June 2022

Playing With Fire

Melissa Llanes Brownlee

Play Audio
read by Sura Siu

art by Ann Newman

We scramble across the street in Shibuya, our young bodies confined to matching school uniforms, jostled by salarymen and office ladies on lunch breaks, dressed in their own cloth prisons. We steer around retired obasans and ojisans, slow obstinate stones in the raging current. We escape from our fieldtrip group, filled with clueless boys and girls, our destination, a nest of K-pop shops feathered with purses, stickers, t-shirts, smartphone cases of our favorite idols. We drool over BTS, Twice, Blackpink, their braided lyrics of Korean, Japanese, English wind around us as we kakkoii and kawaii, rubbing their perfect faces, skin shining and almost translucent, their perfect bodies, dancer thin, against our bumpy skin and bulgy bodies. We race to eat army stew and tons of kimchi, daring each other to try the spiciest food on the menu, slurping up spam and fish cakes, noodles and rice, rap music scattering Korean like crunchy seaweed over us. We soak it all in, absorbing gochujang and gochugaru through our pores, our skins bursting open, revealing our new selves underneath, bodies sleek, skin pale, a fire raging in our bellies.

About the Author

Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Reckon Review, The Hennepin Review, Cheap Pop, Ruby Literary, Cotton Xenomorph, Milk Candy Review, Lost Balloon, Cobra Milk, Best Small Fictions 2021, and Best Microfiction 2022. Read Hard Skin, her short story collection, from Juventud Press. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at

About the Reader

Sura Siu is an award winning audiobook narrator and voice actor.  She is a first generation Asian American of blended Asian heritage (Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese). Being multilingual, Sura has an edge in tonal languages as well as having an ear for the musicality of the spoken word. Her passion is to breathe life into characters, stories and the printed word. When she is not performing, Sura enjoys playing video games, biking, Pilates and meditation, as well as exploring the urban jungle of her hometown of New York city.

About the Artist

Ann Newman is a photographer and writer, specializing in abstract photography, based in Phoenix, Arizona. She uses her abstract images as writing prompts. Her passion is experimenting with her camera to find metaphors that inspire, calm, and amuse. One moment she is capturing nature from a different perspective, inspiring a sense of wonder. In the next, she’s creating photographic art to spark your imagination and fire up your curiosity. More at