Azucena, whose name translated into English would be ‘‘Lily,’’ is a girl who has been buried up to her neck in a mudslide. The rest of her village has been destroyed, and she says that the bodies of her dead brothers and sisters are holding her legs. As the story opens, the girl has just been found, and a rescue effort is underway. She has also been discovered by the national news media, and soon a crowd of television reporters comes to interview her on camera. While her story is broadcast around the world, she quietly talks with Rolf Carlé, the first reporter on the scene, about her life. Although she is thirteen years old, she has never traveled outside her small Latin American village, and she has never known love. She does not understand that she is being featured on international television, nor does she understand why the president of the Republic himself comes to call her ‘‘an example to the nation.’’ After three days and nights trapped in the cold mud, she dies, and sinks away beneath the surface of the clay.
Rolf Carlé is a middle-aged television reporter, the first reporter to reach Azucena’s side. He has gone to her to cover the dramatic story of her rescue, but, for the first time in his career, he is unable to maintain his professional objectivity. He joins and then leads the attempts to rescue the girl; he stays beside her for three days and nights to keep her calm. As the reporter and the girl talk, Carlé begins to remember long-repressed memories: folk songs from his native Austria, his abusive father, and how he and his retarded sister lived their lives in fear. Just as he realizes that he is trapped in his pain just as Azucena is trapped in the mud, he also realizes that the girl will not be rescued. Before she dies, he tells her how important she has been to him. As the story ends he is grieving for Azucena and for his own wasted youth. But confronting the girl’s death has shown him how to confront his pain and his healing has begun.
The narrator (also known as Eva Luna) is Rolf Carlé’s longtime lover, a woman who has many times said goodbye to him as he has gone off to cover important stories. Though she is never named in this story, readers of the entire collection from which the story is taken know that she is Eva Luna, a maker of television documentaries. As she watches Carlé on television, she can tell that the girl has touched him in a new way. She can read every emotion in his face and begins to feel what he feels. For three days she watches every bit of coverage she can, stopping only to make phone calls, trying to locate a pump to help with the rescue. She believes that she and Carlé can communicate through the screen. She knows when he begins to confront his past, and to tell the child things he has never told her or anyone else. She knows when he and the girl finally accept the reality of death. And, as she reveals in the last paragraph of the story, the only one addressed to Carlé, she knows that when he has recovered from the painful experience, he will be stronger than ever before.
See Female Narrator.