“I never read him.”
“He was a radical.” Mildred fiddled with the telephone. “You don’t expect me to call Captain Beatty, do you?”
“You must! ”
“I wasn’t shouting.” He was up in bed, suddenly, enraged and flushed, shaking. The parlour roared in the hot air. “I can’t call him. I can’t tell him I’m sick.”
Because you’re afraid, he thought. A child feigning illness, afraid to call because after a moment’s discussion, the conversation would run so: “Yes, Captain, I feel better already. I’ll be in at ten o’clock tonight.”
“You’re not sick,” said Mildred.
Montag fell back in bed. He reached under his pillow. The hidden book was still there.
“Mildred, how would it be if, well, maybe, I quit my job awhile?”
“You want to give up everything? After all these years of working, because, one night, some woman and her books–”
“You should have seen her, Millie! ”
“She’s nothing to me; she shouldn’t have had books. It was her responsibility, she should have thought of that. I hate her. She’s got you going and next thing you know we’ll be out, no house, no job, nothing.”
“You weren’t there, you didn’t see,” he said. “There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
“She was simple-minded.”
“She was as rational as you and I, more so perhaps, and we burned her.”
“That’s water under the bridge.”
“No, not water; fire. You ever seen a burned house? It smoulders for days. Well, this fire’ll last me the rest of my life. God! I’ve been trying to put it out, in my mind, all night. I’m crazy with trying.”
“You should have thought of that before becoming a fireman.”
“Thought! ” he said. “Was I given a choice? My grandfather and father were firemen.
In my sleep, I ran after them.”
The parlour was playing a dance tune.
“This is the day you go on the early shift,” said Mildred. “You should have gone two hours ago. I just noticed.”
“It’s not just the woman that died,” said Montag. “Last night I thought about all the kerosene I’ve used in the past ten years. And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before.” He got out of bed.
“It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around at the world and life, and then I came along in two minutes and boom! it’s all over.”
“Let me alone,” said Mildred. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
And then he shut up, for he remembered last week and the two white stones staring up at the ceiling and the pump-snake with the probing eye and the two soap-faced men with the cigarettes moving in their mouths when they talked. But that was another Mildred, that was a Mildred so deep inside this one, and so bothered, really bothered, that the two women had never met. He turned away.
Mildred said, “Well, now you’ve done it. Out front of the house. Look who’s here.”.
“I don’t care.”
“There’s a Phoenix car just driven up and a man in a black shirt with an orange snake stitched on his arm coming up the front walk.”
“Captain Beauty?” he said,
Montag did not move, but stood looking into the cold whiteness of the wall immediately before him.
“Go let him in, will you? Tell him I’m sick.”
“Tell him yourself!” She ran a few steps this way, a few steps that, and stopped, eyes wide, when the front door speaker called her name, softly, softly, Mrs. Montag, Mrs.