How does she do both at
once, thought Montag, insanely. In the other walls an X-ray of the same woman revealed the
contracting journey of the refreshing beverage on its way to her delightful stomach! Abruptly the
room took off on a rocket flight into the clouds, it plunged into a lime-green sea where blue fish
ate red and yellow fish. A minute later, Three White Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other's
limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter. Two minutes more and the
room whipped out of town to the jet cars wildly circling an arena, bashing and backing up and
bashing each other again. Montag saw a number of bodies fly in the air.
"Millie, did you see that?"
"I saw it, I saw it! "
Montag reached inside the parlour wall and pulled the main switch. The images drained away, as
if the water had been let out from a gigantic crystal bowl of hysterical fish.
The three women turned slowly and looked with unconcealed irritation and then dislike at
"When do you suppose the war will start?" he said. "I notice your husbands aren't here tonight?"
"Oh, they come and go, come and go," said Mrs. Phelps. "In again out again Finnegan, the Army
called Pete yesterday. He'll be back next week. The Army said so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours
they said, and everyone home. That's what the Army said. Quick war. Pete was called yesterday
and they said he'd be, back next week. Quick..."
The three women fidgeted and looked nervously at the empty mud-coloured walls.
"I'm not worried," said Mrs. Phelps. "I'll let Pete do all the worrying." She giggled. "I'll let old
Pete do all the worrying. Not me. I'm not worried. "
"Yes," said Millie. "Let old Pete do the worrying."
"It's always someone else's husband dies, they say."
"I've heard that, too. I've never known any dead man killed in a war. Killed jumping off
buildings, yes, like Gloria's husband last week, but from wars? No."
"Not from wars," said Mrs. Phelps. "Anyway, Pete and I always said, no tears, nothing like that.
It's our third marriage each and we're independent. Be independent, we always said. He said, if I
get killed off, you just go right ahead and don't cry, but get married again, and don't think of me."
"That reminds me," said Mildred. "Did you see that Clara Dove five-minute romance last night
in your wall? Well, it was all about this woman who--"
Montag said nothing but stood looking at the women's faces as he had once looked at the faces of
saints in a strange church he had entered when he was a child. The faces of those enamelled
creatures meant nothing to him, though he talked to them and stood in that church for a long
time, trying to be of that religion, trying to know what that religion was, trying to get enough of
the raw incense and special dust of the place into his lungs and thus into his blood to feel touched
and concerned by the meaning of the colourful men and women with the porcelain eyes and the
blood-ruby lips. But there was nothing, nothing; it was a stroll through another store, and his
currency strange and unusable there, and his passion cold, even when he touched the wood and
plaster and clay. So it was now, in his own parlour, with these women twisting in their chairs
under his gaze, lighting cigarettes, blowing smoke, touching their sun-fired hair and examining
their blazing fingernails as if they had caught fire from his look. Their faces grew haunted with
silence. They leaned forward at the sound of Montag's swallowing his final bite of food. They
listened to his feverish breathing. The three empty walls of the room were like the pale brows of
sleeping giants now, empty of dreams. Montag felt that if you touched these three staring brows
you would feel a fine salt sweat on your finger-tips. The perspiration gathered with the silence
and the sub-audible trembling around and about and in the women who were burning with
tension. Any moment they might hiss a long sputtering hiss and explode.
Montag moved his lips.
The women jerked and stared.
"How're your children, Mrs. Phelps?" he asked.
"You know I haven't any! No one in his right mind, the Good Lord knows; would have
children!" said Mrs. Phelps, not quite sure why she was angry with this man.
"I wouldn't say that," said Mrs. Bowles. "I've had two children by Caesarian section. No use
going through all that agony for a baby. The world must reproduce, you know, the race must go
on. Besides, they sometimes look just like you, and that's nice. Two Caesarians tamed the trick,
yes, sir. Oh, my doctor said, Caesarians aren't necessary; you've got the, hips for it, everything's
normal, but I insisted."
"Caesarians or not, children are ruinous; you're out of your mind," said Mrs. Phelps.
"I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they come home
three days a month; it's not bad at all. You heave them into the 'parlour' and turn the switch. It's
like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid." Mrs. Bowles tittered. "They'd just as
soon kick as kiss me. Thank God, I can kick back! "
The women showed their tongues, laughing.
Mildred sat a moment and then, seeing that Montag was still in the doorway, clapped her hands.
"Let's talk politics, to please Guy!"
"Sounds fine," said Mrs. Bowles. "I voted last election, same as everyone, and I laid it on the line
for President Noble. I think he's one of the nicest-looking men who ever became president."
"Oh, but the man they ran against him!"
