The Dice Man
Being a fictional psychotherapist’s account of his descent into mayhem
National Habit-Breaking Month must have been dictated by the die in a fit of pique over my easy enjoyment of my dicelife; the month provided a hundred little blasts toward the breaking up of Lucius Rhinehart, MD. Habit breaking had won out over (1) dedicated-psychiatrist month, (2) begin-writing-a-novel month, (3) vacation-in-Italy month, (4) be-kind-to-everybody month, and (5) help-Arturo-X month. The command was, to be precise, ‘I will attempt at every moment of every day of this month to alter my habitual behavior patterns.’
First of all it meant that when I rolled over to cuddle Lil at dawn I had to roll back again and stare at the wall. After staring a few minutes I then began to doze off. I realized that I never rose at dawn, so with effort and resentment, I got out of bed. Both feet were in my slippers and I was plodding toward the bathroom before I realized habit had me in his fist. I kicked off my slippers and plodded, then jogged into the living room. I still, however, felt like urinating. Triumphantly, I did so in a vase of artificial gladioli. (Three days later Dr Felloni remarked on how well they seemed to be doing.) A few minutes later I woke up in the same standing position, conscious that I still had a silly proud smile on my face. Careful examination of my conscience revealed that I did not make a habit of falling asleep on my feet after urinating in the living room so I let myself doze off again.
‘What are you doing?’ a voice said through my sleep.
‘Luke, what are you doing?’
‘Oh.’ I saw Lil standing nude with her arms folded across her chest looking at me.
‘Come back to bed.’
I started to follow her back to bed but remembered that following nude women into beds was habitual. When Lil had plopped in and pulled the blankets over her I crawled under the bed.
I didn’t answer.
The squeak of springs and the wandering low-cloud ceiling above me implied that Lil was leaning over first on one and then on the other side of the bed. The spread was lifted and her upside-down face peered into my sideways face. We looked at each other for thirty seconds. Without a word her face disappeared and the bed above me became still.
‘I want you,’ I said. ‘I want to make love to you.’ (The prosaicness of the prose was compensated for by the poetry of my position.)
When the silence continued I felt an admiration for Lil. Any normal, mediocre woman would have (a) sworn, (b) looked under the bed again, or (c) shouted at me. Only a woman of high intelligence and deep sensitivity would have remained silent.
‘I’d love to have your prick inside me,’ her voice suddenly said.
I was frightened: a contest of wills. I must not reply habitually.
‘I want your left knee,’ I said.
‘I want to come between your toes,’ I went on.
‘I want to feel your Adam’s apple bob up and down,’ she said.
I began humming ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ I lifted the springs above me with all my might. She rolled off to one side. I changed my position to try to push her off. She rolled back into the middle. My arms were exhausted. Although whatever I did from under the bed was, a priori, a nonhabitual act, my back was aching. I got out from under, stood up and stretched.
‘I don’t like your games, Luke,’ Lil said quietly.
‘The Pittsburgh Pirates have won three games in a row but remain mired in third place.’
‘Please come to bed and be yourself.’
‘Any one except this morning’s version.’
Habit pulled me toward the bed, the dice pulled me back.
‘I have to think about dinosaurs,’ I said and, realizing I’d said it in my normal voice, I repeated it shouting. When I saw that I had used my habitual shout I started to emit a third version, but realized that three of anything approached habit and so half-shouted, half-mumbled, ‘Breakfast with dinosaurs in bed,’ and went into the kitchen.
Halfway there I tried to vary my walk and ended up crawling the last fifteen feet.
‘What are you doing, Daddy?’
Larry stood sleepy-eyed but fascinated in the entrance to the kitchen. I didn’t want to upset him. I had to watch my words carefully.
‘I’m looking for mice.’
‘Oh boy, can I look?’
‘No, they’re dangerous.’
‘These mice are man-eaters.’
‘Oh Daddy... [Scornfully].’
‘I’m teasing [An habitual phrase; I shook my head].’
‘Go back to be – [Another!]’
