The Matador’s Prayer

by: Justin Fenech ((Header art by Jeremiah Kille.))

“We know life is full of death and our art helps us create the illusion that life has meaning. We all need illusions to defeat our fear of death.” A story about a matador’s grapple with faith, and the perspective gained from such a passionate struggle…

“I am a matador. I am also a father and a husband. I have it all and I am not afraid of dying.

But I am afraid of God.”

Paco de Cádiz was getting dressed in a hotel room that overlooked the Plaza de Ayuntamiento of Valencia. He made the sign of the cross and kissed his crucifix before putting on his tie. His wife, Fernanda, and his daughter Soledad watched him as he dressed in solemn silence. His gestures were like that of a man on his deathbed. His face looked gaunt and his lips whistled out unheard prayers. Fernanda could barely stand to watch, but she could not look away as well.

This could be my last corrida, Paco prayed under his breath. God, it is in Your hands. Let me triumph and I will believe in You. Let me down, and, I’m sorry, my faith in you will be lost. I can’t fight with the fear of you anymore. If I fight poorly my family will suffer. Let me be gored today, and I will know you are a fabrication. Despite such pain, I will fight on. For a man that fights without fear of death or hos God is invincible.

A grimace suddenly stretched across Paco’s devout face.

“What is it?” Fernanda asked her husband, rising from her seat on the corner of the bed. “Is it the wound?” She watched as Paco pressed upon the back of his leg with his hand.

“It’s nothing.” Paco said. Around him his cuadrilla watched meticulously. Some of the assembled men smoked big dark cigars as they busied themselves helping Paco. Soledad thought they looked like rhinos with horns coming out of their noses. Others carefully, effeminately, prepared parts of Paco’s clothing for the fight. All of the men noticed his discomfort. The wound from his previous goring hadn’t fully healed yet. The men of Paco’s cuadrilla made the sign of the cross as if they were swatting flies.

It was that wound, from Paco’s prior goring, that made him realize there was no need to fear his God.

It all started when Paco met a young model named Eva. He and his wife were at a charity event in Madrid which Fernanda had said they should attend. Paco’s wife was the Muhammad Ali of social events; she floated like a butterfly amongst the guests and dressed as sharp as a bee. That night, Fernanda had a Carolina Herrera dress she wanted to wear. She had fallen in love with it on the runway during  Madrid fashion week and the designer, a close friend of Fernanda, had gifted it to her. It was a sleeveless silk-crochet tulip dress and the crochet was dark red and patterned like a half-open Spanish fan. The dress was see-through at the chest and Paco insisted his wife wore a bra underneath. Fernanda knew it would clash with the dress, but she also knew it would be hopeless to argue with her husband once he made up his mind.

Paco wore a navy-blue three-piece Dolce and Gabbana suit with a polka-dot shirt underneath. He felt good in the suit, which made him remember what his mother used to tell him about morality: if it feels good and it doesn’t bring harm to anyone, then it is good. In the early moments of the party Paco drank some Bollinger and loosened up whilst Fernanda escorted him around like a prized Miura bull.

When she introduced Paco to Eva, the half-Spanish half-Brazilian model, a warmth grew within Paco’s heart.

“Fernanda, don’t you think she’d be perfect for my brother?”

“For Juanito? I think so!” Fernanda exclaimed.

“Juanito’s a real man. He’s not a social caricature. I think women like Eva find that sexy, no?”

“He’s also your banderillero, not every woman can live with that,” Fernanda said with a sigh so dark it clashed with her dress.

You can.” Paco said, wrapping his arm around her.

“I have to. But when the day comes when—”

“Fernanda. When we were married you promised never to mention my retirement.”

“I know, I know. Still, you have your dreams and I have mine.”

As the night drew on, Paco found himself conversing with Eva. He told her about his brother and about what he did. It turned out she didn’t know what a banderillero was.

“He’s not a showy man. He’s not Baroque, you know, not like the rest of us. It’s hard to know what he’s thinking sometimes. But for sure, he is like me. He lives for bullfighting,” Paco explained.

“How can you live for something that can kill you?”

“We all need illusions to veil our lives, don’t we. People say bullfighters are obsessed by death. But it’s the opposite. We know life is full of death and our art helps us create the illusion that life has meaning. You probably do it with modeling. We all need illusions to defeat our fear of death.”

“Is it true what they say that bullfighters love their bulls more than their wives?”

“No, no, only—sometimes, we wish we could do to our wives what we do to a bull.”

Eva laughed and then said, “as long as it’s not the other way around.”

“No way!”

The two of them began to realize that they enjoyed each other’s company so Eva agreed to meet Juanito, the brother of one of Spain’s greatest matadors.

They agreed to meet at Paco and Fernanda’s home in Madrid. It was a flat located just where Paco liked it, the city-centre. Their home overlooked the oceanic Real Jardin Botánico. Paco loved waking up every morning and taking in the sights of the exotic trees and the veil of flowers that were sometimes even more powerful in their simplicity than the grandiose bulls he did battle with . He loved to take Soledad for morning walks in the nearby gardens and she loved to listen to the flocks of parrots squawking high up in the canopies.

Fernanda was excited about the prospect of becoming a match-maker. As she prepared a small fiesta for the prospective lovers and dolled herself up, she told Paco “If this works out and the two of them get married, we’ll be kind of immortal, won’t we?” Paco laughed and kissed his wife on the forehead.

Aren’t we all starved for illusions? he thought.

The evening of the party was a fantastic success. Fernanda, wearing a simple, elegant dove-like dress by Amaya Arzuaga, put together an Andalusian feast worthy of her grandmother. Fernanda was the daughter of a bull breeder from Granada and she had grown up on a ranch surrounded by ranchers and peasants. Paco hailed from a rural background as well, and the two of them prided themselves on their origins.

That night Fernanda prepared paella, gambas al ajillo, a Cordoban soup called salmorejo, clams which came from Paco’s hometown of Cádiz, and for dessert she took in the spirit of Madrid and made churros. Throughout the night the foursome drank Alhambra beer and Goya XL sherry.

Eva and Juanito seemed to hit it off. Often they excused themselves for a smoke on the wide balcony that overlooked the gardens. Paco, Fernanda and Soledad watched them as they spoke. Juanito, despite being six-feet-tall, looked short next to Eva in her high heels. But his grace matched hers and his sleek hair and well-groomed face held its own against Eva’s smooth-skin and unblemished perfection. Fernanda looked giddy.

A month later, Juanito and Eva moved in together in Madrid. The flat the new lovers had chosen was only a block away from Paco and Fernanda’s. The couple had no plans for marriage, which enraged matchmaker Fernanda.

The last step before entering the bullfighting arena is the loneliest step any man could ever take Paco figured. He always took that final step with his right foot as in his mind, the right-hand side of a person was the side closest to God.

Inside the arena, as he walked alongside the other matadors, towards the president’s box, Paco heard the roar of the crowd and he knew that he had to bring them to ecstasy. It’s what I’m here for. I am their servant, he thought.

But Paco’s mind wasn’t focused that day. He knew this and he feared it. All he could think of was Fernanda’s screaming, upset with a love connection gone terribly wrong. “Those two will burn in hellfire,” she had moaned. “If I catch you talking to your atheist of a brother again I will leave you! Don’t let them anywhere near Soledad. Do you hear me?”

Why would God and religion make people act in such a way? Paco thought. I’ve never seen God as a dictator. He’s a God that forgives, that is full of mercy and kindness. Why should Fernanda act like this just because Juanito and Eva are cohabitating?

Paco faced down his first bull. The shimmering creature was a strong, brown, and a fearsome Miura. A killer of bullfighters. In the first tercio, Paco used his yellow cape to study the bull’s movement. This bull, this beautiful beast, is left-horned. A southpaw bull, Paco thought as he felt the massive beast inches from him. The bull had a kind of grace that left a lump in one’s throat. If the bull was a man, Paco thought, we would be inseparable drinking buddies.

