“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months. Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension. With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school—all in effect abandoned in the sky—the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation. Certainly his own studio apartment on the 25th floor was the last place Laing would have chosen as an early skirmish-ground. This over-priced cell, slotted almost at random into the cliff face of the apartment building, he had bought after his divorce specifically for its peace, quiet and anonymity. Curiously enough, despite all Laing’s efforts to detach himself from his two thousand neighbors and the régime of trivial disputes and irritations that provided their only corporate life, it was here if anywhere that the first significant event had taken place—on this balcony where he now squatted beside a fire of telephone directories, eating the roast hindquarter of the Alsatian before setting off to his lecture at the medical school.”
Back at the hotel, watching her loosen, then comb out her russet hair in front of the window, she deep in private thought, her eyes somewhere else, I am reminded for some reason of those Lacedaemonians Herodotus wrote about, whose duty it was to hold the Gates against the Persian army. And who did. For four days. First, though, under the disbelieving eyes of Xerxes himself, the Greek soldiers sprawled as if uncaring, outside their timber-hewn walls, arms stacked, combing and combing their long hair, as if it were simply another day in an otherwise unremarkable campaign. When Xerxes demanded to know what such display signified, he was told, When these men are about to leave their lives they first make their heads beautiful.
She lays down her bone-handle comb and moves closer to the window and the mean afternoon light. Something, some creaking movement from below, has caught her attention. A look, and it lets her go.