‘Look under your mother’s bed, I think they may have gone under there.’
Not a great many seconds later Larry came back from our bedroom accompanied by a bathrobed Lil. I was on my knees at the stove about to heat a pot of water.
‘Don’t you involve the children in your games.’
Since I never lose my temper at Lil I lost it.
‘Shut your mouth! You’ll scare them all away.’
‘Don’t you say shut up to me!’
‘One more word out of you and I’ll ram a dinosaur down your throat.’ I stood up and strode toward her, fists clenched.
They both looked terrified. I was impressed.
‘Go back to bed, Larry,’ Lil said, shielding him and backing away.
‘Get down on your knees and pray for mercy. Lawrence, NOW!’
Larry ran for his bedroom, crying.
‘Fie upon you!’
‘Don’t you dare hit me.’
‘My God, you’re insane,’ Lil said.
I hit her, rather restrainedly, on the left shoulder. She hit me, rasher unrestrainedly, in the left eye. I sat down on the kitchen floor.
‘For breakfast is what?’ I asked, at least reversing the syntax.
‘Are you through?’
‘I surrender everything.’
‘Come back to bed.’
‘Except my honor.’
‘You can keep your honor in your underwear, but come back to bed and behave.’
I jogged back to bed ahead of Lil and lay as rigid as a board for forty minutes at which point Lil commanded me to get out of bed. Immediately and rigidly I obeyed. I stood like a robot beside the bed.
‘Relax,’ she commanded irritably from the dresser.
I collapsed to the floor, ending as painlessly as possible on my side and back. Lil came over and looked down at me for a moment and then kicked me in the thigh. ‘Act normal,’ she said.
I rose, did six squats arms extended and went to the kitchen. For breakfast I had a hot dog, two pieces of uncooked carrot, coffee with lemon and maple syrup, and toast cooked twice until it was blackened with peanut butter and radish. Lil was furious; primarily because both Larry and Evie wanted desperately to have for breakfast what I was having and ended up crying in frustration. Lil too.
I jogged down Fifth Avenue from my apartment to my office, attracting considerable attention since I was (1) jogging; (2) gasping like a fish drowning in air; and (3) dressed in a tuxedo over a red T-shirt with large white letters declaring The Big Red.
At the office Miss Reingold greeted me formally, neutrally and, I must admit, with secretarial aplomb. Her cold, ugly efficiency stimulated me to break new ground in our relationship.
‘Mary Jane, baby,’ I said. ‘I’ve got a surprise this morning. I’ve decided to fire you.’
Her mouth neatly opened, revealing two precisely parallel rows of crooked teeth.
‘As of tomorrow morning.’
‘But – but Dr Rhinehart. I don’t under – ‘
‘It’s simple, kneeknocker. I’ve been hornier in the last few weeks, want a receptionist who’s a good lay.’
‘Dr Rhinehart – ‘
‘You’re efficient, but you’ve got a flat ass. Hired a 38-24-37 who knows all about fellatio, post hoc propter id, soixante-neuf, gesticulation and proper filing procedures.’
She was backing slowly towards Dr Ecstein’s office, eyes bulging, teeth gleaming like two parallel armies in disarray.
‘She starts tomorrow morning,’ I went on. ‘Has her own contraceptive device, I understand. You’ll get full pay through the end of the century – Goodbye and good luck.’
I had begun jogging in place about halfway through my tirade and at its conclusion I sprinted neatly into my office. Miss Reingold was last seen sprinting not so neatly into Jake’s.
I assumed the traditional lotus position on my desk and wondered what Miss Reingold would do with my chaotic cruelties. After minimal investigation I concluded that she had been given something to fill her dull life. I pictured her years hence with two dozen nieces and nephews clustered around her chubby knees telling them about the wicked doctor who stuck pins in patients and raped others and, under the influence of LSD and imported Scotch, fired good, hard-working people and replaced them with raving nymphomaniacs.
Feeling superior in my imaginative faculties and uncomfortable in my yoga position I stretched both arms upward. A knock on the door.
