High above, on the 40th floor, the first two residents were preparing to leave.
All day Anthony Royal and his wife had been packing. After lunch in the deserted restaurant on the 35th floor they returned to their apartment, where Royal spent what he knew would be his last hours in the high-rise closing down his design studio. In no hurry to leave, now that the moment had come for them to abandon the building, Royal deliberately took his time over this last ritual task.
The air-conditioning had ceased to function, and the absence of its vague familiar hum – once a source of minor irritation – made Royal restless. However reluctantly, he was now forced to recognize what he had been trying to repress for the past month, despite the evidence of his eyes. This huge building he had helped to design was moribund, its vital functions fading one by one – the water-pressure falling as the pumps faltered, the electrical sub-stations on each floor
Switching themselves off, the elevators stranded in their shafts.
As if in sympathy, the old injuries to his legs and back had begun to keen again. Royal leaned against his drawing-stand, feeling the pain radiate upwards from his knees into his groin.
Gripping the chromium cane, he left the studio and moved among the tables and armchairs in the drawing-room, each shrouded in its dust-sheet. In the year since his accident he had found that constant exercise alone held back the pain, and he missed the games of squash with Robert Laing.
Like his own physicians, Laing had told him that the injuries sustained in car-crashes took a great deal of time to heal, but Royal recently had begun to suspect that these wounds were playing a devious role of their own.
The three suitcases he had packed that morning stood ready in the hall. Royal stared down at them, for a moment hoping that they belonged to someone else. The cases had never been used, and the prominent part they would soon play
in his personal Dunkirk only rubbed in the humiliation.
Royal returned to the studio and continued to take down the architectural drawings and design studies pinned to the walls. This small office in a converted bedroom he had used for his
Work on the development project, and the collection of books and blueprints, photographs and drawing-boards, originally intended to give a sense of purpose to his convalescence, had soon become a kind of private museum. The majority of the plans and design studies had been superseded by his colleagues after the accident, but in a strange way these old frontal elevations of the concert-hall and television studios, like the photograph of himself standing on the roof of the high-rise on hand-over day, described a more real world than the building which he was now about to abandon.
The decision to leave their apartment, already postponed for too long, had been difficult to take. For all his professional identification with the high-rise as one of its architects, Royal’s contribution had been minor, but sadly for him had concerned those very sections which had borne the brunt of the residents’ hostility – the 10th-floor concourse, the junior school, the observation roof with its children’s sculpture-garden, and the furnishing and design of the elevator lobbies. Royal had gone to immense care in the choice of wall surfaces, now covered by thousands of aerosolled obscenities.