In the story "Night Calls" by Lisa Fugard, how does the relationship between Marlene and her father change throughout the story?
At the beginning of the story, Marlene’s father is cold towards her. When she opens her arms, expecting an embrace from him, at the station, he offers her his hands instead. When she offers to “mimic bird and animal calls” for him—her favorite talent—he turns down her offer, saying that he’d rather listen to the “real thing” outside his own window. The story starts with a thirteen-year-old Marlene waiting to be picked from the station by her father. She is back home from her boarding school for the September holidays. Her father has struggled with grief and loneliness ever since the death of his wife, Marlene’s mother, five years before. At some point, he almost resigned from his position as the warden of the sanctuary at Modden River. Later, he was forced to stay on because of the arrival of the “red crested night heron.”
One night, Marlene’s father frees the penned night heron on the banks of the river. He does this secretly and lies to Marlene that the heron has been killed by a hyena. However, Marlene knows the truth. Releasing the heron kind of cheers him up as afterward he excitedly tells Marlene how he intends to spend more time with her, maybe even attend the “end-year recital” at her school. The two have a better relationship, working together on small projects on the sanctuary for ten days. During this time, the night heron’s calls can be heard in the dead of the night, from the river’s banks. However, the heron is finally eaten up by a hyena, and its calls cannot be heard anymore. This breaks the heart of Marlene’s father, and he recedes into his cold shell again. Marlene observes the changes in her father’s behavior and resolves to herself make the heron’s night calls if only to cheer up her father.
In the story "Night Calls" by Lisa Fugard, the relationship between the narrator and her father is inverted from the usual parent-child relationship. In a typical parent-child relationship, parent and child begin as one and grow slowly apart, becoming two entities who sometimes feel as though they are strangers. In "Night Calls," father and daughter start out almost strangers. Marlene was 8 when her mother died and she was sent to boarding school, returning home only for school vacations. When Marlene returns at 13, she receives a handshake rather than an embrace, and is uncomfortable with the intimacy of sitting near her father in his truck. "Filled with his secrets, I felt like a thief and moved a little closer to the window." Over time, Marlene and her father get to know each other. As she watches him, she begins to understand him in a way that is unseen and wordless. Marlene's heart agrees with her father's lie about the hyena break-in though she knows the story is not true, and notes, "I have his eyes." She and her father now see as one, and they are, for the first time, a parent and a child. The connection becomes complete when they rely on one another. Marlene's father, lonely for the lost heron, is rejuvenated by Marlene's bird call. Marlene finally has a purpose for her uncanny gift of birdsong.
Upon Marlene's return from boarding school for a September visit at thirteen, she becomes aware of her father as a person: his use of tobacco and brandy, and his restlessness in the night. Through viewing the neglect of the sanctuary, she realizes that her father's depression over the loss of his wife (her mother) has changed him and his loneliness and isolation has made him shut down; the stagnant pond is a metaphor for his own stagnation. As the weeks of her visit unfold, she becomes his equal in rejuvenating the sanctuary and reawakening his love for nature. The night heron, perhaps his sole reason for carrying on as the caretaker of the sanctuary, symbolizes his hope, though muted, for a future. When he decides to release it to either find a mate or perish, it is in some way similar to his own journey. Marlene is mature enough to realize the reasons behind his decision to release and to lie to her about it. She also becomes his partner in deception when she misleads him with the heron's call. As the story ends, there is no resolution, just a realization that small deceptions are sometimes necessary in familial relationships when they serve a greater good. In this case, Marlene wants her father to sustain a hope for a future.