Song at the Sea


For this special issue of, we asked a number of talented authors to create short stories on the theme of "Jews at the beach." Here's what Dara Horn says about her contribution: "The subject 'Jews at the beach' seems to ask for a story about caricatured people with Long Island accents. But I am not interested in social satire or anthropology, and to me, what makes literature Jewish is its resonance with Jewish sources. And of course there happens to be one fairly important ancient Jewish story about Jews at the beach." In addition to Dara Horn's story below, enjoy Elinor Lipman's "Alice Apologizes," Neal Pollack's "Mr. Pacific Beach," and Danit Brown's "Jews at the Beach."

The water that day was cold. Aaron was seven years old, and freezing. Jason was thirty-nine, and had forced him to go in. Naomi, thirty-four, sat on the beach, pinched by the wind, shivering just looking at her son in the waves, his skinny arms held high above the water. The weather, like the marriage, had taken a turn for the worse. When they had set out that morning, there had been a chill in the air, but Jason had made up his mind. “There’ll be less traffic this way,” he declared. “It’ll warm up.” Jason did not take well to being challenged. And he was never wrong. Except that he usually was.

Aaron walked farther into the water. The surf just reached Naomi’s toes where she was sitting, long edges of white foam rimming the glassy water on the pale brown sand. It was like dipping her feet in ice. Jason’s feet were next to hers, his toes long and bristling with dark hairs. His eyes were riveted to the sports section.

“I think it’s probably a little bit cold for him,” she finally said, her voice low.

Jason continued staring at the sports section, batting down the windblown pages and finally forcing them against his knees.

“I really think it’s too cold,” she said, louder this time.

Jason glanced up at her, then looked back at the paper, spitting a puff of air into the wind. “I didn’t drive all this way for him to not even go in the water.” He turned a page, an effort that required both arms against the breeze.

“But he’s—don’t you think it’s—”

“I told you what I think. He’ll live.”

Naomi pulled in her legs, drawing them back from the approaching waves. Aaron had ventured farther from the shore, still holding his arms in the air. But now he had turned around. “Mom?” he yelled. “It’s deep here. Can you come in?”

Naomi scrambled to her feet, but Jason grabbed her arm as she stood. “Don’t go,” he told her. “He can come back on his own.”

“Mom!” Aaron called again.

Now Jason was shouting at her. “He can do it himself, damn it! Stay here!”

A gust of wind rushed between them, a whirling blast of fury that blew the newspaper into the air. Jason dropped Naomi’s arm and reached into the air to catch it. The paper flew higher and higher, swirling above their heads before blowing along the water’s edge. Jason leaped after it. And Naomi walked out into the water.

She kept walking, deeper and deeper, unafraid of the chill. Aaron was closer to her now, swimming across the deep cold water. She kept walking toward him, immersed, until he swam into her arms. Then the water reached her nostrils, and she did not turn back. The sea rose like walls of water on her right and on her left, and she walked across the wide sea floor, her steps firm and dignified on the dry sand.