When it was time for the picadors to come and spear the bull Paco kept watching it. He discovered the animal’s querencia, its favorite area of the ring and preferred fall-back zone. Never take on a bull in its querencia, Paco remembered.

Why should I not be allowed to speak to my brother just because of some archaic rule? What would mother say? She would have been shocked by Juanito too, but never in a thousand years would she want her sons to estrange themselves,  Paco thought as he studied the bull intentlyl.

Not now, Paco, for God’s sake not now. Concentrate!

The moment had arrived for the banderilleros to wear the bull down. Juanito’s just as hard-headed as Fernanda, Paco thought. I never knew he was like this. He’s so quiet and taciturn. Does our parent’s religion mean so little to him? I need to talk to him. Make him understand. But Fernanda would go insane. And here I was thinking I was helping him by setting him up with Eva.

Pablito, one of the younger banderilleros, was hurled four feet into the air by the bull as Paco and the other matadors rushed distract the creature with their yellow capes. Fortunately, the banderillero was unhurt, but the situation suddenly panicked Paco. He had never been gored seriously before, and he always wondered what the pain would feel like. He had never, in his fortunate life, known true pain, and its elusiveness terrified him.

What if Fernanda were to leave me and take Soledad? This line of thinking was the worst sort of pain Paco could imagine.

It was time for the last and most dangerous part of the corrida: the tercio de muerte. This was the moment when Death was invited down onto the sand. Neither the matador nor the bull would ever fear Death. Instead Death was like a referee, there to punish the weakest fighter. In this tercio, Paco de Cádiz came alive as the shadow of life grew longer in the presence of death. In that moment, there were no worries, no threats and no fear—only Death and Paco.

This is the only illusion I need. So few men are privileged enough to know what purpose their life serves. Even fewer find that purpose in the arena with death. I am a matador. I am a matador. I am a matador. Paco told himself.

Ole after ole, charge after charge, Paco grew more self-assured. Bullfighting is not a show, Paco reminded himself. I am not a magician or a comedian. I’m a poet. And a poet works truthfully. I don’t dance with the bull—we are here to bleed verses together.

Paco readied himself for the final kill. A silence like that at the start of a war fell over the bullring. Fernanda watched intently, not daring to look away, while Soledad hid her face in her mother’s lap. Fernanda could almost hear her husband’s deep breaths, and Soledad, as she peeped from her mother’s shelter, saw her father’s mouth agape in deep concentration, like that of a dead fish.

Paco sighted along the blade, aiming his small, ancient sword at the hollow between the bull’s high shoulders. He felt more nervous than usual. He tried to shrug it off, but that took away from his concentration. Fucking focus!

Paco held his muleta, the red cape, down on the ground, which caused the bull to lower his head. This is it, amigo, this is the moment. May God be with you. You are a proud fighter. I love you like a brother. You’ve lived a good, strong life, and now you’ll die a glorious death. These are our illusions, aren’t they? Between you and me, we’ll both go to the grave believing them. Vaya con dios!

Paco waved the muleta with zest and the bull charged clumsily with his head low, allowing Paco to thrust his sword into its haunches. As Paco raised the muleta with a showman’s flair, the bull’s horns struck so near the matador’s stomach that he didn’t know if he was hit or not. All he knew was that the sword had done its job. It was in. It hadn’t hit bone but the creatures jugular.

Before he could tell what had happened, Paco watched as the bull fell to the ground, its pale tongue hanging limp in the side of its mouth. He raised his arms to the crowd and a blitzkrieg of applause rang out. Yes, yes! This is my specialty. No one, no one kills like I do. Yes, yes!

When the triumphant music of the paso doble erupted, Paco dared to finally look down at his stomach. There was no blood, and in turn he felt no pain. Yes! Paco de Cádiz thought. Yes! Fernanda and Soledad shouted from the crowd in utter bliss. Yes! When Paco saw Fernanda applauding him with such fervour, he felt momentarily relieved. Maybe we’ll be alright, he thought.

