame.’ It’s society’s way of dealing with someone different.”
“I’m different,” McMurphy said. “Why didn’t something like that happen to me? I’ve had people
bugging me about one thing or another as far back as I can remember but that’s not what—but it
didn’t drive me crazy.”
“No, you’re right. That’s not what drove you crazy. I wasn’t giving my reason as the sole reason.
Though I used to think at [258] one time, a few years ago, my turtleneck years, that society’s
chastising was the sole force that drove one along the road to crazy, but you’ve caused me to reKen
Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
appraise my theory. There’s something else that drives people, strong people like you, my friend,
down that road.”
“Yeah? Not that I’m admitting I’m down that road, but what is this something else?”
“It is us.” He swept his hand about him in a soft white circle and repeated, “Us.”
McMurphy halfheartedly said, “Bull,” and grinned and stood up, pulling the girl to her feet. He
squinted up at the dim clock. “It’s nearly five. I need me a little shut-eye before my big getaway. The
day shift doesn’t come on for another two hours yet; let’s leave Billy and Candy down there a while
longer. I’ll cut out about six. Sandy, honey, maybe an hour in the dorm would sober us up. What do
you say? We got a long drive tomorrow, whether it’s Canada or Mexico or wherever.”
Turkle and Harding and I stood up too. Everybody was still weaving pretty much, still pretty
drunk, but a mellow, sad feeling, had drifted over the drunk. Turkle said he’d boot McMurphy and
the girl out of bed in an hour.
“Wake me up too,” Harding said. “I’d like to stand there at the window with a silver bullet in my
hand and ask ‘Who wawz that’er masked man?’ as you ride—”
“The hell with that. You guys both get in bed, and I don’t want to ever see hide nor hair of you
again. You get me?”
Harding grinned and nodded but he didn’t say anything. McMurphy put his hand out, and
Harding shook it. McMurphy tipped back like a cowboy reeling out of a saloon and winked.
“You can be bull goose loony again, buddy, what with Big Mack outa the way.”
He turned to me and frowned. “I don’t know what you can be, Chief. You still got some looking
to do. Maybe you could get you a job being the bad guy on TV rasslin’. Anyway, take ‘er easy.”
I shook his hand, and we all started for the dorm. McMurphy told Turkle to tear up some sheets
and pick out some of his favorite knots to be tied with. Turkle said he would. I got into my bed in
the graying light of the dorm and heard McMurphy and the girl get into his bed. I was feeling numb
and warm. I heard Mr. Turkle open the door to the linen room out in the hall, heave a long, loud,
belching sigh as he pulled the door closed behind him. My eyes got used to the dark, and I could see
McMurphy and the girl snuggled into each other’s [259] shoulders, getting comfortable, more like
two tired little kids than a grown man and a grown woman in bed together to make love.
And that’s the way the black boys found them when they came to turn on the dorm lights at sixthirty.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I‘ve given what happened next a good lot of thought, and I’ve come around to thinking that it
was bound to be and would have happened in one way or another, at this time or that, even if Mr.
Turkle had got McMurphy and the two girls up and off the ward like was planned. The Big Nurse
would have found out some way what had gone on, maybe just by the look on Billy’s face, and she’d
have done the same as she did whether McMurphy was still around or not. And Billy would have
done what he did, and McMurphy would have heard about it and come back.
Would have had to come back, because he could no more have sat around outside the hospital,
playing poker in Carson‘ City or Reno or someplace, and let the Big Nurse have the last move and
get the last play, than he could have let her get by with it right under his nose. It was like he’d signed
on for the whole game and there wasn’t any way of him breaking his contract.
As soon as we started getting out of bed and circulating around the ward, the story of what had
taken place was spreading in a brush fire of low talk. “They had a what?” asked the ones who hadn’t
been in on it. “A whore? In the dorm? Jesus.” Not only a whore, the others told them, but a drunken
blast to boot. McMurphy was planning to sneak her out before the day crew came on but he didn’t
wake up. “Now what kind of crock are you giving us?” “No crock. It’s every word gospel. I was in
on it.”
