Fahrenheit 451


PAGE 22


Leaning into the wall as if all of

the hunger of looking would find the secret of her sleepless unease there. Mildred, leaning

anxiously, nervously, as if to plunge, drop, fall into that swarming immensity of colour to drown

in its bright happiness.

The first bomb struck.

"Mildred! "

Perhaps, who would ever know? Perhaps the great broadcasting stations with their beams of

colour and light and talk and chatter went first into oblivion.

Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in

Millie's face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own

face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wildly empty face, all

by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it

as her own and looked quickly up at the ceiling as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted

down upon her, carrying her with a million pounds of brick, metal, plaster, and wood, to meet



other people in the hives below, all on their quick way down to the cellar where the explosion rid
itself of them in its own unreasonable way.

I remember. Montag clung to the earth. I remember. Chicago. Chicago, a long time ago. Millie
and I. That's where we met! I remember now. Chicago. A long time ago.

The concussion knocked the air across and down the river, turned the men over like dominoes in
a line, blew the water in lifting sprays, and blew the dust and made the trees above them mourn
with a great wind passing away south. Montag crushed himself down, squeezing himself small,
eyes tight. He blinked once. And in that instant saw the city, instead of the bombs, in the air.
They had displaced each other. For another of those impossible instants the city stood, rebuilt
and unrecognizable, taller than it had ever hoped or strived to be, taller than man had built it,
erected at last in gouts of shattered concrete and sparkles of torn metal into a mural hung like a
reversed avalanche, a million colours, a million oddities, a door where a window should be, a top
for a bottom, a side for a back, and then the city rolled over and fell down dead.
Montag, lying there, eyes gritted shut with dust, a fine wet cement of dust in his now shut mouth,
gasping and crying, now thought again, I remember, I remember, I remember something else.
What is it? Yes, yes, part of the Ecclesiastes and Revelation. Part of that book, part of it, quick
now, quick, before it gets away, before the shock wears off, before the wind dies. Book of
Ecclesiastes. Here. He said it over to himself silently, lying flat to the trembling earth, he said the
words of it many times and they were perfect without trying and there was no Denham's
Dentifrice anywhere, it was just the Preacher by himself, standing there in his mind, looking at
him ....

"There," said a voice.

The men lay gasping like fish laid out on the grass. They held to the earth as children hold to
familiar things, no matter how cold or dead, no matter what has happened or will happen, their
fingers were clawed into the dirt, and they were all shouting to keep their eardrums from
bursting, to keep their sanity from bursting, mouths open, Montag shouting with them, a protest
against the wind that ripped their faces and tore at their lips, making their noses bleed.
Montag watched the great dust settle and the great silence move down upon their world. And
lying there it seemed that he saw every single grain of dust and every blade of grass and that he
heard every cry and shout and whisper going up in the world now. Silence fell down in the
sifting dust, and all the leisure they might need to look around, to gather the reality of this day
into their senses.

Montag looked at the river. We'll go on the river. He looked at the old railroad tracks. Or we'll go
that way. Or we'll walk on the highways now, and we'll have time to put things into ourselves.
And some day, after it sets in us a long time, it'll come out of our hands and our mouths. And a
lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right. We'll just start walking today and see
the world and the way the world walks around and talks, the way it really looks. I want to see
everything now. And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after a while it'll all gather
together inside and it'll be me. Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there,
outside me, out there beyond my face and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it's
finally me, where it's in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten 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."

"What?"

"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."

They finished eating and put out the fire. The day was brightening all about them as if a pink

lamp had been given more wick. In the trees, the birds that had flown away now came back and

settled down.



Montag began walking and after a moment found that the others had fallen in behind him, going
north. He was surprised, and moved aside to let Granger pass, but Granger looked at him and
nodded him on. Montag went ahead. He looked at the river and the sky and the rusting track
going back down to where the farms lay, where the barns stood full of hay, where a lot of people
had walked by in the night on their way from the city. Later, in a month or six months, and
certainly not more than a year, he would walk along here again, alone, and keep right on going
until he caught up with the people.

But now there was a long morning's walk until noon, and if the men were silent it was because
there was everything to think about and much to remember. Perhaps later in the morning, when
the sun was up and had warmed them, they would begin to talk, or just say the things they
remembered, to be sure they were there, to be absolutely certain that things were safe in them.
Montag felt the slow stir of words, the slow simmer. And when it came to his turn, what could he
say, what could he offer on a day like this, to make the trip a little easier? To everything there is
a season. Yes. A time to break down, and a time to build up. Yes. A time to keep silence and a
time to speak. Yes, all that. But what else. What else? Something, something . . .
And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and
yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Yes, thought Montag, that's the one I'll save for noon. For noon...
When we reach the city.

THE END