In the restaurant after the fight, where the prime cuts of the bull were served, and a small, intimate fiesta ensued, Paco, Fernanda and Soledad all sat together surrounded by the cuadrilla. As the men talked and smoked and quipped, discussing the corrida, or the merits of the bull, Paco and Fernanda remained silent.

Paco was a quiet, taciturn man by nature, not one for crowds or chaos. If it were up to him he would live his life on a small ranch in the Cádiz of his youth, surrounded by olive groves, bulls and the wide-open blue Spanish sky. But Fernanda, with her smoldering anger, felt a million miles away from Paco. How long could she keep this up, he wondered.

Paco arose from his table and went to the bar without asking anyone if they wanted a drink. He sat on a high stool by the worn, rustic bar full of sherry bottles and dry-aged legs of pork. He ordered a sherry and drank it there alone. Paco fell deep into thought, the way a small pebble sinks slowly to the bottom of the sea. He became enraptured by the thoughts a bullfighter has after a successful corrida. When he lifted his head again, Paco instinctively made the sign of the cross.

“That won’t do you much good.” A voice confidently spoke from further down the bar.

Paco saw a well-dressed man drinking a glass of Perucchi Gran Reserva dry vermouth. He was wearing a light blue Adolfo Dominguez blazer with a plain white t-shirt underneath. His face was youthful, dark, heavily bearded, and his featureless eyes glared fixedly at Paco.

Paco shrugged his shoulder, not knowing how to reply.

“That was a good fight today. But, if you don’t mind me saying, you looked nervous.”

Paco noticed that the man spoke Spanish with a foreign accent.

“Something was holding you back, wasn’t it? The crowd noticed. Their ole’s were muted, weren’t they? I’ve been there my friend, fear not,” the man laughed. “I am a writer you see, and while, I admit, writing is nowhere near as life-threatening, as gut-wrenching, as blood-stirring as what you do, it is legendarily hard to do well, just like a bullfight. But you know what my secret is? Do you want to know?”

The well dressed man stood up and moved closer to Paco, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder and whispered in his ear, “I stopped being scared of God.”

The man patted Paco twice on the shoulder and walked away. Paco remained still, his hand clutching he drink and unable to talk. He looked like a piece of land severed from its continent by tectonic movements. Paco didn’t know what to think or to feel, like someone who was drunk and trying to hold back the waves of nausea. And yet, beneath his disturbed mind and gut, Paco felt inside him something growing like a flower; like something was blossoming in the shadows.

The bullfighting season came and went. Paco fought timidly following the encounter with the strange man. His ranking fell. And all throughout, Fernanda wouldn’t relent. She still forbade him to speak to his brother. Whenever she saw him in the street whilst she was walking with Soledad, she would take her hand and rush her away.

Paco was determined that the next season would be a better one. He began training earlier than usual. But he knew, he was certain, that training wasn’t what he needed.

As he trained in his ranch out in Cádiz one winter day, his cuadrilla was watching him from the stands as he made passes with a young bull. Paco could think of only one thing: What does a bullfighter need God for?

God exists as surely as the clouds and the city of Madrid exists, he thought. But, why is it I never really felt him? Not during a bullfight, when I need him most, and, now, it seems as though he is determined to break up my family.

“Bring it out of him Paco, the bull has no strength, you have to bring it out of him!” his manager shouted as he took down notes.

It was a cold, January afternoon, Paco wore a woolen vest, a Ralph Lauren shirt and a tweed cap. The sky overhead was compact and grey. Such a bleak day, Paco thought, no one would think of God on such a day. On a bright, beautiful summer’s day people thank God. But when the weather is displeasing they don’t say, God, why have you done this to us?

A crest of anger coursed through Paco and the young bull’s horns grazed his body. “Careful, Paco, focus, my God!” he exclaimed to himself. My God, my God—my God, why have you forsaken me? his mind pondered..

