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英语听力:High Rise 02/Party Time

 

 

During these days after the drowning of the dog, the air of over-excitement within the
high-rise gradually settled itself, but to Dr Laing this comparative calm was all the more
ominous. The swimming-pool on the 10th floor remained deserted, partly, Laing assumed, because
everyone felt that the water was contaminated by the dead Afghan. An almost palpable miasma hung
over the slack water, as if the spirit of the drowned beast was gathering to itself all the forces
of revenge and retribution present within the building.

On his way to the medical school a few mornings after the incident, Laing looked in at the
10th-floor concourse. After booking a squash court for his weekly game that evening with Anthony
Royal, he walked towards the entrance of the swimming-pool. He remembered the panic and stampede
during the blackout. By contrast, the shopping mall was now almost empty, a single customer
ordering his wines at the liquor store. Laing pushed back the swing doors and strolled around the
pool. The changing cubicles were closed, the curtains drawn across the shower stalls. The official
attendant, a retired physical-training instructor, was absent from his booth behind the divingboards.

Evidently the profanation of his water had been too much for him.
Laing stood by the tiled verge at the deep end, under the unvarying fluorescent light. Now
and then, the slight lateral movement of the building in the surrounding airstream sent a warning
ripple across the flat surface of the water, as if in its pelagic deeps an immense creature was
stirring in its sleep. He remembered helping the accountant to lift the Afghan from the water, and
being surprised by its lightness. With its glamorous plumage drenched by the chlorinated water,
the dog had lain like a large stoat on the coloured tiles. While they waited for the owner, a
television actress on the 37th floor, to come down and collect the dog Laing examined it
carefully. There were no external wounds or marks of restraint. Conceivably it had strayed from
its apartment into a passing elevator and emerged on to the shopping concourse during the
confusion of the power failure, fallen into the swimming-pool and died there of exhaustion. But
the explanation hardly fitted the facts. The blackout had lasted little more than fifteen minutes,
and a dog of this size was powerful enough to swim for hours. Besides, it could simply have stood
on its hind legs in the shallow end. But if it had been thrown into the pool, and held below the
water in the darkness by a strong swimmer . . .

Surprised by his own suspicions, Laing made a second circuit of the pool. Something
convinced him that the dog's drowning had been a provocative act, intended to invite further
retaliation in its turn. The presence of the fifty or so dogs in the high-rise had long been a
source of irritation. Almost all of them were owned by residents on the top ten floors -- just as,
conversely, most of the fifty children lived in the lower ten. Together the dogs formed a set of
over-pampered pedigree pets whose owners were not noticeably concerned for their fellow tenants'
comfort and privacy. The dogs barked around the car-parks when they were walked in the evening,
fouling the pathways between the cars. On more than one occasion elevator doors were sprayed with
urine. Laing had heard Helen Wilder complain that, rather than use their five high-speed elevators
which carried them from a separate entrance lobby directly to the top floors, the dog-owners
habitually transferred to the lower-level elevators, encouraging their pets to use them as
lavatories.

This rivalry between the dog-owners and the parents of small children had in a sense
already polarized the building. Between the upper and lower floors the central mass of apartments -
- roughly from the loth floor to the 30th -- formed a buffer state. During the brief interregnum
after the dog's drowning a kind of knowing calm presided over the middle section of the high-rise,
as if the residents had already realized what was taking place within the building.
Laing discovered this when he returned that evening from the medical school. By six
o'clock the section of the parking-lot reserved for the 20th to the 25th floors would usually be
full, forcing him to leave his car in the visitors' section three hundred yards from the building.
Reasonably enough, the architects had zoned the parking-lots so that the higher a resident's
apartment (and consequently the longer the journey by elevator), the nearer he parked to the
building. The residents from the lower floors had to walk considerable distances to and from their
cars each day -- a sight not without its satisfaction, Laing had noticed. Somehow the high-rise
played into the hands of the most petty impulses.

That evening, however, as he reached the already crowded car-park, Laing was surprised by
his fellow tenants' tolerant behaviour. He arrived at the same time as his neighbour Dr Steele. By
rights they should have raced each other for the last vacant place, and taken separate elevators
to their floor. But tonight each beckoned the other forward in a show of exaggerated gallantry and
waited while the other parked. They even walked together to the main entrance.

