Flash Fiction

Fortnightly on Fridays, the Margins publishes flash fiction by emerging and established Asian, Asian American, and Asian diasporic writers.

Some of the most fascinating, and perhaps strangest and most experimental writing exists in short, finished pieces that were never meant to be novels or full-length stories. Our hope is for the flash fiction we publish to be shared, perhaps read aloud, where flickers of campfire match the ferocity of the page.

Our flash fiction series is edited by Swati Khurana and Yi Wei.



before she could contemplate doing something for herself with her time

An interview with Ali El-Chaer

twelve new years

She didn’t mind amusing them—humor was part of her intent

This made for juicy morsels of gossip for the goûter at four o’clock

We resented her white knuckles, darting eyes.

I wrack my brain for ways of describing this pain but nothing original comes to mind.

Mei had been in jail for six months and a handful of days.

I think about your hands when I look at mine

I was angry then. No. I wanted to be just like her.

And yet you’re still here.

I went on a jog this morning in a never-ending Chinatown.

Chow reminded Cheng that a lot of writers drink but drinking does not turn him into a writer.

After everyone has passed it around, Tharani wraps it in a tissue and tucks it into her polar-fleece pocket.

You dreamed of what could be, unaware of what was.

Trying is a fitting operative verb here.

“I’m a truck driver. Long-distance. I just came back from California yesterday.”

A handful of us scream in recognition like sea flares on a dance floor.

You convinced me of the queer soul of the world.

Did she even graduate? Kevin will ask me later, when it’s just us, slumped on our flight back home.

The way she speaks will make you certain that she is the only one still alive.

A flash folio edited by Yi Wei

Even now you can feel her, flickering. 

Haunting a house isn’t as easy as you might think.

I need memory to be boundless, then. More infinite than.

So much of art is speaking, but art can only be made by listening to the world around us, forming our own distinctive definitions of that world in tandem with what we learn and who we choose to look for.

The most important love we have will always be for ourselves and our lives. It is only from this lodestar, our own definition and practice of love, that we can turn love back out into the world and towards our people.

Sometimes, she was just so hard to reason with.

It isn’t like her to chase what’s unattainable.

I’ve been reading up on comfort and chaos. I like missing you.

How many times she must have labored to make you stop crying, and how many times she held you, acknowledging your pain as you cried.

This is my friend, the K-pop star.

We’d video-game or anime-binge or dream aloud about a future as bright as our childhoods.

“A Beautiful Relationship” and “The Price of Freedom”

Our sonorous, sorrowful Korean.

This was the way of a country.

She looked up at the high walls. There were some things even they couldn’t keep out.

Two days later I asked her if she would love me no matter what before I told her the truth.

There were eleven steps in the program—one less than AA—to be completed over fifteen days.

If reincarnation is real, let me return a persimmon tree.

On the dashboard, the clock blinks 4:03.

I know what it is like to travel into the quiet dusk, but don’t know what her fear felt like.

Tomorrow too I wake in the wrong country’s immense heat.

Sundays are our busiest days. While God rests, we work.

I am searching for a house, and I’m not sure I’ll find it.

I wish they didn’t have to come.

Even before the world changed, you couldn’t see her with ease.

The panic and hunger that will rise in you when you see another of your kind, even though together you unlock a different loneliness in your contained camaraderie.

What if I was the reasonable one and you the overthinker?

I bring the child closer to me and inhale, prepared for the musty smell of old men. It never comes.

The witch listened to nothing but her water heart.

All the koi fish in our pond died, except one.

They have many lives, as all apparitions do, and don’t mind sparing a few

I want to live inside it though: pale birds and fragile light and a novel kind of solitude.

When I left, I stretched far enough away that any tethers I had severed. Now a place exists without me.

All these familiar but strange things that make up his wife.

I don’t remember the trees, though. My sister doesn’t either.

I killed my old self to see if I would finally return home to myself.

The dead decided to live upon us, demanding a second chance.

She had a dream the night before about catching a pig, which her father used to tell her was a prelude for great fortune.

There are ghosts who haunt and ghosts who kill.

I feel him taking my hands in his and kissing them every time he saw me.

There were no windows opened. There were dimmed lights. There were crumbs beneath the table.

Fourteen flash fiction stories on the places and people that stay with us

The groundbreaking art and visual vocabulary of Chitra Ganesh

Most of us who love the past live among what remains.

That’s one thing I’ll say about the aliens: they really appreciate a good bowl of ramen.

They say most of her followers are moms.

I imagined we might pitch over the edge of the mountain.

I felt no joy out there, not close to the joy I felt in Daiso.

Red roof, red walls, red steps. Red everything.

Boys shouldn’t have tails, we told him.

I was alone now, except the mold still had a strong presence I couldn’t ignore.  

