“I haven’t done anything l”
“I’m alone, dammit ! ”
“You swear it?”
The front door opened slowly. Faber peered out, looking very old in the light and very fragile and very much afraid. The old man looked as if he had not been out of the house in years. He and the white plaster walls inside were much the same. There was white in the flesh of his mouth and his cheeks and his hair was white and his eyes had faded, with white in the vague blueness there. Then his eyes touched on the book under Montag’s arm and he did not look so old any more and not quite as fragile. Slowly his fear went.
“I’m sorry. One has to be careful.”
He looked at the book under Montag’s arm and could not stop. “So it’s true.”
Montag stepped inside. The door shut.
“Sit down.” Faber backed up, as if he feared the book might vanish if he took his eyes from it. Behind him, the door to a bedroom stood open, and in that room a litter of machinery and steel tools was strewn upon a desk-top. Montag had only a glimpse, before Faber, seeing Montag’s attention diverted, turned quickly and shut the bedroom door and stood holding the knob with a trembling hand. His gaze returned unsteadily to Montag, who was now seated with the book in his lap. “The book-where did you-?”
“I stole it.”
Faber, for the first time, raised his eyes and looked directly into Montag’s face.
“No,” said Montag. “My wife’s dying. A friend of mine’s already dead. Someone who may have been a friend was burnt less than twenty-four hours ago. You’re the only one I knew might help me. To see. To see. .”
Faber’s hands itched on his knees. “May I?”
“Sorry.” Montag gave him the book.
“It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But it’s been a long time.” Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. “It’s as good as I remember. Lord, how they’ve changed it- in our `parlours’ these days. Christ is one of thèfamily’ now. I often wonder it God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshipper absolutely needs.” Faber sniffed the book. “Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them
go.” Faber turned the pages. “Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to thèguilty,’ but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself. And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the, firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then. Now, it’s too late.” Faber closed the Bible.
“Well–suppose you tell me why you came here?”
“Nobody listens any more. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me. I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.”
Faber examined Montag’s thin, blue-jowled face. “How did you get shaken up? What knocked the torch out of your hands?”
“I don’t know. We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy.
Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help.”
“You’re a hopeless romantic,” said Faber. “It would be funny if it were not serious. It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in thèparlour families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself.