Authors: Kelly Link Gavin J. Grant
Tags: #zine, #Science Fiction, #Short Fiction, #LCRW, #fantasy
Small Beer Press
Gavin J. Grant
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet,
No.20 June 2007. ISSN 1544-7782 Text in Bodoni Book. Titles in Imprint MT Shadow. Since 1996
has usually appeared in June and November from Small Beer Press, 176 Prospect Ave., Northampton, MA 01060 [email protected] lcrw.net/lcrw $5 per single issue or $20/4. Contents (c) the authors. All rights reserved. Submissions, requests for guidelines, & all good things should be sent to the address above. No SASE: no reply. Our responses are slowing, sorry. Please change the world for the better today. Thanks for reading.
The 20 of Robots is a card in our new tarot set (to be released in a couple of years once we work out what kind of set has a 20 in it). This zine is printed by Paradise Copies, 30 Craft Ave., Northampton, MA 01060 413-585-0414
Perhaps you've heard an anecdote about a child named
who was skipping barefoot between hills of corn when a shallow bowl in the field, long turbulent with mutterings, broke into pieces. Cresencio spied a tongue of smoke, like the mockings of a demon; he bent, staring into the jagged mouth that was about to spatter the nearby trees with sparks and set his childhood on fire. Liquid stone shouldered through streets, plugging everything but the bell tower of a church. In a last indignity, after obliterating the houses of Cresencio's village with a relentless black confetti, the volcano stole its name:
, no longer
but a district of hell.
I like that story because it suggests that other children may be acquainted with metamorphosis.
The first memory that I can conjure quite clearly is one of lying on the glass box in the claustral living room, staring at the girl. She seemed to emanate a faint lunar glow, and I was fascinated by her perfection—the fine, long eyelashes, the smear of lavender on the eyelids, the curls that were as cursive and tendrilous as a line of embroidered calligraphy. She wore a white batiste dress, finely ruched, with pearl buttons and handmade buttonholes. The useless slippers had been crafted from tatting, and were tied with ribbons of white grosgrain. Because of those clothes, I know the words for the old-fashioned magics of stitchery and lace.
My mother had designed the gown and the slippers and was a marvelous needlewoman. Careful about how the girl was presented, she showed me at length how to clean and polish the glass so that it would not become marred by scratches. Once she caught me scattering purple violets and the paler ones they call Confederates on the lid of the chest.
"What are you—"
She rushed forward, gown trailing behind her. I saw that she had gone into the garden, something that she did only rarely; the hem of her robe was starred with seedheads. It was a terrible moment, not just because she had left the vicinity of the girl and gone out under the sky—something that felt forbidden to me then—but because of the disorder in her face. Afterward I was haunted by an inability to recapture her expression. Even now I cannot determine: was it a scream without sound, a blankness of shock, an anger?
My mother dropped to her knees by the case. Her hand stretched out above the glass.
"What a good boy you are.” I heard the whisper before I saw any movement in her face, and I looked around as if to find some other source of judgment.
"Mother.” I could hardly speak. I felt as though violet stems had spired up in the confines of my throat and flowered there.
She covered her face with both hands and cried—not as adults commonly cry in front of children, with a few parsimonious tears, but as a young girl might cry—with a cloudburst suddenly springing forth and suddenly ended.
As she dried her face on a sleeve, she repeated that I was “a good boy, the sweetest boy in the world."
She embraced me, letting her weight fall more and more on my shoulders until I was pushing with all my might against her. As I pressed my cheek against her neck, I felt indignant. A drop of my mother's perspiration splashed onto my arm. Why was it always kept so warm in the living room? It was stifling; as the minutes fell into—where? where did they go? into what crack in the earth's crust?—the flowers writhed and shriveled into dark French knots.
When my pretty mother rose and left, my face and arms were damp. I didn't know what to feel—or, I felt many things but didn't know how to name them.
In childhood, it is impossible to appreciate the passionate heart and naiad youth of one's mother. And when we are old enough to do so, she has grown worn and been diminished by the effort of bringing us into some uneasy compromise with the world—that, at the very least—and of helping us to adapt to this kingdom that we do not choose and will be later made to leave, generally in a way and at an hour not of our desiring. My mother's library once whispered these things to me, and now, some years later, I begin to see their truth.
"Mama! Where are you?"
In this way, I often called and called for her and had no answer.
Mother would pass through the western doors of the chamber, and when I searched, I could not find her. It seemed as if she had access to other realms where I could not go—perhaps translunary orbs where she might be a mother to another boy, where there might be girls who were not sealed into glass cases, where fathers were not obsessive. Even after I was given a key to the courtyard and had the freedom of its walks and the companionship of its cold statues, I could not make out where my mother went in her absences.
"Mama! Are you here? Don't hide from me—"
I forced open a door to an unfamiliar room, my steps slowing, my voice dying away. The syllables were eaten, I thought, by the plush curtains with heavy tassels, the flocked wallpaper, and the dense, deep carpets.
My feet moved uncertainly on the carpet; it was like walking on moss. And on the wood in between, my heels made an unexpected tapping noise that frightened me and made me look around in terror.
