This Week in Short Fiction


Over the last several weeks, The Offing has been releasing a stream of stunning work from its 2015 Trans Issue, and the collection of transgender/non-binary voices they’ve cultivated forms one of the most powerful issues of any magazine we’ve seen this year. One story that stands out as a star among stars is Casey Plett’s “Couldn’t Hear You Talk Anymore,” which went online last week.

“Couldn’t Hear You Talk Anymore” tells the story of a young trans woman who is not so much trying to figure out how to exist in the world as trans, but how to exist as a healthy and functional adult. She is self-admittedly self-destructive, almost definitely an alcoholic, frequently unemployed, and utterly lost. She is torn between a responsibility to fight for LGBTQ rights and a desire to settle down, be normal, and not have to worry about the next protest, the next hate crime. The place she ends up in is neither. Plett unspools her protagonist’s “Post-Op-Gone-Wild period” with a hand that is both blunt and tender, outlining the drinking, the hookups, the joyful moments, and the fearful ones in prose that is spare but so full of depth that it knocks the breath out of you:

A couple of nights later a guy followed her and tried to kiss her. She said no, no, very gently and softly, she detected no malice from him. She smiled and said no and pushed him away. As she did his dick came out. He never managed to kiss her though.

The issues Plett writes about in “Couldn’t Hear You” are trans issues, but many of them are also, simply, human issues. Casey Plett writes about loneliness and friendship, self-destruction and self-love, in a way that captures a universal empathy. Take this passage, written with such quiet power and grace, which will be familiar to anyone who has ever struggled to feel beautiful:

Tonight, now, in winter, she stood in front of the mirror tottering around before heading to bed. She’d just brushed her teeth and after taking off her makeup her eyes followed a divot from her collarbone. It was just shallow and curved enough to hold the spill from a shot glass, a finger, a baby mouse. There were quiet regular moments like these where she found parts of her body beautiful.

“Couldn’t Hear You” is a story in which the ugliness of the world constantly seeps through the windows like a draft. It’s a hard story, but also a beautiful one and a necessary one. Amid the anorexia, the street harassment, the scars, there is also friendship, laughter, and bad decisions with no regrets. But most importantly, there is a future, and that means there’s hope:

She thought of a generation of girls who might grow up strong and unbothered and untouched, healthy, beautiful, learned and full of love, who could fall onto adulthood knowing girlhood, girlhood in full, having the chance at normal kinds of pain, who would grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and become oceans, gentle armies, thick with passed-down wisdom and love. She believed and took heart from that. She did.

Claire Burgess’s short fiction has appeared in Third Coast, Hunger Mountain, and PANK online, among others. Her stories have received special mentions in the Pushcart Prize and Best American anthologies, but haven’t actually made it into one yet. She’s a graduate of the Vanderbilt University MFA program, where she co-founded Nashville Review. She lives in Pittsburgh by way of the deep South and says things on Twitter @Clairabou_. More from this author →