Short stories make perfect beach reads. They’re conveniently bite-sized for quick consumption, which is great if you’re splitting your time between lying in the sand and wandering into the waves. They usually have a little bit of everything– depth, humor, beautiful prose– all in a concisely written package. Here are seven opening paragraphs from seven incredible short stories to jumpstart your beach day.
1. “The Sisterhood of Night” by Steven Millhauser
“In an atmosphere of furious accusation and hysterical rumor, an atmosphere in which hearsay and gossip have so thoroughly replaced the careful assessment of evidence that impartiality itself seems of the devil’s party, it may be useful to adopt a calmer tone and to state what it is that we actually know. We know that the girls are between twelve and fifteen years old. We know that they travel in bands of five or six, although smaller and larger bands, ranging from two to nine, have occasionally been sighted. We know that they leave and return only at night. We know that they seek dark and secret places, such as abandoned houses, church cellars, graveyards, and the woods at the north end of town. We know, or believe we know, that they have taken a vow of silence.”
2. “Popular Girls” by Karen Shepard, from Kiss Me Someone
“You know who we are. We’re Kaethe and Alina, CJ and Sydney. Stephanie. We’re Asian or Scandinavian, white or vaguely black. We call ourselves Mayflower Madams or Tragic Mulattoes, tossing our dreadlocks, showing off our flawless skin. Our hair is blond or brown or black. Rarely red; rarely curly. We run our fingers through it and hold it away from our faces long enough for you to see our striking eyes. When we do this, you get shivers.”
3. “Brides” by Aryn Kyle, from Boys and Girls Like You and Me
“The first man I slept with kept his eyes closed the whole time. We did it in the prop room of my high school theater on the leather sofa my parents had donated to help me get a part in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It would have been better if my mother could have sewn costumes or if my father could have built scenery. But since my mother didn’t sew and since my father said he would rather drive a nail through his tongue than spend his weekend building carboard shrubbery, they gave the theater department two hundred dollars for programs and the sofa we’d kept in the garage since our dog chewed through the armrest. And voila. Townsperson Number Three. I had a line too: Somebody get the pastor!“
4. “ZZ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers” by Karen Russell
“Emma and I are curled together in the basket of the Insomnia Balloon, our breath coming in soft quick bursts. I am stroking Emma’s cheek. I am spooning amber gobs of soporific dough into Emma’s open mouth, cadged from Zorba’s medicinal larder in anticipation of just such an occasion. (Sort of a cheat, I know, but it’s my first time doing this.) I am trying desperately to disguise the fact that this is the closest I’ve ever been to a girl’s face.
I was expecting some ineffable girl smell, dewy and secret an eau. But Emma smells like dinner. Barbecue sauce, the buttery whiff of potato foil. Because it’s Emma, it’s still sort of hot.
“Just put your head here,” I say, in a tone that implies I’ve nuzzled dozens of sleep-disordered ladies. I try to ease Emma’s curly head into the crook of my arm and end up elbowing her in the nose.
“Are you ready?”
What can you do but take a girl at her word? But I hope she really is ready. Being unconscious with somebody, that’s a big deal.
I take a deep breath, pull on the rip cord, and plunge the clearing into darkness.”
5. “The Art of Cooking and Serving” by Margaret Atwood
“The summer I was eleven I spent a lot of time knitting. I knitted doggedly, silently, crouched over the balls of wool and the steel needles and the lengthening swath of knitwear in a posture that was far from easy. I’d learned to knit too early in life to have mastered the trick of twisting the strand around my index finger – the finger had been too short – so I had to jab the right-hand needle in, hold it there with two left-hand fingers, then lift the entire right hand to loop the wool around the tip of the needle. I’d seen women who were able to knit and talk at the same time, barely glancing down, but I couldn’t do it that way. My style of knitting required total concentration and caused my arms to ache, and irritated me a lot.”
6. “Marion” by Emma Cline
“Cars the color of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways. Dogs lay belly-up and heaving in the shade. It was cooler in the hills, where Marion’s family lived. Everyone who stayed at their ranch was some relative, Marion said, blood or otherwise, and she called everyone brother or sister.
The main house jutted up from the ranchland, as serene and solitary as a ship, crusted with delicate Victorian detailing that gathered dirt in its cornices and spirals. The first owner had been a date heiress, Marion told me, adored and indulged, and her girlish fancies were evident in the oval windows that opened inward, the drained pond that had once been thick with water lilies and exotic fish. Palm fronds fell crisped from the trees that flanked the house’s exterior. All the landscaping was now like an afterimage, long grown over but visible in the heights of grass, in the lines of trees that extended a path to the front door, bordered by white plaster columns.”
7. “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian
“Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of her fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and bought a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.
“That’s an . . . unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”
Flirting with her customers was a habit she’d picked up back when she worked as a barista, and it helped with tips. She didn’t earn tips at the movie theatre, but the job was boring otherwise, and she did think that Robert was cute. Not so cute that she would have, say, gone up to him at a party, but cute enough that she could have drummed up an imaginary crush on him if he’d sat across from her during a dull class—though she was pretty sure that he was out of college, in his mid-twenties at least. He was tall, which she liked, and she could see the edge of a tattoo peeking out from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a little too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he were protecting something.”
Featured Image Via The Junto