The Day I Saw
Everything Twice

About this time, I suffered an attack of double vision. I don't know whether it has ever happened to you. If not, I can assure you it is very disconcerting. I awoke one morning to find that everything had doubled during the night. Two wives, four children, that sort of thing. I did the best I could shaving around both of my noses. You can get something of the same effect by the children's trick of closing your eyes, crossing the forefinger and middle finger of one hand, and then, fingers crossed, touching the end of your nose. See? Or perhaps I should say, feel? You've got two noses. Eyes open, I stared in the bathroom mirror at my eyes, all four of them. I almost expected to see that they had compounded, like those of an insect, but they looked like people eyes except of course for there being too many of them.

Made it through breakfast by closing all four, and using my fork very carefully. Then I asked my wife to drive me to work. Easily the most frightening ride of my life. Each intersection was made up of six streets not counting the two we were on. Other cars seemed to come at us from all directions at once. I closed my eyes again.

Made it into my office somehow, a bit late, but there on the same day as expected. Sat in my chairs, thanked the Lord the chairs had arms and thus it was not easy to fall out. Designed for sleeping bureaucrats, doubtless. My helpful Austrian staff helped me dial the phone for an ophthalmologist. A sign I had not yet lost my optimism. Otherwise, I might have started with a neurologist or even a psychiatrist, this after all being Vienna. The Herr Professor Doktor could see me day after tomorrow if I survived that long. I would grow a beard, I decided, and maybe take up polygamy. Didn't know what to do about the extra children, however. No way to accommodate four of them in a two-bedroom apartment. Forgot to count the bedrooms. Maybe there are more of them, too.

I did pretty well up until she came in. That belly dancer. Blond and somewhat skinnier than the ones you see in the movies. She was, or maybe they were, American, or so she (they?) said. I tried to get Miss Brand --- oops, sorry, the Misses Brand twins --- to deal with them, but she --- they --- said, no way, the belly dancer insisted on seeing the consul. Even then it might have been all right if only she had been willing to sit still and just talk. But she kept moving around, all the time moving around. An occupational problem, I decided in retrospect, when I was able to think dearly again.

The lady obviously really was a dancer; I could tell that from the way the multiple images of her moved. She was going on and on about how she gave up everything to move to Cairo and now that the Egyptians had refused to extend her work permit, she had had to leave Egypt.

"I'm afraid the Egyptians aren't terribly friendly to Americans, just now."

"The Egyptians loved me. It's only the officials."

"They're the ones who issue the residence and work permits. Or don't, as in your case." I closed my eyes.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" she demanded, almost yelling at me. I opened my eyes. She was still on the move, crisscrossing my office with her skirt and some sort of frilly stuff streaming behind her. Or maybe it was mostly the effect of my optical problems. And because you think of the damnedest things at such times, I was suddenly back in the Carousel Theater on the edge of the University of Tennessee campus and fifteen years had vanished. My imagination had given my belly dancer a role, that of the actress who arrives on stage in a sarcophagus in The Man No Came to Dinner. Back then I had been doing stage props and somehow the actress was talking on the phone and loping all around the stage. We had not tied the end of the phone line down very well and it was whipping along behind her. The audience enjoyed it more than we did, but somebody told me that, after all, this was supposed to be a comedy.

So it was all right. I smiled at the thought, smiled for the first time that day. The belly dancer brought up short, "I don't see what's so amusing about it. I'm stranded here."

Well, I explained that I was just thinking about the joy her dancing must have brought to the men of Cairo and said I was sure their wives had made them give her the heave-ho. Then I gave her a list of Vienna restaurants that might need a belly dancer. It must have worked out, because I never saw her again.

--- From Our Man in Vienna,
By Richard Timothy Conroy
(Thos. Dunne/St. Martins)

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