“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!”