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英语听力:High Rise 03/Death of a Resident

 

3/Death of a Resident

    A cloudless sky, as dull as the air over a cold vat, lay across the concrete walls and
embankments of the development project. At dawn, after a confused night, Laing went out on to his balcony and looked down at the silent parking-lots below. Half a mile to the south, the river continued on its usual course from the city, but Laing searched the surrounding landscape, expecting it to have changed in some radical way. Wrapped in his bath-robe, he massaged his bruised shoulders. Although he had failed to realize it at the time, there had been a remarkable amount of physical violence during the parties. He touched the tender skin, prodding the musculature as if searching for another self, the physiologist who had taken a quiet studio in this expensive apartment building six months earlier. Everything had started to get out of hand. Disturbed by the continuous noise, he had slept for little more than an hour. Although the highrise was silent, the last of the hundred or so separate parties held in the building had ended only five minutes beforehand.

    Far below him, the cars in the front ranks of the parking-lot were spattered with broken
eggs, wine and melted ice-cream. A dozen windscreens had been knocked out by falling bottles. Even at this early hour, at least twenty of Laing's fellow residents were standing on their balconies, gazing down at the debris gathering at the cliff-foot.

    Unsettled, Laing prepared breakfast, absent-mindedly pouring away most of the coffee he
had percolated before he tasted it. With an effort he reminded himself that he was due to
demonstrate in the physiology department that morning. Already his attention was fixed on the events taking place within the high-rise, as if this huge building existed solely in his mind and would vanish if he stopped thinking about it. Staring at himself in the kitchen mirror, at his wine-stained hands and unshaven face with its surprisingly good colour, he tried to switch himself on. For once, Laing, he told himself, fight your way out of your own head. The disturbing image of the posse of middle-aged women beating up the young masseuse anchored everything around him to a
different plane of reality. His own reaction -- the prompt side-step out of their way -- summed up more than he realized about the progress of events.

    At eight o'clock Laing set off for the medical school. The elevator was filled with broken
glass and beer cans. Part of the control panel had been damaged in an obvious attempt to prevent the lower floors signalling the car. As he walked across the parking-lot Laing looked back at the high-rise, aware that he was leaving part of his mind behind him. When he reached the medical school he walked through the empty corridors of the building, with an effort re-establishing the identity of the offices and lecture theatres. He let himself into the dissecting rooms of the anatomy department and walked down the lines of glass-topped tables, staring at the partially dissected cadavers. The steady amputation of limbs and thorax, head and abdomen by teams of students, which would reduce each cadaver by term's end to a clutch of bones and a burial tag, exactly matched the erosion of the world around the high-rise.


    During the day, as Laing took his supervision and lunched with his colleagues in the
refectory, he thought continually about the apartment building, a Pandora's box whose thousand lids were one by one inwardly opening. The dominant tenants of the high-rise, Laing reflected, those who had adapted most successfully to life there, were not the unruly airline pilots and film technicians from the lower floors, nor the bad-tempered and aggressive wives of the well-to-do tax specialists on the upper levels. Although at first sight these people appeared to provoke all the tension and hostility, those really responsible were the quiet and self-contained residents, like the dental surgeon Steele and his wife. A new social type was being created by the apartment building, a cool, unemotional personality impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life, with minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere. This was the sort of resident who was content to do nothing but sit in his over-priced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbours to make a mistake.
    
    Perhaps the recent incidents represented a last attempt by Wilder and the airline pilots
to rebel against this unfolding logic? Sadly, they had little chance of success, precisely because
their opponents were people who were content with their lives in the high-rise, who felt no
particular objection to an impersonal steel and concrete landscape, no qualms about the invasion of their privacy by government agencies and data-processing organizations, and if anything welcomed these invisible intrusions, using them for their own purposes. These people were the first to master a new kind of late twentieth-century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed.
   
    Alternatively, their real needs might emerge later. The more arid and affectless life
became in the high-rise, the greater the possibilities it offered. By its very efficiency, the
high-rise took over the task of maintaining the social structure that supported them all. For the
first time it removed the need to repress every kind of anti-social behaviour, and left them free
to explore any deviant or wayward impulses. It was precisely in these areas that the most
important and most interesting aspects of their lives would take place. Secure within the shell of the high-rise like passengers on board an automatically piloted airliner, they were free to behave in any way they wished, explore the darkest corners they could find. In many ways, the high-rise was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly "free" psychopathology.