In the lobby a group of tenants stood outside the manager's office, remonstrating noisily
with his secretary. The electrical supply system on the gth floor was still out of order, and at
night the floor was in darkness. Fortunately it was light until late in the summer evening, but
the inconvenience to the fifty residents on the floor was considerable. None of the appliances in
their apartments would function, and the limits of co-operation with their neighbours on the
floors above and below had soon been reached.

Steele watched them unsympathetically. Although he was in his late twenties, his manner
was already securely middle-aged. Laing found himself fascinated by his immaculate centre parting,
almost an orifice.

"They're always complaining about something," Steele confided to Laing as they stepped
into an elevator. "If it isn't this, it's that. They seem unwilling to accept that the services in
a new building take time to settle down."
"Still, it must be a nuisance to have no power."

Steele shook his head. "They persistently overload the master-fuses with their elaborate
stereo-systems and unnecessary appliances. Electronic baby-minders because the mothers are too
lazy to get out of their easy chairs, special mashers for their children's food . . ."

Laing waited for the journey to end, already regretting his new-found solidarity with his
neighbour. For some reason, Steele made him nervous. Not for the first time, he wished he had
purchased an apartment above the 30th floor. The high-speed elevators were bliss.
"The children here look well enough to me," he remarked when they stepped out at the 25th
floor.

The surgeon held his elbow in a surprisingly powerful grip. He smiled reassuringly,
flashing a mouth like a miniature cathedral of polished ivory.
"Believe me, Laing. I see their teeth."

The punitive tone in Steele's voice, as if he were describing a traditionally feckless
band of migrant workers rather than his well-to-do neighbours, came as a surprise to Laing. He
knew casually a few of the 9th floor residents -- a sociologist who was a friend of Charlotte

Melville's, and an air-traffic controller who played string trios with friends on the 25th floor,
an amusing and refined man to whom Laing often talked as he carried his cello into the elevator.

But distance lent disenchantment.

The extent of this separation of loyalties was brought home to Laing when he set off to
play squash with Anthony Royal. He took an elevator up to the 40th floor and, as usual, arrived
ten minutes early so that he could go out on to the roof. The spectacular view always made Laing
aware of his ambivalent feelings for this concrete landscape. Part of its appeal lay all too
clearly in the fact that this was an environment built, not for man, but for man's absence.

Laing leaned against the parapet, shivering pleasantly in his sports-clothes. He shielded
his eyes from the strong air currents that rose off the face of the high-rise. The cluster of
auditorium roofs, curving roadway embankments and rectilinear curtain-walling formed an intriguing
medley of geometries -- less a habitable architecture, he reflected, than the unconscious diagram
of a mysterious psychic event.

Fifty feet away to Laing's left a cocktail party was in progress. Two buffet tables
covered with white cloths had been laid with trays of canapés and glasses, and a waiter was
serving drinks behind a portable bar. Some thirty guests in evening dress stood about talking in
small groups. For a few minutes Laing ignored them, absent-mindedly tapping his rackets case on
the parapet, but something about the hard, over-animated chatter made him turn. Several of the
guests were looking in his direction, and Laing was certain that they were talking about him. The
party had moved nearer, and the closest guests were no more than ten feet away. All were residents
from the top three floors. Even more unusual was the self-conscious formality of their dress. At
none of the parties in the high-rise had Laing seen anyone dressed in anything other than casual
wear, yet here the men wore dinner-jackets and black ties, the women floor-length evening dresses.
They carried themselves in a purposeful way, as if this were less a party than a planning
conference.

Almost within arm's reach, the immaculate figure of a well-to-do art dealer was squaring
up to Laing, the lapels of his dinner-jacket flexing like an over-worked bellows. On either side
of him were the middle-aged wives of a stock-exchange jobber and a society photographer, staring
distastefully at Laing's white sports-clothes and sneakers.

Laing picked up his rackets case and towel bag, but his way to the staircase was blocked
by the people around him. The entire cocktail party had moved along the roof, and the waiter now
stood alone between the bar and the buffet tables.