Those who had been in on the night started telling about it with a kind of quiet pride and
wonder, the way people tell about seeing a big hotel fire or a dam bursting—very solemn and
respectful because the casualties aren’t even counted yet—but the longer the telling went on, the less
solemn the fellows got. Everytime the Big Nurse and her hustling black boys turned up something
new, such as the empty bottle of cough syrup or the fleet of wheelchairs parked at the end of the
hall like empty rides in an amusement park, it brought another part of the night back sudden and
clear to be told to the guys who weren’t in on it and to be savored by the guys who were. Everybody
had been herded into the day room by the [261] black boys, Chronics and Acutes alike, milling
together in excited confusion. The two old Vegetables sat sunk in their bedding, snapping their eyes
and their gums. Everybody was still in pajamas and slippers except McMurphy and the girl; she was
dressed, except for her shoes and the nylon stockings, which now hung over her shoulder, and he
was in his black shorts with the white whales. They were sitting together on a sofa, holding hands.
The girl had dozed off again, and McMurphy was leaning against her with a satisfied and sleepy grin.
Our solemn worry was giving way, in spite of us, to joy and humor. When the nurse found the
pile of pills Harding had sprinkled on Sefelt and the girl, we started to pop and snort to keep from
laughing, and by the time they found Mr. Turkle in the linen room and led him out blinking and
groaning, tangled in a hundred yards of torn sheet like a mummy with a hangover, we were roaring.
The Big Nurse took our good humor without so much as a trace of her little pasted smile; every
laugh was being forced right down her throat till it looked as if any minute she’d blow up like a
McMurphy draped one bare leg over the edge of the sofa nd pulled his cap down to keep the
light from hurting his reddened eyes, and he kept licking out a tongue that looked like it had been
shellacked by that cough syrup. He looked sick and terrifically tired, and he kept pressing the heels
of his hands against his temples and yawning, but as bad as he seemed to feel he still held his grin
and once or twice went so far as to laugh out loud at some of the things the nurse kept turning up.
When the nurse went in to call the Main Building to report Mr. Turkle’s resignation, Turkle and
the girl Sandy took the opportunity to unlock that screen again and wave good-by to all and go
loping off across the grounds, stumbling and slipping on the wet, sun-sparkle grass.
“He didn’t lock it back up,” Harding said to McMurphy. “Go on. Go on after them!”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
McMurphy groaned and opened one eye bloody as a hatching egg. “You kidding me? I couldn’t
even get my head through that window, let alone my whole body.”
“My friend, I don’t believe you fully comprehend—”
“Harding, goddam you and your big words; all I fully comprehend this morning is I’m still half
drunk. And sick. Matter of fact, I think you’re still drunk too. Chief, how about you; are you still
I said that my nose and cheeks didn’t have any feeling in them yet, if this could be taken to mean
[262] McMurphy nodded once and closed his eyes again; he laced his hands across his chest and
slid down in his chair, his chin settling into his collar. He smacked his lips and smiled as if he were
napping. “Man,” he said, “everybody is still drunk.”
Harding was still concerned. He kept on about how the best thing for McMurphy to do was get
dressed, quickly, while old Angel of Mercy was in there calling the doctor again to report the
atrocities she had uncovered, but McMurphy maintained that there wasn’t anything to get so excited
about; he wasn’t any worse off than before, was he? “I’ve took their best punch,” he said. Harding
threw up his hands and went off, predicting doom.
One of the black boys saw the screen was unlocked and locked it and went into the Nurses’
Station for the big flat ledger, came back out running his finger down the roll and lipping the names
he read out loud as he sighted the men that matched up with them. The roll is listed alphabetically
backwards to throw people off, so he didn’t get to the Bs till right at the last. He looked around the
day room without taking his finger from that last name in the ledger.
“Bibbit. Where’s Billy Bibbit?” His eyes were big. He was thinking Billy’d slipped out right under
his nose and would he ever catch it. “Who saw Billy Bibbit go, you damn goons?”
This set people to remembering just where Billy was; there were whispers and laughing again.
The black boy went back into the station, and we saw him telling the nurse. She smashed the
phone down in the cradle and came out the door with the black boy hot after her; a lock of her hair
had broken loose from beneath her white cap and fell across her face like wet ashes. She was
sweating between her eyebrows and under her nose. She demanded we tell her where the Eloper had
gone. She was answered with a chorus of laughter, and her eyes went around the men.
