There were cars in front of the house. Four of them. Clifford Oslow cut across the lawn and headed for the back steps. But not soon enough. The door of a big red car opened and a woman came rushing after him. She was a little person, smaller even than Clifford himself. But she was fast. She reached him just as he was getting through the hedge.
"You're Mr. Oslow, aren't you?" she said. She pulled out a little book and a pencil and held them under his nose. "I've been trying to get her autograph all week," she explained. "I want you to get it f or me. Just drop the book in a mail-box. It's stamped and the address is on it."
And then she was gone and Clifford was standing there holding the book and pencil in his hand.
He put the autographbook in his pocket and hurried up the steps.
There was a lot of noise coming f rom the living-room. Several male voices, a strange woman's voice breaking through now and then, rising above the noise. And Julia's voice, rising above the noise, clear and kindly and very sure.
"Yes," she was saying. And, "I'm very glad." And, "People have been very generous to me."
She sounded tired.
Clif f ord leaned against the wall while he finished the sandwich and the beer. He left the empty bottle on the table, turned off the kitchen light and pushed easily on the hall door.
A man grabbed him by the arm and pushed him along the hall and into the parlor . «Here he is,» somebody shouted. "Here's Mr. Oslow!"
There were a half-a-dozen people there, all with notebooks and busy pens. Julia was in the big chair by the fireplace, looking plumper than usual in her new green dress.
She smiled at him affectionately but, it seemed to him, a little distantly. He'd noticed that breach in herglance many times lately. He hoped that it wasn't superiority, but he was afraid that it was.
"Hello, Clifford," she said.
"Hello, Julia," he answered.
He didn't get a chance to go over and kiss her. A reporter had him right against the wall. How did itseem to go to bed a teller' at the Gas Company and to wake up the husband of a best-selling novelist? Excellent, he told them. Was he going to give up his job?No, he wasn't. Had he heard the news that "Welcome Tomorrow" was going to be translated into Turkish? No, he hadn't.
And then the woman came over. The one whose voice he'd heard back in the kitchen where he wished he'd stayed.
"How", she inquired briskly, "did you like the story?"
Clifford didn't answer immediately. He just looked at the woman. Everyone became very quiet. And everyone looked at him. The woman repeated the question. Clifford knew what he wanted to say. "I liked it very much," he wanted to say and then run. But theywouldn't let him run. They'd make him stay. And ask him more questions. Which he couldn't answer.
"I haven't," he mumbled, "had an opportunity to read it yet. But I'm going to," he promised. And then came a sudden inspiration. "I'm going to read it now!" There was a copy on the desk by the door. Clifford grabbed it and raced for the front stairs.
Before he reached the second flight, though, he could hear the woman's voice on the hall phone. "At last", she was saying, "we have discovered aż adult American who has not read "Welcome Tomorrow". He is, of all people, Clifford Oslow, white, 43, a native ,of this city and the husband of..."
On the second floor Clifford reached his study, turned on the light over the table and dropped into the chair before it. He put Julia's book right in front of him, but he didn't immediately open it.
Instead he sat back in the chair and looked about him. The room was familiar enough. It had been hisfor over eighteen years. The table was the same. And the old typewriter was the one he had bought before Julia and he were married.
There hadn't been many changes. All along the bookcase were the manuscripts of his novels. His rejected novels. On top was his latest one, the one that had stopped going the rou'nds six months before.
On the bottom was his earliest one. The one he wrote when Julia and he vrere first married.
Yes, Clifford was a writer then. Large W. And he kept on thinking of himself as one for many years after, despite the indifference of the publishers. Finally, of course, his writing had become merely a gestvre. A stubborn unwillingness to admit defeat. Now, to be sure, the defeat was definite. Now that Julia, who before a year ago hadn't put pen to paper, had written a book, had it accepted and now was looking at advertisements that said, "over four hundred thousand copies."
He picked up "Welcome Tomorrow" and opened it, as he opened every book, in the middle. He read a paragraph. And then another. He had just started a third when suddenly he stopped. He put down Julia's book, reached over to the shelf and pulled out the dusty manuscript of his own first effort. Rapidly he turned over the crisp pages. Then he began to read aloud.
Clifford put the manuscript on the table on top of the book. For a long time he sat quietly. Then he put the book in his lap and left the manuscript on the table and began to read them, page against page. He had hisanswer in ten minutes.
And then he went back downstairs. A couple of reporters were still in the living-room. "But, Mrs. Oslow, naturally our readers are interested," one was insisting. "When," he demanded, "will you finish your next book?"
"I don't know," she answered uneasily.
Clifford came across the room to her, smiling. He put his arm around her and pressed her shoulder firmly but gently. "Now, now, Julia," he protested. "Let's tell the young man at once."
The reporter looked up.
"Mrs. Oslow's new novel," Cliford announced proudly, "will be ready in another month."
Julia turned around and stared at him, quite terrified.
But Clifford kept on smiling. Then he reached into his pocket and brought out the autograph book and pencil that had been forced on him on his way home.