“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: