Kauboi awakens under the covers. Herr Professor is beside him. Inwardly, Kauboi groans. He has sworn that this would never happen again.
Oh, damn the silvery moonlight, damn the imperious urge, damn that irresistible man, and most of all, damn that Romanian quince brandy!
But something is different this time. Kauboi hears voices — they are not alone.
“We are in the Great Public Hospital,” the Professor whispers. He then reminds his savage creation of the Frühstückstisch altercation that laid them both on the altar of modern medicine.
“In the Indigent Ward,” he finishes acidly. “We have Strabismus Wandernauge.”
“It was not me,” Kauboi whines. “I have been faithful!”
The Professor, usually beguiled by whispered lies and half-truths, is all business this morning. “Strabismus Wandernauge is our attending physician.”
Kauboi peeks out from under the sheet. The bright lights frighten him! “Is Herr Doktor a resident or an intern?”
“It’s impossible to tell! They are like gods! They all wear the crimson gown of the master surgeon, and it is punishable under law to make direct queries as to their qualifications or employment status. Why do you ask?”
“Because residents always lie,” Kauboi asserts with gravity, “whereas interns always tell the truth.”
Suddenly, a crimson-gloved hand whips back the covers. They cringe in their shameful nudity. Towering above them is none other than Herr Doktor Strabismus Wandernauge!
“Who are you talking to?” thunders Wandernauge.
“Whom,” the professor whispers hoarsely, and Kauboi punches him in the groin. As he recovers, he and Kauboi point at each other with trembling fingers.
“Alone in a bed in the Indigent Ward, talking to yourself and pointing to empty air? The odd shape of your skull indicates that you are a mental defective. You shall be consigned to the Ministry of Mental Hygiene. Immediately!”
With a stroke of the pen chained to the bedstead, Wandernauge condemns them to life in the madhouse. He closes the curtain around their bed, leaving them to scurry back under the covers.
“I’ll visit you every day,” Kauboi whispers.
The Professor is horrified. “Me in the Great Public Sanitarium? Preposterous! He was looking squarely at you! And you recall his remark about your unusual head shape.”
Kauboi glances briefly — and without comment — at the bulging dome of the Professor’s cranium.
“I couldn’t tell where he was looking,” Kauboi says. “His eyes point in completely different directions. Maybe he saw only one of us, so he spoke to only one of us.”
Kauboi retrieves the pen and their now-useless chart. He quickly sketches their outlines, along with his oversimplified representation of the great surgeon’s skewed field of vision.
Herr Professor agrees that the outlines are accurate and flattering representations, but he disagrees with Kauboi’s conclusions:
“The fact is, my sweet, such extreme extopia would result not in monocular but in double vision, so Herr Doktor would not see only one of us at a time. He would, in fact, see four of us!” He fills in the details.
Kauboi immediately apprehends the accuracy of the Professor’s assessment.
He also cannot fail to notice the similarity of the Professor’s rendition to the “after-party” of the most recent May Day Worker’s Parade, and he resolves to halt the household’s standing orders for schnapps and other liqueurs.
“But what can this possibly mean? If he saw only one of us, or two of us, I mean, out of the four … oh, no!”
“Yes,” says the Professor. “He only saw one of us because there is only one of us. One of us must be a figment of the other’s imagination!”
“Of course! Everything makes sense now!”Kauboi is excited, and his neck-sac engorges such that his voice deepens from alto to baritone in a few words: “Perhaps I hallucinated a creator to explain my wretched and intolerable existence!”
“And perhaps I hallucinated a creation to justify my wasted career!”
“There is no way to tell which of us, if either, is real! We cannot determine whether Herr Doktor is a lying resident or a truth-telling intern.” Frustrated Kauboi plucks out and consumes his own nictating membrane! “What is worse, the one of us who is mad will always lie to protect his fragile psyche, but the hallucination will always tell the truth, for that is his function!”
“I have a solution,” the Professor says. “There is only one way to tell which of us is not a hallucination, and that one way is to ask …”
Unfortunately, we may never know what question or questions the good Professor plans to pose, or to whom he plans to pose them, because black-shirted orderlies rip aside the curtain and spray our identity-challenged duo with a stupefying agent of Herr Doktor Wandernauge’s devising!
Who is for real? Are you for real?
If so, frame the question that will help the Professor and/or Kauboi determine which of them, if either, actually exists…for fun and prizes!
And remember: Herr Doktor Strabismus Wandernauge is never, ever wrong!