Blake Winter's Birthday
or, The Obscurity of the Problem and the Brevity of a Man's Life

by Joshua Edwards


                
       

                          
lake Winter was a small man.   He had a boyish face on a round head.  His hair was dark brown with intimations of gray at his temples.  His eyes were big and  soft and calm, and when people were with him, they felt big and soft and calm.  He liked Brahms.  He liked the paintings of Chagall.  There was always a
vase of fresh flowers on his dining table.  He was good at what he did and he enjoyed it.  He was an
architect.  He designed private country homes for very wealthy people, and made lots of money.  His designs
were renowned.  One reviewer said that he was "the only living successor to early Jorn Utzon, even though
their work is entirely dissimilar."  The magazine Modern Architecture said that his style "expresses the
philosophies of his masters, while retaining an essence all his own."   Perhaps the most telling
review was that, "Mr. Blake Winter simply knows what people want, and he gives it to them simply."
    This was his secret, that he knew what people wanted -- not only in his profession, but in all aspects of life.  They wanted rooms that give them space to fill, they wanted friends that listen intently, they wanted
to feel as though nothing could over-express them. People wanted humble greatness.  And this was the
reason why he was successful and hugely popular.  This was the essence that was all his own, the idea he had
grabbed hold of, and which walked and worked quietly beside him.  Everything that he produced evoked
feelings of greatness and humility.
   For all of his success, there was one of life's questions that totally escaped Blake, and that was the
question of true love.  It was simply nonexistent for him, something which he neither missed nor conceived,
like a starry sky for a city dweller.  That's not to say that he didn't have a profound affection for
humanity, for he did, but to hand his heart over to someone else was another thing altogether,  and he
simply could not do it.  Relationships... sure, those were simple.  He was always associated with one
beautiful young artist or lawyer, but these affairs never outlasted a tube of toothpaste, and were usually
finished before a roll of toilet paper.  And things never went wrong, they simply never went anywhere.

*    *    *

   The cycle was predictable.  The first dates were just as getting-to-know-you dates should be: casual and
pleasant conversation which ended with everyone feeling better about life and humanity in general.
The women would gaze at the small, youthful face across from them, smiling warmly.  They would think
how dear he looked, how soft his eyes were, how innocent the night felt, and how this was someone to
whom they could tell anything at all.  A confidant. And they confided in him.  And on his part, he heard
them, he remembered the details of importance.  He knew what they needed.  Oh, but how he listened and
knew how it felt!  He was so tender... and at this point they felt close to him, when actually they were
close to that apparition that walked beside him.  It appeared as though his attention was theirs, when his
attention was actually paid to his attention to them. They were an entire step away from everything
breakable.  For Blake they were only pictures; and although he seemed right there, he was far away.  He
was protected, as if on the other side of a lens.  He was lost in perfection.


      *    *    *

    The relationships most often made it to the next stage.  There was something about being with a woman
that made him feel like a kid at a carnival or a beach.  That was as deep as the feeling went.  He
really enjoyed beaches and carnivals, and women looked at his radiant face and felt appreciated, and
sometimes they even felt loved.  But they were wrong, for it was not them who were appreciated or loved, but
the idea of them.  They were destinations for the boyish man; vacations from singularity.  And this
eventually became apparent to Blake's girlfriends. There came a time when no matter how well things went,
despite the deep conversation, exquisite food, or masterful sex, it was apparent that there was no
effort.  It all came easily.  Everything emotional that Blake brought was gone when he left.  Just the
wrappers lay around, mementos of good times.  Those times together were like cellophane dreams, they just
weren't sound.  Everything was without that certain foundation, that incredible quality unique to love or
even the possibility of love.
    And so it would end.
    "Blake, I just don't think this is going to work out."
    "Yes... I understand."
    "I mean, Blake, you're wonderful... I just feel as though this isn't progressing."
    "There's something missing, isn't there?"
    "Well... yes.  It's more that some opportunity is missing."
    "Yeah, I agree.  It probably is best to end it here."
    And the ladies would be baffled.  They hadn't wanted it to end just then, with their trying to tell him it
was going to end, they wanted to figure out where he stood... but he hadn't stood, or run, it was just as
though he had never been there at all.  And there it was.  No protest, no attempt at finding that missing
something.  Whatever had or had not happened, something didn't catch and hold.  Blake went on his
way and they came away wondering if it wasn't effort that made love work.  The effort to create something
was missing.  And perhaps that was what romance was... the effort to create.
    If the woman didn't initiate the end, it ended with Blake calmly explaining to a young lady who wanted to
stay over too much, or who expected something of him, that he wouldn't be able to go out with her anymore
because things were getting too involved.  And they wouldn't be upset, but were bewildered.  Too involved?
Well... that's that.

