Authors: Margo Lanagan
‘… a density and moral complexity almost suggestive of a George
Eliot novel, with its decades-long narrative arc, its shifting
relationships, its questions involving responsibility,
misdirected love, and the nature of families.’
GARY K. WOLFE,
‘Lanagan … employs a preternatural command of language, twisting
it into archaic and convoluted styles that release into passages of
absolute, startling clarity. Drawing alternate worlds that blur the
line between wonder and horror, and characters who traverse
the nature of human and beast, this challenging, unforgettable
work explores the ramifications of denying the most essential
and often savage aspects of life. … a marvel to read.’
‘Lanagan’s poetic style and her masterful employment of mythic
imagery give this story of transformation and healing
extraordinary depth and beauty. Lanagan offers up
difficult truths — and complicated, human characters
— that are as sobering as they are triumphant.’
DEIRDRE F. BAKER,
The Horn Book
‘I want to hire a plane and write “Black Juice” across the sky so that
people will read these intense, rich, disturbing stories. This book’s
extraordinary, very strong; I haven’t read anything like it before.’
‘… superbly unearthly tales … Lanagan is in a class of her own.
Every story in this book is a wonder: Lanagan’s range of invention
is breathtaking, her assuredness and unerring tact a joy to savour.
This is one of the most imaginative and attractive collections of
short stories to appear in more than a decade.’
‘… dazzling imaginative reach … dark humour … subtlety …
humanity and depth of feeling … rich, strange, wonderful and
compelling. Margo Lanagan is an enormously talented and skilful
writer, with a powerful and original imagination.’
‘Lanagan uses fantasy to highlight certain universal truths about
human relationships. Her imagination is a powerful beast,
encompassing clowns and angels, dreams and nightmares —
mostly nightmares. She writes with wit and debauchment, and a
certain exuberant ruthlessness. It cries out for a sticker —
“If you like Angela Carter”.’
‘The genius (not too strong a word) of Australian writer Margo
Lanagan is her ability to reach into darkness and return with
and powerfully convincing.’
‘Always moody, evocative and original,
is an intensely
imaginative collection from an accomplished and distinctive author.’
‘With enormous skill, Lanagan disturbs as she entertains, stimulating
our minds and playing havoc with our hearts.
is a feast of a
collection by a daring and talented writer.’
‘Margo Lanagan’s short stories are like funeral flowers, beautiful and
terrible at the same time … (they) tell us something about what
makes life worth living, even in the darkest times, the “black juice”
times. Margo Lanagan is a dark magician, and potentially dangerous.
Enter her fantastic world with care, but do enter it!’
‘… something else again … inventive, intriguing and extraordinary
in their power. … story after story astonishing, gripping and
multifaceted. … I’ve rarely been so touched by any writing. …
What a remarkable gift!’
‘Driven by beautiful, often quirky language and deep psychological
insight, these works demonstrate a powerful sense of the marvellous
… Gritty, dark and sometimes very nasty, these stories are, at their
best, worthy of comparison to the fairy tales of Angela Carter.’
‘… Lanagan has an extraordinarily dark sense of humour and takes
obvious delight in subverting our expectations.’
Bookseller & Publisher
‘… Highly imaginative … disturbing in their oddness … Every story
is unexpected. Lanagan’s books are to be approached in a state of
fearful, delighted anticipation.’
Australian Book Review
‘… I was astonished by
… The inventiveness, variety and
quality of each story are extraordinary … Lanagan seems to have
tapped into a bottomless reservoir of inspired creativity,
each piece a unique gem.’
‘An extraordinarily dense compilation of philosophical ideas and
meditations on the precarious act of living and the dark beauty of
dying with dignity, [these stories] thrill with the epiphanies we have
when life suddenly reveals its grandeur. They offer astounding
insights into worlds just beyond our line of vision — the worlds
conjured up in dreams which reflect our real lives so devastatingly.
Greg Bear says they are like “a memory of the real”. See the world
through Lanagan’s eyes and it will never look quite the same again.’
ALSO BY MARGO LANAGAN
This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory board.
First published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen & Unwin
First published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Copyright © Margo Lanagan 2008
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
(61 2) 8425 0100
(61 2) 9906 2218
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
Tender morsels / Margo Lanagan.
ISBN 978 1 74114 796 4
Set in 11.5/14 pt Goudy by Midland Typesetters Australia
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my sisters, Susi, Jude and Amanda
There are plenty would call her a slut for it. Me, I was just glad she had shown me. Now I could get this embarrassment off me. Now I knew what to do when it stuck out its dim one-eyed head.
She were a revelation, Hotty Annie. I had not known a girl could feel this too. Lucky girls; they can feel it and feel it and nothing need show on the outside; they have to act all hot like Annie did, talk smut and offer herself to the lads, before anyone can tell.
Well, we lay there in the remains of the hay cave that we had collapsed around us with our energetics. We looked both of us like an unholy marriage of hedgehogs and goldilockses. I laughed and laughed with the relief of it, and she laughed at me and my laughter.
‘By the Leddy,’ she said, ‘you have the kitment of a full man, you have, however short a stump you are the rest of you.’
‘I’m not so much shorter than you,’ I said, perfectly happy. She could not annoy me; no one could, this night. Shakestick might come along and stripe our bums and fill our ears with shame and still I would be swimming in air. Let him try.
It was warm, perfect for nudding down, the air like warm satin sliding all over me. The last blue of evening, close around us, shielded us from eyes, and yet some stars winked there and were festive also and who could mind their watching? And moths flew soft and silver. The stars silvered them, I guessed, and the last light from the sky, and the slight light from Shakestick’s lamps as he hurried the last of the haystackers, other end of the field. Anyway, they were low like a mist, the moths, like a dancing mist, large and small like snow wafting on a breeze, as if the very air were so alive that it had burst into these creatures, taken wing and fluttered in all these different directions.
Everything made sense—this girl and me wrapping each other, and what had gone before. I could see, as I’d not seen heretofore, why the whole world was paired up man to woman like it was, buck to doe, bull to cow, cock to hen: for both their releases, to keep them present on the earth, instead of away suffering inside their own bodies and heads. Moth to moth too, eh? Moth to moth—look at them, floating and flirting, giving off their moth-signals, curling their feather antlers at each other’s nearness.
‘Gawd, Annie,’ I whispered. ‘What are you made of? Caves and volcanoes!’
‘I am!’ she said. ‘I am!’ And she laughed, a careful laugh so as not to be heard outside this hay, yet full of delight and delights.
Our laughing wound down and we rested. We could rest a little longer, before Shakestick’s deputies came along the field rounding us all up to go back to St Onion’s.
‘Here,’ Annie said, and there was more kindness and gentleness than ever I heard in this girl’s voice before; she was a brassy one, this one, all bawd and bluster. ‘Close your eyes.’ She closed them for me with her damp fingertips that smelt of her and of me, ripe with the thing we just done, the parts I just discovered.
‘What?’ I said. ‘What you going to do to me?’ Not that I cared, not the littlest jot.
‘Shh.’ With her smelling fingers she made a sign on my forehead, and another, and a third. She wrote and wrote.
‘Makin your letters?’ I said. ‘Writin your name on me?’