That writer, that strange man, whoever he was, was right, Paco thought. I have been afraid of God. Whenever I pray, whenever I make the sign of the cross, I do it submissively. A beggar asking his master for good-fortune the way an alcoholic begs his master to go easy on him. And that fear, that fear has now rained down on Fernanda.

She’s afraid, afraid that Juanito and Eva’s actions will displease God. After all, she had helped set them up. But why should he punish her? We were doing the right thing. We helped two people fall in love. And Fernanda, she’s a good woman, what could he punish her for? She never hurt anyone, she’s not jealous, not a gossip, and her addiction to high fashion is merely the childhood dreams of a rancher girl coming true. Maybe he would punish her for her greed? One of the seven deadly sins. But, hell, why would God write up rules that our natures cannot possibly obey—natures that he imbued us with, after all!

When March arrived and Paco had his first fight of the season in Alicante, a new, melancholy had been cast over him. His cuadrilla noticed it. Paco barely prayed, barely went to mass, though he still wore a crucifix around his neck. Many who knew Paco were worried about him. As Fernanda and Soledad watched their matador dress in ritual silence they feared what this new lack of passion would lead to. Was he, Fernanda thought hopefully to himself, losing the will to fight?

In Alicante, Paco was the third matador to fight. He and the other bullfighters, which included his rival El Fandi, were all nervous that day. The bulls in the corrida there were routinely large, weighing well over five hundred kilos and it caused an ominous air to pervade the camaraderie of the solemn matadors.

For Paco there was an extra weight bearing down on him. He was trying, as he trained all that winter and as he prepared all that morning, to shed his fear of God the way a child sheds his fear of the dark. A matador’s mission is to be free from fear. Fear of death, fear of the bull, fear of letting down the crowd. But fear of God? Who has ever tried to be free from that fear?

Paco was intent on being the first. But with such bulking bulls as his adversary on this day, it would be no easy task.

Paco’s life changed forever when he was sighting his second bull, a monstrous five hundred and ninety pound beast. Fernanda watched her husband’s face grow pale and drenched in a cold sweat. She took in his features, pinning to her memory his face, his sharp jaw-line, heavy brow, almond-shaped eyes and his boxer’s mouth, as she did every time he fought, just in case, god forbid, the worst were to happen.

As Paco charged the bull with his sword, he failed to move the muleta away quickly enough causing the bull to miss the cape and instead plow deeply into Paco’s side with its horn. The bull raised Paco a full five feet off the ground and then forced him to the ground. Whilst there, as if adding insult to injury, the bull’s right horn pierced the back of Paco’s leg.

A scream of agony poured out of Paco, and had the cuadrilla not came to scare the bull away, only God knows what would have happened next.

God, God—where are you now? Why have you abandoned me?

Paco was rushed off by his cuadrilla to the infirmary where they attempted to stop the heavy bleeding. Fearing an internal hemorrhage, they then rushed him to nearby hospital.

Fernanda was with him in the ambulance, holding his hand. Her lips spewed forth soft, silent prayers which sounded like someone turning the pages of a book. Paco wanted to tell her to stop, to explain to her that the God she was praying to to keep him alive was the same God that had done this to him. Don’t you see, guapa? It’s useless praying. Either God could have stopped this but chose not to, or, he’s not omnipotent. Either way. Either way…

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital the doctors whisked Paco immediately to the Operating Room. Moments before the anesthesia kicked in, Paco felt  the chill of fear fall over him like a heavy blanket. Isn’t it at times like this that men see God? What will he say to me now for all my doubting? How will he punish me?

But the deeper and deeper the wounded matador fell into the forced embrace of sleep, the more nothingness he encountered, like a diver sinking to the bottom of a barren ocean. Where are the lights, the tunnels, the angelic voices, the choirs? There’s nothing here. I’ve toyed with Death before, looked into its eyes, and now, I’m at its gates. And it’s as dark here as a bull’s eyes and the tip of his horns.

Could it be, could it be that this is what Death feels like? A calm, soothing sleep. A tranquil nothingness? An eternal rest, without flowers or love, and perhaps, without fear or suffering? God, God, where are you? You’re not here. You’re not here! And, it feels fine. It feels absolutely fine!

