“Committing suicide! Murdering!”
A bomber flight had been moving east all the time they talked, and only now did the two men stop and listen, feeling the great jet sound tremble inside themselves.
“Patience, Montag. Let the war turn off thèfamilies.’ Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.”
“There has to be someone ready when it blows up.”
“What? Men quoting Milton? Saying, I remember Sophocles? Reminding the survivors that man has his good side, too? They will only gather up their stones to hurl at each other. Montag, go home. Go to bed. Why waste your final hours racing about your cage denying you’re a squirrel?”
“Then you don’t care any more?”
“I care so much I’m sick.”
“And you won’t help me?”
“Good night, good night.”
Montag’s hands picked up the Bible. He saw what his hands had done and he looked surprised.
“Would you like to own this?”
Faber said, “I’d give my right arm.”
Montag stood there and waited for the next thing to happen. His hands, by themselves, like two men working together, began to rip the pages from the book.
The hands tore the flyleaf and then the first and then the second page.
“Idiot, what’re you doing!” Faber sprang up, as if he had been struck. He fell, against Montag. Montag warded him off and let his hands continue. Six more pages fell to the floor. He picked them up and wadded the paper under Faber’s gaze.
“Don’t, oh, don’t ! ” said the old man.
“Who can stop me? I’m a fireman. I can bum you!”
The old man stood looking at him. “You wouldn’t.”
“I could ! ”
“The book. Don’t tear it any more.” Faber sank into a chair, his face very white, his mouth trembling. “Don’t make me feel any more tired. What do you want?”
“I need you to teach me.”
“All right, all right.”
Montag put the book down. He began to unwad the crumpled paper and flatten it out as the old man watched tiredly.
Faber shook his head as if he were waking up.
“Montag, have you some money?”
“Some. Four, five hundred dollars. Why?”
“Bring it. I know a man who printed our college paper half a century ago. That was the year I came to class at the start of the new semester and found only one student to sign up for Drama from Aeschylus to O’Neill. You see? How like a beautiful statue of ice it was, melting in the sun. I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths.
No one wanted them back. No one missed them. And the Government, seeing how advantageous it was to have people reading only about passionate lips and the fist in the stomach, circled the situation with your fire-eaters. So, Montag, there’s this unemployed printer. We might start a few books, and wait on the war to break the pattern and give us the push we need. A few bombs and thèfamilies’ in the walls of all the houses, like harlequin rats, will shut up! In silence, our stage-whisper might carry.”
They both stood looking at the book on the table.
“I’ve tried to remember,” said Montag. “But, hell, it’s gone when I turn my head. God, how I want something to say to the Captain. He’s read enough so he has all the answers, or seems to have. His voice is like butter. I’m afraid he’ll talk me back the way I was. Only a week ago, pumping a kerosene hose, I thought: God, what fun!”
The old man nodded. “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”
“So that’s what I am.”
“There’s some of it in all of us.”
Montag moved towards the front door. “Can you help me in any way tonight, with the Fire Captain? I need an umbrella to keep off the rain. I’m so damned afraid I’ll drown if he gets me again.”
The old man said nothing, but glanced once more nervously, at his bedroom. Montag caught the glance. “Well?”
The old man took a deep breath, held it, and let it out. He took another, eyes closed, his mouth tight, and at last exhaled. “Montag…”