The woman on the porch reached out with contempt for them all, and struck the kitchen match against the railing.
People ran out of houses all down the street.
They said nothing on their way back to the firehouse. Nobody looked at anyone else. Montag sat in the front seat with Beatty and Black. They did not even smoke their pipes. They sat there looking out of the front of the great salamander as they turned a corner and went silently on.
"Master Ridley," said Montag at last.
"What?" said Beatty.
"She said, `Master Ridley.' She said some crazy thing when we came in the door. `Play the man,' she said, `Master Ridley.' Something, something, something."
" `We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out,"' said Beatty. Stoneman glanced over at the Captain, as did Montag, startled.
Beatty rubbed his chin. "A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555."
Montag and Stoneman went back to looking at the street as it moved under the engine wheels.
"I'm full of bits and pieces," said Beatty. "Most fire captains have to be. Sometimes I surprise myself. WATCH it, Stoneman!"
Stoneman braked the truck.
"Damn!" said Beatty. "You've gone right by the comer where we turn for the firehouse."
"Who is it?"
"Who would it be?" said Montag, leaning back against the closed door in the dark.
His wife said, at last, "Well, put on the light."
"I don't want the light."
"Come to bed."
He heard her roll impatiently; the bedsprings squealed.
"Are you drunk?" she said.
So it was the hand that started it all. He felt one hand and then the other work his coat free and let it slump to the floor. He held his pants out into an abyss and let them fall into darkness. His hands had been infected, and soon it would be his arms. He could feel the poison working up his wrists and into his elbows and his shoulders, and then the jump-over from shoulder-blade to shoulder-blade like a spark leaping a gap. His hands were ravenous. And his eyes were beginning to feel hunger, as if they must look at something, anything, everything.
His wife said, "What are you doing?"
He balanced in space with the book in his sweating cold fingers.
A minute later she said, "Well, just don't stand there in the middle of the floor."
He made a small sound.
"What?" she asked.
He made more soft sounds. He stumbled towards the bed and shoved the book clumsily under the cold pillow. He fell into bed and his wife cried out, startled. He lay far across the room from her, on a winter island separated by an empty sea. She talked to him for what seemed a long while and she talked about this and she talked about that and it was only words, like the words he had heard once in a nursery at a friend's house, a two-year-old child building word patterns, talking jargon, making pretty sounds in the air. But Montag said nothing and after a long while when he only made the small sounds, he felt her move in the room and come to his bed and stand over him and put her hand down to feel his cheek. He knew that when she pulled her hand away from his face it was wet.
Late in the night he looked over at Mildred. She was awake. There was a tiny dance of melody in the air, her Seashell was tamped in her ear again and she was listening to far people in far places, her eyes wide and staring at the fathoms of blackness above her in the ceiling.
Wasn't there an old joke about the wife who talked so much on the telephone that her desperate husband ran out to the nearest store and telephoned her to ask what was for dinner? Well, then, why didn't he buy himself an audio-Seashell broadcasting station and talk to his wife late at night, murmur, whisper, shout, scream, yell? But what would he whisper, what would he yell? What could he say?
And suddenly she was so strange he couldn't believe he knew her at all. He was in someone else's house, like those other jokes people told of the gentleman, drunk, coming home late at night, unlocking the wrong door, entering a wrong room, and bedding with a stranger and getting up early and going to work and neither of them the wiser.
"Millie.... ?" he whispered.
"I didn't mean to startle you. What I want to know is ...."
"When did we meet. And where?"
"When did we meet for what?" she asked.
He knew she must be frowning in the dark.
He clarified it. "The first time we ever met, where was it, and when?"
"Why, it was at --"
"I don't know," she said.
He was cold. "Can't you remember?"
"It's been so long."
"Only ten years, that's all, only ten!"
"Don't get excited, I'm trying to think." She laughed an odd little laugh that went up and up. "Funny, how funny, not to remember where or when you met your husband or wife."
He lay massaging his eyes, his brow, and the back of his neck, slowly. He held both hands over his eyes and applied a steady pressure there as if to crush memory into place. It was suddenly more important than any other thing in a life-time that he knew where he had met Mildred.
"It doesn't matter," She was up in the bathroom now, and he heard the water running, and the swallowing sound she made.
"No, I guess not," he said.
He tried to count how many times she swallowed and he thought of the visit from the two zinc-oxide-faced men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths and the electronic-eyed snake winding down into the layer upon layer of night and stone and stagnant spring water, and he wanted to call out to her, how many have you taken TONIGHT! the capsules! how many will you take later and not know? and so on, every hour! or maybe not tonight, tomorrow night! And me not sleeping, tonight or tomorrow night or any night for a long while; now that this has started. And he thought of her lying on the bed with the two technicians standing straight over her, not bent with concern, but only standing straight, arms folded. And he remembered thinking then that if she died, he was certain he wouldn't cry. For it would be the dying of an unknown, a street face, a newspaper image, and it was suddenly so very wrong that he had begun to cry, not at death but at the thought of not crying at death, a silly empty man near a silly empty woman, while the hungry snake made her still more empty.
How do you get so empty? he wondered. Who takes it out of you? And that awful flower the other day, the dandelion! It had summed up everything, hadn't it? "What a shame! You're not in love with anyone !" And why not?