“So? He’s not gone, is he? Harding, he’s still here—on the ward, isn’t he? Tell me. Sefelt, tell
She darted the eyes out with every word, stabbing at the men’s faces, but the men were immune
to her poison. Their eyes met hers; their grins mocked the old confident smile she had lost.
“Washington! Warren! Come with me for room check.”
We rose and followed as the three of them went along, unlocking the lab, the tub room, the
doctor’s office. ... Scanlon covered his grin with his knotty hand and whispered, “Hey, ain’t it gonna
be some joke on of Billy.” We all nodded. “And [263] Billy’s not the only one it’s gonna be a joke
on, now that I think about it; remember who’s in there?”
The nurse reached the door of the Seclusion Room at the end of the hall. We pushed up close to
see, crowding and craning to peep over the Big Nurse and the two black boys as she unlocked it and
swung it open. It was dark in the windowless room. There was a squeak and a scuffle in the dark,
and the nurse reached out, flicked the light down on Billy and the girl where they were blinking up
from that mattress on the floor like two owls from a nest. The nurse ignored the howl of laughter
behind her.
“William Bibbit!” She tried so hard to sound cold and stern. “William ... Bibbit!”
“Good morning, Miss Ratched,” Billy said, not even making any move to get up and button his
pajamas. He took the girl’s hand in his and grinned. “This is Candy.”
The nurse’s tongue clucked in her bony throat. “Oh, Billy Billy Billy—I’m so ashamed for you.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Billy wasn’t awake enough to respond much to her shaming, and the girl was fussing around
looking under the mattress for her nylons, moving slow and warm-looking after sleep. Every so
often she would stop her dreamy fumbling and look up and smile at the icy figure of the nurse
standing there with her arms crossed, then feel to see if her sweater was buttoned, and go back to
tugging for her nylon caught between the mattress and the tile floor. They both moved like fat cats
full of warm milk, lazy in the sun: I guessed they were still fairly drunk too.
“Oh, Billy,” the nurse said, like she was so disappointed she might break down and cry. “A
woman like this. A cheap! Low! Painted—”
“Courtesan?” Harding suggested. “Jezebel?” The nurse turned and tried to nail him with her eyes,
but he just went on. “Not Jezebel? No?” He scratched his head in thought. “How about Salome?
She’s notoriously evil. Perhaps ‘dame’ is the word you want. Well, I’m just trying to help.”
She swung back to Billy. He was concentrating on getting to his feet. He rolled over and came to
his knees, butt in the air like a cow getting up, then pushed up on his hands, then came to one foot,
then the other, and straightened. He looked pleased with his success, as if he wasn’t even aware of
us crowding at the door teasing him and hoorahing him.
The loud talk and laughter swirled around the nurse. She looked from Billy and the girl to the
bunch of us behind her. The enamel-and-plastic face was caving in. She shut her eyes [264] and
strained to calm her trembling, concentrating. She knew this was it, her back to the wall. When her
eyes opened again, they were very small and still.
“What worries me, Billy,” she said—I could hear the change in her voice—”is how your poor
mother is going to take this.”
She got the response she was after. Billy flinched and put his hand to his cheek like he’d been
burned with acid.
“Mrs. Bibbit’s always been so proud of your discretion. I know she has. This is going to disturb
her terribly. You know how she is when she gets disturbed, Billy; you know how ill the poor woman
can become. She’s very sensitive. Especially concerning her son. She always spoke so proudly of
you. She al—”
“Nuh! Nuh!” His mouth was working. He shook his head, begging her. “You d-don’t n-n-need!”
“Billy Billy Billy,” she said. “Your mother and I are old friends.”
“No!” he cried. His voice scraped the white, bare walls of the Seclusion Room. He lifted his chin
so he was shouting at the moon of light in the ceiling. “N-n-no!”
We’d stopped laughing. We watched Billy folding into the floor, head going back, knees coming
forward. He rubbed his hand up and down that green pant leg. He was shaking his head in panic like
a kid that’s been promised a whipping just as soon as a willow is cut. The nurse touched his shoulder
to comfort him. The touch shook him like a blow.
“Billy, I don’t want her to believe something like this of you—but what am I to think?”
“Duh-duh-don’t t-tell, M-M-M-Miss Ratched. Duh-duh-duh—”
“Billy, I have to tell. I hate to believe you would behave like this, but, really, what else can I
think? I find you alone, on a mattress, with this sort of woman.”