‘Yo!’ I answered, arms still outstretched, my tuxedo straining grotesquely. Jake stuck his head in.
‘Say, Luke, baby, Miss Reingold was telling me som – ‘
He saw me. Jake’s habitual piercing squint couldn’t quite negotiate the sight: he blinked twice.
‘What’s up, Luke?’ he asked tentatively.
I laughed. ‘Oh this,’ I said, fingering the tuxedo. ‘Late party last night. I’m trying to wake myself up before Osterflood comes. Hope I didn’t upset Miss R.’ He hesitated, his chubby neck and round face still the only parts of him which had eased their way into the room.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘yeah. She says you fired her.’
‘Nonsense,’ I replied. ‘I was telling her a joke I heard at the party last night; it was a little raunchy perhaps, but nothing that would upset Mary Magdalen.’
‘Yeah,’ he said, his traditional squint gathering strength, his glasses like two flying saucers with slits concealing deadly ray guns. ‘Righto,’ he said. ‘Sorry to bother you.’
His face vanished, the door eased shut. While meditating I was interrupted a few minutes later by the door opening and Jake’s glasses reappearing.
‘She wants me to make sure she’s not fired.’
‘Tell her to come to work tomorrow fully prepared.’
When Osterflood strode in I was limping around the room trying to get the circulation back into my feet. He walked automatically to the couch but I stopped him. ‘No, you don’t, Mr O. Today you sit over there and I’ll use the couch.’
I made myself comfortable while he lumbered uncertainly to the chair behind my desk.
‘What’s the matter. Dr Rhinehart, do you – ‘
‘I feel elated today,’ I began, noting in the corner of the ceiling an impressive cobweb. For how many years had my patients been staring at that? ‘I feel I’ve made a major breakthrough on the road to the New Man.’
‘What new man?’
‘The Random Man. The unpredictable man. I feel today I am demonstrating that habits can be broken. That man is free.’
‘I wish I could break the habit of raping little girls,’ he said, trying to get the focus back on himself.
‘There’s hope, O., there’s hope. Just do the opposite of everything you normally do. If you feel like raping them, shower them with candy and kindness and then leave. If you feel like beating a whore, have her beat you. If you feel like seeing me, go to a movie instead.’
‘But that’s not easy. I like hurting people.’
‘True, but you may find you’ll get a kick out of kindness, too. Today, for example, I found running to work much more meaningful than my usual cab ride. I also found my cruelty to Miss Reingold refreshing. I used to enjoy being nice to her.’
‘I wondered why she was crying. What happened?’
‘I accused her of bad breath and body odor.’
‘That was a horrible thing to do. I’d never do a thing like that.’
‘I hope not. But the city health authorities had issued a formal complaint that the entire building was beginning to stink. I had no choice.’
In the ensuing silence I heard his chair squeak; he may have tipped back in it, but from where I lay I couldn’t tell. I could see only part of two walls, bookcases, books, my cobweb and a single small portrait of Socrates draining the hemlock. My taste in soothing pictures for patients seemed dubious.
‘I’ve been pretty cheerful lately too,’ Osterflood said meditatively, and I realized I wanted to get the focus back on my problems.
‘Of course, habit breaking can also be a chore,’ I said. ‘For example, I find it difficult to improvise new methods and places for urinating.’
‘I think... I almost think you may have brought me toward a breakthrough,’ Osterflood said, ignoring me.
‘I’m particularly concerned with my next bowel movement,’ I went on. ‘There seem to be definite limits as to what society will stand for. All sorts of eccentricity and nonsensical horrors can be permitted – wars, murder, marriage, slums – but that bowel movements should be made anywhere except in the toilet seems to be pretty universally considered despicable.’
‘You know that if... I felt that if I could just kick my little-girl addiction, just... lose interest, I’d be all right. The big ones don’t mind, or can be bought.’
