Welcome to the website of A Personal Anthology, which also exists as a weekly TinyLetter. Each week a guest is invited to pick and introduce twelve of their favourite short stories and, where possible, link to them online. You can browse guest editors and featured authors in the sidebar, or just start reading below. Click here to sign up for the mailout.

‘The Balloon’ by Donald Barthelme

Chosen by Carolina Alvarado Molk
 
‘The Balloon’ is as understated as a love story can get. A balloon appears one morning, covering miles of the Manhattan skyline, and remains without explanation for twenty-two days. The narrator talks us through the city’s varied reactions to the balloon, its speculation over its purpose, before revealing, in the last paragraph, that the balloon is “a spontaneous autobiographical disclosure,” a response to a lover’s brief absence. The subdued affect of the writing gives way, finally, to the enormity of feeling the balloon represents. I love the element of mystery in this story, the unassuming tone, both the relish and the fear of the balloon. There’s something almost claustrophobic about its descriptions – “There were no situations, simply the balloon hanging there” – that feels just right. Sometimes you miss someone, and the missing them clouds and shades everything.

First published in The New Yorker, April 1966 and available online here. Collected in Sixty Stories, Putnams, 1981
 
Carolina Alvarado Molk writes essays and short fiction, often about loneliness, motherhood, and immigration. She tweets at @caro_molk

‘I Love Our Voices When We Sing Off-Key’ by Timothy Boudreau

Chosen by Gaynor Jones
 
This gorgeous flash piece outlines a loving, long-term relationship. Although it begins with the romantic cliché of a couple’s shared breakfast it soon becomes clear that this is no post-one night stand meal, but a well practised routine, ‘nothing fancy, but that’s the arrangement.’ Through references to ‘corny love songs’, it needing to be warm before the couple venture out and the ‘salt pepper and pepper spare tire dude.’ we learn that this a couple whose relationship has lasted through the years. And if we were any doubt, the following paragraph describes their sex life in humorous detail, swiftly followed by a section on knee surgery. Then we return to the prose which, for me, treads the line between corny and loving in such a way that you no longer care about the corniness – ‘Feel our same light, for we have light between us, I swear we do.’ I like this story because it gives me hope, and it’s refreshing to read a piece that delves way past the immediacy and urgency of first love.

Published on spelkfiction, July 2019
 
Gaynor Jones is an award-winning short fiction writer and spoken word performer based in Oldham. She is the recipient of the 2018 Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award and holds the title of Northern Soul’s 2018 Northern Writer of the Year. You can read her full Personal Anthology here.

‘A Woman Seldom Found’ by William Sansom

Chosen by Chris Greenhalgh.
 
Sansom’s story holds out the possibility of a perfect encounter on a romantic night in the streets of Rome. And everything seems to be going well for the narrator from its fairy tale opening – all too well, of course – until the final twist. The story is a bit of fun, but it is also a work of perfect scale, swiftly dispatched with a gut punch in just under two pages. Something of Hitchcock, Roald Dahl, with the compression of Kafka, or even Nabokov in gothic mode. 

First published in A Contest of Ladies and Other Stories, London: Hogarth Press, 1956. Available to read online here
 
Chris Greenhalgh is the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. He has published three volumes of poetry, two novels, and wrote the screenplay for Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. You can read his full Personal Anthology here.

‘Wild Berry Blue’ by Rivka Galchen

Chosen by JL Bogenschneider

He was my first love, my first love in the way that first loves are usually second or third or fourth loves.

‘Wild Berry Blue’ is not a love story, although it is a story about love, the nine-year old unnamed narrator’s first. And being her first, she is adrift; lost in a labyrinth. She is drawn to Roy, a recovering heroin addict employed by a fast-food franchise. He has impossibly blue eyes and an impossible blue vein. He calls the narrator sexy and it doesn’t seem wrong but it’s not exactly right. Maybe she knows this and maybe she doesn’t. There are only three encounters with Roy, who the narrator likens to a beautiful monster. The first time is discombobulating, like being knocked over by a wave you never saw coming. The second is voyeuristically distant. But the third encounter is like being swept off your feet by the undercurrent whose total existence you were ignorant of. Pulled under, she blurts out that she will be at the Medieval Fair and Roy – unaware, not-even caring Roy – casually mentions how much he likes the wooden puppets they sell there.