   During the long afternoon Laing slept in his office, waiting until he could leave the
medical school and return home. When he left at last he drove at speed past the half-completed  television studios, and then was held up for five minutes by a line of bulk-cement carriers  entering the construction site. It was here that Anthony Royal had been injured when his car had  been crushed by a reversing grader -- it often struck Laing as ironic, and in a way typical of


    Royal's ambiguous personality, that he should not only have become the project's first road
casualty, but have helped to design the site of the accident.
 
    Annoyed by the delay, Laing fretted at the wheel. For some reason he was convinced that
important events were taking place in his absence. Sure enough, when he reached the apartment  building at six o'clock he learned that a number of fresh incidents had occurred. After changing, he joined Charlotte Melville for drinks. She had left her advertising agency before lunch, worried  about her son."I didn't like him being on his own here -- the babysitters are so unreliable." She poured  whisky into their glasses, gesturing with the decanter in an alarmed way as if about to toss it  over the balcony rail. "Robert, what _is_ happening ? Everything seems to be in a state of crisis -- I'm frightened to step into an elevator by myself."
"Charlotte, things aren't that bad," Laing heard himself say. "There's nothing to worry
about."

    Did he really believe that life here was running smoothly? Laing listened to his own
voice, and noticed how convincing he sounded. The catalogue of disorder and provocation was a long  one, even for a single afternoon. Two successive groups of children from the lower floors had been  turned away from the recreation garden on the roof. This walled enclosure fitted with swings,  roundabouts and play-sculptures had been specifically intended by Anthony Royal for the amusement  of the residents' children. The gates of the garden had now been padlocked, and any children  approaching the roof were ordered away. Meanwhile, the wives of several top-floor tenants claimed  that they had been abused in the elevators. Other residents, as they left for their offices that  morning, had found that their car tyres had been slashed. Vandals had broken into the classrooms  of the junior school on the 10th floor and torn down the children's posters. The lobbies of the  five lower floors had been mysteriously fouled by dog excrement; the residents had promptly  scooped this into an express elevator and delivered it back to the top floor.

    When Laing laughed at this Charlotte drummed her fingers on his arm, as if trying to wake
him up.
"Robert! You ought to take all this seriously!"
"I do . . ."
"You're in a _trance_!"

Laing looked down at her, suddenly aware that this intelligent and likeable woman was
failing to get the point. He placed an arm around her, unsurprised by the fierce way in which she  embraced him. Ignoring her small son trying to open the kitchen door, she leaned against it and  pulled Laing on to herself, kneading his arms as if trying to convince herself that here at last  was something whose shape she could influence.
During the hour they waited for her son to fall asleep her hands never left Laing. But
even before they sat down together on her bed Laing knew that, almost as an illustration of the  paradoxical logic of the high-rise, their relationship would end rather than begin with this first  sexual act. In a real sense this would separate them from each other rather than bring them  together. By the same paradox, the affection and concern he felt for her as they lay across her  small bed seemed callous rather than tender, precisely because these emotions were unconnected  with the realities of the world around them. The tokens that they should exchange, which would  mark their real care for each other, were made of far more uncertain materials, the erotic and  perverse.

    When she was asleep in the early evening light, Laing let himself out of the apartment and
went in search of his new friends.

     Outside, in the corridors and elevator lobbies, scores of people were standing about. In
no hurry to return to his apartment, Laing moved from one group to another, listening to the talk
going on. These informal meetings were soon to have an almost official status, forums at which the
residents could air their problems and prejudices. Most of their grievances, Laing noticed, were
now directed at the other tenants rather than at the building. The failure of the elevators was
blamed on people from the upper and lower floors, not on the architects or the inefficient
services designed into the block.
The garbage-disposal chute Laing shared with the Steeles had jammed again. He tried to
telephone the building manager, but the exhausted man had been inundated with complaints and
requests for action of every kind. Several members of his staff had resigned and the energies of
the remainder were now devoted to keeping the elevators running and trying to restore power to the
9th floor.


Laing mustered what tools he could find and went into the corridor to free the chute
himself. Steele immediately came to his aid, bringing with him a complex multi-bladed cutting
device. While the two men worked away, trying to loosen a bundle of brocaded curtain that
supported a column of trapped kitchen refuse, Steele amiably regaled Laing with a description of
those tenants above and below them responsible for overloading the disposal system.
"Some of these people generate the most unusual garbage -- certainly the kind of thing we
didn't expect to find here," he confided to Laing. "Objects that could well be of interest to the
vice squad. That beautician on the 33rd floor, and the two so-called radiographers living together
on the 22nd. Strange young women, even for these days . . ."


