Skin Hunger ~ by Marjorie Drake

The glow from a chandelier above the bar bathes the two in warm light, reflects the shine of his gold watchband as she absently strokes the back of his hand, her knees angled toward his, his hand resting on the back of her chair and when he leans in to speak over the din of the happy hour, he brushes her hair back with his hand, slides his arm around her shoulders and his lips touch her ear and, behind them, at a table for one, a woman watches, stops breathing, and remembers, remembers having someone to stroke her hair, whisper into her ear, to rub her back, zip the zipper on her dress, kiss her neck, to spoon at night and nuzzle in the morning, to lace her fingers with and feel the warmth of his hand as their palms meet; and remembers being held—real hugs, not the quick ones from friends, nor the ones where you slide your arm between your breasts before leaning in, but long embraces, pressed together, burrowing into each other, his face in her hair, and for so long the thought of holding someone else made her feel sick and it still often does—but she orders one more, and she thinks, maybe it wouldn’t with him—the bartender with the soft eyes and tattooed birds flying up his arm, or the man at the end of the bar, leather jacket and two-day scruff, nursing a ginger ale and reading the Times, or even perhaps with you, perhaps you’ll do, your skin, your hands, your warm breath on her neck, your heart thumping against hers might just keep her from shriveling up and floating away, weightless.    

Breathing Quietly ~ by Mauro Altamura


Five straight days of rain got the Kaweah River way too wide. Old Mrs. James, who taught high school Latin and spoke it like a saint, drove off the road, into the river and under. The county crew pulled her from her fast-back Volvo after she failed to show for class eight o’clock prompt at Visalia High. Seat belt snug, palms in her lap, she’d lodged in a dark mud hole, ten feet deep.

     We watched and listened while a rescuer’s radio played loud music that evaporated in the sun. The rush of light on its way to one more day said something important had been lost. Passing drivers slowed, the Volvo’s chrome and metal shimmered, circling gulls and jet black crows spread their wings, benevolent, blessing us below.  

     Maybe she’d tried to take the short cut home from church, anxious to avoid the muddy pass at River Bend that disappears in winter. Or maybe she veered a scant yard or two, fixed on what she’d just been through at St Martin’s, found her wheels spinning, mud painting the air like a freeze frame of breath before she hit the water.

     On Mrs. James’s last, strange Sunday, she searched the pews for her lost Bible while two sharp, blue Lincolns crept into the lot. She and the other Presbyterians were geared for the recessional but were shocked instead by a sad lament of love: Leonard Cohen’s“Suzanne” flowed from wall-mounted speakers, an odd miracle unfolding as they prayed. Bowed heads snapped alert like blooming lilies to see a blond stranger with a gun and a flair for things electronic.

     The stranger kept the congregants still, aided by a pudgy fellow he called Buddy. Buddy decided to remain mute but carried a long curved staff. He stared, stared some more, all while maintaining silence. The strangers kept “Suzanne”on repeat for hours, held the congregation inside, a torturous taste of Purgatory. No member of the church didn’t have the song’s words burned in their memory, not to mention their souls.

     The clock ticked. The stranger and Buddy sat, rifles on their laps. “Suzanne” did not abate.

     At five o’clock, the stranger nodded, said thank you, kind folks. Buddy stopped the music, strode from the altar, down the aisle and out. Neither said another word. They drove off in opposite directions. Three stars shot across the dark western sky, colliding somewhere off the coast of Mercury. Mrs James missing Bible was found, shot through with five rounds, tossed below the willow. A long brown braid with a kitty clasp wrapped the Bible tight.

     Sacramento TV came down the next day to film and interview. The two-minute spot ran nationwide. The broadcast closed with a pan of the river, while a lush string version of “Suzanne” filled our dimmed living rooms.

     We easily spotted the tall young man who appeared in the top corner of our TV screens, standing on the bank of the river, just before the image faded. It was Mrs. James’s red-haired son, skipping rocks like the lost orphan he’d become. He’d never gone anywhere except community college for his Associate’s in History.

     The boy is called Gregory, quiet as a breeze blown over soft grass. Now he looks across the water on TV forever, a painting that shimmers like phosphors in the Pacific at night. The rocks he throws are flint, brought down from the Sierras before humans walked. Locked inside the rocks rest the trace of anything that’s ever lived with blood in its veins and air in its lungs. He flips the rocks out, trying to skim, but they do nothing but sink.

     We watched Gregory look to the sky as if he might be able to see past its gray. His hands rest at his sides — until he throws and his limbs snap fierce, curling from his hip, a bullwhip taming some snarling coyote. Gregory’s rocks never break away from gravity. If they could only lift, like sight, Gregory might move away.