“No! I d-d-didn’t. I was—” His hand went to his cheek again and stuck there. “She did.”
“Billy, this girl could not have pulled you in here forcibly.” She shook her head. “Understand, I
would like to believe something else—for your poor mother’s sake.”
The hand pulled down his cheek, raking long red marks. “She d-did.” He looked around him.
“And M-M-McMurphy! He did. And Harding! And the-the-the rest! They t-t-teased me, called me
Now his face was fastened to hers. He didn’t look to one side or the other, but only straight
ahead at her face, like there was a spiraling light there instead of features, a hypnotizing [265] swirl of
cream white and blue and orange. He swallowed and waited for her to say something, but she
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
wouldn’t; her skill, her fantastic mechanical power flooded back into her, analyzing the situation and
reporting to her that all she had to do was keep quiet.
“They m-m-made me! Please, M-Miss Ratched, they may-may-MAY-!”
She checked her beam, and Billy’s face pitched downward, sobbing with relief. She put a hand on
his neck and drew his cheek to her starched breast, stroking his shoulder while she turned a slow,
contemptuous look across the bunch of us.
“It’s all right, Billy. It’s all right. No one else is going to harm you. It’s all right. I’ll explain to your
She continued to glare at us as she spoke. It was strange to hear that voice, soft and soothing and
warm as a pillow, coming out of a face hard as porcelain.
“All right, Billy. Come along with me. You can wait over here in the doctor’s office. There’s no
reason for you to be submitted to sitting out in the day room with these ... friends of yours.”
She led him into the office, stroking his bowed head and saying, “Poor boy, poor little boy,”
while we faded back down the hall silently and sat down in the day room without looking at one
another or speaking. McMurphy was the last one to take a seat.
The Chronics across the way had stopped milling around and were settling into their slots. I
looked at McMurphy out of the corner of my eye, trying not to be obvious about it. He was in his
chair in the corner, resting a second before he came out for the next round—in a long line of next
rounds. The thing he was fighting, you couldn’t whip it for good. All you could do was keep on
whipping it, till you couldn’t come out any more and somebody else had to take your place.
There was more phoning going on in the Nurses’ Station and a number of authorities showing up
for a tour of the evidence. When the doctor himself finally came in, every one of these people gave
him a look like the whole thing had been planned by him, or at least condoned and authorized. He
was white and shaky under their eyes. You could see he’d already heard about most of what had
gone on here, on his ward, but the Big Nurse outlined it for him again, in slow, loud details so we
could hear it too. Hear it in the proper way, this time, solemnly, with no whispering or giggling while
she talked. The doctor nodded and fiddled with his glasses, batting eyes so watery I thought he must
be splashing her. She finished by [266] telling him about Billy and the tragic experience we had put
the poor boy through.
“I left him in your office. Judging from his present state, I suggest you see him right away. He’s
been through a terrible ordeal. I shudder to think of the damage that must have been done to the
poor boy.”
She waited until the doctor shuddered too.
“I think you should go see if you can speak with him. He needs a lot of sympathy. He’s in a
pitiful state.”
The doctor nodded again and walked off toward his office. We watched him go.
“Mack,” Scanlon said. “Listen—you don’t think any of us are being taken in by this crap, do you?
It’s bad, but we know where the blame lies—we ain’t blaming you.”
“No,” I said, “none of us blame you.” And wished I’d had my tongue pulled out as soon as I saw
the way he looked at me.
He closed his eyes and relaxed. Waiting, it looked like. Harding got up and walked over to him
and had just opened his mouth to say something when the doctor’s voice screaming down the hall
smashed a common horror and realization onto everybody’s face.
“Nurse!” he yelled. “Good lord, nurse!”
She ran, and the three black boys ran, down the hall to where the doctor was still calling. But not
a patient got up. We knew there wasn’t anything for us to do now but just sit tight and wait for her
to come to the day room to tell us what we all had known was one of the things that was bound to
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
She walked straight to McMurphy.
“He cut his throat,” she said. She waited, hoping he would say something. He wouldn’t look up.
“He opened the doctor’s desk and found some instruments and cut his throat. The poor miserable,
misunderstood boy killed himself. He’s there now, in the doctor’s chair, with his throat cut.”
