In her story "Night Calls," Lisa Fugard evokes a mood of melancholy and wistfulness, both of which are tempered by hope and familial love. Description and setting are used throughout the story to convey to the reader the fraught emotional landscape that Marlene and her father must traverse in the...
In her story "Night Calls," Lisa Fugard evokes a mood of melancholy and wistfulness, both of which are tempered by hope and familial love. Description and setting are used throughout the story to convey to the reader the fraught emotional landscape that Marlene and her father must traverse in the years following the tragic death of Marlene's mother in a car accident.
From the story's opening paragraph, which takes place about five years after their loss, Fugard sets the mood through Marlene's description of seeing her father as he picks her up from the train station on a break from boarding school:
I remember it all clearly, standing in the dust, watching him get out of the truck and walk toward me, noticing that there was no smile on his face but still feeling my body move toward him, my arms opening for an embrace, something rising in my throat.
Through the dust, no smile, arms opening, and an unnamed "something" rising in her throat, Fugard describes the haze of sadness and want which has become routine for father and daughter since both their lives were irrevocably changed through tragedy.
As the visit progresses, some of the most effective and heartbreaking examples of the pervasive melancholy take place in the weighty darkness of night:
I peered through the windows of the rooms we'd stopped using, the dining room with its yellow wood table, the living room where my mother's desk was still piled high with the field guides and books she'd used to identify unknown plants she'd come across. The outside light flickered on, and I found my father in the kitchen, heating up a tin of curry. We ate our dinner in silence, and then he read a book and I listened to the radio. I felt uncomfortable in the house and longed for the morning.
Then, again, two paragraphs later:
In bed, in the blackness, I listened to the night again. The jackal that had been barking the previous night had moved on, and it seemed quiet out there. It wasn't long before I heard the heron calling. I knew my father heard it as well, and I tried to picture him in his bed. I wondered if his heart beat like mine, an urgent knocking in my chest.
From the inescapable reminders of her mother to the silent dinner to the "urgent knocking" which Marlene imagines might be a point of connection for her father and her, Fugard deftly evokes the visceral experience of two people struggling to come to terms with their individual despair in the context of a parent-child relationship. Other places in the story where the mood is conveyed include how Marlene describes listening to her father's interaction with the heron before it disappears from its enclosure and the way in which Marlene's talent of mimicking birds functions as a means for connecting with people, first at boarding school and then at home with her father.