    A scent of fuel fluttered with gypsy moths when Mrs. James finally was raised. Cut away from her harness, her body was round and bloated, make-up yet in place, fingers pruned. A hole in her flat front tire, a bullet-sized pierce, had let the air free.

     Folks said she must’ve been thinking about “Suzanne,” and Gregory, of course. Most likely about rain that washed away the road. And surely, finally, about somehow climbing out of that dark, sad hole of mud she’d never intended to find.


Mauro Altamura received a 2022 Prose Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and several visual arts fellowships from NJSCA, NYSCA, and the NEA. His prose was published in,, and Yolk Literary. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers, Newark, and an MFA in Visual Art from SUNY Buffalo. Mauro lives and writes in Jersey City, NJ.

At the Writer’s Group ~ by Frances Klein

All the men want to be Neruda but none are, no one Chilean enough, none unself-serious enough to compare their lovers’ breasts to the twin beating hearts of frogs on opposite sides of the lagoon. All the poems are about breasts, even the ones about the moon and its reflection, even the ones about sibling mountains. Even the ones that are about dicks sound like the ones about breasts, mooning about all sullen over the drawn curtain that hides two neighboring street lamps from view.

All the men want to be Palahniuk, want to use the word fuck in every fucking sentence, to spit every line of dialogue, to visit graphic, nuclear vengeance on the twin fawns that refuse to emerge from behind the trees at their beckoning. They shop pale imitations packaged as reboots of a gritty reboot, now with even more grit.

All the women bring just a little something they scribbled down, nothing very good, needs a lot of work, still just an eighth draft. They bring stories that they’re sure won’t make sense to anyone but them (and their six beta readers), a world of socialized insecurity crystallizing into a perfect microcosm.

All the women are—

because they were just trying to—

and they noticed—

it’s unlikely a real woman would—

but that doesn’t make any—

and if they could just—

like they were saying—

they thought it was clear—

why is she naked the whole—

that doesn’t explain—

All the women are limiting themselves, say the men, to the banal domestic world. The women are looking through the microscope at children and bodies, the interlocking atomic orbits of families. The men say writing is for big ideas: for sex and death and the deaths that follow sex. The women see the Great Chain of Being reflected at every stage, see the hierarchies of royal scale recreated in the schoolyard and living room. The men see ten pages of story without a single description of the character’s body.

When the women stop coming, all the men shrug and sigh. It’s a shame that writing is not for the faint of heart. Some people are so easily offended.


Frances Klein (she/her) is a poet and teacher writing at the intersection of disability and gender. She is the 2022 winner of the Robert Golden Poetry Prize, and the author of the chapbooks New and Permanent (Blanket Sea 2022) and The Best Secret (Bottlecap Press 2022). Klein currently serves as assistant editor of Southern Humanities Review. Readers can find more of her work at

Two Questions for Andrea Marcusa

We recently published Andrea Marcusa’s devastating “U.S. Threat Forecast.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the “facts” of this piece — we have statistics, like the number of lightning strikes per year, but then we have lovely tidbits about the sound of frogs and cricket chirps. How did you decide on a balance between the statistical and the (almost) fantastical?

That’s just it. I was looking for a balance. I had developed a long list of weather/type facts (an interest of mine) and also a long list of stats about shootings.  I have noticed that shootings come in waves.  Usually more during warm months.  I was trying to make sense of them (although there is no way to, really.) and so I looked at the weather. Then I came up with the voice, almost childlike in its wonderment.  The contrast between the wonderment and the material heightened the impact of the narrative. I found that the contrast between the statistical and the fantastical really heightened the emotion of the piece so I continued to develop the piece this way.  I experimented with placing the shooting facts and weather facts side-by-side to see which facts worked with each other and which ones didn’t. I have one of those minds that is very associative and intuitive and so experimenting like this was fun. The result was “U.S. Threat Forecast.”

2) And of course, the most devastating statistic in the story (the speed of bullets from an AR-15) leads to the most devastating fact (that we are able to forget). Do you think there is a way for us to remember? To hold onto the pain and the rage and the fear until, finally, something is done?

I hope people who read “U.S. Threat Forecast,” will read this fact differently than if it was simply in a news story.  I felt that by inserting it into this narrative, with the childlike voice of wonderment, that it would stun the reader.  Perhaps make them see an AR-15’s destructiveness differently.  This is an attempt to try to get society to stand up and say — “Enough!”

