Spring 2018, Volume 24

Fiction by Bill Thompson

Suicide Blues

I decided to kill myself on a Thursday. It had been on my mind in a vague way for several weeks. It was an afternoon in the fall, probably the end of October. I remember that much. Dark was coming early, and the afternoon had that faded look of coming winter. I was kicking leftover leaves from the autumn cleanup as I realized what I was going to do.

I was fourteen, and didn’t know much—if you didn’t count the books I read. I thought about all the ways to kill myself, but none of the obvious ones appealed. I had been reading Hemingway that summer, and I knew he’d shot himself. I didn’t have a gun, of course. The only person I knew who did was Mr. Hamilton down the street, and he was a hunter.

He showed me his gun collection once. My mother and I were visiting—mostly my mother was visiting Mrs. Hamilton, and I suppose the old man thought I’d be interested. His guns were in a locked, glass case in the basement. He led me downstairs, then lectured me for ten minutes on holding the rifle he took from the case.

“That one’s for hunting white-tail,” he said.

I knew he meant deer. “Where are the bullets?” I asked, impulsively, looking up from the rifle.

Mr. Hamilton was not a man who smiled easily. “In the garage,” he said, eyeing me with a frown. “You never keep your guns and your ammunition in the same place.”

So shooting myself was out of the question. I suppose I could have cut my wrists—the kitchen had knives of every variety. But that didn’t seem like an option either; I didn’t like the sight of my own blood.

I had read or heard about other methods—throwing oneself in front of a car or bus, lying down on some train tracks, or jumping from a building or bridge. Of those options, the bridge was the most appealing. I could take the bus down to the High Level at night, and I could just jump off. Seemed easy enough. However, getting out of the house in the middle of the night without my mother knowing would be a feat in itself.

I put that one aside as a possibility. There was my Uncle Gene, of course—my Uncle Gene on my mother’s side who had killed himself with an overdose of pills. I wished I could remember what he had taken, but I don’t think anyone ever said. The story was part of family history—Uncle Gene, a quiet, modest man who taught English at a high school, who one weekend during the summer washed down some pills with half a bottle of whiskey. Uncle Gene was unmarried, and my Aunt Fran found him the following Monday after he failed to show for a family dinner.

I was home by this time. The overdose option seemed the most promising, and I went into the bathroom to check the medicine cabinet: Band-Aids, rubbing alcohol, Benylin—all the stuff you would expect to find in a medicine cabinet, but nothing that seemed helpful in my attempted suicide.

There—I had said the word, at least to myself. I hadn’t even thought the word to that point. I wondered if Uncle Gene had used the word or thought consciously that he was committing suicide when he took those pills.

It was such a strange word—suicide. I closed the door to the medicine cabinet and went in search of a dictionary. I looked it up.

Suicide (noun).

  1. The act of intentionally or voluntarily taking one’s own life
  2. A person who commits suicide.

Well, I already knew that. I said it over in my head—I am going to commit suicide. It sounded weird. I am going to kill myself. That sounded better.

I put the dictionary back on the desk in the living room and went back to the bathroom. I looked in the medicine cabinet once more. I could always buy something, but they knew me at the drugstore down the street, so I’d have to go to the one up the avenue.

Then I spotted the bottle of aspirin. Hadn’t I heard something at school: that drinking Coke with aspirin would kill you—if you took enough aspirin as you drank the Coke? I remembered some girls talking about it in the cafeteria. I always sat near the girls while I ate my lunch, and they never seemed to mind.

That’s what I’ll do, I thought. I will kill myself with aspirin and Coke.

I had to wait almost a week before I could make the attempt. I never thought much in that week about why I wanted to kill myself. I didn’t think about it much. I mostly thought about the sense of relief I felt in the knowledge I was going to commit suicide. I couldn’t explain it then, but it gave me a perverse sort of hope, which I knew didn’t make sense. All that week I felt better—happier, more in control.


Only years later, in my thirties, working as a web content writer for a university, and after a disastrous relationship with a woman that sent me into therapy, was I able to talk about that time as a fourteen-year-old: my ever-present sense of despair—feeling alone, cut off, alien, unliked, and somehow cheap, just as though I could be thrown out like an old pair of shoes.

“I tried to kill myself when I was fourteen, you know.” I said this to my mother with a forced sort of casualness. It was a quiet evening in June—a Sunday. I usually visited my mother on Sundays.

My mother looked at me, stoically, I thought. It was hard to read her response. She took a sip from the glass of red wine she held.

“Why?” she asked, carefully, her voice betraying both the desire to know and the need not to acknowledge my words.

I’ve discovered this about people. They don’t like to hear that you want to kill yourself. I get it—they want to hear you’re thinking of traveling, or have a new hobby, or maybe a new significant other. They don’t want to hear you’re thinking of killing yourself because it puts them in an uncomfortable position—morally, mostly. If they know you want to kill yourself, then they feel obligated to say something:

That’s terrible.

       I’m sorry, but you don’t want to do that.

       Think of your family.

       Think of the life you have to live.

       And, are you seeking professional help?

I don’t go around telling people I want to kill myself—I haven’t felt that way since I was fourteen. But I think about it sometimes, because of what I tried to do, and because of my Uncle Gene, but it’s a topic most people don’t want to hear about. Even my therapist twitched when I brought it up.