Thinking about that puppet for Roy eclipsed all other thoughts … that puppet was going to solve everything.

The puppet is attained, but it is ugly, and cracked. No way can it be given to him under any circumstances. The narrator takes herself off to the bathroom to cry, and to let her love slough, and we arrive at the hopeless and defiant gut-punching last line:

‘I never got over him. I never get over anyone’

First published in Open City 25: High Wire. Collected in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009 and in American Innovations, FSG, 2014

JL Bogenschneider is a writer of short fiction, with work published in a number of print and online journals, including Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Island Review, 404 Ink, minor literature[s], Hobart, PANK and Ambit.

‘That Colour’ by Jon McGregor

Chosen by Grahame Williams
 
I don’t want to write too much about this story because the story is so short itself (it will take you just about as long to read as it will to read this). A man does the dishes while his wife tries to describe the turning colour of the trees outside their house. It reminds me of the love my Dad showed my Mum when he used to reach out and squeeze her hand whilst he was driving: a reflection of deep, long-lived love. I have a copy of the story framed next to my front door. I don’t read it or even properly notice it every time I leave the house, but I really ought to. 

First published as a broadside by Jon McGregor, and in his story collection This Isn’t the Sort of Things That Happens to Someone Like You, Bloomsbury, 2012
 
Grahame Williams is a fiction writer from County Down and his work has appeared in the Stinging Fly, the Lonely Crowd and, most recently, on BBC Radio 4.

‘The Adventure of a Clerk’ by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver and Ann Goldstein

Chosen by Jane Roberts
 
(Dedicated to those of us who have loved for one night only, and equally to those of us who have never loved for one night only.) 
 
We meet our protagonist in the early hours of post-coital bliss: “It so happened that Enrico Gnei, a clerk, spent a night with a beautiful lady.” Bedroom antics are hinted at, allowing the reader to wander off the pages of the present and join Enrico in his imaginings of the sensual and tender “inheritance of that night”, whilst embedded in the converse mundanity of the morning’s necessities. The basic human urge to broadcast his nocturnal exploits, seems here something more than the braggadocio of a lad about town. This is the middle class, middle man, middle of the road, clerk who has undergone an abrupt metamorphosis from the constrains of his bourgeois humdrum. The moment merits marking; as we bask in revelation and comedy, Calvino, the descriptive master of both microcosm and macrocosm, ensures the world breathes into life with an intense – almost pixelated – ecstasy of “boundless Edens”.
 
From the exquisite idealisation of those early hours of the morning when he leaves the house at the top of the hill, Enrico the Adventurer descends back down to earth – or the office – “mad with love among the accountants” – with a bathetic crash. The unexpected illicit beauty and joy of the day is stripped away by thwarted communication of various kinds; and his fate is to wonder the “what if” of a one night stand. Often love can be realised when the moment passes – the orgasmic glory, a fleeting moment of tenderness never to be reclaimed, maybe never to be spoken of again once passed: all eventually fades into a “ secret pang of grief” and a closed account book of passion.

First published in Difficult Loves and Other Stories, 1953. Available in Vintage Classics, 2018
 
Jane Roberts is a freelance writer living in South Shropshire. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in anthologies and journals including: Litro, Bare Fiction Magazine, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review.

‘A Love Match’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Chosen by Stuart Heath
 
While on leave in London, having survived the horrors of the Battle of the Somme, Justin finds solace in the arms of Celia, a young widow. Justin and Celia, however, are brother and sister. Living in a society that would be shocked by their love for each other, the couple go on to establish an outwardly conventional life together in a Northern English town. Included by Sylvia Townsend Warner in her 1966 collection A Stranger with a Bag (published in the US under the title Swans on an Autumn River), ‘A Love Match’ is a tale that permitted its author to comment indirectly on her own position as a lesbian in a long-term relationship in mid-20th Century England. Her prose here is, as nearly always, sharp & precise, yielding ample evidence of her wit and intelligence. Straightforwardly happy endings are as hard to come by in Warner’s fiction as they are in life, but this story of lovers never parted, and of a secret kept safe, comes closer to having one than most.

First published in A Stranger With a Bag and Other Stories, Chatto & Windus, 1966. Available to read online here, with a short introduction by Edith Pearlman
 
Stuart Heath is a middle-aged IT Consultant based in South Wales with no literary ambitions.