The falling bull’s snout dishevelled sand, the crowd’s groaning slithering around the arena as that snout slithered through sand.
“Puppies are more vicious than this cow,” a man screamed.
Cackles cracked around the ring.
A bullfighter pulled the bull’s right horn to help the bull up, the crowd’s shrilling whistling stopping when the staggering bull finally stood firm.
“It’s drunk!” the screamer screamed.
His bellowing into the ocean silence left by disappearing whistles and groans brought more cracking cackles from the crowd.
Bullfighters use large, pink capes to test still naive bulls, allowing them to note defects that need correcting if red-cape sublimity is to be achieved with bulls that charge with steady heads in straight lines. Much correcting was needed here.
The bull, slowing before pink, displayed aggravating caution, the yeller yelling: “CAREFUL! IT COULD LICK YOU TO DEATH!”
Chuckling cracked again around the ring.
A man, whose hair was tied up in a bun, said: “They won’t be laughing soon.”
“Enrique?” his girlfriend asked.
“He’ll be fired up because of this.”
“…..idea he can’t correct this bull.”
A bullfighter huffed, enticing a charge. Trying to hit pink, the bull’s right horn hit sand, whistling shrilling amid gasps and guffaws as the bull somersaulted onto its back, the right horn a fulcrum around which four hundred and twenty kilograms of bull flew before crashing into sand.
“It’s a gymnast,” the screamer screamed, “called Nadia.”
The bull’s legs rotated like an insect on its back as it fought to rise. Groaning came with cracks of hilarity.
The bull rose after a struggle that embarrassed its breeder.
A shouting picador rotated his horse, trying to entice a charge, the bull staring at a revolving two-headed beast. Dalmatian patches dotted the bull’s light-grey hide, not plain black or brown like most bulls. And it weighed eighty kilos less than the average.
The crowd clapped sardonically as the bull faced two-headed unfathomability. Finally, it struck equine protective padding. Bulls often rotate horses on their hind hooves. This horse didn’t move.
“It couldn’t lift a gin and tonic,” the screamer yelled. “Unlike me.”
He was on his fourth for the afternoon. The laughter he induced contained a sneering superiority that made the man with the tied-up hair hiss: “Idiots.”
Encroaching night ironically added rays to the arena’s lights. The circular slice of sky above the ring’s circular roof contained a circular moon whose snow-whiteness was blurred by wisps. The bull wind gauge above the arena’s clock on the arena’s roof swung unpredictably. Capes in blustery breezes give bad signals, like bad parents.
Enrique Ponce gleamed in a crystal-covered suit. Few people thought he could blend that “cowardly calf” with his red cape to create grace. The convoluted cauliflower cloud that was drifting across dark blue above reminded Ponce of a calculating brain in a cobalt cranium, epitomising his cerebral activity as he wet his cape to increase stability in the wind, his thoughts convoluted like that cloud: Give Mister Bull confidence. Confidence he needs. Make him as confident as I am in my ability to do the unexpected. Get him to surprise himself. Make him believe.
The bull’s increasing awareness of danger increased its fascination for the ring’s creatures, the unseen bulk of that cauliflower iceberg-like under a brown-tile sea, expectation now making every moment rich with possibility.
The bull watched Ponce approaching, its naivety reminding Ponce of his doubters’ scepticism that magnified his determination to create sublimity.
He thrust the cape forwards. The bull stared. The crowd whistled. The bull remained still.
By stepping elegantly towards danger, Enrique trivialised risk, tantalising the bull into attacking, bull and man suddenly rotating together, Ponce, switching the cape to his left hand, making the bull follow that wing fabric that induced the liberating confidence that feels like flying, that can surge up spontaneously in cowardly creatures, the crowd’s roaring gratification peaking when the bull’s front hooves rose, the cape flying over flying horns, collective thought yielding: He did that with that bull in these conditions!
Ponce swung up a triumphant arm, clear moon now free of blurring mist, gleaming white, complementing sky-sapphire above the demise of collective doubts.
Ponce’s demonstration that cape-bull unity could occur with this bull in these conditions transformed expectations. He swayed the cape behind his legs, bull head turning with the swaying cape, like the moon gripped by the earth as the earth’s seas are gripped by the moon, confirming that Ponce had made the cape a magnetic plaything for the bull, whose now firm will had made it become, in the crowd’s eyes, another being, its curving trajectories through where the cape flew causing the crowd to shout “Olé“, smooth orbiting around the man unleashing cascades of delight, the man with the tied-up hair saying: “They’ve forgotten how funny this was supposed to be. Nothing like having a selective memory.”
Ponce swapped the cape to his right hand, ballerina bull flying, crowd surprise yielding applause’s multitudinous pitches, Ponce twirling the cape before the bull, the bull magnetised by twirling, bull head and cape in mirror-image twirling, Ponce, twirling the cape around his body, twirling away, red wrapped around torso gleams, cape charm hypnotising crowd and bull, white moon cloudless, doubt banished by brilliance.
Spellbound silence thickened as the killing sword rose. Ponce could have used the bull’s deficiencies and the wind to avoid risk; but he sought perfection. Statistics had opposed him, bad bull, difficult conditions, but needing glory belittles possible self-destruction.
Ponce had pursued his desires against scornful scepticism when young because pursuing the ideal trivialises all else, self-destruction irrelevant against transcendence.
The hand holding the cape fell, horns following, blade, rising over the horns, piercing hide, banderillas on the bull’s flanks bouncing as the bull’s head jolted from the shock of the blade, wobbling bull’s legs now in awkward, unnatural, skew-with positions under a vast weight that had seemingly increased mysteriously, the bull wobbling under that arcane magnification of force before plummeting straight down, its hooves left frozen horizontal over sand.
The crowd’s waving of white handkerchiefs implored the cutting of an ear from the bull in official recognition of a fine performance, crowd roaring magnifying when the bullfight’s president’s white cloth struck his balcony’s balustrade to indicate permission to cut, Ponce circling the ring, holding the cut ear, hats he threw back, flying from the crowd, reinforcing unity between man and admirers.
After raising his hat to the man with the tied-up hair, Ponce touched his heart with his hat while looking at that man whose bent-arm salute caused Ponce to raise his hat again to that man before touching his heart again with his hat, that man having said years before that Ponce would succeed, while others had thought otherwise, that man kissed by his girlfriend in a display of “this tall, strong, handsome beast, who knew much more than you lot did, is mine!”
Ponce rose on a man’s shoulders, Mexican-wave photography flashes flashing with Ponce’s movement around the ring. Then Ponce, above massed followers, disappeared through la puerta grande to be cheered by those waiting outside, bad conditions having made popular imaginations believe that glory had been unachievable, risk-adverse, popular imagination, underestimating Ponce’s lust for transcendence, as fragile as the scorn born from facile belief.
About the Author
Kim Farleigh has worked for NGOs in Greece, Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine, and Macedonia. He likes painting, art, bullfighting, photography, and architecture, which might explain why this Australian lives in Madrid. More than 183 of his stories have been accepted by more than 107 different magazines.