SEPTEMBER 2017
THE SILENCE THAT
DRIES ROCÍO
by Jhon Sánchez
“Silence may kill my granddaughter,” I told the
cellphone’s customer service representative after explaining
to him that I was calling from Patía, the southern part of
Cauca. “The lack of the sound of rain is ending her life. She
is only seven years old.” The phone was not making the rain
sound for quite a while and my granddaughter, Rocío, had
been sleeping and sleeping, and her spiky hair growing and
growing. And still, she was sleeping, almost dead, as Doña
Juana would put it.

After her games and dances under the rain, Rocío’s hair had
dropped curly, tender and wet like beautiful panicles of rice.
I tried to explain to the agent how pleasant it was to feel
Rocío’s cold hands and body. She came out to the rain and
returned like ice and hours later despite the inclement sun, it
was nice to be around her body that seemed to emanate the
air of a freezer.

The phone agent listened to me all the time. It was a signal
that he was an envoy from God’s will. I heard his name,
Isidro, and I thought, Like Saint Isidro, the patron of rain. I
told him about the saint and asked him whether he knew
Santa Maria de la Cabeza. “Saint Isidro’s wife also has the
power to irrigate the crops.”

Here in Patía, we are in a drought, the first time in my life
without rain, and Rocío was only sleeping. When I think
about this drought, I imagine the earth like the shape of my
own ear, an almost deaf ear unable to perceive yells,
thunders, whispers, and drizzles.

“My granddaughter needs to listen to the rain to be awake,”
I said to Isidro, the phone agent, speaking straight to the
little machine’s receiver, with the speaker pressed against
my left ear. I have to do the same when my daughter calls
from Nueva York, talking to the screen with some square
images and moving it quickly to my ear to listen to my
daughter’s voice. I said it slowly word by word to see
whether Isidro could understand,

“In this land now, there is only the quietness of a desert
where the dead earthworms look like charcoal.”

“Do you have the serial number?” I remembered Isidro had
asked. The serial number, like the numbers the sewing
machine has underneath. Pulling my large-ear lobe, I looked
at the square screen up and down, but there was nothing.
This metallic box was so different from the phone that came
along my jaw, one place for the ear, one place for the mouth
that rested on the console, and numbers for dialing.

“Isidro, you don’t understand. This is an
emergency. If this
phone does not work, my granddaughter is gonna die.”

He told me there was a gray square with some gears on it. I
put on my glasses and saw the gray thing. He said I needed
to tap it. I did it twice like I was going to poke someone, or
better to say the way that I used to tickle my late husband,
who burst into laughter as the rivers once sounded under
thunderstorms. But nothing cackled, neither in the phone nor
in the dry rocky-river beds.

“Can’t you help me out? My granddaughter needs to hear the
rain in this machine.”

But Isidro only sent me to look for the papers that came with
the phone. I have all those papers together, the manual for
the iron, with its box, the manual for the blender, and the
receipts, all the papers for the refrigerator. I spread all those
papers across my carpet and sat on the floor. My ankle ached
and I massaged it all the way up, passing my varicose veins.
Isidro asked several times if there was someone to help me
out, but who? In this town without a meow, a bark, a moo,
not even a buzz. Under the interminable glowing of the sun,
Doña Juana is the only one around, but she does not know
about those machines either.

My daughter brought the cellphone from Nueva York, and she
was the one who made it work. She told me just to plug it in
at night while Rocío was sleeping. I explained that to Isidro,
maybe Saint Isidro, and he repeated, “Yes, yes.”

Among the manual papers, I finally found a little booklet
with a sticker on it and read aloud some letters with some
numbers. Isidro said,

“Ok, we found it. . . . Doña Rigoberta, are you there?” the
customer service agent asked. “What’s the problem?”

I told him this was my granddaughter’s phone. “She needs it
to be awake, to be alive—”

“You are talking from your granddaughter’s phone, aren’t
you?”

“Aha.”

“It seems that everything is working fine, Doña Rigoberta.”

“No, no, no.” I looked at my granddaughter who was sleeping
right there under the closed shower faucet. Her bony nose
with a sharp tip and that hair that looked and felt like
wicker. Her hair changed so much. It used to be so smooth
and slippery like wet marble, mostly after the rains. But after
the drought, there was no way to comb it down, neither
aguapanela with lemon nor any of the chemical jelly jams
which my daughter had insisted I buy, worked out. Looking
at that hair, I understood what Doña Juana had told me
when she tried to cut it off: “For this you need the strong
arm of a man with a machete, because it has the same
texture of dry corn branches.”