“It’s hard to explain,” I said to my mother. “At least why, I mean.”

She waited, sipping again at her wine.

I looked down at my own glass. “It was ... like realizing ... you are living in a place that’s intolerable. A house, or an apartment where things are so bad you just have to leave. You would rather be anywhere else but in that space, and you would do anything to leave it. That’s what it was like ... but in my own body ... I wanted to be anywhere but inside my own skin.”

To my surprise, my mother nodded her head.

“I understand,” she said. “I remember feeling like that a few times—mostly when you were little.”

I didn’t say anything. I waited.

“It was before I left your dad. Your grade one year. Things had always been difficult, but your father was drinking pretty heavily then.”

I didn’t remember very well. I waited for more.

“He never hit me,” said my mother, sipping her wine. “But he wanted sex, and he was prepared to take it—whether I wanted to or not. So it was like being raped every time he was drunk.”

I looked down the length of the yard, at the even, green lawn, my mother’s flowers bordering the small patio, and the conifers along the north fence. I tried to remember and couldn’t.

“I thought about killing myself,” said my mother, “but I knew if I did, I would be leaving you behind. I realized after a while that I didn’t want to kill myself; I wanted to leave your father. So I packed some bags while he was at work, and you and I took the Greyhound to your Aunt Flo’s on Vancouver Island. It was a long trip. I remember you were excited at the thought of sleeping overnight on the bus. We stayed there more than three months.”

I remembered the trip to Aunt Flo’s. She was my great-aunt. I remembered the attention Aunt Flo and Uncle Frank showered on me. I remembered their backyard—a wild tangle of shrubs and trees. I called it a forest. And I remember trips to the beach—the sand and the rocks and the shells, overlaid by the watery, fishy smell of the sea.

“I told your father I wanted a divorce, and I got a restraining order. You and I went home at the end of the summer, and I was able to get a job at Sears. Things just went on after that.”

I remembered my mother getting a job—I had to stay after school with Mr. and Mrs. Short, an older couple who lived across the street. I had to adjust, but I mostly remember feeling happy that it was just my mother and me. I saw my dad sporadically and infrequently after that. He would pick me up from school, and we would do something together—a ball game, a car show. After a while, I would just meet him at the Dairy Queen a couple of blocks from the house. And every time I saw him, a dower man, who said little and offered less by way of affection or praise, I felt the guilt and shame of a child who knows he has no choice but to live with the decisions he doesn’t understand, by the adults who never explain. And when his visits ceased a few years later, I didn’t ask why.

My mother and I talked long into that evening: I told her more about my attempted suicide, and we even talked about Uncle Gene. And as we talked, I felt the slow unraveling of things I had only partly understood, and I began to get a clearer picture of those years for both my mother and me.


I waited until my mother had the Friday-evening shift at Sears, and I walked the block and a half to the Chinese grocery where I bought my Coke. I thought a big bottle would be best.

I carried the Coke home in a paper bag—the evening already dark around me. Back at the house, I set the bottle on the table and went to my bedroom for the aspirin I had bought at the drugstore the afternoon before. It all felt deliberate and practiced.

I counted out fifty pills—I thought that would do it. I could take more if I needed them. I held the pills in my left hand, and I began dropping them into the wide, open mouth of the Coke bottle, three and four at a time. Well, you can guess the result—at least if you’ve ever tried this stunt.

That bottle of Coke practically exploded in my face. I think I was leaned down close to the mouth of the bottle. Coke foamed and hissed out of that bottle as if I had shaken it hard before opening it. It foamed across the table and poured onto the floor—drip, drip, splat.

I ran for a towel and began mopping up the Coke. Even as I did, the goddam bottle kept foaming and spitting. I finally had the sense to set the bottle in the sink. I was covered, the table was covered, and the floor was covered. It took me half an hour to clean it up. After chucking the last rag into the clothes basket in the bathroom, I came back into the kitchen and looked at that bottle standing upright in the sink, now more than half empty. I stared at it for a moment, then dumped what was left down the drain.

I felt letdown and more than a little stupid. But I didn’t dwell on what I had tried to do. By the time my mom got home after 9:30, I was sitting limply in front of the TV, watching an old movie.

She set her purse down on the table, and came forward into the middle of the living-room. She always did this, as though she were reclaiming the space after a long absence.

“How was your day?” she asked, watching me carefully.

“It was okay,” I said, barely looking up from the TV.

“How about a snack?” said my mom, still watching me.

“Sure,” I said.

My mother went into the kitchen to find something for us to eat. I sat in the living room, and felt the heaviness settle over me—like a pall, like a thick blanket that muffled me securely from the outside. With time, it would become a place of refuge, a place where I could live, once removed from the disappointment that was my life, from the disappointment that was me; while what I had tried to do that evening would slowly fade into memory, leaving behind a pale shadow of the desire to erase myself from the world.



BIO: William Thompson is totally blind, and he teaches children’s literature for MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. His work has appeared in Firewords Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, Penmen Review, The Danforth Review, and Literary Orphans. He has two collections of stories—The Paper Man and Other Stories, and Fractured and Other Fairy Tales—both available on Amazon. He also maintains a blog at www.OfOtherWorlds.ca. He considers coffee a food group, and he loves to walk and read, usually at the same time..