“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.”
“Will you turn it off for a sick man?”
“I’ll turn it down.”
She went out of the room and did nothing to the parlour and came back. “Is that better?”
“That’s my favourite programme,” she said.
“What about the aspirin?”
“You’ve never been sick before.” She went away again.
“Well, I’m sick now. I’m not going to work tonight. Call Beatty for me.”
“You acted funny last night.” She returned, humming.
“Where’s the aspirin?” He glanced at the water-glass she handed him.
“Oh.” She walked to the bathroom again. “Did something happen?”
“A fire, is all.”
“I had a nice evening,” she said, in the bathroom.
“What was on?”
“Some of the best ever.”
“Oh, you know, the bunch.”
“Yes, the bunch, the bunch, the bunch.” He pressed at the pain in his eyes and suddenly the odour of kerosene made him vomit.
Mildred came in, humming. She was surprised. “Why’d you do that?”
He looked with dismay at the floor. “We burned an old woman with her books.”
“It’s a good thing the rug’s washable.” She fetched a mop and worked on it. “I went to Helen’s last night.”
“Couldn’t you get the shows in your own parlour?”
“Sure, but it’s nice visiting.”
She went out into the parlour. He heard her singing.
“Mildred?” he called.
She returned, singing, snapping her fingers softly.
“Aren’t you going to ask me about last night?” he said.
“What about it?”
“We burned a thousand books. We burned a woman.”
The parlour was exploding with sound.
“We burned copies of Dante and Swift and Marcus Aurelius.”
“Wasn’t he a European?”
“Something like that.”
“Wasn’t he a radical?”