Laing leaned against the parapet, for the first time conscious of the immense distance to
the ground below. He was encircled by a heavily breathing group of his fellow residents, so close
that he could smell the medley of expensive scents and after-shaves. He was curious as to what
exactly they were going to do, but at the same time was aware that at any moment a meaningless act
of violence might occur.
"Dr Laing . . . Ladies, would you release the doctor?" At what seemed the last moment, a
familiar figure with adroit hands and a soft walk called out reassuringly. Laing recognized the
jeweller whose hysterical wife he had briefly examined during the power failure. As he greeted

Laing the guests casually dispersed, like a group of extras switched to another scene. Without

thinking, they strolled back to their drinks and canapés.
"Was it fortunate that I arrived?" The jeweller peered at Laing, as if puzzled by his
presence in this private domain. "You're here to play squash with Anthony Royal? I'm afraid he's
decided to decline." He added, as much to himself as to Laing, "My wife should have been here. She
was treated appallingly, you know -- they were like animals . . ."

Slightly shaken, Laing accompanied him to the stairway. He looked back at the cocktail
party, with its well-bred guests, uncertain whether he had imagined the imminent attack on him.

After all, what could they have actually done -- hardly tossed him over the edge?

As he pondered this, he noticed a familiar pale-haired figure in a white safari-jacket
standing with one hand on the callisthenics machine in the penthouse overlooking the northern end
of the roof. Resting at his feet was Royal's alsatian with its arctic coat, without doubt the
premier dog in the high-rise. Making no attempt to hide himself, Anthony Royal was watching Laing
with a thoughtful gaze. As always, his expression was an uneasy mixture of arrogance and
defensiveness, as if he were all too aware of the built-in flaws of this huge building he had
helped to design, but was determined to outstare any criticism, even at the price of theatrical
gestures such as the alsatian and his white-hunter's jacket. Although he was over fifty, his
shoulder-length fair hair made him look uncannily youthful, as if the cooler air at these great
heights had somehow preserved him from the ordinary processes of ageing. His bony forehead, still
marked by the scars of his accident, was tilted to one side, and he seemed to be checking that an
experiment he had set up had now been concluded.

Laing raised one hand and signalled to him as the jeweller ushered him briskly below, but

Royal made no reply. Why had he not cancelled their squash game by telephone ? For a moment Laing
was certain that Royal had deliberately let him come up to the roof, knowing that the party was in
progress, simply out of interest in the guests' reactions and behaviour.

The next morning Laing rose early, eager to get on. He felt fresh and clear-headed, but
without realizing why he decided to take the day off. Promptly at nine, after pacing about for two
hours, he telephoned his secretary at the medical school and postponed that afternoon's
supervision. When she expressed regret at Laing's illness he brushed this aside. "It's all right,

I'm not ill. Something important has come up."

What? Puzzled by his own behaviour, Laing wandered around the small apartment. Charlotte
Melville was also at home. She was dressed for the office in a formal business suit, but made no
attempt to leave. She invited Laing over for coffee, but when he arrived an hour later she absentmindedly
handed him a glass of sherry. His visit, Laing soon discovered, was a pretext for him to
examine her son. The boy was playing in his room, but according to Charlotte was not feeling well
enough to go to the junior school on the 10th floor. Annoyingly, the young sister of an airline
pilot's wife on the 1st floor had declined to baby-sit.
"It's a nuisance, she's usually only too keen. I've relied on her for months. She sounded
rather vague on the phone, as if she was being evasive . . ."

Laing listened sympathetically, wondering whether he should volunteer to look after the
child. But there was no hint of this in Charlotte's voice. Playing with the boy, Laing realized
that there was nothing wrong with him. Lively as ever, he asked his mother if he could go to his
3rd-floor playgroup that afternoon. Without thinking, she refused. Laing watched her with growing
interest. Like himself, Charlotte was waiting for something to happen.

They did not have long to wait. In the early afternoon the first of a fresh series of
provocations took place between the rival floors, setting in motion again the dormant machinery of
disruption and hostility. The incidents were trivial enough, but Laing knew already that they
reflected deep-rooted antagonisms that were breaking through the surface of life within the highrise
at more and more points. Many of the factors involved had long been obvious -- complaints
about noise and the abuse of the building's facilities, rivalries over the better-sited apartments
(those away from elevator lobbies and the service shafts, with their eternal rumbling). There was
even a certain petty envy of the more attractive women who were supposed to inhabit the upper
floors, a widely held belief that Laing had enjoyed testing. During the electricity blackout the
eighteen-year-old wife of a fashion photographer on the 38th floor had been assaulted in the
hairdressing salon by an unknown woman. Presumably in retaliation, three air-hostesses from the
2nd floor were aggressively jostled by ta party of marauding top-floor matrons led by the strongshouldered
wife of the jeweller.

