Approximately twice a year, I get this message in the post, paper bound, clearly created in a copying machine, with a hard paper cover, and stapled paper pages. It’s a message from a place stranger and more interesting than the suburbs of my home. It is as hard to categorize, issue to issue, as a field of wildflowers. Each week or month or season carries its own colors and iterations and even the seasons of decay are full of an architecture of fallen leaves and spent husks all its own. The only consistent thing one can say is that every story in the magazine probably couldn’t be in any other magazine: Each story fits into a unique space where it would never work in any other major publication. Yet, the stories often work extremely well, and each issue then becomes a journey of discovery all its own. I endorse a subscription, indeed, and look forward to many issues to come.
In this one, #40, there are three real standout stories that are each exceptional and belong on year’s best lists, somewhere, though maybe in different genres. The first story of note, “Ink, and Breath, and Spring” by Frances Rowan, is high fantasy, set in a magical library. A dead body with a hand removed and skin flensed is discovered at the edge of the wall on the grounds by a human groundskeeper. A library page, a strangely human-like creature of the library imbued with magic, appoints the groundskeeper with the task of deducing the mystery of the dead body that should not be. With the aid of a library guest’s bird, the murderer is found and punished for his transgressions. It’s a fascinating tale of a fantasy world well-painted in such small spaces.
Another standout tale is “The Fruit That Bears the Flower” by Mary Cool. Flowers are harvested in moonlight, and a beautifully-wrought lyricism tells the tale of a young woman farming with her grandmother. She is torn between the world she grew up with, and the world that she learns and feels outside the confines of the night flowers and night milk. The imagery swells to a climax that is rich and sweetly written, like the mystical moon flower milk, itself. It’s a delight on the tongue, and begs to be read out loud. I hope a podcaster picks it up, at some point.
Amber Burke takes a totally different tactic to the question of what makes a story suitable for this magazine. It is not an ethereal tale, or involved in far-off places and fantastical images. In fact, though it is well-crafted, it is quite brutal in its honesty and desperation. Her tale, “In Pictures,” is told in the first-person plural, and follows a cohort of aspiring actresses through all the depredations and miseries that follow them down the path of their life aspiring to a career that will never truly be their own. The choice of first-person plural, along with asides that point to specific people, creates a fugue of pain that ought to dissuade anyone from a career in the arts, at all. But, even in that darkness, there is always the hope of a life different from the one they have, like a path is there, just on the other side of the next rehearsal. Even to the end, they hope and hope for a future that will never be their own. One can understand the addiction.
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet is a strange and fantastic magazine, and I recommend a subscription to anyone who is on your list but also difficult to predict. For people in climates far north enough that such things can be mailed safely, the “chocolate subscription” is a delight for the senses. Alas, where I live, the chocolate doesn’t usually survive transit, and I have to make do without. Still, open the red wine – the deepest and bloodiest wine you have – and pull out the darkest of chocolates and settle in by the fire. There’s a richness in these pages deep and strange, and though I only mentioned three that truly stood out, for me, this time, each story could be a standout for someone else.