top of page

2 stories

C H R I S T I N E   H.   C H E N



Madame Tang, thin-lipped and a frown stamped on her forehead, needs a new batch of girls for her customers, men in Armani suits with pockets full of cash, and she needs them fast as Big Boss just came around fist-shaking and barking, where’s my money, I’ll shut down this place if profit isn’t up, and she gets edgy and angry, her heart drums faster than she likes, she’ll have to call her acupuncturist who charges an arm and a leg for just telling her don’t fret, drink some oolong tea, so she asks no questions because she already knows the answers, when the girls are brought in by men in sunglasses with tattooed arms in the middle of the night like in the movies, banging on the back door, and the girls, pressed together like sardines out of the water, eyes to the ground, the girls from Manila, Chiang Mai or Jakarta, dirt-poor or sold like herself long ago, file in front of her shark eyes, this one yes, that one no, too skinny, too dark, no hips, this one ok, good legs, she can only save a few at a time, girls who must be relieved they’ve come to her crystal-chandeliered, black-velveted, AC-blasting lounge inside a building with an honest brick façade near Brooklyn’s Park where neon lights from the floor color them blue, blue like the belly of the ocean, blue like the fear that eats their insides, she’ll re-fashion their fragile skin into someone like herself, a sea warrior, a Lady Triệu, a Nakano Takeko who led an army not of men but of women who rose from the yoke of men, these days it’s morphed into another kind of war, no bows or swords, but something subtle in a cup of sake, a glass of Prosecco, or a bouchée of caviar pearls, she’ll plump these empty souls with rice pudding and ginseng tea, wrap their dread in sequined dresses, drown their last drop of terror with watered-down rum, turn fragile porcelain dolls into fierce soldiers under a cloak of feminine charm, until one day, swimming in gold, they’ll get rid of Big Boss together, he wouldn’t even suspect a thing, first him and then any other bosses who dare throw hurt and hassle their way, they’ll march out into the world, turn hardships into new opportunities as they say in America, a win-win situation, so she slices a smile across her face, I’ve got a plan.









of the stairs in the middle of the living room rising like a stepped pyramid, blocking the view to the trees in the backyard, try not to think of the zeros behind the numbers or argue with the agent a property the size of a dog house is not worth that many zeros, try not to think of your wife pleading with her eyes this is the nth time you've both visited homes you didn't agree to buy because of lace window curtains, dirty hand prints on dry walls, too much skylight that hurt your eyes, too few windows for fresh air, stairs in the middle of a room that break the chi, the life force that circles around a home, like oxygen to arteries to heart, try not to think about your wife running water from the faucet while she's brushing her teeth when dried-up lakes reveal corpses and melting glaciers in Alaska, try not to think about privilege when your wife takes a bubble bath with rose petals while you’re staring at the claw-foot bath tub the agent is raving about, try not to think about your boss’ mid-year review on your being too soft-hearted to climb up the corporate ladder, try not to think about your wife’s disheartened face when you tell her she will have to cut down on expenses, spend less on groceries, stop buying avocados, try not to think about the 2,000 liters of water to produce 2.2 pounds of avocadoes when droughts are bringing famine to Africa, try not to think of avocadoes, water, doomsday, stairs in the middle of a room as obstacles to your happily ever after, even when you mock all the reality television shows about love at first sight your wife obsesses about, try not to think how much you’ve borrowed to give her the engagement ring she loved, try not to think that your fairytale wedding was as fake as the romance novels she reads and piles on her bedside, try not to think about the empty space between you and your wife when you lay in bed or how you had imagined your future before tying your lives together, try not to think about how many ways you could break, tear, rip someone’s heart apart before throwing it all down the steps.


Christine H. Chen was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Madagascar before settling in Boston where she worked as a research chemist. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Lunch Ticket, SmokeLong Quarterly, Vestal Review, Pithead Chapel, Ghost Parachute, and other journals and anthologies. Her work was selected for inclusion in Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2023 and Best Microfiction anthology 2024. She is a recipient of the Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship, and the co-translator from French of the novel My Lemon Tree (Spuyten Duyvil, 2023). Read more at

bottom of page