*    *    *


   Blake was so personable however, that when these relationships ended, they usually became friendships.
And he was a good friend, because he was a fine confidant.  No love was lost, for no love had ever
been gained.  Such a good friend, though.  And to so many.  He seemed to give endlessly in that regard.
Great yet humble, that was the eternal mood.  This was the reason for the amazing success of his parties.
Everyone felt great and humble.  They looked around them at his walls and his friends, and everything gave
off that Blake-ish vibe.  They came through the door imbued with the feeling they had when they were alone
with him, that of humble confidence and admiration. His parties were, in a word, perfect.  The people who
showed up were top-notch, everything was carefully laid out, the right food and the right drinks were on
hand.  He usually had musician friends taking care of the music, whether live or else.  The activities would
be perfectly suited to the number of people there. Blake could balance everything.  If someone looked
uncomfortable, huddled in a corner alone with their martini, Blake would find someone with whom they could
relate, and he would bring them together.  If the person was a visiting architect from Germany, Blake
would go fetch the Biblical scholar who had done his doctoral thesis on the effects that Johann Gutenberg's
invention of movable type had on Christianity in the 15th century.  If a young dancer had a sore calf,
Blake would introduce them to a young doctor.  If someone merely needed a listening ear, Blake would
listen.

*    *    *


    It was at one such perfect party that the world saw Blake Winter in a new light.  It was  at his own
birthday party in fact (which was thrown at his house with his help because his friends knew that anything
less would be a let-down) that he found, or maybe merely revealed to himself, the latency of his need.
    His friends surrounded him as bent over a vanilla and strawberry cake, ready to extinguish the twenty-nine
candles that symbolized his enduring success as one of the living.  He took a deep breath and puffed.  All of
the candles but one were blown out, their smoke rose like so many fulfilled purposes in some sort of prayer
for the one that was left behind.  Blake's head still hung, and everybody watched him as he watched that
lone flame.  He watched it and watched it until it burned itself out, and then he rose his head and
looked around.  When his friends saw his face they were appalled, for his eyes coruscated, and just as he
smiled two huge tears broke and rolled down his boyish cheeks along lines that none of them had ever noticed
before.  And not a one of them said a thing.  Blake broke the silence.
    "How about some champagne?"
    And the champagne was opened and nothing was mentioned, but many people thought of what he had
looked like and how they had never before seen him shed a tear, or even show any emotion but those tied
to virtue.
    Monique, the woman Blake was dating, brought him a glass and raised her glass, and everyone else raised
their glass to drink to the birthday boy.  She was probably the only one at the party who didn't know how
strange it was to see him cry, having had been acquainted to him for only a few months.  And she
proposed the toast.
   "Here's to Blake, the love of all our lives, the most industrious bastard on the block, and as sensitive a
soul as the world has ever seen."
    With laughter they downed their drinks, while in Blake's heart grew a dull pain that he had never felt
before.  The rest of the party passed quickly, and it was three o'clock when the last guests stood at the
door facing him and Monique.
    "As always, a wonderful time.  Thank you, Blake."
    "No, no, thank you all.  I couldn't have asked for a better birthday."
    "Well, what can we say?  And you, Monique, you take care of him tonight.  Wink, wink."
    "Oh, you know I will Ed... wink, wink."
   "Well, the taxis are waiting.  Bye you guys..."
    All the guests but Monique were gone.
    "Monique, I think I'd like to be by myself tonight, if you don't mind.  I'm a bit tight and well, it's
been a long day.  I told the service to hold a cab for ten minutes after the others.  You don't mind, do you?"
    "No, no... that's fine Blake.  Is everything all right?"
    "Oh yeah.  It's just... well... I've got a lotta stuff to do tomorrow, but how about we get breakfast
together Sunday morning, at Sonny's, eight o'clock?"
    "Sure... sure.  Everything's all right?"
    "Perfect, really.  Beautiful.  Thanks for everything tonight.  I really like the watch."
    "I'm glad...  Well, there's the taxi.  I'll see you Sunday."
    She put her hand on his cheek and they kissed very purposefully.  She turned and he slowly shut the door
behind her.  Then he went to bed and was quickly overcome by sleep.


