Department header
Bewildering Stories

Julie Wornan, The Mutual Reverse See
Fables for Our Times


The Mutual Reverse See
Author: Julie Wornan
Publisher: Julie Wornan (April 17, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Length: 116 pages
Price: $2.62 U.S.

The Mutual Reverse See

Those four words were scribbled in pencil on the brown paper wrapping. Inside the package was a compact tangle of fine wires and tiny mirrors, the whole thing about the size of a melon, and a hand-written sheet headed “Mutual Reverse See: Instructions for Use.” James nearly chucked the whole thing out, along with the other attic junk. But then he recalled a family legend about his eccentric uncle...

Uncle Charlie, it was said, had been known for occasional displays of amazing technical creativity, when motivated. The man was seldom motivated, and had eventually died poor and alone in a ramshackle house full of dirty dishes and broken furniture. Which James Merriweather, his nephew and heir, was now cleaning away in preparation for selling the property.

But, coming upon the oddly-named contraption wrapped in brown paper, James was reminded of a story that had made the family rounds during his childhood. The story may have been true, or it may have been false, but it always evoked a chuckle.

Charles Merriweather (so the story went), suspecting his wife of infidelity, had put it into his head to invent a machine to read her thoughts. He suspected her of infidelity because nobody could spend every Thursday night until midnight shopping, as she asserted she did. Dorothy would explain patiently, “That’s Burbleberry’s Late Night, darling.” But Charles, a plain man ignorant of female psychology, became obsessed with the idea that she must be meeting a lover, and set himself to obtain the proof.

The blueprint for the machine came to him in a burst of creativity as he lay emerging from a restful sleep. Putting the thing together took three weeks of intense hard work. Then, exhausted but triumphant, he hid the device under a napkin one morning, stealthily pressed the ON button and waited for Dorothy to come in with the coffee.

The first thing Charles noticed, watching his wife walk into the room, was the way the dining room looked through her eyes. The wallpaper was a heavenly blue. He had always hated blue, himself, but now he suddenly appreciated that color’s charm.

“My love,” he said to get her attention, and to see what this word evoked for her. Her thought came to him as clear as if she had spoken it aloud: I do love those little chocolate cakes they serve in Burbleberry’s tea room.

“Darling, what are you doing tonight?” he murmurred innocently. (It was a Thursday).

An image came into her mind: a navy jacket with anchor buttons and an impishly turned-up collar. Followed by another image: a sassy beige trench coat with a purple floral lining. Which should she buy? Maybe, both....

“Hmmm?” said Dorothy, staring at him hard.

And then she said, “Five hundred dollars? They gave you a bonus of $500 and you didn’t tell me?”

That’s when Charles realized that the device worked two ways. He saw her thoughts, and she saw his. The Seeing was Mutual. It worked in one direction, but also, simultaneously, in Reverse. A more sophisticated inventor might have called it a “Reciprocal Thought Perception Device” or some such thing, but Charles was a simple man, so he named it “The Mutual Reverse See.” He wrapped it in brown paper, along with his rough notes on its use, and carried the bundle up to the attic; which is where it remained until James, his nephew and heir, discovered it and nearly threw it out.

* * *

Though still only on the lower echelons of the Diplomatic Service, James Merriweather felt confident of his future as a world-class statesman. He was a good listener and a smooth talker. It was his credo that every difference can be resolved with patience, good will and mutual respect, which qualities, he felt, he had a special knack for bringing out, even in the most stubborn of antagonists. Indeed, he had a reputation for persuading estranged couples to kiss and make up, creditors to extend yet more credit, and rebellious teenagers to smile and help with the dishes. James was only waiting for the right opportunity for his talents to rocket him to fame and glory.

That opportunity might be already within reach, he mused (as he poked among the junk in the old attic). A long-standing border dispute was to come before a Select International Commission on Conflict Resolution in which James’ service had a role. The parties to the dispute were Goristan and Polyistan, two countries separated by a broad river and centuries of traditional hostility. Each country claimed ownership of the river. James felt sure that a compromise was possible if only the age-old tensions could be reduced and each side persuaded to consider the other’s point of view. James felt he was the man to bring this about. But how, exactly? It was while he was musing on this question that he came upon his uncle’s invention: the Mutual Reverse See.

The instructions were simple: change the battery if the battery needed changing, wipe the wires and mirrors delicately with a fine cloth to remove any dust, hide the device where neither party could see it, and press the button marked ON.

The dry run was conclusive, if brief. James was alone in his kitchen with his cat when he reached under an overturned basket and pressed ON. In moments, Koshka was on the table trying to get her pointy teeth around a juicy red apple, and James was on all fours advancing toward the irresistible aroma of putrid fish coming from the catfood bowl. He only just managed to pull himself together and turn the machine off.

Now, all that remained was to get the leaders of Goristan and Polyistan together alone in a room, and plant the device. James needed all his powers of persuasion to have himself entrusted with full charge of the arrangements. A venue was chosen for the meeting: a pleasant hotel on the edge of a lake in a neutral country. The press was to remain outside. The two heads of state were to be absolutely alone together. Not even interpreters were to be present. This last point was a little sticky, because the inhabitants of the two countries distained each other’s language and refused to learn it. In fact, they spoke the same language, but Goristan used only capital letters to write it while Polyistan used only lower-case letters, and when speaking, Goristaners emphasized the first syllable of every word while Polyistaners put the stress on the last syllable. However, with a small effort, they could understand each other perfectly. That James Merriweather managed to obtain a mutual consent to this effort is no small token of his diplomatic skill.

The two venerable leader, bearded and turbaned (but one’s turban was wound clockwise and the other’s counterclockwise; one’s beard was trimmed straight and the other’s on the diagonal) were ushered into a spacious room furnished with two soft armchairs and a table laden with flowers and refreshments, and there left alone. Alone, that is, after James had heartily wished them courage and success, assured himself that they were comfortable, and discretely manipulated something hidden under a napkin at the far end of the table.

Wordlessly, the leaders sized each other up. Each found the other tough, but human. “Your country is beautiful,” said the head of Polyistan as a polite way of starting the conversation. And realized how true it was, as his mind became filled with images of snowy mountain peaks and waterfalls. “Oh yes! but so is yours,” replied the other, and received in response a view of sun-drenched fertile plains and fragrant orchards. Thus they explored each other’s countries for a while, with few words but so much enthusiasm that invitations to visit each other were soon extended and accepted. Then they talked, or rather thought, about their respective wives, children and grandchildren. They learned that the grandson of one knew all there was to know about electronics, and his granddaughter all that could be known about clothes, while for the other it was just the reverse, which made them both laugh. They poured each other drinks: one had always hated wine and drank only beer, the other, the opposite; but now they both drank wine and beer and couldn’t get over the wonder of both drinks. It was the same with the sandwiches: cheese made from the milk of Goristan’s mountain goats was a discovery for the leader of Polyistan, who had never liked cheese, while Goristan’s leader was delighted to discover Polyistan’s famous olive paste.

At length they came to the purpose of the meeting. Wordlessly, they stood up and walked, arm in arm, to the wide doors, which they threw open together; and in front of the waiting cameras and microphones, declared with one voice, “The line shall be drawn down the middle of the river!”

But nationalism dies hard. Within the week, both heads of state were deposed, one by a coup, the other by a car bomb. The vitality of the border dispute was thus assured for all the foreseeable future. The wiry thing under the napkin had been swept out with the crumbs. As for James, he lost his taste for diplomacy, and accepted a position at the head of Sales in a catfood firm.

Copyright © 2012 by Julie Wornan

Home Page