thousand a day. I get hold of it so it’ll never run off. I’ll hold on to the world tight some day. I’ve got one finger on it now; that’s a beginning.
The wind died.
The other men lay a while, on the dawn edge of sleep, not yet ready to rise up and begin the day’s obligations, its fires and foods, its thousand details of putting foot after foot and hand after hand. They lay blinking their dusty eyelids. You could hear them breathing fast, then slower, then slow ….
Montag sat up.
He did not move any further, however. The other men did likewise. The sun was touching the black horizon with a faint red tip. The air was cold and smelled of a coming rain.
Silently, Granger arose, felt his arms, and legs, swearing, swearing incessantly under his breath, tears dripping from his face. He shuffled down to the river to look upstream.
“It’s flat,” he said, a long time later. “City looks like a heap of baking-powder. It’s gone.” And a long time after that. “I wonder how many knew it was coming? I wonder how many were surprised?”
And across the world, thought Montag, how many other cities dead? And here in our country, how many? A hundred, a thousand?
Someone struck a match and touched it to a piece of dry paper taken from their pocket, and shoved this under a bit of grass and leaves, and after a while added tiny twigs which were wet and sputtered but finally caught, and the fire grew larger in the early morning as the sun came up and the men slowly turned from looking up river and were drawn to the fire, awkwardly, with nothing to say, and the sun coloured the backs of their necks as they bent down.
Granger unfolded an oilskin with some bacon in it. “We’ll have a bite. Then we’ll turn around and walk upstream. They’ll be needing us up that way.”
Someone produced a small frying-pan and the bacon went into it and the frying-pan was set on the fire. After a moment the bacon began to flutter and dance in the pan and the sputter of it filled the morning air with its aroma. The men watched this ritual silently.
Granger looked into the fire. “Phoenix.”
“There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man.
But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation.”
He took the pan off the fire and let the bacon cool and they ate it, slowly, thoughtfully.
“Now, let’s get on upstream,” said Granger. “And hold on to one thought: You’re not important. You’re not anything. Some day the load we’re carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And some day we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the
biggest goddam steam-shovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. Come on now, we’re going to go build a mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”