“Sandra’s subtle innuendos“ he wrote, picking up where he’d left off the day before, “were as apparent to Roscoe as the nose on his face.”
At this point, Thomas Register became aware of a faint, ghostlike appendage protruding slightly into his field of view. He looked up from his novel and closed one eye. And there it was: the left side of his nose.
"In fact," he continued, "the nose on Roscoe’s face WAS apparent to him. Literally. He could see it looming in front of his eyes as he watched Sandra talking. He had never noticed it before."
Register intended this merely as an amusing aside, just something he thought he'd throw into an already rambling novel. All his books were like this, sprinkled with tidbits of useless information and irrelevant observations. (It made for a thicker book without having to think up a lot of story line.)
And if he had left it at that—one cursory glance at his nose, one trivial passage in his book—his life as a minor novelist might have gone on undisturbed. But he couldn't leave it alone. He just had to take a peek at the other side of his nose.
The Universe That Almost Was
Here’s what would have happened if he had not taken that second look. He would have written a book called Novel on Nadine, which he would hand-letter all over the body of a girl he met in a sandwich shop (Nadine). It would all be done with photos, so as you leaf through the book and look at the photos, you're reading the story. Novel on Nadine would become the subject of a film by Errol Morris. Register and Nadine would eventually marry, and use the royalties to buy a small llama ranch in Montana.
And here’s what would NOT have happened: He would never be stalked by NASA, or subpoenaed by a Senate Subcommittee on Altered Consciousness. And life for the good people of planet Earth would have continued without any major disruptions to their collective cognition.
But that universe-next-door never came to be. All because of his need to know if the right side of his nose looked the same as the left.*
But just as a pebble in a brook can create a little eddy that eventually changes the course of an entire river, that second glance deflected the plot of Roscoe's Revenge onto a course that not only altered the story line of the book but shifted Thomas Register’s entire reality about three Planck units to the left.