U.S. Threat Forecast ~ by Andrea Marcusa

Did you know that frogs grow noisy before it rains? And dogs and cats always sense tornadoes looming. Also, wind is silent; we only hear it when it blows against something. Even though little can be learned about people from their facial features, our noses can detect a trillion smells. Meteorologists say lightning strikes 20 million times a year but kills only 432. And hailstones can grow as large as baseballs. 316 people are shot daily and 48,222 die each year from gunshot wounds.  Bullets from an AR-15 travel almost three times faster than one from a handgun and liquefy organs, leaving a smashed cavity the size of a grapefruit. Although wives’ tales say otherwise, lightning often hits in the same location twice, sometimes more. And cats really do land on their feet. It takes blood 60 seconds to make a complete circuit of the body. Scientists tell us that full moons don’t impact human behavior, but violence rates rise along with air temperature. A simple way to learn the air temperature is to count the number of cricket chirps in 15 seconds and add 40. One definition of the word execution is “to carry out a plan.” Blood tastes as salty as an ocean. In time, people grow accustomed to violence, especially young children. Did you know that the only muscle that never tires out in the human body is the beating heart? And sound, whether the blast of a gun or tinkle of a baby’s laugh, won’t ever carry in the absolute silence of outer space. Psychologists say it’s normal to feel upset following a distressing news event, but the feeling eases after a few weeks as predictably as snow melting each spring.


Andrea Marcusa’s work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Cutbank, River Styx, River Teeth, Citron Review, and others. She’s received recognition in a range of competitions, including Smokelong, Raleigh Review, Cleaver and Southampton Review. For more information, visit: or see her on Twitter @d_marcusa.

Two Questions for Donna Vorreyer

We recently published Donna Vorreyer’s beautiful “Silence Is Golden or Maybe a Weapon.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This story makes reference to one of my most-hated idioms: “Children should be seen and not heard.” What do you think of this idiom? What does your character think of it?

Having taught middle school for over 30 years and having parented a creative and verbal son, I hate this idiom. My own household growing up was full of conversation and music and sound, and I can’t fathom how anyone could ever expect a child to be silent all the time. I expect people who feel this idiom to be true are those who don’t really like or understand other people. Of course, there are places and times where being quiet is appropriate…but to expect a child, or anyone, for that matter, to move through the world in stealth so as not to disturb someone else is a control issue. I think my character has learned the power of not being heard and learned to wield it. Thus the sentence “She has given her parents what they always wanted, and now they don’t want it.” She’s decided that being seen and not heard is the best way to take the power back.

2) I like how you take this teenage rebellion and make it a silent thing — a response to the parents without a verbal response. How long do you think it took before they realized their child wasn’t speaking at all?

I think it probably took a while. They seem like the sort of parents who would be pretty pleased that she was “finally doing as she was told.” If I had to guess, I’d say it may have taken a phone call from the school (which would have embarrassed them, by the way) for them to realize it was actually happening. 

Silence is Golden or Maybe a Weapon ~ by Donna Vorreyer

The girl has been told to be quiet for as long as she can remember. Best seen and not heard. Now that she has not spoken in weeks, her parents beg, scream, bribe her to say something. Anything. She has grown to like the silence. Like the clapper of a bell muffled in cotton, she moves through the world with only the dull thud of her breath, her own footsteps. Her hearing has become attuned to things she never noticed before—the hiss and rumble of traffic on her walk to and from school, the tick of the classroom clock as it makes its slow progress toward the end of the day, the swish of corduroy between her thighs, insects singing their arias on the lawn as night falls.

She has given her parents what they always wanted, and now they don’t want it. They are so angry, and there has been fallout. In order to save face, her parents informed her school that she is “struggling with some issues,” so her teachers just don’t call on her anymore. Her parents don’t know that this is a relief. She has always liked school except for the participation, so her grades are higher than ever.  She is content, a slip of a grin always on her lips.  This makes the teachers wonder exactly what her issues might be. But they don’t ask, and she isn’t talking.

Although she doesn’t have a lot of friends, the few she does have are in solidarity with her silence. After all, they have heard her parents scream her into submission, bitch about “all the damn noise” when they were just sitting in her bedroom watching Tik Tok on their phones. They still hang out, eat lunch together, text and Snapchat, so the only difference is she doesn’t speak out loud. Her

friends don’t seem to mind. They think it’s hilarious, that she’s punking her parents, but she’s not sure if that’s what she’s doing. Maybe it started that way, but the longer she stays quiet, the more she feels alive. In control. As if stilling her tongue has awakened a force in her. Something she has never felt in all of her thirteen years.

