The Man Who Couldn’t Finish Anything

by | Feb 13, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Seven

He’s about 40 and looks a lot like he did in his 20s – only his features are less defined now, fading away to reveal a softer, dreamier face. His vagueness makes him attractive. He’s not doing much with his life. He suffers from an ordinary curse: he cannot finish anything. These days he paints. He writes. He learns Japanese. He tends to plants and flowers. He plays the guitar. He is forever making plans. Fidgeting, frittering the hours away. I don’t really have to say more: you’ve met him and his kind before.

Sometimes when he’s having lunch with his lover he disappears in the middle of the meal. He rises from his chair briskly, announcing that inspiration has come. He thinks of inspiration as a sudden, imperious master one has to serve immediately. As a fateful knock on the door of the self. He is childish, impatient. She’s used to his whims and finishes eating on her own, unhurriedly. She pours herself another glass of wine. She knows he gets bored before he has even really started anything. They don’t live together and it’s just as well because if they did she would never get anything done. She would be tripping on his unfinished works over and over again.

He likes having projects: he likes projecting himself into fantastic tasks which are much too vast for him. He dreams – big. He is drawn to the unobtainable. When he was a kid, teachers used to tell his parents: Your son is gifted. He’ll go far. Ever since he was first praised for his drawings as a child, he has wanted to become an artist. Not just an artist or a good artist – a great artist. The vision of his unfulfilled greatness haunts him: every new project rekindles the promise that his wish may come true at last. His life is crammed with sketches, abandoned novels, half-written songs. He cannot put one foot in front of the other, cannot see anything anymore. There’s just so much trash around.

Although he’s not happy he’s entirely unaware of his inner sadness. He has no sense of the tragic whatsoever. One day he may wake up and realise his life has begun without him. Life doesn’t wait. Or he might never wake up at all. For now, his soul is fast asleep. He lives in a state of blindness, of delicious, infinite somnolence. The woman knows it yet she will not interfere. She believes in individual freedom. She believes in people’s right to waste their life as they please. And why does she stay? There is no reason, or perhaps there is only one reason: she loves him. They belong together. She prefers it when he’s not trying to prove anything. When the two of them lie naked in each other’s arms in the mid-afternoon and the April rain is tapping on the window-pane and the entire world is erased, forgotten.


You ask: Why a story about a man? What about a woman who could never finish anything? Surely there are women like this too but they’re much less common. A woman gets thrown in the middle of things – whether she wants it or not. There is no protective cushion between the world and her – she has no illusions of greatness. Few delusions. When she was growing up, nobody ever said she would go far. Starting things already costs her so much. It is enormously difficult – just to find the time, the resources, the space to act. She has no life to waste. The luxury of waste is a male privilege. The woman knows she has to work continuously – first to get things started, and then to sustain them. She cannot let the fire unattended, even for one moment. She doesn’t leave the room. She stays, sitting still. Her attitude isn’t one of waiting or sullen resignation, but of watchfulness. She’s not expecting any secret guest to appear. She knows inspiration never calls or strikes. It is there all the time, inside.

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