“How was it?”

“How was what, Fernanda?”

“The pain, you always said you were curious what the pain of a goring felt like. Well, how was it?”

“It was horrible. Like a bolt of lightning to the bone. But, after, when the shock of the blow subsides, it almost feels as if your body takes control and soothes you. You feel numb and drowsy, like you’re drunk, and it feels somewhat comforting.”

“And what was it like when they operated?”

“Bliss.” Paco laughed. “Like the best sleep you could ever hope to get.”

“Did you see or feel anything?”

“No, nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

“Were you afraid?”

“No, Fernanda, I wasn’t. And I don’t think I’ll ever be afraid again.”

“I am a matador. I am also a father and a husband. I have it all and I am not afraid of dying.

But I am afraid of God.”

Three weeks after his first goring Paco was lining up in the Plaza de Toros of Valencia. His wound wasn’t fully healed, but it didn’t matter, it was time for his return to the arena. As the procession of matadors went to greet the president, Paco was overcome with one thought and one thought alone, that he was sure he was the only matador in the entire arena who actually wanted to be gored.

As he waited in the tunnel before going out onto the arena, Paco said one final prayer. For one last time he asked God to protect him during a fight. He knew, then, after this closing prayer that if he was indeed gored that day, that God really and truly could not exist.

As he went out to fight his first bull Paco caught a glimpse of Fernanda’s and Soledad’s terrified faces. He had never thought to ask them what it was like for them to have to watch him fight. He was sure that the pain they felt when he was gored was far worse than anything he had felt. And what pain would Fernanda feel when he told her he no longer believed in God? When he shattered her most precious illusions. He imagined this would harm her in a manner worse than any goring a bull could ever inflict.

The bull Paco came face-to-face with was brave and strong, and also a bluffer. Cocky son-of-a-bitch aren’t you amigo? All the pawing the ground, sparring with your horns, bellowing, you’re just trying to threaten me aren’t you? You have nothing to fear, don’t you? Not me. Not death. Not God. Nothing. One day, one day I will be like you.

In that moment it dawned on Paco that the best matador is the one that fights with the grace of a man, and the freedom of a bull.

One day, amigo, one fucking day, Paco laughed to himself.

When he began the first tercio Paco took advantage of the bull’s bravado and made a few artful passes. The noise of the crowd began to swell to a roar, relishing in Paco’s dance. But then, his wound began to hurt and his fluidity began to suffer. Mierda! Paco thought to himself. No, no you can admit you’re nervous but you can’t show it, son-of-a-bitch. What’s a little pain? Don’t you know your daughter’s watching? This isn’t about bravado or about God—this is about setting an example for her.

With the thought of his daughter racing through his mind, Paco rallied. In the second tercio he fought with renewed bravery. This is for Soledad. It’s not about God. It’s about her. I hope to high heaven she never grows up to be a bullfighter. But the best thing I can wish her is to have the fearlessness of a matador. Soledad, throw away your fear of Death, your fear of God, and your fear of failure. Throw all of that away, and you will live happily for in this pointless, purposeless world where everything is born only to die, that is the best thing you can hope for. The noblest virtue of them all: happiness.

When the final tercio de muerte began Paco was full of confidence. But his wound wouldn’t stop biting at him. In his first pass with the muleta he was too slow with his movement and as he twirled past the raging animal the bull struck Paco in the abdomen with the blunt middle of the horn. Paco went flying and he landed on his back, his wound smacking the coarse ground.

Luckily, the bull didn’t follow up and the cuadrilla soon intervened and directed the creature away from Paco. Antonio, the banderillero that had replaced Juanito, rushed to Paco’s side and helped him up, noticing immediately Paco’s grimace. “I’m fine, I’m fine—I can finish him,” Paco stuttered with a surprising confidence. Antonio checked Paco’s now dusty traje de luces, his suit of lights, but found no blood. Antonio ushered Paco back towards the bull.

