YESTERDAY • by J.T. Toman

Beth fingered the fresh bruises that ringed her neck. The pain, which responded to each prod, was soothing in its reliability.

“What was different about yesterday, Beth?” asked the doctor sitting in the vinyl-covered visitor’s chair that faced her bed. He had introduced himself the day before, when they met for the first time.

Dr. Stanley, maybe? Or Sandberg? The name — Stewart? — had seemed so unimportant at the time. Today, however, she keenly felt the imbalance of their knowledge. This doctor knew she didn’t like to be called Mrs. Martinson. He had perused a chart of her bodily functions. And he had a good guess as to what she looked like naked. A one-size-fits-most hospital gown was not modest wear for a woman once considered erotically plump by her now ex-husband. “Yesterday? Nothing much.”

The doctor remained silent.

“I had the day off work,” Beth admitted. “But that happens a lot this time of year.” It was still September. Beth worked as a substitute teacher for the local high school, and the demand for her services was strongly correlated with flu season.

“So yesterday — it was about having the day off work?” asked the doctor, irritating Beth by simultaneously turning her statement into a question and mistaking her meaning altogether.

Beth shook her head. “No, of course not.” She poked at her neck again. Beth thought the doctor looked like a grizzled garden gnome. Internally, she rechristened him Graybeard.

Her day off work had been an opportunity, not a problem. The beauty of suicide, as opposed to a car accident or heart attack, was that it could be scheduled for a convenient time.

Graybeard twisted and untwisted the cap to his fountain pen, his hands resting on the blank yellow legal pad on his lap. “You know, Beth,” his voice was unhurried, “you can tell me what you’re thinking.”

Beth said nothing.

“Or ask any questions that are coming up for you.”

Beth had made several futile suicide attempts in the past. Too futile to be called a cry for help, as only she knew about them. A couple of times sitting on the kitchen floor, scraping a paring knife up and down her left wrist, too scared of the pain to plunge the blade in. One attempted overdose that ended with her puking into the bathtub for an hour.

Yesterday, she had tried hanging. Quick and painless. No blood, no gore. Well, the latter was only true provided decapitation didn’t occur. But Beth hadn’t been worried about that. Decapitation was a long-drop problem. Her entranceway was just twelve feet high.

“Anything,” Graybeard prompted. “Feel free to ask anything.”

Beth looked around the hospital room, searching for a benign topic of conversation.  “Do you watch TV?” she asked.

“Sometimes,” Graybeard replied. “But I prefer to read. What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Do you watch television?”

“No, not really.” The truth, ceaseless in its thirst for detail and clarification, required more effort than she was willing to expend.

There had been a time in her life when Beth hadn’t watched television. Her life had been filled with restaurant dinners, concerts, and summer-evening softball games. But that had been many years ago. These days, the television was Beth’s only companion. She couldn’t bring herself to turn it off. She dreaded the immediate silence that echoed in her ears. Even at bedtime, Beth needed its gentle murmur to lull her to sleep.

“Not really,” repeated Graybeard, seemingly to himself.

In the weeks leading up to yesterday, Beth had practiced and re-practiced her hangman’s knot in the comforting presence of her favorite shows. The hangman’s knot had been the one part Beth feared messing up.

When Beth had kicked the ladder away yesterday, the knot held firm. However, her weight had pulled the chandelier from the ceiling just far enough that her toes touched the floor. Apparently, it wasn’t mounted in such a way as to support a plus-sized woman. Uncomfortable and alive, she had struggled unsuccessfully to untie the rope.

“Do you want the nurses to phone someone?” asked Graybeard. “A friend, perhaps?”

“No.” Beth pressed her fingers into her neck, letting the pain override her panic. Too many people already knew about yesterday. Graybeard. The first responders. The postman.

It was when the postman came to deliver the mail that Beth’s predicament was noticed through her glass front door. Standing precariously on tip-toe. Calves cramping. Not competent enough to have carried out her plan. Not brave enough to lift her feet and finish the job.

Graybeard cleared his throat. “I want to talk more about yesterday. What made it different to the day before?”

Beth let her hand fall away from her neck. She shook her head. “Nothing. Nothing was different. That was the problem.”


