The Fourth River

Tributaries: “Night in Taiwan”

By on November 2, 2016

By Robert  Anthony Siegel



At sunset, the heat lifts. In the plaza in front of the supermarket, lines of women dance to the music of a boom box, everyone in unison.


Motor scooters zipping by, the girl on back, hugging the driver—a heartbreaking intimacy that everyone treats as invisible. I imagine there are couples that ride all night, just to touch in that way.


Whenever you hear a tinny rendition of “Für Elise,” it’s a garbage truck passing by.


At the night market, my son buys something on a skewer that looks a little like a cherry popsicle but turns out to be made of pig’s blood.


My daughter gets a plate of fried chicken feet, which look like little gloved hands.


—and then we turn a corner and there is an elderly couple roasting a whole pig over a bonfire, turning it on a metal spit. Ears, snout, hooves, tail, teeth, jolly grin. The couple work in silence, the man cutting slits in the flesh to let the oil bubble out, the woman basting. At one point they have to move their emergency water bucket so a car can get out of the garage behind them. Then the man begins slicing meat from the pig’s back—and as if they’ve been watching from their windows, the residents start to stream out of their apartment building in their pajamas, carrying plates.


The students play basketball in the dark. Everything’s exactly the same as a real basketball game, only invisible. I watch through the chain link fence, oddly entranced by the whole thing, maybe because it’s more like listening.


Playing tennis with my son in the moonlight. The bats keep swooping down to catch the ball—then arcing away.


I walk past the library and through a grove of trees to the chapel, an elegant modern building shaped like a ship’s sail. It’s all lit up, and there’s music wafting out of the windows—an orchestra playing inside. I stop and listen under an old tree with branches so long they have to be held up with crutches. The music drifts over, disappearing, reappearing. The accidental version is always so much more beautiful.


Thunder so immense it shakes the room and wakes me up. I get out of bed and watch a trail of ants march up the wall. Actually, the trail is made of two lines, one going up and one going down. Each ant going up pauses to kiss the ant going down.


The Taiwanese believe that you have ten different souls inside your body. Sometimes one may slip out, like a cat that’s found the door left open. To get it back you need to stand at the crossroads and yell your name, over and over, till it returns to you.

Unable to sleep, I stand in the darkness outside our house, listening to the immense rush of insect noise, the cicadas, frogs, lizards rustling in the bushes. I feel the wet heat on my skin, imagine the snakes moving in the underbrush. I close my eyes and feel the place inside my chest where my missing soul should fit. But I’m not going to call it back. I’m going to let it wander out in the world like another pair of eyes.



Robert Anthony Siegel is the author of two novels, All Will Be Revealed, and All the Money in the World. His short work has appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, and elsewhere, and has won O. Henry and Pushcart prizes. A collection of essays, Criminals, is forthcoming from Counterpoint Press in 2018. His web site is