Watching from Charlotte's balcony, Laing waited as the first of these incidents took

place. Standing there with a pretty woman, a drink in one hand, he felt pleasantly light-headed.
Below them, on the 9th floor, a children's party was in full swing. The parents made no attempt to
restrain their offspring, in effect urging them to make as much noise as possible. Within half an
hour, fuelled by a constant flow of alcohol, the parents took over from their children. Charlotte
laughed openly as soft drinks were poured on to the cars below, drenching the windscreens and
roofs of the expensive limousines and sports saloons in the front ranks.

These lively proceedings were watched by hundreds of residents who had come out on to
their balconies. Playing up to their audience, the parents egged on their children. The party was
soon out of control. Drunken children tottered about helplessly. High above them, on the 37th
floor, a woman barrister began to shout angrily, outraged by the damage to her open-topped sportscar,
whose black leather seats were covered with melting ice-cream.

A pleasant carnival atmosphere reigned. At least it made a change, Laing felt, from the
formal behaviour of the high-rise. Despite themselves, he and Charlotte joined in the laughter and
applause as if they were spectators at an impromptu amateur circus.

A remarkable number of parties were being held that evening. Usually, few parties took
place other than at weekends, but on this Wednesday evening everyone was involved in one revel or
another. Telephones rang continuously, and Charlotte and Laing were invited to no less than six
separate parties.

"I ought to get my hair done." Charlotte took his arm happily, almost embracing Laing.
"What exactly are we celebrating?"

The question surprised Laing. He held Charlotte's shoulder, as if protecting her. "God
only knows -- nothing to do with fun and games."

One of the invitations had come from Richard Wilder. Instantly, both he and Charlotte
declined.

"Why did we refuse?" Charlotte asked, her hand still on the receiver. "He was expecting us
to say no."

"The Wilders live on the and floor," Laing explained. "Things _are_ rather rowdy down
there . . ."

"Robert, that's a rationalization."

Behind Charlotte, as she spoke, her television set was showing the newsreel of an
attempted prison break-out. The sound had been turned down, and the silent images of crouching
warders and police, and the tiers of barricaded cells, nickered between her legs. Everyone in the
high-rise, Laing reflected, watched television with the sound down. The same images glowed through
his neighbours' doorways when he returned to his apartment. For the first time,people were leaving
their front doors ajar and moving casually in and out of each other's apartments.

However, these intimacies did not extend beyond each resident's immediate floor. Elsewhere
the polarization of the building proceeded apace. Finding that he had run out of liquor, Laing
took the elevator down to the loth-floor concourse. As he expected, there was a heavy run on
alcohol, and long lines of impatient residents stood outside the liquor store. Seeing his sister

Alice near the counter, Laing tried to enlist her help. Without hesitating, she turned him down,
and promptly launched into a vigorous denunciation of the tomfoolery that afternoon. In some way
she clearly associated Laing with the lower-floor tenants responsible, identifying him with
Richard Wilder and his rowdies.

As Laing waited to be served, what resembled a punitive expedition from the upper floors
caused a fracas in the swimming-pool. A party of residents from the top three floors arrived in a
belligerent mood. Among them was the actress whose Afghan hound had drowned in the pool. She and
her companions began by fooling about in the water, drinking champagne on a rubber raft against
the swimming-pool rules and splashing people leaving the changing cubicles. After a futile attempt
to intercede, the elderly attendant gave up and retreated to his booth behind the diving-boards.

The elevators were full of aggressive pushing and heaving. The signal buttons behaved
erratically, and the elevator shafts drummed as people pounded impatiently on the doors. On their
way to a party on the 27th floor Laing and Charlotte were jostled when their elevator was carried
down to the 3rd floor by a trio of drunken pilots. Bottles in hand, they had been trying for half
an hour to reach the 10th floor. Seizing Charlotte good-humouredly around the waist, one of the
pilots almost dragged her off to the small projection theatre beside the school which had
previously been used for showing children's films. The theatre was now screening a private
programme of blue movies, including one apparently made on the premises with locally recruited
performers.

