J.g.ballard – 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.