She and her parents have just returned from another after-school hour at the family therapist, suggested by the family physician when he could find no medical cause for her silence. Her dad in his work clothes, red-faced, rumpled and fidgeting. Her mother in her best athleisure wear and perfect wine-colored lipstick. Both parents crying as she sat stoic and speechless, shrugging or nodding only when asked direct questions. Is there something that triggered this silence? Shrug. Has someone harmed you?  Negative head shake.

 Now the girl can hear her parents in the kitchen as she comes down for dinner. Their voices are desperate, bitter. Why is she doing this to us? Everyone will think she’s nuts. Everyone will blame us. When they hear her footsteps approaching, they change their tone to cheerful refrains of Time for dinner! and Hope you’re hungry!  They have made her favorite meal, spaghetti with meatballs. Again. She winds the noodles around her fork and slides them between her lips, chewing with her mouth closed. She wonders how far they will go to break her.  How far she can go until they break.


Donna Vorreyer is the author of To Everything There Is (2020), Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016) and A House of Many Windows (2013), all from Sundress Publications. She hosts the monthly online reading series A Hundred Pitchers of Honey. Though primarily a poet, her small fictions and essay work have appeared in Cherry Tree, Thimble Lit, Sweet, MORIA, Lily Poetry Review, and other journals.

Hunger ~ by Tom Weller

It’s the rumbles of twisting stomachs, the slack weight of arms and legs, heavier now than they should be. It’s the hollow place that has bloomed in their centers and spread like cancer, an emptiness demanding to be filled.

Scrap Boy 1, Scrap Boy 2, Scrap Boy 3, three backyard haircuts, three bare little-bird chest, ribs ruffling flesh, three mouths searching, six rows of crooked teeth saliva slick, but just one shared heart. Where one Scrap Boy goes the other two follow, sure as the echo that follows a slap. They walk, out past the four blocks of downtown, where the three bars have all started locking their dumpsters and Bad Betty reigns over the Dollar General, flies from behind her register to harass Scrap Boys away before they can make it through the automatic door. They walk past the elementary school, playground empty in the heat of summer, basketball rim naked of net. That rim has never had a net. There’s no swish when a Scrap Boy scores. Scrap Boy scores are silent.

The Scrap Boys keep moving, too empty to be walking so far, too empty to stop, past slumping row houses, peeling paint and spiderwebbed windows and cat-piss stink, across the railroad track, steel rails shimmering under the July sun, air thick with the smell of creosote, into the woods, stands of maples and young oaks stitched together with deer trails, to the open field where the trailer sits.

The Scrap Boys are ninjas, 1 and 2 and 3, quick, tiptoe steps, duck behind the trashcans, duck behind the rusted pickup, bare tires settled six inches into the earth, weeds growing up through the engine compartment, a burst of green, like fireworks, blooming up past the open hood. A dash to the back of the trailer, quickquick and silent as clouds.

The Scrap Boys peep in the rear window, open the back door sloooowwly, Ninjas on the prowl. It’s ritual. It’s ceremony. It’s not practical. They know nobody’s in the trailer.

There air inside the trailer is thick and stagnant, heavy with the smell of sweat and cigarettes and beer and spunk; the light inside the trailer is grey, the only sound the hum of the refrigerator.

This is the miracle of the trailer, the refrigerator like Jesus with loaves and fishes. It provides. Today there are hotdogs, two packs of ten for the Scrap Boys to rip open and pass around, Scrap Boy fingers grabbing cold hot dog flesh. Moisture from the packaging drips, drips, drips, on the peeling linoleum floor. The Scrap Boys bite the ends of their hotdogs, then pinch them between their index fingers, pretend they are smoking cigars. Shove the end of their hotdog in their mouth, the meat clammy against their lips and tongues. They inhale, make puffing noises before they bite and pull the dogs away from their faces, brandish their hotdog cigars at each other, try to remember lines from old black and white gangster movies they half watched in the shadows of their grandmothers. The Scrap Boys say, “Look here, Bub.” The Scrap Boys say, “The boss has been looking for you. The boss ain’t gonna be happy.”

And with each puff and bite, with each tough guy line, the Scrap Boys feel themselves growing, aging. Their bones stretch and their hair recedes, their chests swell and then droop, aches are born in their backs and shoulders, their knuckles stiffen and swell until they look like knots on tree trunks. The hollow place in their center creeps and expands like an oil slick. Cold wieners no match for it.

And each Scrap Man, 1, 2, and 3, look at their surroundings, look at the other two Scrap Men, a circle of understanding, a knowing without words, not a shared epiphany, instead a reminding of a truth so brilliant and permanent that it just might be tattooed on their shared heart: You are what you always have been.


