Sex, as experienced and interpreted by modern women, is at the centre of this collection, but Hardy deftly and thoughtfully draws in issues of race, gender, power and need. She explores South Africa as a contested and sometimes fraught space, in which female lives and bodies are also similarly contested and fraught: drug use, risky sex, illicit love, all are encountered by Hardy’s characters in their search for meaning and structure.
‘Goddamn chicken,’ I heard him say it. He got out the car, rounded the engine and bent down to check the front grille. I watched him. I sat straining to see through the windscreen. I watched him bend and disappear. I heard him say, ‘Goddamn chicken.’ I unbuckled my belt and followed, stood over him, looking down. From that angle it didn’t look like a chicken anymore. It looked like a soft toy discarded on the road by a child in a passing car, a bear or a giant mouse or a snow lion with no head.
I said, ‘I can save it.’ I touch one of the wings then pulled my hand away.
‘It’s dead, baby.’ His voice was soft. He looked up at me, pupils like tiny headlights in the dark.
‘I can save it,’ I repeated. I bent down and picked the bird up. It was heavier than I imagined, wet and still warm. I held it against my chest and felt the heat slip away into the cold night air. The wind was picking up. The highway was empty, a black strip running off in both directions. I hugged the bird tighter and stroked its tiny white head with my thumb. I knew this was stupid. I knew it was just a chicken. It was Kentucky Fried, Chickin Licken crispy wings. It was Sunday roasts. I knew that but I didn’t want to let go. I thought of the Chicken Licken payoff line, Soul Food, printed in orange on the side of their takeout boxes. I thought of the advert where the chickens dance and sing. My heart was beating fast and my mouth felt dry.
‘Baby,’ he put his hand out so it touched mine, just the fingers. I let him. Let him close his hand around mine then slowly one at a time, ply my fingers. I let him take it. I watched him walk, didn’t try to stop him, a silhouette in the headlights, the bird swinging in his hand like a tennis racket; a prize trophy. A step left and he was out of the light, vanished into the darkness. I didn’t know if he planned to bury it or just throw it somewhere, a ditch or a donga along the
side of the road, out into the bush veld where the long grass would swallow it. It didn’t matter anyway. In that moment I knew it was over between us. I think he knew too. He didn’t say anything when he got back. He got a rag out the boot and wiped his hands. When he was finished he handed it to me.
I was still clutching the rag when we got back in the car. I held it for a while then let it drop down between the seats, that dark space under the handbrake. Neither of us spoke the whole way back. He faced the windscreen, biting his lips, the look on his face like when he was concentrating hard or had to perform a difficult task. I watched his face; his hand on the gear stick. There were still smears of blood he hadn’t wiped away, brown smudges on the knuckle and darker around the cuticle. I watched him change from first gear into second, clenching his fist tighter on the plastic knob as he pushed in third, then relaxing, letting the car slide into fourth gear, cruise speed for the last stretch home.
Noy Holland on ‘Because the Night’
“Stacy Hardy’s first collection of stories, Because the Night, is part book, part art object, an uncanny collaboration between the author and Italian photographer Mario Pischedda.
One can read a long way into the literature of any continent and find little which speaks so powerfully and with such candor about the life of body, the quickness of the mind to depart, as Because the Night”