‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ by Gabriel García Márquez

Márquez is here because he was such an influence on my young self. As a teenager, I pretty much wanted to be him (I’d have accepted the generous moustache), and my first ‘proper’ short story was a wholesale Márquez rip-off, of which I was quite proud. This story is resplendent with so many of the Márquezian traits I know and love. Days of rain have left Pelayo’s house infested with crabs, and ‘the world had been sad since Tuesday.’ Then he finds a ragged old man face down in the muddy yard. The man has enormous wings. Pelayo ignores his neighbour’s advice to club this apparent angel to death, and instead locks him in the chicken coop. Soon, visitors are flocking from far and wide, and Pelayo is raking it in. Only when a woman who has been turned into a spider arrives with a travelling fair are Pelayo, his family, and his aloof angel left alone. Infestations, transformations, curious crowds, extreme weather, and mystery make this classic Márquez. It strikes me now that all those elements have indeed snuck into my own writing, though I am sadly still short a generous moustache.

In Collected Stories, Penguin, 1996; first published in English in Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories, Harper & Row, 1978; available online here

“I Only Came To Use The Phone” by Gabriel García Márquez

‘Then she clung to her husband’s neck, screaming like a real madwoman.’

This is the first short story I ever read. I had an inspiring teacher at school who introduced me to Marquez. It felt like the first time I had read ‘in colour’. This story, however, is as dark as it gets. A woman is accidentally admitted to a sadistic psychiatric hospital where the consultant persuades her husband she is too dangerous to ever leave; something the woman herself begins to believe the longer she stays. Marquez is famed for his fantasies, but having worked a lot in mental health, the most terrifying thing about this story is its chilling proximity to the truth.

In Strange Pilgrims (Penguin, 1992)