“Beyond the Door” was published in Fantastic Universe in January 1954. I read it in We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 2. It can be found there on pages 15–20.
Larry brings home a German-made cuckoo clock, which he purchased wholesale, as a gift for his wife Doris. Doris is delighted by the gift, but upset that Larry ruined the moment by pointing out that he got it wholesale. Doris begins to wonder about the cuckoo bird in the clock. Does he sleep before coming out? Does he listen to people? Overtime Larry is less than pleased with the cuckoo and his wife’s attachment to the clock. Doris accuses him of not treating the clock well by not fully winding it up. Doris takes over this important task. Doris notices a small cut on Larry’s thumb.
When Larry is at work, Bob Chambers visits. Bob, who is sexually attracted to Doris, and Doris flirt a bit. Doris shows Bob the clock. She tells Bob that Larry does not like the clock because the bird comes out for her alone. She tells him she wants the clock in her room, but that it would be wrong. Larry comes home early and demands both Bob and Doris leave the house, keeping the cuckoo clock behind. Larry continues his bad relationship with the cuckoo clock. But he does talk to it about his jealousy over his wife’s relationship with Bob. When he demands that the cuckoo come out and sign to make up for his weeks of silence, the cuckoo strikes him in the eye, knocking Larry to the ground.
Doris, Bob, and a doctor talk about Larry’s death. The doctor thinks the placement of the body is too strange for a suicide. Bob thinks something else uncanny killed him.
This short story explores the tensions, anxieties, and jealousies of the suburban household. It is a theme that Dick commonly returns to and is one of the most memorable of his motifs. Larry is a patriarchal jealous husband. Lacking a child, he brings a gift to his wife that he immediately claims as his own morally. Even when he kicks Doris out of the house, he keeps the cuckoo clock because he “paid for it.” He is insanely jealous of both his neighbor and friend Bob Chambers and—more uncannily—the cuckoo clock. The heart of his jealousy over the clock seems to emerge from the fact that it responds only to her. Even when he “works” to sustain the clock, the cuckoo does not respond to him. It also, apparently, snips at him, undermining his claim to absolute authority in the household. Sexual tension runs through the story as well. Bob and Doris openly flirt while Larry is at work. The sexual proficiency and endurance of the cuckoo clock is hinted at strongly. Most striking is Doris’ desire to put the clock in her room, apparently to consummate this barely hidden desire. “But I know he won’t come out because he doesn’t like Larry. When I’m here alone he comes right out for me, every fifteen minutes, even though he really only hast to come out on the hour. [. . .] He comes out for me because he wants to. We talk; I tell him things. Of course, I’d like to have him upstairs in my room, but it wouldn’t be right.” (18) Clearly she is having an affair with the clock. She later has an affair with Bob. The cuckoo was a sexually liberating force for her.
Another possible reading of the story focuses on the impact of clock-time on the family. This is slightly less satisfying textually, but allows us to think about technology. As historians, sociologists, and philosophers have pointed out for decades, the transformation of human life due to clock time has been profound. At its heart, human’s lost their autonomy over the arrangement of their life. Instead of sleeping, working, eating, and travelling on their own schedule, they became bound to clock time. Larry literally brings a clock into the household. A working man, he expects it to work as designed. The clock disrupts this system by emerging based on its desire for Doris, instead of the schedule. The clock ruined the marriage, but not because it was working as designed, but because it did its own thing. As tyrannical as clocks are to human agency and freedom, we rely on them for the image of stability and order. The disorderly clock ends up literally killing the patriarch.
Wikipedia entry on “Beyond the Door.”
Delightful. A short film based on “Beyond the Door.”
Tyranny of the clock.