Yesterday Was Monday
by Theodore Sturgeon

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Unknown, June 1941

collected in —

The Golden Helix
Microcosmic God

February 2011

Building for tomorrow

This fabulous story, "Yesterday Was Monday" by Theodore Sturgeon, is a short fantasy classic, one of the most memorable to appear in the 39 issues of the still-lamented magazine Unknown (later Unknown Worlds). It is perhaps the most thoughtful fun in so few pages about time — and it's not a time-travel story. In fact, its premise is a refutation of the progression of time as we seem to experience it.

Harry Wright wakes up in his apartment but something feels out of joint:

It felt like Wednesday. There was a Wednesdayish feel to the air.

... He knew what day it was. "What happened to yesterday?" he muttered. "Oh — yesterday was Monday." ...

... there was a certain something about the place that made even this phlegmatic character stop and think.

It wasn't finished.

... there was an odor of old cut lumber, a subtle, insistent air of building, about the room and everything in it. ...

On the steps a little fellow, just over three feet tall, was gently stroking the third step from the top with a razor-sharp chisel, shaping up a new scar in the dirty wood. He looked up as Harry approached, and stood up quickly.

"Hi," said Harry, taking in the man's leather coat, his peaked cap, his wizened, bright-eyed little face. "Whatcha doing?"

"Touch-up," piped the little man. "The actor in the third floor front has a nail in his right heel. He came in late Tuesday night and cut the wood here. I have to get it ready for Wednesday."

"This is Wednesday," Harry pointed out.

"Of course. Always has been, Always will be."

The days of our lives

The days in Sturgeon's story do not flow one into the next, but are separate, coming one after another distinctly — like the ticks of an old-fashioned pocket watch. The watch's hands do not flow from one second-mark to the next: they are at one mark, and then they jump to the next.

Sturgeon's beautifully constructed tale embodies, with striking success, the concept of time as duration but in clock-step form, working rather at a cross-angle to our more common sense of time as a flowing passage or smooth succession. I continue quoting Friedrich Kummel where I left off in my review of Sturgeon's "Poker Face", which also deals with duration:

This alleged identity and permanence [of flowing and enduring time] encounters difficulties, however, as soon as we cease to consider time under its formal aspect (free from all content), and direct our attention to things which exist in time. They also take part in the movement of time and are altered in it. The concept of change seems at first sight to contain within it precisely such an identity of incessant alteration and permanence, since all that changes is necessarily altered while at the same time it persists. ...

Very special conditions must be satisfied before one may assert the identity in time, the duration of a given existent. The permanence of marble, over which time passes almost imperceptibly, differs so essentially from the permanence of a living being that one questions the usefulness of joining them under the same concept.

Friedrich Kummel
"Time as Succession and the Problem of Duration"
  in —
J. T. Fraser, editor
The Voices of Time  (1966)

Besides time, we sense that history, science, craftsmanship, and perhaps even theology all come together in this Gordian clockwork of "Yesterday Was Monday", and all these presented as the almost-believably realistic scenes and events experienced by an ordinary guy who happens to wake up on Wednesday, before it's quite finished.

Theodore Sturgeon's "Yesterday Was Monday", is one of the truly distinctive stories on the nature of time. A delightful fantasy, and an enduring favorite of mine.

Doesn't it seem sometimes as though the calendar were out of step, and yesterday was — ?


© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson

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