Margaret Atwood Short Stories

Dancing Girls

“The Resplendent Quetzal”

Sarah and Edward are on a guided tour in Mexico. She sits by a sacrificial well. The guide moves everyone along but Sarah stays. She’s not interested in seeing everything. They’re here because Edward’s latest obsession is pre-Columbian ruins. Edward is even farther behind the group. He’s bird-watching, which is one of his long-time interests. They’re not close anymore.

Read “The Resplendent Quetzal”

“Happy Endings”

John and Mary meet. What happens next varies greatly. The “A” story has a happy ending. Story versions “B” through “F” go differently. We learn a lesson about plots and how stories end.

Read “Happy Endings”

“When it Happens”

Mrs. Burridge, a fifty-one-year old woman on a farm, makes green tomato pickles. Her husband, Frank, thinks she makes too much, even though he ate all of them last year. Prices are going up. She’s expecting some kind of societal breakdown. She doesn’t believe her husband will be able to protect her when it happens. She tries to plan for it.

Read “When It Happens” (Pg. 44)

Murder in the Dark


The narrator asks us to imagine a piece of bread—right now in the kitchen, during a famine and in a prison.

Read “Bread”

Bluebeard’s Egg

“The Sin Eater”

The narrator talks about her therapist, Joseph. He told her about a Wales tradition where a person known as a Sin Eater would be called to eat a meal over a dead body. This would transfer the dead person’s sins to the eater, thus clearing the person’s way to heaven. When Joseph has an accident, the narrator finds out about his life from his ex-wives and other patients.

Wilderness Tips


The protagonist’s father died when she was young. Her family was supported by her uncles. She becomes a journalist and is eventually very successful.


Kat goes to the hospital to have a large ovarian cyst removed. There’s no way to know if it’s malignant until the doctor “goes in”. After the operation she makes an unusual request. We learn some of Kat’s personal history, including her job at a fashion magazine, her relationship with Gerald, and the many versions of her name.

Read “Hairball” 

Good Bones

“There Was Once”

A storyteller is constantly interrupted while trying to relate a traditional fairy tale. The listener objects to the clichés and politically incorrect language.

Read here (Scroll down slightly to second story)


In the near future, STD’s are widespread and ravaging the population. The uninfected are kept separate. Their lives are rigidly controlled by the state. The infected are left to suffer and die.


There’s a celebration—confetti and streamers are fluttering in the sky. It makes Al think of how much trouble they had getting paper for Oursonette, their war-themed comic book. The streets are full of people. There’s singing, music playing, noise making, kissing and hugging, and flags flying. He’s wondering what will become of Oursonette now that the war is over.

Read “Oursonette” (Free sign-up required)