Who in the family had that hair? It had to be her father’s
hair. The rain turned it so dark
, similar to the forest at night.
Nobody had that hair. With the drought her hair turned
crunchy like dry paper and no one in my family has that hair
either, same in color and texture as dry leaves. I have never
asked who her father was. I only knew that my daughter’s
belly once grew, and Rocío was born during a storm—a baby
who did not cry, but made a long croak-sound like frogs on
the lake. Her baby baldhead felt like sprouts under my
freckly hands when I rubbed it.

How could I have explained all of that? The way my Rocío
had changed! I almost thought to tell Isidro that my Rocío’s
hair had doubled in size after the phone stopped making the
rain sound ten days ago. I wanted to yell, “Her hair grows,
grows, and grows,” but I stopped myself. He would have not
understood that she was drying out or “fading like a flower,”
as Doña Juana had said.

I sighed and went on trying to explain to Isidro. “If my
granddaughter
could listen to the rain or at least thunder,
she would wake up—”

“Are you talking about the ring sound, ma’am?”

“No, no, no.”

“Doña Rigoberta, I have a hard time understanding you.
Maybe my supervisor can help you better.”

“Isidro, no. P
lease! Only you and Santa Maria de la Cabeza
can help me, can save my granddaughter!” I pleaded,
because he might have been Saint Isidro and his wife, Santa
Maria. Only he, Isidro, Saint Isidro, could recover the
cellphone’s sound, the long-day drips. I used to leave the
phone charging at night and in the morning, I just put it in
her ears—the little plastic things that go into the ears—and
tapped the square picture that my daughter showed me on
the screen. I do not have to say Rocío go to sleep. She was
making her movements back and forth,
clip clop, clip clop.
Around eight, I held her with my right arm and I retrieved
the plastic things from her ears. She faded like a doll and I
brought her to bed. It was my daughter’s idea because Rocío
used to wake up during the rainy days. She could stand up
for days until the rain was over.

We used to have rain here in Patía. The clouds twisted as if
giant hands would wring a huge wet, black blanket. My
granddaughter’s eyes started to roll up even before the black
clouds appeared. They rolled up when the cloud was a single
line on the horizon. As the drops hit the window, she would
bang it with a silver spoon.
Ding-dong, dong. Ding. Precisely
one heartbeat behind the raindrops, as my piano instructor,
Madam Corinne, once taught me to use my right hand. I
never learned. I was a little girl, seven, like my
granddaughter was.

On more than one occasion after the storm, I found Rocío
drenched in the backyard, but she never coughed, not even a
single
Achoo! in her life. I caressed her icy skin. Maybe she
got it from my own genes.

I used to have cold fingertips, too. Madam Corinne, my piano
instructor, picked me out from my classmates to give me
lessons because “only a person with cold hands can be a
good pianist.” We were ten students who went twice a week
to the doctor’s French wife’s house. Before each class she
made us wash our hands with cold water and told us that the
secret of the perfection of the Stradivarius violins lay in the
fact that Antonio Stradivari made them of wood from the
Alps during the coldest times in history.

My fingers cannot play the piano even if I wanted to or knew
how to. I looked at my twisted fingers, and I yelled at Isidro
on the phone, “The rain sound is a sort of music for my
granddaughter!”

“Music. Hmmm . . . a kind of an application, I guess. With
the sound of the rain?” Isidro asked with taut voice.

It was like music. My granddaughter danced with it. I knew it
was a dance. She did not walk, she danced instead, the
short steps back and forth following the trickling of the rain.

“My Rocío lives and dances with the rain. San Isidro, please
help me.” Then I told him how my daughter brought this
little machine for Rocío. When Rocío was only two, my
daughter traveled to Nueva York and one day, I told her over
the phone how Rocío would suddenly wail along with the
thunder-like notes of the church’s organ. In those rainless
days, I rested her on my lap. She was completely asleep
during the mass but with music, with slight taps of the
drums, she would wail, whoop, or her voice would intone a
long vowel. I wish I knew how to play the piano well or at
least how to sing. My throat is incapable of imitating the
sound of clouds ripping apart.

