He took hold of a straight?backed chair and moved it slowly and steadily into the hall near the front door and climbed up on it and stood for a moment like a statue on a pedestal, his wife standing under him, waiting. Then he reached up and pulled back the grille of the air?conditioning system and reached far back inside to the right and moved still another sliding sheet of metal and took out a book. Without looking at it he dropped it to the floor. He put his hand back up and took out two books and moved his hand down and dropped the two books to the floor. He kept moving his hand and dropping books, small ones, fairly large ones, yellow, red, green ones.
When he was done he looked down upon some twenty books lying at his wife’s feet.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t really think. But now it looks as if we’re in this together.”
Mildred backed away as if she were suddenly confronted by a pack of mice that had come up out of the floor. He could hear her breathing rapidly and her face was paled out and her eyes were fastened wide. She said his name over, twice, three times.
Then moaning, she ran forward, seized a book and ran toward the kitchen
He caught her, shrieking. He held her and she tried to fight away from him, scratching.
“No, Millie, no! Wait! Stop it, will you? You don’t know . . . stop it!” He slapped her face, he grabbed her again and shook her.
She said his name and began to cry.
“Millie! “‘ he said. “Listen. Give me a second, will you? We can’t do anything. We can’t burn these. I want to look at them, at least look at them once. Then if what the Captain says is true, we’ll burn them together, believe me, we’ll burn them together.
You must help me.” He looked down into her face and took hold of her chin and held her firmly. He was looking not only at her, but for himself and what he must do, in her face. “Whether we like this or not, we’re in it. I’ve never asked for much from you in all these years, but I ask it now, I plead for it. We’ve got to start somewhere here, figuring out why we’re in such a mess, you and the medicine at night, and the car, and me and my work. We’re heading right for the cliff, Millie. God, I don’t want to go over. This isn’t going to be easy. We haven’t anything to go on, but maybe we can piece it out and figure it and help each other. I need you so much right now, I can’t tell you. If you love me at all you’ll put up with this, twenty?four, forty?eight hours, that’s all I ask, then it’ll be over. I promise, I swear! And if there is something here, just one little thing out of a whole mess of things, maybe we can pass it on to someone else.”
She wasn’t fighting any more, so he let her go. She sagged away from him and slid down the wall, and sat on the floor looking at the books. Her foot touched one and she saw this and pulled her foot away.
“That woman, the other night, Millie, you weren’t there. You didn’t see her face. And Clarisse. You never talked to her. I talked to her. And men like Beatty are afraid of her. I can’t understand it. Why should they be so afraid of someone like her? But I kept putting her alongside the firemen in the house last night, and I suddenly realized I didn’t like them at all, and I didn’t like myself at all any more. And I thought maybe it would be best if the firemen themselves were burnt.”
The front door voice called softly:
“Mrs. Montag, Mrs. Montag, someone here, someone here, Mrs. Montag, Mrs.
Montag, someone here.”
They turned to stare at the door and the books toppled everywhere, everywhere in heaps.
“Beatty!” said Mildred.
“It can’t be him.”