To some extent, Laing found himself agreeing. However petty the complaints might sound,
the fifty-year-old owner of the hairdressing salon _was_ endlessly redecorating her apartment on
the 33rd floor, and _did_ stuff old rugs and even intact pieces of small furniture into the chute.


Steele stood back as the column of garbage sank below in a greasy avalanche. He held
Laing's arm, steering him around a beer can lying on the corridor floor. "Still, no doubt we're
all equally guilty -- I hear that on the lower floors people are leaving small parcels of garbage
outside their apartment doors. Now, you'll come in for a drink? My wife is keen to see you again."


Despite his memories of their quarrel, Laing had no qualms about accepting. As he
expected, in the larger climate of confrontation any unease between them was soon forgotten. Her
hair immaculately coiffeured, Mrs Steele hovered about him with the delighted smile of a novice
madam entertaining her first client. She even complimented Laing on his choice of music, which she
could hear through the poorly insulated walls. Laing listened to her spirited description of the
continuous breakdown of services within the building, the vandalizing of an elevator and the
changing cubicles of the 10th-floor swimming-pool. She referred to the high-rise as if it were
some kind of huge animate presence, brooding over them and keeping a magisterial eye on the events
taking place. There was something in this feeling -- the elevators pumping up and down the long
shafts resembled pistons in the chamber of a heart. The residents moving along the corridors were
the cells in a network of arteries, the lights in their apartments the neurones of a brain.


Laing looked out across the darkness at the brilliantly lit decks of the nearby high-rise, barely aware of the other guests who had arrived and were sitting in the chairs around him -- the
television newsreader Paul Crosland, and a film critic named Eleanor Powell, a hard-drinking redhead whom Laing often found riding the elevators up and down in a fuddled attempt to find her
way out of the building.


Crosland had become the nominal leader of their clan -- a local cluster of some thirty contiguous apartments on the 25th, 26th and 27th floors. Together they were planning a joint
shopping expedition to the 10th-floor supermarket the following day, like a band of villagers
going on an outing to an unpoliced city.


Beside him on the sofa, Eleanor Powell was watching Crosland in a glazed way while the newsreader, in his florid announcer's style, outlined his proposals for the security of their apartments. Now and then she reached forward with one hand, as if trying to adjust Crosland's
image, perhaps alter the colour values of his fleshy cheeks or turn down the volume of his voice.
"Isn't your apartment next to the elevator lobby?" Laing asked her. "You'll need to barricade yourself in."
"What on earth for? I leave the door wide open." When Laing looked puzzled, she said,
"Isn't that part of the fun ?"
"You think that we're secretly enjoying all this?"
"Don't you ? I'd guess so, doctor. Togetherness is beating up an empty elevator. For the
first time since we were three years old what we do makes absolutely no difference. When you think
about it, that's really rather interesting . . ."


When she leaned against him, resting her head on -his shoulder, Laing said: "Something seems to be wrong with the air-conditioning . . . there should be some fresh air on the balcony."


Holding his arm, she picked up her bag. "All right. Lift me up. You're a shy lecher,
doctor . . ."


They had reached the french windows when there was an explosion of breaking glass from a
balcony high above them. Fragments of glass flicked away like knives through the night air. A
large, ungainly object whirled past, no more than twenty feet from the balcony. Startled, Eleanor
blundered into Laing. As they caught their balance there was the sound of a harsh metallic collision from the ground below, almost as if a car had crashed. A short but unbroken silence
followed, the first true quiet, Laing realized, that the building had known for days.


Everyone crowded on to the balcony, Crosland and Steele grappling together as if each was
trying to prevent the other from jumping over the ledge. Pushed along the railing, Laing saw his
own empty balcony fifteen feet away. In an absurd moment of panic he wondered if he himself was
the victim. All around, people were leaning on their railings, glasses in hand, staring down through the darkness.


    Far below, embedded in the crushed roof of a car in the front rank, was the body of a man
in evening dress. Eleanor Powell, her face like pain, swayed from the rail and pushed her way past


    Crosland. Laing held tightly to the metal bar, shocked and excited at the same time. Almost every
balcony on the huge face of the high-rise was now occupied, the residents gazing down as if from
their boxes in an enormous outdoor opera house.


    No one approached the crushed car, or the body embedded in its roof. Seeing the burst tuxedo and the small patent-leather shoes, Laing thought that he recognized the dead man as the jeweller from the 40th floor. His pebble spectacles lay on the ground by the front wheel of the car, their intact lenses reflecting the brilliant lights of the apartment building.

 

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