At the party on the 27th floor, given by Adrian Talbot, an effeminate but likeable
psychiatrist at the medical school, Laing began to relax for the first time that day. He noticed
immediately that all the guests were drawn from the apartments nearby. Their faces and voices were

reassuringly familiar. In a sense, as he remarked to Talbot, they constituted the members of a
village.
"Perhaps a clan would be more exact," Talbot commented. "The population of this apartment
block is nowhere near so homogeneous as it looks at first sight. We'll soon be refusing to speak
to anyone outside our own enclave." He added, "My car had its windscreen smashed this afternoon by
a falling bottle. Could I move it back to where you people are?" As a qualified physician, Talbot
was entitled to park in the ranks closest to the building. Laing, perhaps anticipating the dangers
of proximity, had never made use of this concession. The psychiatrist's request was instantly
granted by his fellow residents, an appeal to solidarity that no member of his clan could deny.

The party was one of the most successful Laing had attended. Unlike the majority of
parties in the high-rise, at which well-bred guests stood about exchanging professional small-talk
before excusing themselves, this one had real buoyancy, an atmosphere of true excitement. Within
half an hour almost all the women were drunk, a yardstick Laing had long used to measure the
success of a party.

When he complimented Talbot the psychiatrist was non-committal. "There's a quickening
pulse in the air, all right, but has it anything to do with good humour or fellow-feeling? Rather
the opposite, I'd guess."

"You're not concerned?"
"For some reason, less than I should be -- but that's true of us all."

These agreeably expressed remarks cautioned Laing. Listening to the animated conversations
around him, he was struck by the full extent of the antagonisms being expressed, the hostility
directed at people who lived in other sections of the high-rise. The malicious humour, the
eagerness to believe any piece of gossip and any tall story about the shiftlessness of the lowerfloor
tenants, or the arrogance of the upper-floor, had all the intensity of racial prejudice.

But as Talbot had pointed out, Laing found himself unworried by all this. He even took a
certain crude pleasure in joining in the gossip, and in watching the usually circumspect Charlotte

Melville put down several more than two drinks too many. At least it was a means by which they
could reach each other.

However, as the party broke up a small but unpleasant episode took place outside the
elevator doors in the 27th-floor lobby. Although it was after ten o'clock, the entire building was
alive with noise. Residents were barging in and out of each other's apartments, shouting down the
staircases like children refusing to go to bed. Confused by the endless button-punching, the
elevators had come to a halt, and gangs of impatient passengers packed the lobbies. Although their
next destination, a party given by a lexicographer on the 26th floor, was only one storey below
them, everyone leaving Talbot's party was determined not to use the stairs. Even Charlotte, face
flushed and tottering happily on Laing's arm, joined in the wild surge across the elevator lobby
and drummed on the doors with her strong fists.

When at last an elevator arrived, the doors opened to reveal a solitary passenger, a thinshouldered
and neurasthenic young masseuse who lived with her mother on the 5th floor. Laing
immediately recognized her as one of the "vagrants", of whom there were many in the high-rise,
bored apartment-bound housewives and stay-at-home adult daughters who spent a large part of their
time riding the elevators and wandering the long corridors of the vast building, migrating
endlessly in search of change or excitement.

Alarmed by the drunken crowd reeling towards her, the young woman snapped out of her
reverie and pressed a button at random. A derisory hoot went up from the swaying guests. Within
seconds she was pulled from the elevator and put through a mock-playful grilling. A statistician's
over-excited wife shouted at the hapless girl in a shrill voice, pushed a strong arm through the
front rank of interrogators and slapped her face.

Pulling himself away from Charlotte, Laing stepped forward. The crowd's mood was
unpleasant but difficult to take seriously. His neighbours were like a group of unrehearsed extras
playing a lynch scene.

"Come on -- I'll see you to the stairs." Holding the young woman by her thin shoulders, he
tried to steer her towards the door, but there was a chorus of sceptical shouts. The women among
the guests pushed aside their husbands and began to punch the girl on the arms and chest.

Giving up, Laing stood to one side. He watched as the shocked young woman stumbled into
the mouth of this eager gauntlet and was pummelled through a circuit of fists before she was
allowed to disappear into the stairwell. His reflex of chivalry and good sense had been no match
for this posse of middle-aged avenging angels. Uneasily, he thought: careful, Laing, or some
stockbroker's wife will un-man you as expertly as she de-stones a pair of avocados.

The night passed noisily, with constant movement through the corridors, the sounds of
shouts and breaking glass in the elevator shafts, the blare of music falling across the dark air.

 

 

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