J.T. Toman lives (and writes!) in Boulder, Colorado. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking, biking, and coaxing her vegetable garden to grow.


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 average 4 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Not sure on this one. Well written, but we seem to have a plus-size lady attempting to commit suicide due to a lack of self worth over her physical appearance, all of which ends in a fat joke involving a failed hanging and a chandelier. I didn’t know whether the author meant us to feel sympathy for Beth or to laugh at the farcical suicide attempt.

    • S Conroy
      I didn't actually think it was lack of self-worth due to overweight. I thought it was lack of self-worth due to depression.
      • Paul A. Freeman
        Reading between the lines of the third paragraph indicate that she Beth is no longer 'erotically plump' and has major issues about her increased size.
        • S Conroy
          Yeh. I got that, but I thought it was a product of depression rather than the reason. Maybe the author, if they're reading, could clarify?
    • monksunkadan
      Paul, I have to say that I didn't get any of the ideas that you did until I read them. Thank you for sharing those ideas and allowing me to look at this piece with an entirely different set of eyes. Seriously, your comments made this story even more interesting for me.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Not sure on this one. Well written, but we seem to have a plus-size lady attempting to commit suicide due to a lack of self worth over her physical appearance, all of which ends in a fat joke involving a failed hanging and a chandelier. I didn’t know whether the author meant us to feel sympathy for Beth or to laugh at the farcical suicide attempt.

    • S Conroy
      I didn't actually think it was lack of self-worth due to overweight. I thought it was lack of self-worth due to depression.
      • Paul A. Freeman
        Reading between the lines of the third paragraph indicate that she Beth is no longer 'erotically plump' and has major issues about her increased size.
        • S Conroy
          Yeh. I got that, but I thought it was a product of depression rather than the reason. Maybe the author, if they're reading, could clarify?
    • monksunkadan
      Paul, I have to say that I didn't get any of the ideas that you did until I read them. Thank you for sharing those ideas and allowing me to look at this piece with an entirely different set of eyes. Seriously, your comments made this story even more interesting for me.
  • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

    These lines: “She couldn’t bring herself to turn it off. She dreaded the immediate silence that echoed in her ears. Even at bedtime, Beth needed its gentle murmur to lull her to sleep.”

    As grim as the life of a depressed, suicidal person can be, this story lets us in on one more dagger … the opportunity to “chat” about it all with still another stranger. Well-told.

  • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

    These lines: “She couldn’t bring herself to turn it off. She dreaded the immediate silence that echoed in her ears. Even at bedtime, Beth needed its gentle murmur to lull her to sleep.”

    As grim as the life of a depressed, suicidal person can be, this story lets us in on one more dagger … the opportunity to “chat” about it all with still another stranger. Well-told.

  • S Conroy

    5 stars from me. I found this depiction very realistic and specially appreciated the part with the television. I’m also thankful that there is no forced upbeat ending.

  • S Conroy

    5 stars from me. I found this depiction very realistic and specially appreciated the part with the television. I’m also thankful that there is no forced upbeat ending.

  • Jule

    I loved this story, well told, not overly stated, not understated. It kept me reading on. I liked the way it lets the reader feel how it is to live isolated and alone in a world where we are supposedly better connected. Well done.

  • Jule

    I loved this story, well told, not overly stated, not understated. It kept me reading on. I liked the way it lets the reader feel how it is to live isolated and alone in a world where we are supposedly better connected. Well done.

  • I think this is a very well written story about “the human condition.” It’s about getting older and loss. A substitute teacher, waiting for “flu season” to be called to work, is terminally bored, or engulfed in ennui. While there had been a time in her life when she hadn’t watched TV, now it’s her main companion. The final sentence is the exclamation point and works really well, though perhaps the author could have added the MC thinking about a way to add some difference and/or excitement to her life.

  • I think this is a very well written story about “the human condition.” It’s about getting older and loss. A substitute teacher, waiting for “flu season” to be called to work, is terminally bored, or engulfed in ennui. While there had been a time in her life when she hadn’t watched TV, now it’s her main companion. The final sentence is the exclamation point and works really well, though perhaps the author could have added the MC thinking about a way to add some difference and/or excitement to her life.

