The Complete Stories (Page 65)
Weill said heartily, "Sherman, my boy, you look fine. What’s the matter? A dream is cooking only so-so at home? You’re worried about it? … Sit down, sit down."
The dreamer did, sitting at the edge of the chair and holding his thighs stiffly together as though to be ready for instant obedience to a possible order to stand up once more.
He said, "I’ve come to tell you, Mr. Weill, I’m quitting."
"I don’t want to dream any more, Mr. Weill."
Weill’s old face looked older now than at any time in the day. "Why, Sherman?"
The dreamer’s lips twisted. He blurted out, "Because I’m not living, Mr. Weill. Everything passes me by. It wasn’t so bad at first. It was even relaxing. I’d dream evenings, weekends when I felt like, or any other time. And when I felt like I wouldn’t. But now, Mr. Weill, I’m an old pro. You tell me I’m one of the best in the business and the industry looks to me to think up new subtleties and new changes on the old reliables like the flying reveries, and the worm-turning skits."
Weill said, "And is anyone better than you, Sherman? Your little sequence on leading an orchestra is selling steadily after ten years."
"All right, Mr. Weill. I’ve done my part. It’s gotten so I don’t go out any more. I neglect my wife. My little girl doesn’t know me. Last week, we went to a dinner party-Sarah made me-and I don’t remember a bit of it. Sarah says I was sitting on the couch all evening just staring at nothing and humming. She said everyone kept looking at me. She cried all night. I’m tired of things like that, Mr. Weill. I want to be a normal person and live in this world. I promised her I’d quit and I will, so it’s good-by, Mr. Weill." Hillary stood up and held out his hand awkwardly.
Weill waved it gently away. "If you want to quit, Sherman, it’s all right. But do an old man a favor and let me explain something to you."
"I’m not going to change my mind," said Hillary.
"I’m not going to try to make you. I just want to explain something. I’m an old man and even before you were born I was in this business so I like to talk about it. Humor me, Sherman? Please?"
Hillary sat down. His teeth clamped down on his lower lip and he stared sullenly at his fingernails.
Weill said, "Do you know what a dreamer is, Sherman? Do you know
what he means to ordinary people? Do you know what it is to be like me, like Frank Belanger, like your wife, Sarah? To have crippled minds that can’t imagine, that can’t build up thoughts? People like myself, ordinary people, would like to escape just once in a while this life of ours. We can’t. We need help.
"In olden times it was books, plays, radio, movies, television. They gave us make-believe, but that wasn’t important. What was important was that for a little while our own imaginations were stimulated. We could think of handsome lovers and beautiful princesses. We could be beautiful, witty, strong, capable, everything we weren’t.
"But, always, the passing of the dream from dreamer to absorber was not perfect. It had to be translated into words in one way or another. The best dreamer in the world might not be able to get any of it into words. And the best writer in the world could put only the smallest part of his dreams into words. You understand?
"But now, with dream recording, any man can dream. You, Sherman, and a handful of men like you, supply those dreams directly and exactly. It’s straight from your head into ours, full strength. You dream for a hundred million people every time you dream. You dream a hundred million dreams at once. This is a great thing, my boy. You give all those people a glimpse of something they could not have by themselves."
Hillary mumbled, "I’ve done my share." He rose desperately to his feet. "I’m through. I don’t care what you say. And if you want to sue me for breaking our contract, go ahead and sue. I don’t care."
Weill stood up, too. "Would I sue you? . . . Ruth," he spoke into the intercom, "bring in our copy of Mr. Hillary’s contract."
He waited. So did Hillary and so did Belanger. Weill smiled faintly and his yellowed fingers drummed softly on his desk.
His secretary brought in the contract. Weill took it, showed its face to Hillary and said, "Sherman, my boy, unless you want to be with me, it’s not right you should stay."
Then, before Belanger could make more than the beginning of a horrified gesture to stop him, he tore the contract into four pieces and tossed them down the waste chute. "That’s all."
Hillary’s hand shot out to seize Weill’s. "Thanks, Mr. Weill," he said earnestly, his voice husky. "You’ve always treated me very well, and I’m grateful. I’m sorry it had to be like this."
"It’s all right, my boy. It’s all right."
Half in tears, still muttering thanks, Sherman Hillary left.
"For the love of Pete, boss, why did you let him go?" demanded Belanger distractedly. "Don’t you see the game? He’ll be going straight to Luster-Think. They’ve bought him off."
Weill raised his hand. "You’re wrong. You’re quite wrong. I know the boy
and this would not be his style. Besides," he added dryly, "Ruth is a good secretary and she knows what to bring me when I ask for a dreamer’s contract. What I had was a fake. The real contract is still in the safe, believe me.
"Meanwhile, a fine day I’ve had. I had to argue with a father to give me a chance at new talent, with a government man to avoid censorship, with you to keep from adopting fatal policies and now with my best dreamer to keep him from leaving. The father I probably won out over. The government man and you, I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe no. But about Sherman Hillary, at least, there is no question. The dreamer will be back."