by Michael Bloor
(first published Grey Sparrow Journal, Issue 40, July 31st, 2022)
I believe quite a lot of people chat, from time to time, with their deceased relatives. Myself, I’ve often chatted to my dad, especially when stuck in traffic. But I imagine that chatting to Samuel Taylor Coleridge is more unusual.
Unusual, but understandable in my case. I’ve been mildly obsessed with Coleridge for fifty-odd years, ever since I read that line, “Five miles meandering with a mazy motion.”
What we mostly chat about these days is my mobility problem, namely that I can’t walk past my local pub. Previously, we’ve agreed on throwing out my home-brewing kit. I now drink water or squash with my meals. And I only buy-in booze if I’ve got guests. I’ve told Samuel that the mobility problem is now The Big One: crack that and the sunlit uplands await. I’m setting down the gist of the discussion we had, on the hard road home after closing time…
“Urrrggh. What a bloody waste of five hours and thirty quid. Why? WHY do I keep putting things off? And where’s the attraction in that bloody pub??”
“Indeed, sir. I did mark most particularly the ‘Person from Porlock’ who explained to you how to replace the sash in sash-and-case windows.”
“Jeez. Don’t remind me, Samuel. Why? WHY didn’t I just drink up and go??”
“Let us confabulate, Sir, and seek a satisfactory consonance.” Samuel paused and made a sound like that of drawing on a cigarette and exhaling the smoke. “If I may, I would like to offer a personal observation that may assist you. Oft times I have reached for the laudanum to soothe the toothache. And oft times to allay the rheumatics. But more often still, have I fled to the soporific poppy in despair and panic from the terrible specter of Work Undone. And worse still, from the looming, wrathful wraith of Work Only Half Done…”
“You mean…” [It’s difficult to interrupt Coleridge in full flow].
“I mean that, when you hear the old saw ‘the distance is nothing, the first step is the hardest,’ when you hear that blatant untruth, reach for your rapier. There is no thing more daunting to a man of good intentions than a distant finishing post. Speak not to me of completions!”
“No, no, I wouldn’t dream of…”
“Eighteen years, nigh on nineteen years, I struggled to find the occasion and the wit to finish ‘Kubla Khan.’ In the end, that beggar Byron persuaded me to publish it unfinished – an awful monument to, and reminder of, my incorrigible SLOTH.”
Samuel choked on the last word. I would have said something in consolation, but I too was struggling with a sudden emotion. My boyhood hero had supplied the diagnosis for my condition, and “sloth” is an ugly word. I walked on in silence.
Kind reader, you are no doubt wondering how it was I turned from sloth long enough to complete this fragment. Providence smiled on me: the pandemic came along and the government closed the pub.