She waited again. But he still wouldn’t look up.
“First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you’re finally satisfied. Playing with
human lives—gambling with human lives—as if you thought yourself to be a God!”
She turned and walked into the Nurses’ Station and closed the door behind her, leaving a shrill,
killing-cold sound ringing in the tubes of light over our heads.
First I had a quick thought to try to stop him, talk him into taking what he’d already won and let
her have the last round, but another, bigger thought wiped the first thought away completely. I
suddenly realized with a crystal certainty that [267] neither I nor any of the half-score of us could
stop him. That Harding’s arguing or my grabbing him from behind, or old Colonel Matterson’s
teaching or Scanlon’s griping, or all of us together couldn’t rise up and stop him.
We couldn’t stop him because we were the ones making him do it. It wasn’t the nurse that was
forcing him, it was our need that was making him push himself slowly up from sitting, his big hands
driving down on the leather chair arms, pushing him up, rising and standing like one of those
moving-picture zombies, obeying orders beamed at him from forty masters. It was us that had been
making him go on for weeks, keeping him standing long after his feet and legs had given out, weeks
of making him wink and grin and laugh and go on with his act long after his humor had been
parched dry between two electrodes.
We made him stand and hitch up his black shorts like they were horsehide chaps, and push back
his cap with one finger like it was a ten-gallon Stetson, slow, mechanical gestures—and when he
walked across the floor you could hear the iron in his bare heels ring sparks out of the tile.
Only at the last—after he’d smashed through that glass door, her face swinging around, with
terror forever ruining any other look she might ever try to use again, screaming when he grabbed for
her and ripped her uniform all the way down the front, screaming again when the two nippled
circles started from her chest and swelled out and out, bigger than anybody had ever even imagined,
warm and pink in the light—only at the last, after the officials realized that the three black boys
weren’t going to do anything but stand and watch and they would have to beat him off without their
help, doctors and supervisors and nurses prying those heavy red fingers out of the white flesh of her
throat as if they were her neck bones, jerking him backward off of her with a loud heave of breath,
only then did he show any sign that he might be anything other than a sane, willful, dogged man
performing a hard duty that finally just had to be done, like it or not.
He gave a cry. At the last, falling backward, his face appearing to us for a second upside down
before he was smothered on the floor by a pile of white uniforms, he let himself cry out:
A sound of cornered-animal fear and hate and surrender d defiance, that if you ever trailed coon
or cougar or lynx is ;like the last sound the treed and shot and falling animal makes as the dogs get
him, when he finally doesn’t care any more about anything but himself and his dying.
[268] I hung around another couple of weeks to see what was to come. Everything was changing.
Sefelt and Fredrickson signed out together Against Medical Advice, and two days later another three
Acutes left, and six more transferred to another ward. There was a lot of investigation about the
party on the ward and about Billy’s death, and the doctor was informed that his resignation would
be accepted, and he informed them that they would have to go the whole way and can him if they
wanted him out.
The Big Nurse was over in Medical for a week, so for a while we had the little Jap nurse from
Disturbed running the ward; that gave the guys a chance to change a lot of the ward policy. By the
time the Big Nurse came back, Harding had even got the tub room back open and was in there
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
dealing blackjack himself, trying to make that airy, thin voice of his sound like McMurphy’s
auctioneer bellow. He was dealing when he heard her key hit the lock.
We all left the tub room and came out in the hall to meet her, to ask about McMurphy. She
jumped back two steps when we approached, and I thought for a second she might run. Her face
was bloated blue and out of shape on one side, closing one eye completely, and she had a heavy
bandage around her throat. And a new white uniform. Some of the guys grinned at the front of it; in
spite of its being smaller and tighter and more starched than her old uniforms, it could no longer
conceal the fact that she was a woman.
Smiling, Harding stepped up close and asked what had become of Mack.
She took a little pad and pencil from the pocket of her uniform and wrote, “He will be back,” on
it and passed it around. The paper trembled in her hand. “Are you sure?” Harding wanted to know
after he read it. We’d heard all kinds of things, that he’d knocked down two aides on Disturbed and
taken their keys and escaped, that he’d been sent back to the work farm—even that the nurse, in
charge now till they got a new doctor, was giving him special therapy.