Tom Weller is a former factory worker, Peace Corps volunteer, Planned Parenthood sexuality educator, and college writing instructor. His fiction has appeared in Booth, Pidgeonholes, Barrelhouse, among others. His fiction collection And There Came Forth a Great Fish: Stories was published from Gateway Literary Press. He lives in Victoria, Texas, with his wife and his ill-mannered but big-hearted rescue dog, Beans.

First Time at Waffle House, as a Hurricane Approaches ~ by Abigail E. Myers

They won’t tell you this, but you can replace the grits with a hash brown. And when you do, they’ll still make them however you want. Jalapenos and cheese, extra crispy with ham. They won’t tell you this, but you can buy one of the coffee mugs, heavy and emblazoned with the logo. You can bean an intruder over the head with one and do some real damage, but it’s truly suited to provide slow death by the best bad coffee. They won’t tell you this, but you can bring your gun, even though you won’t need it. You saw that video of the waitress who caught the aluminum chair someone flung towards her. These people are pros. They won’t tell you this, but they will stay open till the whites of the eyes of the muddy waters come rolling down the state highway, till you can see them through the smeary, steamy windows. They won’t tell you this, but you can shoot the gun you didn’t need in the first place at the deluge, or try to beat it back with your coffee mug, but you can also crack the crust of your extra crispy hash brown with your fork, a veteran of five thousand trips through the industrial dishwasher, and enjoy it.


Abigail Myers lives on Long Island, New York, where she writes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Her essays have appeared in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, with a personal essay (which was also a finalist for the American Literary Review Fall 2022 essay contest) forthcoming from Phoebe in winter 2023. Her microfiction recently appeared in Heart Balm. Her poetry recently appeared in Rough Diamond Poetry and Roi Fainéant, with poetry forthcoming from Sylvia, Poetry as Promised, Amethyst Review, Unlimited Literature, and Musings. You can keep up with her at and @abigailmyers (still on Twitter).

Teenagers ~ by Lauren Cassani Davis

They play poker on their phones during fire drills. They hold dead rats in their hands. They are apathetic with curiosity. Some have lost their heads, others have lost their shoes. In their pockets are ring pops and bullets and broken chargers and red lace thongs. That is not their real name. Assign them no sex, no destiny. They are distracted and tender and high on cherry, Molly, sweat. They like the way rain soaks into worksheets and lifts the perfume of deodorant and potential into the air. Has the city always belonged to them?

On the subway they are walking between cars, cutting each others’ hair, deciding who deserves a mauling. They are vogueing in the cafeteria, hands like black doves. They are painting murals in the third-floor bathroom, scratching flowers into the stalls, making shrines to Billie Eilish, knowing no God watches. They need only themselves, only dancing. They savor in 30-second spurts. This is their war against forgetting, their campaign for eternal life. Forget Achilles—look at her face today, eyelashes on point. There is no such thing as history, only bluetooth speaker and report card and loose-rolled joint and first kiss and second fuck and livestream and free throw and group chat and forever awake now here always.

The teenagers are bored to death with our lessons. They’ll remember what they want to. They stay out early and wake up late. They keep their hoods up. They wear all purple. They glide along the block, new Nikes like solar sails. They harmonize with pursed lips and two-inch fingernails and boners tucked into the elastic band of doubt. They smell of cranberry, punk show, detergent, Sour Patch Kid. They shoot webs from their wrists and lasers from their eyes and wear long sleeves to hide the scars. They fold the corners of books they never read. They slit holes in their jeans with shards of tradition. They expect justice and refuse to be punished.

They are afraid. They yearn to be cradled, hate to be touched. They curl up like cats on the counters of the food hall, unable to penetrate the thick glass, wanting. Some feast on the spilled bowels of trashbags. They are always hungry.

They interpret the color of each others’ auras—tangerine, mint green, hazelnut. They want a puppy, but their parents won’t allow it. They intimidate for approval, beg for responsibility. Their futures are still multiple-choice. They steal stray Citibikes, ridicule our choice of emoji, demean our syntax. They laugh at our expense. They are Cambrian, Jurassic, Postmodern, Metamodern. They are gaining experience points and preparing to evolve.

Driving with a temporary license, they steal stop signs and barricade driveways. They gather provisions. They wear beanies to avoid detection, eyeliner to expel optimism. Under the bridge by the river, while we sleep, they chew on their cuticles and rest heads in each other’s laps, dreaming of birthday cakes that look like coffins. When the meteors approach, they won’t pretend to act surprised.


Lauren Cassani Davis is a writer and high school teacher based in New York City. Her work has appeared in No Contact, Monkeybicycle, and Peatsmoke Journal.