The short story "Night Calls" takes place on a small game preserve in South Africa. A 13-year-old girl named Marlene comes home from her boarding school for the holidays. Five years earlier, her mother died in a car accident. She feels estranged from her father. She doesn't know how to...
The short story "Night Calls" takes place on a small game preserve in South Africa. A 13-year-old girl named Marlene comes home from her boarding school for the holidays. Five years earlier, her mother died in a car accident. She feels estranged from her father. She doesn't know how to communicate with him or act in his presence.
When they pull into the compound where they live, Marlene notices that it has become run down and shabby. Her father has obviously been neglecting it. The only thing holding him to the preserve is a rare red-crested night heron that lives in a pen next to their house. Authorities asked Marlene's father to keep it safe in the hope that they might be able to find it a mate. However, after years of effort, it seems to be doubtful that they will. In the beginning, Marlene's father would excitedly share with her articles highlighting conservation efforts concerning the bird, but during this visit, the cage is neglected, and she and her father hardly communicate at all.
One night, Marlene watches her father remove the bird from its cage. Later, she hears its call near the river and realizes her father has freed it. Although in the morning he lies and claims that a hyena has gotten it, Marlene understands and goes along with the deception.
At this point the relationship between Marlene and her father improves. They talk together and share activities. Freeing the heron seems to have lightened her father's mood and improved their relationship.
Every night, Marlene's father goes out to check on the heron, and as long as he observes that it is safe and healthy, their relationship flourishes as well. However, when the heron goes missing, Marlene's father spends more and more time alone in the bush looking for it and once again stops communicating with Marlene. She finds the remains of the dead bird and buries it. Realizing that her father's state of mind is linked to the well-being of the heron, Marlene hides in the river and imitates the heron's call.
The state of the father-daughter relationship at the end of the story is uncertain. It is unclear whether the father recognizes his daughter's voice or thinks that it is the real heron. It's also unclear whether Marlene's efforts will help restore her relationship with her father.