Taking place in the middle of the pandemic, Graham Swift’s “Blushes,” is a story about growing up with diseases. The protagonist, Dr. Cole, travels the empty streets to start his day at the hospital. He remembers his childhood infections. As a youth, he could check off the childhood diseases that he had overcome. He felt pride at being able to finish the list of “desirable” diseases after turning ten.
In the story, the young Cole has a birthday party that reminds me of confusing times as a youth. We both were put in situations where the right answer wasn’t clear. The grownups didn’t help it make sense. Thinking on the parents holding the party, the older Cole remembered the dear women he had lost in the past few years. As an older man, Dr. Cole was able to reflect on his tenth birthday in ways that he couldn’t then.
“Blushes,” published in the January 18, 2021 issue of The New Yorker is one of the satisfying stories I’ve seen there. Each week, the magazine publishes a fiction piece, a short story, to counterpoint the excellent journalism in the rest of the magazine. I look forward to the story each week and make sure that I have time to read it. Often it is the frosting on the cake for a “birthday” that comes every week.