“Are you quite positive?” Harding repeated.
The nurse took out her pad again. She was stiff in the joints, and her more than ever white hand
skittered on the pad like one of those arcade gypsies that scratch out fortunes for a penny. “Yes, Mr.
Harding,” she wrote. “I would not say so if I was not positive. He will be back.”
Harding read the paper, then tore it up and threw the pieces at her. She flinched and raised her
hand to protect the bruised side of her face from the paper. “Lady, I think you’re full of so [269]
much bullshit,” Harding told her. She stared at him, and her hand wavered over the pad a second,
but then she turned and walked into the Nurses’ Station, sticking the pad and pencil back down in
the pocket of her uniform.
“Hum,” Harding said. “Our conversation was a bit spotty, it seemed. But then, when you are told
that you are full of bullshit, what kind of written comeback can you make?”
She tried to get her ward back into shape, but it was difficult with McMurphy’s presence still
tromping up and down the halls and laughing out loud in the meetings and singing in the latrines.
She couldn’t rule with her old power any more, not by writing things on pieces of paper. She was
losing her patients one after the other. After Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife, and
George transferred to a different ward, just three of us were left out of the group that had been on
the fishing crew, myself and Martini and Scanlon.
I didn’t want to leave just yet, because she seemed to be too sure; she seemed to be waiting for
one more round, and I wanted to be there in case it came off. And one morning, after McMurphy’d
been gone three weeks, she made her last play.
The ward door opened, and the black boys wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom
that said in heavy black letters, MCMURPHY, RANDLE P. POST-OPERATIVE. And below this was
written in ink, LOBOTOMY.
They pushed it into the day room and left it standing against the wall, along next to the
Vegetables. We stood at the foot of the Gurney, reading the chart, then looked up to the other end
at the head dented into the pillow, a swirl of red hair over a face milk-white except for the heavy
purple bruises around the eyes.
After a minute of silence Scanlon turned and spat on the floor. “Aaah, what’s the old bitch tryin’
to put over on us anyhow, for crap sakes. That ain’t him.”
“Nothing like him,” Martini said.
“How stupid she think we are?”
“Oh, they done a pretty fair job, though,” Martini said, moving up alongside the head and
pointing as he talked. “See. They got the broken nose and that crazy scar—even the sideburns.”
“Sure,” Scanlon growled, “but hell!”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I pushed past the other patients to stand beside Martini. “Sure, they can do things like scars and
broken noses,” I said. “But they can’t do that look. There’s nothin’ in the face. Just like one of those
store dummies, ain’t that right, Scanlon?”
[270] Scanlon spat again. “Damn right. Whole thing’s, you know, too blank. Anybody can see
“Look here,” one of the patients said, peeling back the sheet, “tattoos.”
“Sure,” I said, “they can do tattoos. But the arms, huh? The arms? They couldn’t do those. His
arms were big!”
For the rest of the afternoon Scanlon and Martini and I ridiculed what Scanlon called that
crummy sideshow fake lying there on the Gurney, but as the hours passed and the swelling began
subsiding around the eyes I saw more and more guys strolling over to look at the figure. I watched
them walk by acting like they were going to the magazine rack or the drinking fountain, so they
could sneak another look at the face. I watched and tried to figure out what he would have done. I
was only sure of one thing: he wouldn’t have left something like that sit there in the day room with
his name tacked on it for twenty or thirty years so the Big Nurse could use it as an example of what
can happen if you buck the system. I was sure of that.
I waited that night until the sounds in the dorm told me everybody was asleep, and until the black
boys had stopped making their rounds. Then I turned my head on the pillow so I could see the bed
next to mine. I’d been listening to the breathing for hours, since they had wheeled the Gurney in
and lifted the stretcher onto the bed, listening to the lungs stumbling and stopping, then starting
again, hoping as I listened they would stop for good—but I hadn’t turned to look yet.
There was a cold moon at the window, pouring light into the dorm like skim milk. I sat up in
bed, and my shadow fell across the body, seeming to cleave it in half between the hips and the
shoulders, leaving only a black space. The swelling had gone down enough in the eyes that they were
open; they stared into the full light of the moon, open and undreaming, glazed from being open so
long without blinking until they were like smudged fuses in a fuse box. I moved to pick up the
pillow, and the eyes fastened on the movement and followed me as I stood up and crossed the few
feet between the beds.
