He’d sat facing the blank whiteboard for most of the December afternoon, the room’s silence broken from time to time by the clank and gurgle of the old radiators, until the winter’s day had turned to dusk. Outside, through the sash windows,he could see large snowflakes drifting out of a leaden sky, melting as they kissed the faint warmth of the glass panes. The red glow from a large neon sign on the building opposite made the rivulets look like miniature streams of blood as they slithered down the grimy glass.
It was difficult. It was always difficult to remember, the further back he went.
“You will remember, I promise,” the psychiatrist said, “just give it time.”
Why was it so hard? Other people seemed capable of reeling off bucket loads of memories. His were mined from a very narrow seam that, more often than not, petered out into the hard, dark rock of amnesia.
“Take it a year at a time. Don’t try to pick a day, a week. Try a month. What was the weather like? Where were you? Who were you with? That sort of thing.”
It rarely worked.
He taken to using the computer. Timelines helped. What was happening in the world on a certain date. Prompted, he remembered fragments of it. Events that he’d been part of but which seemed to lack his presence.
He’d seen photographs of the May Day parades in Moscow’s Red Square. The Politburo assembled on top of Lenin’s mausoleum, wrapped up against a Russian spring that was often slow to arrive. Overcoats, scarves, gloves, Homburg’s. Tense, grim faces, watching the long military parades down below them, their arms raised in forced waves at the lumpen proletariat.
He could name them at one time. The office had been thorough in teaching him that. He and Paddy Craven used to pride themselves on being able to tag them all. Faces, names, dates of birth, positions, family life, mistresses, shirt lifter’s. Those who’d been turned, those who couldn’t be, yet and those who would be airbrushed off the photograph, having fallen out of favour.
Sometimes, all that remained of a promising career and the reward of a visa for the West, was the creamy flap of a windblown overcoat that had overlapped the next man in the row, missed by the KGB’s photo department.
Funny thing was, you remembered the ones who had vanished more clearly than the ones who hung on to power watching their backs in the dark corridors of the ministry.
May, 1960 was an exception. He remembered the day with photographic clarity. What happened afterwards was the problem.
Sometimes, the fog of memory thinned and he could glimpse something through its striations before it closed again.
Like a country road, more of a track, brown flinty soil, little used but the marks of tyre tracks in the dust. On one side, a hill rising upwards to distant crags and a cobalt blue sky. The other side falling away to a Kodacolor sea. Silent, except for the crunch of his boots on the dry gravel.
Then, as he came round a bend in the track, he saw a girl, her brown hair blowing in the faint breeze, playing a violin as she sat on a rock, its base surrounded by springflowers.