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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