It was during my daughter’s first visit after leaving for Nueva
York that she brought the machine, the phone. She made me
cut the landline. Putting the little machine on my ear, she
made me hear the running water, the same sound I heard on
the rainy days. Then, she put it in Rocío’s ears and she woke
up. I clapped, thanking God.

As I was thinking of how to explain to Isidro what happened
to my granddaughter, I stared at her shut eyes under the
waterless shower. Her pores looked like deep dried wells
across her cheeks. I had spread some lard on her lips, but I
felt as if I had rubbed sand. Even her eyelashes deepened in
the skin below the eyes. They were some kind of scars left
from the weight of sleeping or from the lack of moisture,
perhaps. I had dragged her to shower during the hours that
we had water. I let the water run and her skin absorbed it in
like the mashed potatoes soaked in milk.

“Isidro, you don’t know how her skin dries out.” I wished I
had the language of the Indians that invoked the rain with
flutes and rattles. Instead, I went to the priest, and I asked
him to bring the skull of Santa Maria de la Cabeza from
Madrid. “A procession of her head can charge the clouds and
finish the drought.” He giggled and said, “Better use your
own head and leave the Saint resting in Madrid.”

“Can I talk to your granddaughter? Maybe she can—”

“She doesn’t talk!” Instead she used to cluck when the rain
was slapping the windows. One day, by the time she was
already running, she placed buckets of different sizes with
water in the back yard. As the first drops of rain fell, the
plops sounded different in each bucket. The long and short
plops became an overture for upcoming moody acting of the
clouds. I remember her small hand interfering with the clang
of the falling rain, rapid and small intervals that changed the
monotony of the humming. Suddenly one day she ran across
the back yard lifting the broomstick, plucking the steel
clothes line as if it were a giant guitar under thunderstorms.
Even her thick wild hair fluttered and a
plink sound of a
cascade wafted through the windows.

Afterwards, with the phone in her ears, Rocío was not the
same. She kept dancing, but with this weird unblinking
expression as if she had seen a ghost. She used to go to the
yard where her naked feet had once run over the sprouts of
green grass, but after the drought, I would find her confused,
shoving sand with her hands. Was she looking for a well?

Praying for the rain one morning, I put the phone to her ear,
and clapped near her face, but her eyes remained shut. I
shook her body, but she never responded. Mute. Dry.
Cooked, I guessed. I put the little plastic things in my ears,
and it was silent. I saw the square that my daughter taught
me how to tap. It had a little red image on it.

Days later, when my daughter called me from Nueva York, I
explained to her that the phone was not working. It did not
make the rain sound that Rocío liked. She gave me the
number to call the company. I could not understand how this
failed. My daughter did not know either. Maybe Rocío did
something to the phone.

“No, she never has said a word, not even ma or pa like the
little babies do. Isidro, can you hear me?” The phone went
dead and my granddaughter’s limbs turned the color of
ashes. It was God’s Will. I never heard from Isidro again. At
least, his voice, the Saint Isidro voice, had given me some
peace.

We put Rocío’s little tiny body in a coffin twice her height
because her dried-leaf-like hair could not be folded. Doña
Juana placed a glass of water underneath so the dead could
drink it. I tossed it away and with tears in my eyes, I blurted
out, “You don’t understand. My Rocío does not need a glass
of water. She needs a whole storm to kill the silence.”

Every morning I look at the window and as the sun burns the
leafless trees, I imagine a drizzle, little raindrops hitting the
glass, forming those long tears. I try to recall the splatter,
drip, drip, of one drop of rain after the other and ask myself,
In this town, in this desert, what kind of music will be left, if
any?


A native of Colombia, Jhon Sánchez immigrated to the
United States seeking political asylum and is currently an
attorney in New York. His publications in 2017 are available
or forthcoming in Swamp Ape Review, Existere, Foliate Oak
Literary Magazine, Newfound, and Caveat Lector. His work
was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015 and 2016 and
The Best of the Net 2016. He was also awarded a residency
in the Newnan Art Rez program for summer of 2017. He
would like to thank Samuel Ferri, Nan Frydland, Martha
Hughes and Adam Schleimer for their editorial comments.

Artwork: Samuel Ferri