Wang watches C.J. leave the room, the VCD clasped hard to her chest
with both hands, her eyes fogged with fear and understanding.
moist with mildew -- his hands, the vinyl seat of his scooter, the
brakegrips. It is that magic time of night in which Taipei sheds its
tawdriness and sinks into an ocean of faint acetylene lights, buildings
rooted like trees, traffic muffled as distant thunder, only passing
headlights interrupting the stillness.
Once he had seen a television program that extrapolated the decay
of a city once erased of all humans and left to its own devices. The
first thing to go would be the subterranean world -- the subways,
the undergrounds, flooded within a week, the rot working its way up.
Here he fantasizes the process would be reversed. First the
tops of the buildings and the cloverleaf overpasses, beaten down by
the back-and-forth of sun and rain, weeds and vines growing up like
ruined swampland, stretching until they touched the streetlamps, and
eventually they would be bent and crushed under the onslaught.
The roads would be last -- pounded and rolled so long under wheels,
they would be like folded steel, with no vegetation underneath to
crack through. It would be up to the weeds from above to touch down,
crack it open, like slow-motion lightning.
Outside the Chen residence he is at a safe remove, his scooter positioned
behind a smallish sedan with the usual smoke-tinted windows. Somewhere
on the trip over the stink of gas has gotten itself into his clothes,
and brushing at it only succeeds in spreading the contagion. Maybe
the gas would be the last thing to go when the city died -- it would
stick to everything, cling and seep and penetrate, and generations
of plants and rubble would carry it, like a