Well, wasn't there a wall between him and Mildred, when you came down to it? Literally not just one, wall but, so far, three! And expensive, too! And the uncles, the aunts, the cousins, the nieces, the nephews, that lived in those walls, the gibbering pack of tree-apes that said nothing, nothing, nothing and said it loud, loud, loud. He had taken to calling them relatives from the very first. "How's Uncle Louis today?" "Who?" "And Aunt Maude?" The most significant memory he had of Mildred, really, was of a little girl in a forest without trees (how odd!) or rather a little girl lost on a plateau where there used to be trees (you could feel the memory of their shapes all about) sitting in the centre of the "living-room." The living-room; what a good job of labelling that was now. No matter when he came in, the walls were always talking to Mildred.
"Something must be done!I"
"Yes, something must be done!"
"Well, let's not stand and talk!"
"Let's do it! "
"I'm so mad I could SPIT!"
What was it all about? Mildred couldn't say. Who was mad at whom? Mildred didn't quite know. What were they going to do? Well, said Mildred, wait around and see.
He had waited around to see.
A great thunderstorm of sound gushed from the walls. Music bombarded him at such an immense volume that his bones were almost shaken from their tendons; he felt his jaw vibrate, his eyes wobble in his head. He was a victim of concussion. When it was all over he felt like a man who had been thrown from a cliff, whirled in a centrifuge and spat out over a waterfall that fell and fell into emptiness and emptiness and never-quite-touched-bottom-never-never-quite-no not quite-touched-bottom ... and you fell so fast you didn't touch the sides either ... never ... quite . . . touched . anything.
The thunder faded. The music died.
"There," said Mildred,
And it was indeed remarkable. Something had happened. Even though the people in the walls of the room had barely moved, and nothing had really been settled, you had the impression that someone had turned on a washing-machine or sucked you up in a gigantic vacuum. You drowned in music and pure cacophony. He came out of the room sweating and on the point of collapse. Behind him, Mildred sat in her chair and the voices went on again:
"Well, everything will be all right now," said an "aunt."
"Oh, don't be too sure," said a "cousin."
"Now, don't get angry!"
"YOU are ! "
"Why should I be mad!"
"That's all very well," cried Montag, "but what are they mad about? Who are these people? Who's that man and who's that woman? Are they husband and wife, are they divorced, engaged, what? Good God, nothing's connected up."
"They--" said Mildred. "Well, they-they had this fight, you see. They certainly fight a lot. You should listen. I think they're married. Yes, they're married. Why?"
And if it was not the three walls soon to be four walls and the dream complete, then it was the open car and Mildred driving a hundred miles an hour across town, he shouting at her and she shouting back and both trying to hear what was said, but hearing only the scream of the car. "At least keep it down to the minimum !" he yelled: "What?" she cried. "Keep it down to fifty-five, the minimum! " he shouted. "The what?" she shrieked. "Speed!" he shouted. And she pushed it up to one hundred and five miles an hour and tore the breath from his mouth.
When they stepped out of the car, she had the Seashells stuffed in her ears.
Silence. Onlv the wind blowing softlv.
"Mildred." He stirred in bed.
He reached over and pulled one of the tiny musical insects out of her ear. "Mildred. Mildred?"
"Yes." Her voice was faint.
He felt he was one of the creatures electronically inserted between the slots of the phono-colour walls, speaking, but the speech not piercing the crystal barrier. He could only pantomime, hoping she would turn his way and see him. They could not touch through the glass.
"Mildred, do you know that girl I was telling you about?"
"What girl?" She was almost asleep.
"The girl next door."
"What girl next door?"
"You know, the high-school girl. Clarisse, her name is."
"Oh, yes," said his wife.
"I haven't seen her for a few days-four days to be exact. Have you seen her?"
"I've meant to talk to you about her. Strange."
"Oh, I know the one you mean."
"I thought you would."
"Her," said Mildred in the dark room.
"What about her?" asked Montag.
"I meant to tell you. Forgot. Forgot."
"Tell me now. What is it?"
"I think she's gone."
"Whole family moved out somewhere. But she's gone for good. I think she's dead."
"We couldn't be talking about the same girl."
"No. The same girl. McClellan. McClellan, Run over by a car. Four days ago. I'm not sure. But I think she's dead. The family moved out anyway. I don't know. But I think she's dead."
"You're not sure of it! "
"No, not sure. Pretty sure."
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"Four days ago!"
"I forgot all about it."
"Four days ago," he said, quietly, lying there.
They lay there in the dark room not moving, either of them. "Good night," she said.
He heard a faint rustle. Her hands moved. The electric thimble moved like a praying mantis on the pillow, touched by her hand. Now it was in her ear again, humming.
He listened and his wife was singing under her breath.
Outside the house, a shadow moved, an autumn wind rose up and faded away But there was something else in the silence that he heard. It was like a breath exhaled upon the window. It was like a faint drift of greenish luminescent smoke, the motion of a single huge October leaf blowing across the lawn and away.
The Hound, he thought. It's out there tonight. It's out there now. If I opened the window . . .
He did not open the window.
He had chills and fever in the morning.
"You can't be sick," said Mildred.
He closed his eyes over the hotness. "Yes."
"But you were all right last night."
"No, I wasn't all right " He heard the "relatives" shouting in the parlour.
Mildred stood over his bed, curiously. He felt her there, he saw her without opening his eyes, her hair burnt by chemicals to a brittle straw, her eyes with a kind of cataract unseen but suspect far behind the pupils, the reddened pouting lips, the body as thin as a praying mantis from dieting, and her flesh like white bacon. He could remember her no other way.
"Will you bring me aspirin and water?"
"You've got to get up," she said. "It's noon. You've slept five hours later than usual."
"Will you turn the parlour off?" he asked.
"That's my family."