  • monksunkadan

    Well done,J.T., not quite sure where Paul is coming from but that is what makes this whole process worthwhile. Everyone has a different idea of what we all are saying. Well done J.T..

    • Paul A. Freeman
      First poster is often like the point man who risks stepping on a landmine.
      • S Conroy
        I think it's interesting getting very different perspectives. It makes me go back and see what I've have missed. I'm half-wondering now if the author tried to put in a bit of wry humour just so it wouldn't be relentlessly bleak.
  • monksunkadan

    Well done,J.T., not quite sure where Paul is coming from but that is what makes this whole process worthwhile. Everyone has a different idea of what we all are saying. Well done J.T..

    • Paul A. Freeman
      First poster is often like the point man who risks stepping on a landmine.
      • S Conroy
        I think it's interesting getting very different perspectives. It makes me go back and see what I've have missed. I'm half-wondering now if the author tried to put in a bit of wry humour just so it wouldn't be relentlessly bleak.
  • judy

    Excellent….we all suffer from some form of low self esteem, especially women, and weight is only one of many insecurities that define us. As I am writing I see an ad above my writing about losing belly fat. The real cause of serious depression is that one day is the same as the other and we feel unable to change anything in our lives….I felt this story was a 5 because Beth exemplified that reality.

  • judy

    Excellent….we all suffer from some form of low self esteem, especially women, and weight is only one of many insecurities that define us. As I am writing I see an ad above my writing about losing belly fat. The real cause of serious depression is that one day is the same as the other and we feel unable to change anything in our lives….I felt this story was a 5 because Beth exemplified that reality.

  • joanna b.

    i gave this a 4 because of the quality of the writing. for example, “… a woman once considered erotically plump by her now ex-husband” was brilliant. ditto, “Decapitation was a longdrop problem.” I, for one, shall keep that in mind should the occasion arise.
    But i didn’t feel much emotion toward Beth or even know what emotion to feel. The story felt “academic.” The psychiatrist seemed there only to elicit the story rather than to help, or feel contempt for, or be frustrated with, Beth. Perhaps if he’d been given a stronger presence the story might have been more dramatic.
    Also, I would have liked to see more of Beth struggling in the present while hanging just above the floor. I didn’t think she would keep trying to untie the knot when she’d practiced so hard to get it perfect. She might have come up with better strategies.

    So, pardon me for saying this, I was left hanging even though the writing was exemplary.

  • joanna b.

    i gave this a 4 because of the quality of the writing. for example, “… a woman once considered erotically plump by her now ex-husband” was brilliant. ditto, “Decapitation was a longdrop problem.” I, for one, shall keep that in mind should the occasion arise.
    But i didn’t feel much emotion toward Beth or even know what emotion to feel. The story felt “academic.” The psychiatrist seemed there only to elicit the story rather than to help, or feel contempt for, or be frustrated with, Beth. Perhaps if he’d been given a stronger presence the story might have been more dramatic.
    Also, I would have liked to see more of Beth struggling in the present while hanging just above the floor. I didn’t think she would keep trying to untie the knot when she’d practiced so hard to get it perfect. She might have come up with better strategies.

    So, pardon me for saying this, I was left hanging even though the writing was exemplary.

  • I don’t really know what to make of this. We have a depressed and semi-suicidal woman who lacks whatever it takes to finish the job. So after another failed attempt she’s talking to a doctor and really not saying much.

    “Nothing was different. That’s the problem.”

    Exactly. Yet she never made any significant changes to improve her life. So I have no sympathy for the MC at all. I found her unlikable. And wishy-washy. So any emotion that should have been there was gone for me. It ended up nothing more than a conversation in a doctors office. Nothing happens. No resolve or solution, no action.

  • I don’t really know what to make of this. We have a depressed and semi-suicidal woman who lacks whatever it takes to finish the job. So after another failed attempt she’s talking to a doctor and really not saying much.

    “Nothing was different. That’s the problem.”

    Exactly. Yet she never made any significant changes to improve her life. So I have no sympathy for the MC at all. I found her unlikable. And wishy-washy. So any emotion that should have been there was gone for me. It ended up nothing more than a conversation in a doctors office. Nothing happens. No resolve or solution, no action.