It was the music that made him realize that he had to do something and, when he thought about it, it really wasn’t nearly as complicated as he might have imagined. It was really quite simple.
Sitting on a District Line train, he stared up at the map showing the route, stretching eastward and westward from central London. He had no need to do so, he could have recited the stops on his journey without hesitation – sixteen of them, sixteen going in, sixteen coming out. He had an affection for the District Line: flower sellers would stand at various station concourses, newspaper boards displayed the evening headlines, when combined with the antique quality of some of the stations, there were views that were almost picturesque. It was odd how buildings from dark Victorian days had been conferred with a sort of charm by the passage of time.
He broke the bar of fruit and nut chocolate he had bought from a vending machine on the platform at the Temple station. A person of habit, he bought fruit and nut or whole nut chocolate from the same machine each evening. It stood opposite the doors of a carriage that would stop opposite the exit of the station where he left the train. The habits were unnecessary, he had no need to hurry anywhere, but he felt a need to look puposeful, to behave as though his time were subject to the urgent constraints which seemed to govern the lives of fellow travellers.
Eating chocolate was a more pleasant way of passing the journey than reading the book that lay on his lap, Anthony Burgess’s “1985”. Burgess’ novel described the imminent arrival of a dystopian society, it was unrelentingly bleak. Orwell’s “1984” seemed a piece of fantasy writing, a world that would never happen, when compared with the vision presented by Burgess. The novel had not been the wisest choice of reading, his mood was black enough without it being darkened. It had been on sale in an academic bookshop and he thought that buying it there meant it was sufficiently “weighty” for a young undergraduate to be seen reading, not that anyone would have noticed if he had chosen to read Mills & Boon on the Tube, this was London and no-one cared.
It was 1980, the beginning of a new decade and he had already an affection for the 1970s. Margaret Thatcher’s election in May 1979 had come as a shadow to close the years of his youth, an avid reader of every piece of political news since the age of thirteen, he had invested emotional energy in dreams of a new society, one that would be filled with optimism. Dreams of optimism would have no currency in the mind of monetarism.
It was the music that made him realize, the flashbacks were not needed, the story could be rewritten. He thought he understood the theoretical physicists when they asserted that time and space were a continuum, that time was within space, that space did not move through time but incorporated it, he thought he understood the assertion, if not its explanation. If the physicists were right, the past could not be changed, but his own experience told him that the past could be retold, that personal stories could be revised, amended, re-drafted. There was no need for a complete reinvention, just an adjustment of the script.
It was almost a moment of epiphany, the realization that the thoughts that had passed through his mind in those metropolitan days were known only to himself, that the doctors to whom he had spoken were by now long retired, if not dead. No-one had ever asked him about 1980, no-one would ever have had the slightest care about what things had been thought by a foreigner in a distant city a long time ago.
Just change the dialogue, not even a dialogue; just change the words of the narrative. Next time the music was played, he would recall the months as a watershed, a time of purposeful change. No-one could contradict him because no-one else had been there. Even the chocolate would taste better and Burgess’ novel would become interesting and provocative, without a hint of a personal shadow for him.