The story’s first line, “They discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mud pit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly,” not only begins the action and sets the story but also establishes the theme. The last sentence of the paragraph foreshadows the ending: Rolf Carle…never suspecting that he would find a fragment of his past, lost thirty years ago.
Rolf finds that the girl, Azucena, enables him to close the gap between his experiences and his feelings so he can confront it. Azucena is one of twenty thousand victims of a volcanic eruption that has cleared out an entire Latin American village. Rolf, who makes television documentaries, arrives first on the scene filming the volunteers trying to reach the girl, who is buried up to her neck in quicksand like mud. Within minutes, the girl’s situation is broadcast throughout the world.
Rolf remains by her side. Throughout the night he tells stories of his adventures as a newsman to keep up her courage. Miles away, the narrator, Eva Luna, watches television and feels the pain of both Azucena and Rolf. She tries to get a pump sent to the site, but her efforts are pointless. She even tries to help Rolf through her “force of mind.”
Later she watches the morning broadcast. Situation has gotten worse, but Rolf, still tries to keep the girl’s spirits up. More cameras and equipment arrive, and the worldwide focus on the young girl intensifies, making the scene so real to Eva that she imagines herself by their side using her love to help them.
On the second night, Rolf begins to talk about his life. He begins by talking about the concentration camps in Germany, he goes back even further to recall how he was abused in his childhood by an evil father and his guilt about the fate of his retarded sister. As he finishes, he is in tears, ironically consoled by the dying Azucena.
The president arrives in the morning, and he stands in front of the buried child to face the cameras. Eva recalls the moment when, despite the president’s promises of help, the two give up hope. They accept the things that cannot be changed. On the night of the third day, with the cameras focused upon her, the girl dies.
Returning to Eva, Rolf is a changed person. He has set aside his cameras. Now able to see things clearly, he needs time to heal his own wounds just as mud needs time to cover the surface of the Earth. The story ends with a connection to the beginning sentence.