*    *    *

    The next day he went out and did his laundry.  He went grocery shopping and to the record shop to pick
up an album that a musician friend had recommended. He returned home, dropped the stuff off, then ran to
the gym, where he worked out, then ran back home.  He washed up and cleaned the apartment.  Then he sat down
at his desk to examine some sketches for a house that he had been working on, but he couldn't pay attention.
He opened a drawer and removed a stack of paper.  He leafed off a single sheet and started folding...


*    *    *

    Sunday morning Blake walked briskly down the avenue, a cold wind tingling his face.  The people that walked
by him all seemed to gladly welcome this first crisp day of Fall, come a little late this year.  As he
opened the door to the diner he saw Monique, her eyes intently fixed on the menu, a scarf still wrapped
around her neck.  He paused there in the doorway and stood staring at her.  She had lustrous brown hair,
which was tinged gold by the morning sun.  Her face was round and looked very warm to touch, although he
knew it must still be cold from the out-of-doors.  Her eyes were intelligent and he remembered how intently
she spoke of things... like Picasso's Blue Period, and someone he was not familiar with called Orozco.  She
was very pretty, too.  And right as he thought that she looked up and, folding her menu closed, waved to
him and smiled.  Blake smiled also, walked over and sat down across from Monique.
    "Hi."
    "Hey."
    The waitress came and stood beside the table.
    "Do you know what you're having?"
    "I'll have the French toast."
    "Yeah, me too.  And coffee."
    "O.K., that'll be right out."
    "Oh!  And a piece of paper if you have one..."
    Monique and Blake talked about the weather and how they liked the air when it felt fresh and cold, and
they both asked how the other was doing, and they both said 'good'.  And Blake showed that he was wearing the
watch that Monique had given him and she was pleased. Then the waitress came back.
    "Here's your coffee and a piece of paper.  The food will be another coupla minutes."
    "Thanks a lot."
    Then the waitress left and Blake started to fold the paper this way and that.
    "What are you doing?"
    "I'm making something for you."
    "What?"
    "You'll see..."
    She sat and watched him fold and unfold and tuck, and fold some more.  Then, in his outstretched hands,
there was a paper swan.
    There you go.
    "Why, thank you.  It's very beautiful."
    "I'm glad you like it.  I learned how to make it in my first undergraduate architecture class."
    "Really?"
    "Yeah.  It was an exercise.  I stayed up late last night trying to remember... I hadn't made one since
that class."
    Blake took a sip of his coffee and looked out the window at the quiet street.  It had started snowing,
with an unpredictable failure of meaning.
JOSHUA EDWARDS is the publisher and executive editor of Canary River, a literary journal to be published in October, featuring work by Nick Flynn, Beth Gylys, Joseph Millar, Ernesto Cardenal, Lyn Lifshin, Aaron Belz, Matthew Rohrer, and many others.  He has poetry forthcoming in Pudding, and wishes he had time to write more.  He'll be in Nicaragua this summer for three months before returning to Oregon to work with an upstart record label and do the literary thang.  He's 23.  "Blake Winter's Birthday" is dedicated to Caricia Catalani because he likes her very much.
TAR