"He wasn't much, was he? Kind of small and homely and he didn't shave too close or comb his
hair very well. "
"What possessed the 'Outs' to run him? You just don't go running a little short man like that
against a tall man. Besides -he mumbled. Half the time I couldn't hear a word he said. And the
words I did hear I didn't understand!"
"Fat, too, and didn't dress to hide it. No wonder the landslide was for Winston Noble. Even their
names helped. Compare Winston Noble to Hubert Hoag for ten seconds and you can almost
figure the results."
"Damn it!" cried Montag. "What do you know about Hoag and Noble?"
"Why, they were right in that parlour wall, not six months ago. One was always picking his nose;
it drove me wild. "
"Well, Mr. Montag," said Mrs. Phelps, "do you want us to vote for a man like that?"
Mildred beamed. "You just run away from the door, Guy, and don't make us nervous."
But Montag was gone and back in a moment with a book in his hand.
"Damn it all, damn it all, damn it!"
"What've you got there; isn't that a book? I thought that all special training these days was done
by film." Mrs. Phelps blinked. "You reading up on fireman theory?"
"Theory, hell," said Montag. "It's poetry."
"Montag." A whisper.
"Leave me alone! " Montag felt himself turning in a great circling roar and buzz and hum.
"Montag, hold on, don't..."
"Did you hear them, did you hear these monsters talking about monsters? Oh God, the way they
jabber about people and their own children and themselves and the way they talk about their
husbands and the way they talk about war, dammit, I stand here and I can't believe it!"
"I didn't say a single word about any war, I'll have you know," said Mrs, Phelps.
"As for poetry, I hate it," said Mrs. Bowles.
"Have you ever read any?"
"Montag," Faber's voice scraped away at him. "You'll ruin everything. Shut up, you fool!"
"All three women were on their feet.
"I'm going home," quavered Mrs. Bowles.
"Montag, Montag, please, in the name of God, what are you up to?" pleaded Faber.
"Why don't you just read us one of those poems from your little book," Mrs. Phelps nodded. "I
think that'd he very interesting."
"That's not right," wailed Mrs. Bowles. "We can't do that!"
"Well, look at Mr. Montag, he wants to, I know he does. And if we listen nice, Mr. Montag will
be happy and then maybe we can go on and do something else." She glanced nervously at the
long emptiness of the walls enclosing them.
"Montag, go through with this and I'll cut off, I'll leave." The beetle jabbed his ear. "What good
is this, what'll you prove?"
"Scare hell out of them, that's what, scare the living daylights out!"
Mildred looked at the empty air. "Now Guy, just who are you talking to?"
A silver needle pierced his brain. "Montag, listen, only one way out, play it as a joke, cover up,
pretend you aren't mad at all. Then-walk to your wall-incinerator, and throw the book in!"
Mildred had already anticipated this in a quavery voice. "Ladies, once a year, every fireman's
allowed to bring one book home, from the old days, to show his family how silly it all was, how
nervous that sort of thing can make you, how crazy. Guy's surprise tonight is to read you one
sample to show how mixed-up things were, so none of us will ever have to bother our little old
heads about that junk again, isn't that right, darling?"
He crushed the book in his fists. "Say "yes."'
His mouth moved like Faber's.
Mildred snatched the book with a laugh. "Here! Read this one. No, I take it back. Here's that real
funny one you read out loud today. Ladies, you won't understand a word. It goes umpty-tumpty-
ump. Go ahead, Guy, that page, dear."
He looked at the opened page.
A fly stirred its wings softly in his ear. "Read."
"What's the title, dear?"
"Dover Beach." His mouth was numb.
"Now read in a nice clear voice and go slow."
The room was blazing hot, he was all fire, he was all coldness; they sat in the middle of an empty
desert with three chairs and him standing, swaying, and him waiting for Mrs. Phelps to stop
straightening her dress hem and Mrs. Bowles to take her fingers away from her hair. Then he
began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line, and
his voice went out across the desert, into the whiteness, and around the three sitting women there
in the great hot emptiness:
"The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night- wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.'"
The chairs creaked under the three women. Montag finished it out:
"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.'"
Mrs. Phelps was crying.
The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face squeezed
itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered by her display. She sobbed
uncontrollably. Montag himself was stunned and shaken.
"Sh, sh," said Mildred. "You're all right, Clara, now, Clara, snap out of it! Clara, what's wrong?"
"I-I,", sobbed Mrs. Phelps, "don't know, don't know, I just don't know, oh oh..."
Mrs. Bowles stood up and glared at Montag. "You see? I knew it, that's what I wanted to prove! I
knew it would happen! I've always said, poetry and tears, poetry and suicide and crying and
awful feelings, poetry and sickness; all that mush! Now I've had it proved to me. You're nasty,
Mr. Montag, you're nasty! "
Faber said, "Now..