A Matador is Reduced to a Pincushion
By Sam Thornley
It is twilight in the Barcelona hospital. An elderly vagrant in stained dungarees lies sleeping on a bench in a urine-stinking antechamber near the exit. I shuffle around the corner, doped into oblivion. Somehow, I retain the lucidity to halt my unsteady gait before I bump into the mirror on the wall outside the security booth. I lock eyes with the figure in the mirror, and recoil with revulsion.
It was morning in the ring. I sharpened the cleaver used to carve the bull carcasses after each bullfight. I smiled confidently, knowing that my mentor had prepared me to win this evening’s bullfight. If only he were here to watch me decimate the bull. I mused on his impassioned training, but after a few minutes, I shrugged off my sorrow and focused on the whetstone.
Dios mio, I look like shite. My neck and the baggy skin near my eyes are mottled blue, and a grimy plastic muzzle is attached to my face with dirty rubber bands, obscuring my mouth and nose and hindering my oxygen supply.
Yesterday afternoon, as I stared into the bull’s eyes, I felt a chill. Memories of my mentor pacing the ring, gesturing wildly with his hands and outlining his strategy for my bullfight, flitted through my head. I suddenly saw him lying still in a white gown, wisps of life drifting from his soul. I turned away from the bull and breathed deeply. Then, I glanced down at my gilded uniform, and I was content again: content to destroy the arrogant beast that eyed me with veiled menace, content to fulfill my duties as a matador, or die trying.
My empty stare is fueled by the many syringes protruding from my chest, which is covered by a ragged smock. My spindly arms are sore and stiff, and my right hand is shaking; it must be the drugs. This is no mere fall from grace brought on by my goring. A sinister plan has been put into action, and my stay in the hospital has made me less than human.
Three days ago, I lost my mentor, a former bullfighter in his fifties named Don Madera. A stroke, the nurse said. Don Madera had spent every day for the last three months preparing me for this bullfight, and I longed to honor his memory. Brutal cross-country runs and hours of swordplay couldn’t dispel my grief; only a win could bring me happiness.
I have no business with the vagrant; all that keeps me standing is my desire to find my tormentor. My body and mind are a wreck, but I will track down the creature that did this to me, and they will suffer all I have endured and more. The first stop on my quest for revenge is la oficina del Benefactor. There, I can finally meet the man who funded my last bullfight and had special medicine and hospital equipment delivered to my bedside. With luck, he will help me.
My mentor once said, with reference to the stagnant career of my chief rival, “Where luck is wanting, diligence is useless.” Now, I pray he was wrong.
It must be early morning in the corridor outside the office of the Benefactor of Bullfights. I’ve spent the journey here reliving my career as a matador, right up until the bull plowed into me and splattered any hope for a successful life into the dirt. I lurch and lumber into the Benefactor’s office for justice. The door swings shut and Don Madera smiles warmly at me from the rafters of my mind.
As I trudge through thick clouds of cigarillo smoke, I find myself staring at an unsurprising being behind a pockmarked desk. Smoldering red eyes dissect me and a pair of nostrils set in an onyx snout puffs their vapor into my face. I fall to my knees as the architect of my ordeal tilts his head back; I am transfixed by his gleaming, tapered horns. The irony of my predicament sinks in, and I realize to my horror that I’m stuck.