The big, hard body had a tough grip on life. It fought a long time against having it taken away,
flailing and thrashing around so much I finally had to lie full length on top of it and scissor the
kicking legs with mine while I mashed the pillow into the face. I lay there on top of the body for
what seemed days. Until the thrashing stopped. Until it was still a while and had shuddered once and
was still again. Then I rolled off. I lifted the pillow, and in the moonlight I saw the expression hadn’t
[271] changed from the blank, dead-end look the least bit, even under suffocation. I took my
thumbs and pushed the lids down and held them till they stayed. Then I lay back on my bed.
I lay for a while, holding the covers over my face, and thought I was being pretty quiet, but
Scanlon’s voice hissing from his bed let me know I wasn’t.
“Take it easy, Chief,” he said. “Take it easy. It’s okay.”
“Shut up,” I whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
It was quiet a while; then I heard him hiss again and ask, “Is it finished?”
I told him yeah.
“Christ,” he said then, “she’ll know. You realize that, don’t you? Sure, nobody’ll be able to prove
anything—anybody coulda kicked off in post-operative like he was, happens all the time—but her,
she’ll know.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Was I you, Chief, I’d breeze my tail outa here. Yessir. I tell you what. You leave outa here, and
I’ll say I saw him up and moving around after you lift and cover you that way. That’s the best idea,
don’t you think?”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Oh, yeah, just like that. Just ask ‘em to unlock the door and let me out.”
“No. He showed you how one time, if you think back. That very first week. You remember?”
I didn’t answer him, and be didn’t say anything else, and it was quiet in the dorm again. I lay there
a few minutes longer and then got up and started putting on my clothes. When I finished dressing I
reached into McMurphy’s nightstand and got his cap and tried it on. It was too small, and I was
suddenly ashamed of trying to wear it. I dropped it on Scanlon’s bed as I walked out of the dorm.
He said, “Take it easy, buddy,” as I walked out.
The moon straining through the screen of the tub-room windows showed the hunched, heavy
shape of the control panel, glinted off the chrome fixtures and glass gauges so cold I could almost
hear the click of it striking. I took a deep breath and bent over and took the levers. I heaved my legs
under me and felt the grind of weight at my feet. I heaved again and heard the wires and
connections tearing out of the floor. I lurched it up to my knees and was able, to get an arm around
it and my other hand under it. The chrome was cold against my neck and the side of my head. I put
my back toward the screen, then spun and let the momentum carry the panel through the Screen
and window with a ripping crash. The glass splashed out in the moon, like a bright cold water
baptizing the sleeping [272] earth. Panting, I thought for a second about going back and getting
Scanlon and some of the others, but then I heard the running squeak of the black boys’ shoes in the
hall and I put my hand on the sill and vaulted after the panel, into the moonlight.
I ran across the grounds in the direction I remembered seeing the dog go, toward the highway. I
remember I was taking huge strides as I ran, seeming to step and float a long ways before my next
foot struck the earth. I felt like I was flying. Free. Nobody bothers coming after an AWOL, I knew,
and Scanlon could handle any questions about the dead man—no need to be running like this. But I
didn’t stop. I ran for miles before I stopped and walked up the embankment onto the highway.
I caught a ride with a guy, a Mexican guy, going north in a truck full of sheep, and gave him such
a good story about me being a professional Indian wrestler the syndicate had tried to lock up in a
nuthouse that he stopped real quick and gave me a leather jacket to cover my greens and loaned me
ten bucks to eat on while I hitchhiked to Canada. I had him write his address down before he drove
off and I told him I’d send him the money as soon as I got a little ahead.
I might go to Canada eventually, but I think I’ll stop along the Columbia on the way. I’d like to
check around Portland and Hood River and The Dalles to see if there’s any of the guys I used to
know back in the village who haven’t drunk themselves goofy. I’d like to see what they’ve been
doing since the government tried to buy their right to be Indians. I’ve even heard that some of the
tribe have took to building their old ramshackle wood scaffolding all over that big million-dollar
hydroelectric dam, and are spearing salmon in the spillway. I’d give something to see that. Mostly,
I’d just like to look over the country around the gorge again, just to bring some of it clear in my
mind again.
I been away a long time.

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