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Clarisse part 1
It was very relaxing to walk on the sidewalk and not be disturbed. I smiled wryly to myself thinking of the strange people around me. They didn’t read books. How odd. I thought, watching my lithe movements stir up the leaves on the ground. I looked up suddenly, annoyed with whoever was interrupting my moment of serenity. A man stood a foot away watching me with curiosity. I paused in mid-step, wondering if I should turn around or not. The mysterious man kept watching me; I looked him over again, my dark, shining eyes moving ever so quickly over his charcoaled uniform and blackened hands. My eyes hesitated subtly on the phoenix on his jacket and the salamander that curved up his left arm. I noticed he paused with his jaw slack, watching me intensely. He spoke quietly at first then louder.
“Of course,” he said with awe, “You’re our new neighbor aren’t you?”
“You must be,” I raised my eyes to his darkened features, “the fireman…” I let my voice trail off, glancing at his hand that was rubbing his jaw. I saw a slight hint of stubble shadowing his chin and his hair was sticking up in a weirdly casual way.
“How oddly you say that.” His eyes didn’t leave my face. I swallowed back the laughter wanting to burst from my tightly closed lips.
“I’d-I’d have known it with my eyes shut,” I answered slowly, enunciating each word carefully. The man smiled-finally a normal gesture- and swept his hand over his body.
“What- the smell of kerosene? My wife always complains,” he chuckled lowly. “You never wash it off completely.”
“No you don’t.” I looked at him in awe. I checked him up and down again, forcing myself to stay in that spot and not circling him like some kind of idiot. The silence dragged on; we never let our eyes stray from one another. The man cleared his throat and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Kerosene,” he paused, “is nothing but perfume to me.”
“Does it seem like that, really?” I hoped for a reasonable response.
“Of course. Why not?” I sighed, realizing that every person was the same in this god-forsaken world.
“I don’t know,” I said after a long silence. I turned towards the direction of our homes. “Do you mind if I walk back with you? I’m Clarisse McCellan.” I thrust out my hand. He looked at it, unsure of what to do. With another sigh, I dropped it at my side. My white dress swirled around me again and I hated its contrast to my milky pale skin.
“Clarisse.” The guy stated. I turned my attention back, as if I didn’t forget he was there. “Guy Montag. Come along. What are you doing out so late wandering around? How old are you?” He fired the questions at me and I let out some silent laughter. We started walking in the warm-slash-cool blowing night; the silvery color of the pavement under us didn’t blend with Montag’s black boots as much as it did my bare feet. I gulped in the air, which smelled faintly like fresh apricots and strawberries. I looked around; it was so late in the year, and smiled.
For a while we walked. I contemplated his questions, twisting them around so I could give him the best answers that I, a teenager, could give him.
“Well,” I started, “I’m seventeen and I’m crazy. My uncle says the two always go together. When people ask your age, he said, always say seventeen and crazy. Isn’t this a nice time of night to walk? I like to smell things and look at things, and sometimes stay up all night, walking, and watch the sunrise.”
We continued walking in silence until I thought of something that seemed really silly at first but then, the more I thought about it, the less silly it became. “You know, I’m not afraid of you at all.” He looked surprised.
“Why should you be?” he probed.
“So many people are. Afraid of firemen, I mean. But you’re just a man after all…,” I trailed off letting him think. I watched silently, thoughtfully, as emotions were displayed across his face like channel flipping on television. Fright; Awe; Confusion; Memory; Serenity; Awe again; and finally exhaustion. “Do you mind if I ask? How long have you worked at being a fireman?”
“Since I was twenty, ten years ago.”
“Do you ever read any of the books you burn?” I frowned as he laughed. I pointed out that it wasn’t a joke of any kind but he laughed again.
“That’s against the law!” he said between laughs.
“Oh, of course.” Strange people these are. I thought and tried to listen to what Montag was saying.
“It’s fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn them to ashes, then burn the ashes. That’s our official slogan.”
We walked for a little longer, and then I said, “Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?” He looked at me with a funny expression on his face.
“No. Houses have always been fireproof, take my word for it.”
“Strange. I heard once that a long time ago houses used to burn by accident and they needed firemen to stop the flames.” His deep laugh broke out again and echoed throughout the dark abyss around us. Street lamps flickered, lighting our way. I had to say something this time.