"Is anybody there?"
With a tin sword lashed to my belt, I wandered room after room, each lined with books, each with ladders spiraling into remote recesses of the ceiling: I simply assumed that there was a ceiling, somewhere past the weather that inhabited the heights and sometimes seemed to be shadows and at other moments, clouds. Once or twice I glimpsed faces peeping down at me—angels, perhaps, or demons. One evening I saw evenly spaced snowflakes twirl from the canopy, to lie unmelting on the antique Persian carpet.
"Mother, I want to show you something! Come here!"
My voice echoed and died. I remembered how my mother had made me promise never to lie down in the snow and go to sleep, though there seemed no danger; I never went outside to play. She had made me promise many things, all of them for my own good and hers. “I can't bear for anything to happen,” she had said, again and again. Did she mean,
? Nevertheless, I fell asleep, curled on the rug. When I woke all the crystal stars had vanished, and my toy sword glinted with an edge made of sunlight.
Occasionally I discovered my mother in the shelter of a window seat, reading or musing or embroidering a scene from the woods—ferns and wildflowers and beasts. Once I found her dozing, arm flung across a cushion.
"Mama! There you are—"
Her eyes flew open, and she laughed.
Of course I raced to her side, leaning against her warmth and softness. I suppose every child likes to pillow his head against a mother's breast.
"You found me! You clever boy—"
"Mama, why can't I always find you?” I slid my fingers along one of her long curls, watching it twist and gleam.
"Can't you always? You'll have to look harder.” Her words were teasing, but to my child's eye, her face appeared sad. “I'm glad that you found my hiding place."
"Why?” When I persisted, she shrugged, smiling as she cupped my face with her hand.
"Let me read you a story."
She knew the library well, and it was no trouble for her to fetch me some storybook with entrancing pictures. I pored over the scenes of a boy and girl kneeling on the floor of the Snow Queen's palace to work a puzzle of ice, Baba Yaga's hut dashing forward just as the teeth of a magical comb bit earth and became trees, or the just-broken isinglass coffin of Snow White, with dwarves and weeping candles all around and the prince's kiss hovering above her lips. But I could never kiss and awaken the girl in the case; my mother had told me so, long before.
"This one.” I pointed to a picture of the wild boy, Orson, in his furs and wreath of leaves and berries.
"All right.” She glanced at me and gave a shake of the head. “You're growing taller, aren't you? I hadn't noticed until now."
I looked down. An inch of skin shone between the cuffs of the velvet pants that she liked me to wear and my socks. I wanted to apologize but did not.
"Never mind. I'll make you some new ones.” She bent her head and flipped through the book, looking for the start of the story.
We were companionable for an hour, me turning the pages of the storybook while she read aloud. I felt a profound sense of comfort that moved me close to tears. Her attention fastened on me and the book, she took only an occasional stitch. Whenever she did so, the thread dragged at the fabric and made a protracted rushing noise that pleased me; I was happier than I had been in a long time.
"Mama, couldn't we—"
of a bell jangled the atmosphere and stopped the needle's tug and flow: my mother flew up and was gone like an apparition. Perhaps I had glimpsed the train of her garment vanishing through the door; I wasn't sure.
Where had she gone?
My father, too, had his private quarters, where he ruled his alchemical laboratories and consulted his library of abstruse books. He remained ensconced in his rooms, where I was not often allowed to visit. I vividly remember the first time I was permitted to go in.
His hand clamped onto my shoulder and turned me from his glass and metal edifice of vials, tubing, and retorts. I craned to look behind me at the towers of scaffolding that bubbled and steamed—with what?
was all I knew. Like a bad castle, its glitter allured me.
"Take the boy away.” He sounded irritable.
I had come alone, and there was no one to make me go. I lingered, creeping as slowly as I dared, scanning the work tables strewn with papers and references. Arcane, unreadable symbols dazzled my eyes whenever I glanced into an open volume. These large, leather-bound entities struck my imagination as a form of curious taxidermy that, when propped open, exhibited a spine and wings and nothing else save for the mystic signs that were their whole reason for being. I expected that, like a golem, they could be brought to life by the correct symbol.
About such things I was well versed. My paternal grandmother lived with us but was seldom seen; when she was well and in good temper, she told me terrible stories about the machinations of demons and the tricks of sprites governed by the damned angel, Baal Zevul.
"Noo, noo,” she would say, lowering her voice; “it's best to be careful, careful. The works of the little bodgy devils are many, many.” Her fingers twitched as she crossed herself. “Never name them, no."
Stories and cautions had in turn been inflicted on her at an impressionable age by a nursery maid from Krakow, who had nattered endlessly about the black powers and the kings and queens at Wawel—particularly Prince Krakus, who had ascended the throne in the eighth century after killing a dragon that had an unhappy predilection for devouring virgins. I connected the dangerous creatures of the nursery maid's tales with the winged books in my father's laboratory, and wondered if his chemical experiments were related somehow to the study of dragons and demons. When I asked my grandmother, she didn't tell me.