Part 3, Chapters 35 Summary
Babette is obsessed with talk radio; she also wears her sweat suit everywhere and spends as much time as she can with Wilder. She is no longer the “healthy, outgoing” woman she used to be. Her fear of death has not dissipated, and it is fine with her that Wilder is talking even less now than he used to you (she says there are enough words already). Denise is worried about her mother, even refusing to let Babette leave the house without every exposed patch of skin being slathered in sunscreen. Babette insists that the worst of the sun’s rays are direct; since she is a runner, she is not likely to receive many direct hits from the sun. Denise is dumbstruck at Babette’s thinking, but Babette believes everything is connected to profit: the sunscreen, the marketing, the fear, and the disease.
Gladney takes Heinrich and his snake-sitting friend Mercator out for dinner; he wants to hear more about Mercator’s thinking. Mercator is still training for his upcoming record-breaking attempt and is not nervous. The only thing he worries about is not being able to do what he has trained for; he cannot be the best without the opportunity to prove himself.
What Gladney really wants to know is whether Mercator has any fear of dying. Mercator will be one of millions of others who have died; all he wants is a chance to make a name for himself before he does. Since the rest of the world is trying to avoid death, Gladney wants to know what motivates him to intentionally risk dying. Mercator has no real answer.
At home, Gladney continues to nag Babette to tell him about the anonymous Mr. Gray; she understands he is suffering both from typical male jealousy and his “ancient fear” of death but refuses to help him find the man or the medication.
Steffie is packing for her trip to visit her mother. Denise and Wilder are with her when Gladney joins them. Denise has been giving her sister “confidential advice on visits to distant parents.” Steffie’s flight will only make two stops between Iron City and Mexico and she will not have to change planes, so it is a quite manageable trip.
Steffie is afraid she will not recognize her mother (she saw her last year); if her mother will not send her back, she wonders if Gladney will come kidnap her and bring her home. Gladney reassures her that he will come.
The next day, men in Mylex with measuring instruments patrol the streets during a practice evacuation for noxious odor; however, three days later an actual noxious odor crosses the river and settles over the town and there is no sign of Mylex-clad men or their instruments. Three hours later, just as the worry reaches its peak and people’s eyes begin to water, the cloud suddenly lifts.