I pride myself on not having regrets.

Where she had rubbed away the grime, her eyes shined intensely.

Astrological insights from twelve of our most recent flash stories

A comic with three different endings

Someone up there in charge of making the sky beautiful.

Kulu cranks her jaws wide open upon seeing us

Their beautiful skin is the color of perfection, the shade of impeccably cooked lechón.

Maybe you should’ve said something sooner, Robert.

Because the summer feels more hellfire than hellfire.

I had vowed to be different, but I wasn’t able to escape servitude, even eight thousand miles away in New York.

What if the world was stuck, frozen, and we could go anywhere we wanted, together?

You’re brought up by blue, Father said.

A few steps are all that separate us.

I wonder how the body knows it’s ready to feed another life. Does it even get a choice to be ready?

We—our family—had so little to give each other; maybe we needed to look elsewhere.

We heard a glass break, then saw our mother, saw what looked like tears.

It’s always only Rio standing there.

Astrological insights from twelve of our most recent flash stories

For it is what Grandma made best, and it is what we knew and ate.

I close my eyes once again and let my hands remember the beat.

You know what I am trying to do for you, Night, she says. I am trying to make life easier.

Looking is not enough. You must run this beauty between finger and thumb.

As I inhaled the sharpness I thought about how much I loved her, and I thought about all the things I would do to prove it.

Wei forgot that he’d given up these aspirations, but he knew they were still possible for her.

“It’s started. It’s changing me. It’s happening. Now.”

She remembers the rituals she had imbued with her own significance: how her ex used to bring her a single flower after every exam, and how she’d watch it wilt on her desk as she studied for the next.

I should have studied their faces as they said goodbye, the way they smelled, the lines on their hands.

I turned around to check whether the llama was still there. There he was, as fluffy and clueless as before, lashes waving as he sat on a tattered red mat thrown on the aisle.

When she opened her door the lived-in smell burst out like gases from a can: fish sauce and charred meat, mildew and a stronger concentration of the musk he had noticed when he got close enough to her body.

Without my hands, I have no soul.

When they talk, the five sisters, their words strangle each other, pulling and plucking at the threads of truth.

Astrological insights from our twelve flash stories

I feel satisfied, triumphant, knowing I have loved the original donut well, though maybe it was only its glaze that I recognized.

I don’t know what to tell you except that children are cruel and her emails were hilarious.

She selected a single star on which to direct her attention. We are one light, she told herself.

I never understood the concept of wearing an outfit only once, by which I mean I’ve never thought about my own wedding.

In Chinese, filial piety is a homophone for peel.

That sweet aroma—one so acquainted with Jabril—was hanging brightly like a piece of the moon within this incantation.

We learned about our Other Brother on a summer afternoon.

In that moment who was to say what belonged to me—Munir’s mouth, my luminous skin color, a setting sun, the shady place we were in, I could never tell anyone.

Your mother always told you stories as she oiled your hair: of her youth, legends and fables, immigration, your father’s business ventures.

Like if we shared any of the same interests I could tell him how I recently learned that Kubrick in his younger days used to wander around New York City and play chess in parks

“Scared, Starlight?” my big brother said smiling at me as we’d strapped our harnesses into place. “Don’t be.”

It is 10:40 a.m., I stare up at the ceiling, a collection of imprints. I am trying to count how many animals I can see sheeted above my head in all four corners.

Astrological insights from our inaugural twelve flash stories

Hot outside, cold inside. Hopeful on the outside, forlorn on the inside. Or was it the other way around?

One day the woman wakes up and she can’t say exactly what it is that’s changed, only that she knows it all has.

They thought me the oddity, though they were the ones depriving themselves of air. I watched them with the same curiosity that they watched me. How? And why?

These days I’ve grown tired of my heart, how much feeling it has required, and would much prefer to laugh.

In the shelter of our happiness, his shell shone brighter and brighter until one day, it split open and crumbled into dust to reveal a baby, golden skinned and blinking up at me.

Sometimes she grew so nervous that she had to sit in her room for hours until her hands stopped trembling. She wondered if her daughters ever thought about her.

That spring my wife covered the walls of our living room in newsprint.

She should moisturize more often, drink at least three liters of hot water with lemon each day, and wear silicon sheet masks to bed to hide the stigmata of a woman who was everything.

And though I knew it was someone’s son, I unburied the rooster in the dark and kick-started a fire and roasted it on a spit, my fingers lamping with grease.

The sunflowers fall, right along with their mason jar, in the middle of the night. Their heads too gloriously full of early July. How they seem to know everything, except the virus.

He collected the past in amber, often describing war memorials as beautiful. He called himself a gardener.

Five American Fables

As we kick off a new fortnightly series on The Margins, what experiments with the Instant Pot teach us about the art of flash fiction

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