This one, with gratitude, is for DON CONGDON.
The temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns
IT WAS A PLEASURE TO BURN
IT was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.
With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous
Kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the
Hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning
To bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet
Numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of
What came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that
Burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies.
He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a
marshmallow on a stick in the
Furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the
House. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned
Dark with burning.
Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.
He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel
Man, burnt-corked, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile
Still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that. smile, it never
Ever went away, as long as he remembered.
He hung up his black-beetle-coloured helmet and shined it, he hung his flameproof
Jacket neatly; he showered luxuriously, and then, whistling, hands in pockets, walked
Across the upper floor of the fire station and fell down the hole. At the last moment,
When disaster seemed positive, he pulled his hands from his pockets and broke his
Fall by grasping the golden pole. He slid to a squeaking halt, the heels one inch from
The concrete floor downstairs.
He walked out of the fire station and along the midnight street toward the subway
Where the silent, air-propelled train slid soundlessly down its lubricated flue in the
Earth and let him out with a great puff of warm air an to the cream-tiled escalator
Rising to the suburb.
Whistling, he let the escalator waft him into the still night air. He walked toward the
Comer, thinking little at all about nothing in particular. Before he reached the corner,
However, he slowed as if a wind had sprung up from nowhere, as if someone had
Called his name.
The last few nights he had had the most uncertain feelings about the sidewalk just
Around the corner here, moving in the starlight toward his house. He had felt that a
Moment before his making the turn, someone had been there. The air seemed
Charged with a special calm as if someone had waited there, quietly, and only a
Moment before he came, simply turned to a shadow and let him through. Perhaps his
Nose detected a faint perfume, perhaps the skin on the backs of his hands, on his
Face, felt the temperature rise at this one spot where a person’s standing might raise the immediate atmosphere ten degrees for an instant. There was no understanding it.
Each time he made the turn, he saw only the white, unused, buckling sidewalk, with
Perhaps, on one night, something vanishing swiftly across a lawn before he could
Focus his eyes or speak.
But now, tonight, he slowed almost to a stop. His inner mind, reaching out to turn the
Corner for him, had heard the faintest whisper. Breathing?