At last Montag raised his eyes and turned. Beatty was watching his face.
“Something the matter, Montag?”
“Why,” said Montag slowly, “we’ve stopped in front of my house.”
LIGHTS flicked on and house-doors opened all down the street, to watch the carnival set up. Montag and Beatty stared, one with dry satisfaction, the other with disbelief, at the house before them, this main ring in which torches would be juggled and fire eaten.
“Well,” said Beatty, “now you did it. Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he’s burnt his damn wings, he wonders why. Didn’t I hint enough when I sent the Hound around your place?”
Montag’s face was entirely numb and featureless; he felt his head turn like a stone carving to the dark place next door, set in its bright borders of flowers.
Beatty snorted. “Oh, no! You weren’t fooled by that little idiot’s routine, now, were you? Flowers, butterflies, leaves, sunsets, oh, hell! It’s all in her file. I’ll be damned.
I’ve hit the bullseye. Look at the sick look on your face. A few grass-blades and the quarters of the moon. What trash. What good did she ever do with all that?”
Montag sat on the cold fender of the Dragon, moving his head half an inch to the left, half an inch to the right, left, right, left right, left ….
“She saw everything. She didn’t do anything to anyone. She just let them alone.”
“Alone, hell ! She chewed around you, didn’t she? One of those damn do-gooders with their shocked, holier-than-thou silences, their one talent making others feel guilty. God damn, they rise like the midnight sun to sweat you in your bed!”
The front door opened; Mildred came down the steps, running, one suitcase held with a dream-like clenching rigidity in her fist, as a beetle-taxi hissed to the curb.
She ran past with her body stiff, her face floured with powder, her mouth gone, without lipstick.
“Mildred, you didn’t put in the alarm!”
She shoved the valise in the waiting beetle, climbed in, and sat mumbling, “Poor family, poor family, oh everything gone, everything, everything gone now ….”
Beatty grabbed Montag’s shoulder as the beetle blasted away and hit seventy miles an hour, far down the street, gone.
There was a crash like the falling parts of a dream fashioned out of warped glass, mirrors, and crystal prisms. Montag drifted about as if still another incomprehensible storm had turned him, to see Stoneman and Black wielding axes, shattering windowpanes to provide cross-ventilation.
The brush of a death’s-head moth against a cold black screen. “Montag, this is Faber. Do you hear me? What is happening
“This is happening to me,” said Montag.
“What a dreadful surprise,” said Beatty. “For everyone nowadays knows, absolutely is certain, that nothing will ever happen to me. Others die, I go on. There are no consequences and no responsibilities. Except that there are. But let’s not talk about them, eh? By the time the consequences catch up with you, it’s too late, isn’t it, Montag?”
“Montag, can you get away, run?” asked Faber.
Montag walked but did not feel his feet touch the cement and then the night grasses.
Beatty flicked his igniter nearby and the small orange flame drew his fascinated gaze.
“What is there about fire that’s so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?” Beatty blew out the flame and lit it again. “It’s perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it’d burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It’s a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook
about friction and molecules. But they don’t really know. Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it. Now, Montag, you’re a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical.”
Montag stood looking in now at this queer house, made strange by the hour of the night, by murmuring neighbour voices, by littered glass, and there on the floor, their covers torn off and spilled out like swan-feathers, the incredible books that looked so silly and really not worth bothering with, for these were nothing but black type and yellowed paper, and ravelled binding.