“Out in the Garden” was originally published in Fantasy Fiction in August 1953. Page numbers come from Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick (New York: Citadel Press), pp. 321–328.
Robert Nye, a middle class man with a new wife, is talking with his friend Tommy Lindquist during a small intimate get together. They discuss the garden and Peggy Nye’s favorite pet duck, name Sir Francis. Lindquist, who met Peggy earlier but only briefly, is instantly attracted to his friend’s new wife. The fascination with the duck is the topic of conversation. Robert has little interest in the animal, but Peggy is clearly enamored. Lindquist, in good humor, retells the story of Zeus coming into the form of a swan to seduce Leda, fathering Helen of Troy. The story shocks Peggy, who out of the blue confesses that she is pregnant. She suggests that Tommy know and told the story to insult her. Sir Francis hisses at Robert.
A son is born, named Stephen. Tension in the Nye household has been high since the small garden get-together with Tommy Lindquist. Strangely, the tension existed also between Robert and the duck, Sir Francis. Robert ponders Tommy’s story, his wife’s fascination with the duck, and his own animosity toward it. Although it is all rather silly, Robert takes comfort in the fact that the burdens of child-rearing will ensure that end the time spent between Peggy and Sir Francis. When Robert sees Sir Francis digging for worms, he abruptly throws that animal into the car and drives him into the countryside.
With Sir Francis gone, Peggy is spending time with young Stephen. To Robert’s chagrin, much of that time is spend in the same garden that Peggy used to spend with Sir Francis. Robert fells he has little to share with his son, who enjoys the outdoors, flowers, and Peggy’s stories.
Robert sees Stephen drawing with crayons and feels momentary pride and a chance to bond with his son who he seems to be quite aloof from. Robert talks about his own time as an artist in his youth and encourages his son to work on art. Stephen, addressing Robert by his first name, asks about Sir Francis. The knowledge is apparently intuitive because neither Robert nor Peggy had told him about it. Stephen asks is Sir Francis looked like the sun in his drawing. Robert, horrified, begins to again think that Stephen’s birth was supernatural.
Stephen, still calling Robert by his first name, invites him to a secret garden party. The party goes well and again provides a chance for Robert to feel he can bind with his son. However, when he comes upon the table Stephen has prepared, he finds it full of worms and spiders. Robert says he does not like that type of food and departs, apparently convinced that Stephen’s real father is Sir Francis.
The troubled marriage is one of Philip K. Dick’s most consistent themes. From the first lines of this story to the end, the marriage between Robert and Peggy Nye is aloof and troubled. Not only does the shadow of adultery hang over the entire marriage, but they seem to share little in common. At one point, Robert is vocally annoyed that his wife returned home a few minutes earlier than expected, apparently interfering with Robert’s time alone. Peggy spends most of her time with other people. The only sign of sexual attraction to Peggy comes from others (Tommy Lindquist or Sir Francis). Neither is Robert able to bond with Stephen. Much of the tension comes from doubts over who is his father, but the relationships between these three people are awkward. This is not atypical of how Dick describes the middle class family in his stories and novels. Robert’s quest to understand Stephen is the emotional core of the story, making the final confirmation that Stephen is likely half-duck more tragic.
One way to read this is as a critique of the paranoia middle class families expressed over paternity certainty. The true cause of his distance from Peggy and Stephen is his own inability to appreciate or take part in their interests. Robert tries to bridge his gap with Stephen through drawing, but this only possible by bringing the conversation to his own artistic pursuits. In the end, Robert seems himself as the patriarch of the family and refuses the subjectivity of others. Robert’s has only himself to blame for his turmoil. Peggy’s adultery, although certainly odd, is not a big crime and merely an extension of the emotional separation between the two.
Dick is openly influenced by the Greek mythology of bestiality. The Greeks were fascinated by the potential of human-animal couples, human-god couplings, and grotesque creatures taking on the attributes of different animals. For them, the line between human and animal was blurred. Interspecies relationships is also a common theme in much science-fiction writing. In “Out in the Garden” this motif is used largely to interrogate the tensions in the middle class family.
Wikipedia entry for “Out in the Garden”
Always a good time for Maury DNA Tests.
*Note: Only slightly stranger than “Out in the Garden”