Lin Page 5
Wang watches C.J. leave the room, the VCD clasped hard to her chest with both hands, her eyes fogged with fear and understanding.

Everything is 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