In this story, a man named Rafael lives on the llano, a grassy plain without trees, common in South America. His parents died as a result of a tragic accident when he was just fifteen. Whenever Rafael goes to the nearest town, Las Animas, people give him space and respect his wish to be alone and silent. Everyone is affected by the silence of the llano, but most men ride into town just to hear the voices of other people telling their stories. They then go home and repeat those stories to their wives, the children overhearing, and, in this way, everyone is assured of life beyond the silence. Rafael, however, comes to town only to get what he needs.
One day, though, a young woman whose parents had also died when she was young saw him. Sunday after Sunday he comes to the church where she lives, and they eventually fall in love. Soon, they get married, and he takes her back to his home. Their love grows, she becomes pregnant, and everything seems perfect. Eventually, however, she begins to seem frailer and weaker, and then she starts to bleed. The midwife comes and delivers a baby girl, but the mother dies in childbirth.
Rafael leaves the home and doesn't return for days; he doesn't care what happens to the baby who he believes killed his wife, and he wishes that he could die too. The midwife, Doña Rufina, stays with the child and continues to raise her in the home, even after Rafael returns. He speaks to neither Doña Rufina nor the little girl. After seven years, Doña Rufina dies. Rafael continues in silence while the little girl grows up.
At age sixteen, she continues to prepare meals for Rafael and to keep the house clean. She bathes at the spring and tries to tend her mother's garden, though she does not know how. Strange men come to the house, and she hides from them, sensing danger. Everyone knows he has a "virgin daughter" who spends her days alone.
One afternoon, Rafael sees a cloud of dust over the road near his home, and he knows that it was made by a car. It makes him uneasy, but he continues to work. He intuitively senses that something is wrong. When he returns home early that day, he does not see the girl anywhere. When he looks inside the home, he sees her on the bed, where she has clearly been raped. She cries out his name and reaches for him, but he runs away from the house.
When he returns, she has made his breakfast again, but he looks at her and sees both her and his wife, how they are so similar. When he sees the young woman bathing where his wife used to bathe, he tells the girl that her name is Rita, his wife's name, and this brings her joy. He tells her where her mother is buried, and he promises to prepare the earth for a garden, just like the one her mother had kept.