the faint drip-drip of water from the earlier thunderstorm plummeting
off the eaves. He holds his hand up to his mouth and breathes on it.
It stinks of the pork chop he had at lunch. He is wasting away, no
doubt about it. Sure, he has the appearance of being healthy
with the Taiwan food and the running around he does on a daily basis,
but he is growing smaller and smaller, neck definitely goose-thin
now. Too thin for his clothes, anyway (he tightens the drawstring
around Allen's size 38 pants). What was the word he heard once in
school? Declension. If this isn't it, nothing is. Everything
seems so ridiculous now, especially his muddied reflection in the
rear view mirror of his scooter -- how has it been possible to live
with such a dirty mirror for such a long time and not even acknowledge
its inadequacy? Has he let things go to such an extent?
So where to next? Out of Taiwan? He knows nothing of
anywhere else. A scant few months here, and already he is a fact of
life, moldy and damp. But while Allen has the comfort of rotting away
inside the mausoleum he has made, he will wither out in the open,
a soldier ant making its way from mountain to mountain, eventually
reduced to a bunch of bones and tissue underneath the smoggy sun.
The cell phone registers the time at 10:11 p.m. when the Chens' front
door opens. He can hear faint cries coming from within, and for a
moment his fingers tighten about the handlebars of his scooter, but
it is only Blackie the dog crying out for attention, the sound of
it bearing a hard resemblance to a baby's scream.
Annie Chen steps outside. She is wearing jeans and a lightweight black
top that cuts off just above her breasts, two straps as thin as string
over her shoulders. Tripping over to her Korean car, she struggles
into a jacket that is a