The arrival of a new issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet is always an event. There is no set publishing schedule, so a subscriber is never quite sure when an issue will arrive. No. 27 landed in my mailbox just last week, full of amazing fiction. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a couple of these stories on awards ballots next year.
Three stories in particular struck me as special. The first is “Music Box” by David Rowinski. Rowinski’s protagonist, Patrick Sutton, has broken into his wife’s home to retrieve his belongings after she has thrown him out for sins unspecified. His buddy, John Ferris, disobeys Patrick’s instructions to take only the plastic bags with his stuff, and steals a black lacquer music box, hoping it’s where Patrick’s wife stashes drugs. Patrick disabuses him of this notion with an irritated insult, but John, still curious, winds the box up and starts the music. Out of nowhere, a severe storm flares up; “A sharp note seared lightning.” Patrick slams the box shut, and the storm ceases. John, not quite up to speed yet, opens the bottom drawer of the box, selects another music cylinder to play, and suddenly the air is full of birds.
The tone of “Music Box” is what makes it work: despite the magic of the box, what we read about is an estranged husband who misses his wife, but not enough to patch things up. We read about the beer Patrick buys for John in return for his help in the stealthy job of retrieving his belongings. We read about Patrick’s memories of his married life. The tone stays solidly grounded in the day-to-day even as the music box creates wonders all around. It’s not that Patrick doesn’t see or appreciate the magic; it’s that the magic is seamlessly woven into the mundane. It’s a beautiful trick of writing that you don’t see until the second or third time you read the story, because the first time through you’re simply enthralled by the tale.
M.K. Hobson’s “A Sackful of Ramps” is, at first glance, a retelling of “Rapunzel.” Anyone who loves fairy tales will recognize the bones of the story: a pregnant woman begs and begs her husband to bring her vegetables (in this case, ramps – a type of wild leek) from the garden of the witch who lives nearby. The man finally obliges and, of course, the witch catches him and demands that the child be given to her in return for the vegetables. In the fairy tale, this is a tragedy; in this story, things turn out a bit differently. One questions who the real prisoner is. Certainly it is not the as-yet unborn child.
The dark and moody “Thou Earth, Thou” by K.M. Ferebee is another outstanding story, and may be my favorite in this issue. Dunbar and Mason have just moved from the city – which Mason preferred – to the suburbs, which is Dunbar’s natural environment. Dunbar is delighted with the garden, where anything at all seems to grow, whether in season or not, in an abundance that doesn’t seem natural. Soon Dunbar is digging up items that seem far too strange to really belong: shark’s teeth, bones, items that feel wrong. Then the strangeness starts bleeding out into the neighborhood as a whole – does anyone really live there at all, or is this slice of suburbia entirely one of the mind? – and Mason can’t reconcile his dislike for the suburbs with quite this degree of darkness. The whole piece is a study in the inexplicable, in that horrible feeling you get sometimes that something’s wrong without being able to put your finger on exactly what it is that’s off – and what exactly are you supposed to do about it? It’s a beautifully frightening story, especially in what it doesn’t say.
Any story by Carol Emshwiller is a treat, and “The Mismeasure of Me and How I Saved the World” is no exception. You know from the first couple of sentences that you’re in skilled hands: “I’ve always wondered who I was. I took time off to find myself, but I could only afford a year and that wasn’t anywhere near long enough.” The first person narrator’s problem of self-identity becomes acute when she meets a man she wants to present with “the real me” – if only she knew who that was! Fortunately, there are dreams to help, or maybe it’s reality?
This issue of LCRW also contains a good deal of poetry, five poems by Sarah Heller and five by David Blair. Heller’s “Garden” is the best of a good lot: an off-kilter look at the Garden of Eden, complete with serpent. I particularly liked the vision of “vertebrae the size of a slithering house.”
This small black and white irregularly-published journal is much bigger inside than it is outside. You can find it as an ebook through Small Beer Press, WeightlessBooks.com and Fictionwise.com as well as in hard copy at the more perceptive book stores and magazine stands. It is worth searching for.