Рэй Дуглас Брэдбери
Fahrenheit 451 / 451 градус по Фаренгейту

“If it rubs off, it means I’m in love. Has it?”

He could hardly do anything else but look.

“Well?” she said.

“You’re yellow under there.”

“Fine! Let’s try YOU now.”

“It won’t work for me.”

“Here.”

Before he could move she had put the dandelion under his chin. He drew back and she laughed.

“Hold still!”

She peered under his chin and frowned.

“Well?” he said.

“What a shame,” she said. “You’re not in love with anyone.”

“Yes, I am!”

“It doesn’t show.”

“I am very much in love!” He tried to conjure up a face to fit the words, but there was no face.

“I am!”

“Oh please don’t look that way.”

“It’s that dandelion,” he said. “You’ve used it all up on yourself. That’s why it won’t work for me.”

“Of course, that must be it. Oh, now I’ve upset you, I can see I have; I’m sorry, really I am.” She touched his elbow.

“No, no,” he said, quickly, “I’m all right.”

“I’ve got to be going, so say you forgive me. I don’t want you angry with me.”

“I’m not angry. Upset, yes.”

“I’ve got to go to see my psychiatrist now. They make me go. I made up things to say. I don’t know what he thinks of me. He says I’m a regular onion! I keep him busy peeling away the layers.”

“I’m inclined to believe you need the psychiatrist,” said Montag.

“You don’t mean that.”

He took a breath and let it out and at last said,

“No, I don’t mean that.”

“The psychiatrist wants to know why I go out and hike around in the forests and watch the birds and collect butterflies. I’ll show you my collection some day.”

“Good.”

“They want to know what I do with all my time. I tell them that sometimes I just sit and think. But I won’t tell them what. I’ve got them running. And sometimes, I tell them, I like to put my head back, like this, and let the rain fall into my mouth. It tastes just like wine. Have you ever tried it?”

“No I – ”

“You HAVE forgiven me, haven’t you?”

“Yes.” He thought about it. “Yes, I have. God knows why. You’re peculiar, you’re aggravating, yet you’re easy to forgive. You say you’re seventeen?”

“Well-next month.”

“How odd. How strange. And my wife thirty and yet you seem so much older at times. I can’t get over it.”

“You’re peculiar yourself, Mr. Montag. Sometimes I even forget you’re a fireman. Now, may I make you angry again?”

“Go ahead.”

“How did it start? How did you get into it? How did you pick your work and how did you happen to think to take the job you have? You’re not like the others. I’ve seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that. The others would walk off and leave me talking. Or threaten me. No one has time any more for anyone else. You’re one of the few who put up with me. That’s why I think it’s so strange you’re a fireman, it just doesn’t seem right for you, somehow.”

He felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other.

“You’d better run on to your appointment,” he said.

And she ran off and left him standing there in the rain. Only after a long time did he move.

And then, very slowly, as he walked, he tilted his head back in the rain, for just a few moments, and opened his mouth…

The Mechanical Hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live in its gently humming, gently vibrating, softly illuminated kennel back in a dark corner of the firehouse. The dim light of one in the morning, the moonlight from the open sky framed through the great window, touched here and there on the brass and the copper and the steel of the faintly trembling beast. Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, gently, gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber-padded paws.

Montag slid down the brass pole. He went out to look at the city and the clouds had cleared away completely, and he lit a cigarette and came back to bend down and look at the Hound. It was like a great bee come home from some field where the honey is full of poison wildness, of insanity and nightmare, its body crammed with that over-rich nectar and now it was sleeping the evil out of itself.

“Hello,” whispered Montag, fascinated as always with the dead beast, the living beast.

At night when things got dull, which was every night, the men slid down the brass poles, and set the ticking combinations of the olfactory system of the Hound and let loose rats in the firehouse area-way, and sometimes chickens, and sometimes cats that would have to be drowned anyway, and there would be betting to see which the Hound would seize first. The animals were turned loose. Three seconds later the game was done, the rat, cat, or chicken caught half across the areaway, gripped in gentling paws while a four-inch hollow steel needle plunged down from the proboscis of the Hound to inject massive jolts of morphine or procaine. The pawn was then tossed in the incinerator. A new game began.

Montag stayed upstairs most nights when this went on. There had been a time two years ago when he had bet with the best of them, and lost a week’s salary and faced Mildred’s insane anger, which showed itself in veins and blotches. But now at night he lay in his bunk, face turned to the wall, listening to whoops of laughter below and the piano-string scurry of rat feet, the violin squeaking of mice, and the great shadowing, motioned silence of the Hound leaping out like a moth in the raw light, finding, holding its victim, inserting the needle and going back to its kennel to die as if a switch had been turned.

Montag touched the muzzle.

The Hound growled.

Montag jumped back.