‘Also locomotion. There are only a certain number of limited ways of moving from spot A to spot B. Tomorrow, for example, I won’t feel free to jog to work. What can I do? Walk backward?’ I looked over to Osterflood with a serious frown, but he was immersed in his own thoughts.
‘But now... lately... I got to admit it... I seem to be losing my interest in little girls.’
‘Walking backward’s a solution, of course, but only a temporary one. After that and crawling and running backward and hopping on one foot, I’ll feel confined, limited, repetitious, a robot.’
‘And that’s good, I know it is. I mean I hate little girls and now that I’m less interested in fucking them I feel that’s... definitely an advance.’ He looked down at me sincerely and I looked sincerely back.
‘Conversations too are a problem,’ I said. ‘Our syntax is habitual, our diction, our coherence. I have a habit of logical thought which clearly must be broken. And vocabulary. Why do I accept the limits of our habitual words? I’m a clod! A clod!’
‘But... but... lately... I’m afraid... I’ve sensed... I’m almost afraid to say it...’
‘Umpwillis. Art fodder. Wishmonger. Gladsull. Parminkson. Jombie. Blit. Why not? Man has limited himself artificially to the past. I feel myself breaking free.’
‘... that I’m, I feel I’m beginning to want, to be like... little boys.’
‘A breakthrough. A definite breakthrough if I can continue to contradict my habitual patterns as I have this morning. And sex. Sexual patterns must be broken too.’
‘I mean really like them,’ he said emphatically. ‘Not want to rape them or hurt them or anything like that, just bugger them and have them suck me off.’
‘Possibly this experiment could get me into dangerous ground. I suppose since I’ve habitually not been interested in raping little girls that theoretically I ought to try it.’
‘And boys... little boys are easier to get at. They’re more trusting, less suspicious.’
‘But really hurting someone frightens me. I suppose – No! It is a limitation. A limitation I must overcome. To be free from habitual inhibitions I will have to rape and kill.’
His chair squeaked, and I heard one of his feet hit the ground.
‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘No, Dr Rhinehart. I’m trying to tell you, raping and killing aren’t necessary anymore. Even hitting may be out.’
‘Raping, or at least killing, is absolutely necessary to the Random Man. To shirk that would be to shirk a clear duty.’
‘Boys, little boys, even teen-age boys, will do just as good, I’m sure. It’s dangerous with little girls, Doc, I warn you.’
‘Danger is necessary. The whole concept of the Random Man is the most dangerous and revolutionary ever conceived by man. If total victory demands blood then blood it must be.’
‘No, Dr Rhinehart, no. You must find another way to work it out. A less dangerous way. These are human beings you’re talking about.’
‘Only according to our habitual perceptive patterns. It may well be that little girls are actually fiends from another world sent to destroy us.’
He didn’t reply but I heard the chair give one small squeak.
‘It’s quite clear,’ I went on, ‘that without little girls we wouldn’t have women, and women – snorfu bock clisting rinnschauer.’
‘No, no, Doc, you’re tempting me. I know it, I see it now. Women are human beings, they must be.’
‘Call them what you will, they differ from us, Osterflood, and you can’t deny it.’
‘I know, I know, and boys don’t. Boys are us. Boys are good. I think I could learn to love boys and not to have to worry so much about the police anymore.’
‘Candy and kindness to girls, O., and a stiff prick to boys: you may be right. It would, for you, definitely be a habit breaker.’
Someone knocked on the door. The hour was up. As I dazedly rolled my feet onto the floor I felt Mr Osterflood pumping my hand vigorously: his eyes were blazing with joy.
‘This has been the greatest therapeutic hour of my life. You’re... you’re... you’re a boy, Dr Rhinehart, a genuine boy.’
‘Thank you, O. I hope you’re right.’
Die as God: Chapter Forty-seven
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, I lie;
He leadeth me beside the still waters, I swim.
He destroyeth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
For randomness sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for Chance is with me;
Thy two sacred cubes they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
In the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy and evil and cruelty shall follow me
All the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of Chance forever.
Luke Rhinehart (George Cockroft), The Dice Man, 1971