“First, why don’t you tell me if she’ll be all right?”

“Sure, she’ll be O.K. We got all the mean stuff right in our suitcase here, it can’t get at her now. As I said, you take out the old and put in the new and you’re O.K.”

“Neither of you is an M.D. Why didn’t they send an M.D. from Emergency?”

“Hell! ” the operator’s cigarette moved on his lips. “We get these cases nine or ten a night. Got so many, starting a few years ago, we had the special machines built. With the optical lens, of course, that was new; the rest is ancient. You don’t need an M.D., case like this; all you need is two handymen, clean up the problem in half an hour.

Look”-he started for the door-“we gotta go. Just had another call on the old ear-thimble. Ten blocks from here. Someone else just jumped off the cap of a pillbox.

Call if you need us again. Keep her quiet. We got a contra-sedative in her. She’ll wake up hungry. So long.”

And the men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths, the men with the eyes of puff-adders, took up their load of machine and tube, their case of liquid melancholy and the slow dark sludge of nameless stuff, and strolled out the door.

Montag sank down into a chair and looked at this woman. Her eyes were closed now, gently, and he put out his hand to feel the warmness of breath on his palm.

“Mildred,” he said, at last.

There are too many of us, he thought. There are billions of us and that’s too many.

Nobody knows anyone. Strangers come and violate you. Strangers come and cut your heart out. Strangers come and take your blood. Good God, who were those men? I never saw them before in my life!

Half an hour passed.

The bloodstream in this woman was new and it seemed to have done a new thing to her. Her cheeks were very pink and her lips were very fresh and full of colour and they looked soft and relaxed. Someone else’s blood there. If only someone else’s flesh and brain and memory. If only they could have taken her mind along to the dry-cleaner’s and emptied the pockets and steamed and cleansed it and reblocked it and brought it back in the morning. If only . . .

He got up and put back the curtains and opened the windows wide to let the night air in. It was two o’clock in the morning. Was it only an hour ago, Clarisse McClellan in the street, and him coming in, and the dark room and his foot kicking the little crystal bottle? Only an hour, but the world had melted down and sprung up in a new and colourless form.

Laughter blew across the moon-coloured lawn from the house of Clarisse and her father and mother and the uncle who smiled so quietly and so earnestly. Above all, their laughter was relaxed and hearty and not forced in any way, coming from the house that was so brightly lit this late at night while all the other houses were kept to themselves in darkness. Montag heard the voices talking, talking, talking, giving, talking, weaving, reweaving their hypnotic web.

Montag moved out through the french windows and crossed the lawn, without even thinking of it. He stood outside the talking house in the shadows, thinking he might even tap on their door and whisper, “Let me come in. I won’t say anything. I just want to listen. What is it you’re saying?”

But instead he stood there, very cold, his face a mask of ice, listening to a man’s voice (the uncle?) moving along at an easy pace:

“Well, after all, this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush. Everyone using everyone else’s coattails. How are you supposed to root for the home team when you don’t even have a programme or know the names? For that matter, what colour jerseys are they wearing as they trot out on to the field?”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray