“People don’t talk about anything.”
“Oh, they must!”
“No, not anything. They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming-pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else. And most of the time in the cafes they have the jokeboxes on and the same jokes most of the time, or the musical wall lit and all the coloured patterns running up and down, but it’s only colour and all abstract. And at the museums, have you ever been? All abstract. That’s all there is now. My uncle says it was different once. A long time back sometimes pictures said things or even showed people.”
“Your uncle said, your uncle said. Your uncle must be a remarkable man.”
“He is. He certainly is. Well, I’ve got to be going. Goodbye, Mr. Montag.”
One two three four five six seven days: the firehouse.
“Montag, you shin that pole like a bird up a tree.”
“Montag, I see you came in the back door this time. The Hound bother you?”
“Montag, a funny thing. Heard tell this morning. Fireman in Seattle, purposely set a Mechanical Hound to his own chemical complex and let it loose. What kind of suicide would you call that?”
Five six seven days.
And then, Clarisse was gone. He didn’t know what there was about the afternoon, but it was not seeing her somewhere in the world. The lawn was empty, the trees empty, the street empty, and while at first he did not even know he missed her or was even looking for her, the fact was that by the time he reached the subway, there were vague stirrings of un-ease in him. Something was the matter, his routine had been disturbed. A simple routine, true, established in a short few days, and yet . . . ? He almost turned back to make the walk again, to give her time to appear. He was
certain if he tried the same route, everything would work out fine. But it was late, and the arrival of his train put a stop to his plan.
The flutter of cards, motion of hands, of eyelids, the drone of the time-voice in the firehouse ceiling “. . . one thirty-five. Thursday morning, November 4th,… one thirty-six . . . one thirty-seven a.m… ” The tick of the playing-cards on the greasy table-top, all the sounds came to Montag, behind his closed eyes, behind the barrier he had momentarily erected. He could feel the firehouse full of glitter and shine and silence, of brass colours, the colours of coins, of gold, of silver: The unseen men across the table were sighing on their cards, waiting.
“. . .one forty-five…” The voice-clock mourned out the cold hour of a cold morning of a still colder year.
“What’s wrong, Montag?”
Montag opened his eyes.
A radio hummed somewhere. “. . . war may be declared any hour. This country stands ready to defend its–”
The firehouse trembled as a great flight of jet planes whistled a single note across the black morning sky.
Montag blinked. Beatty was looking at him as if he were a museum statue. At any moment, Beatty might rise and walk about him, touching, exploring his guilt and selfconsciousness. Guilt? What guilt was that?
“Your play, Montag.”
Montag looked at these men whose faces were sunburnt by a thousand real and ten thousand imaginary fires, whose work flushed their cheeks and fevered their eyes.
These men who looked steadily into their platinum igniter flames as they lit their eternally burning black pipes. They and their charcoal hair and soot-coloured brows and bluish-ash-smeared cheeks where they had shaven close; but their heritage showed. Montag started up, his mouth opened. Had he ever seen a fireman that didn’t have black hair, black brows, a fiery face, and a blue-steel shaved but unshaved look? These men were all mirror-images of himself! Were all firemen picked then for their looks as well as their proclivities? The colour of cinders and ash about them, and the continual smell of burning from their pipes. Captain Beatty there, rising in thunderheads of tobacco smoke. Beatty opening a fresh tobacco packet, crumpling the cellophane into a sound of fire.