This Week in Short Fiction


This week, rising voice Emma Horwitz writes about teenage girls looking for some under-the-pants action (if you know what I mean (I’m talking about fingering)) at Vol. 1 Brooklyn. Horwitz’s story, appropriately titled “Fingering,” is a welcome and refreshing addition to the small range of narratives that show teenage girls as the single-minded, sex-mad creatures they sometimes are, because high sex drives aren’t just for boys, you know. The narrator of “Fingering” has one purpose in this story, declared loud and clear from the very first paragraph: to finally get fingered. But there are some obstacles.

It’s not hard to get fingered in the way that sitting through math class is hard, enduring, I mean. It’s hard in that getting a boy to finger you takes bullish powers of persuasion, something you’re not expected to do as a student, which we all were, professionally speaking.

Horwitz’s teenage narrator is already aware of the difficulties of getting yours as a female because of the unfortunate phallocentrism of so much of male-female sexual activity. (“I could feel where his pants grew taut at the zipper. He could not feel that I was hard in my pants, because he had no idea where I got hard, how I get hard.”) Some of the story’s best moments happen in the narrator’s deadpan reactions to the male anatomy, because even if she’s had limited firsthand (no pun intended) experience with it, the male erection so permeates our culture that she has long become disillusioned. (In one section, Horwitz desexualizes the male orgasm so thoroughly—and using clowns—that it actually becomes nightmare fuel.) The narrator isn’t even interested in the penis, really. Only the fingers. All she wants is her own pleasure. But first, she must perform the expected oblations, which Horwitz hilariously and frustratingly writes as a begrudging annoyance, a charade to stroke the male ego while the female counterpart is thoroughly unimpressed.

Rule one of getting fingered: you have to touch some penis. Not the whole thing, but you have to gesture toward it, and its demonstrable importance.

“Fingering” is above all a story about the fierce sexuality of young women and about female friendship. The boys take a backseat to this story. They are a means to an end (and not even a very effective one). Horwitz undermines any sugar-coating of teenage girls as demure, innocent, or blushing. Instead, these girls select boys like selecting sandwiches. They wield steak knives and draw blood. They unzip their own pants. They make their own pleasure. And at the end of the day (or party), they cuddle with each other on the couch and watch reruns, and they always have each other’s backs. 

Teenaged girls are more confident than anyone gives us credit for being—we are not afraid of each other, I mean, like everyone else seems to be of us. We call each other to see how we are all doing, when there is no reason to think otherwise. We listen to long stories where we know none of the characters with great intensity. We throw parties for each other so something special can occur, randomly, without plan.

We make sure we don’t get eaten by our dad’s leftover cats.

We love each other even when we don’t love ourselves.


Logo art by Max Winter.

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 →