The crowd applauded Paco’s bravery. Even the other matadors applauded. And although this filled Paco with pride, he wasn’t doing it for them. This is for Soledad. Do your worst, God, you spiteful old bastard. Gore me if you must like you did your own son. But I won’t back down. I am a matador.

After a few glorious passes Fernanda noticed blood pooling at the back of Paco’s leg. A fear sweeled in Fernando as she began to grasp the severity of the situation compounded by the fact that she knew her husband would not stop. In that moment, Fernanda was overcome with a newfound love for Paco. Just when she was beginning to distance herself from him, over his defense of his brother, over his distancing from faith, seeing him in the arena, in danger and brave, caused her to love him with a profound power. Her wish in that moment was to have her husband back. To have him at the beach again, at the beach of Cádiz where he taught Soledad how to swim, and where they had first made love, before they were married. God, please, keep him safe.

God, do your worst, Paco thought as he readied himself for the kill. As he sighted along the blade, the muleta low to the ground, all his pain subsided. All he could sense in that moment was the last bellow of his rival. The bull’s dark tongue hung out of its mouth like a squid, its breath ashen and warm, the blood on the creatures black haunches reflecting the orange sun of the afternoon. Now, amigo, we dance, without fear, without God, just you and me, my only friend.

Paco took a deep breath, then he exhaled a loud “Ha!” for the whole arena to hear, and the bull charged at Paco one last time. At that moment, a shot of pain thundered through Paco’s entire right leg. Focusing himself, Paco aimed his attention on his sword, and soon he could feel it striking the soft jugular between the bone and muscle of the bull. But at the exact same time that the blade struck the bull, the bull’s horns pierced Paco’s abdomen and for that one instant, the matador and the bull were brothers in Death.

As the bull raised Paco off the ground, Paco felt himself falling into that sweet nothingness where Paco caught a glimpse of Soledad. Her terrified face as she watched her father being impaled then tossed in the air caused Paco more pain than any horn ever could.

Even now you won’t let me have my victory, God.

Okay, okay, you win. You exist. I believe in you. I believe.

I believe in you but I also believe you are a tyrant. I won’t fear you anymore. I won’t succumb to your insane will.

I won’t die today. Not today. I can’t. Not in front of them.

Soledad, I’m sorry you had to see this. But daddy will be fine. I know this looks horrible. Ha! Some father I am. Isn’t a father supposed to bring his daughter nothing but happiness? And here I am making a spectacle of my death right in front of your eyes.

And Fernanda, all the years of agony you’ve had to go through. All the sleepless nights and the torturous near-misses and near-deaths. Whilst I live without fear they’ve lived their entire lives in fear. Fear of my suffering, my death. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Sorrow is all I know.

These thoughts ran through Paco’s unconscious mind as he was taken out of the plaza in an ambulance with Fernanda and Soledad by his side. The assembled doctors didn’t know if the matador would make it. Fernanda and Soledad held each other and their father’s limp, bloodied hand. If only he’d make it, Fernanda thought, he could retire and we’d go live in Cádiz, spending our days on the ranch and the summers at the beach. What more could we want? Please, God, please give him another chance.

“Mommy, mommy” Soledad called her mother as she lay deep in prayer.

“What is it amor?”

“Mommy, why do those people outside want daddy to die?”

A cold, electric panic rushed through Fernanda’s heart. She had seen the gathering mob but didn’t realize Soledad had noticed them too.

Outside the Plaza de Toros a group of protesters had assembled. As Paco was rushed out in the stretcher, the crowd chanted “now you know how the bull feels, viva el toro, viva el toro!”

“Don’t listen to them, Soledad, my daughter. Daddy’s a good man. He’ll live, I promise you, he’ll live.”


Justin Fenech is a 28-year-old writer from the Mediterranean Island of Malta. He writes short-stories, novels, poetry and travel writing, always with a keen interest in the way people struggle to find purpose and happiness in life – especially people who are marginalised. He has had various short stories published in reviews like The Brasilia Review, Rum Punch Press, Cecile’s Writers and many others. 

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