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Thursday, January 20, 2011

El Novillero: Alternativa, part II

I wrote this second Hemingway tribute the year after "Alternativa." I further developed the story, keeping the same characters as if it were the day after the first story took place. I think you'll notice a slight relaxation of the Hemingway features.

This story also met with great acclaim, but only took third prize in the county writing contest this time around.

A part three exists, but I'm not sure I want to include it here. Please opine in the comments if you'd like to see it. In the meantime, enjoy the further adventures of Raúl the cowardly torero.

El Novillero

It was a good bull, Raúl knew. It was large enough to impress the audience, large enough to look bad and fierce, but not so large that Raúl could not get his short arms over the horns.
But his hands shook. When he moved them, he felt that the cape was wet with his perspiration. Perhaps if he had chosen a lighter color… but it was too late now.
He looked up into the stands at Elena. She wore a black dress in the hot Madrid summer. It covered her wrists and neck and ankles. Her mantilla was black and it from a black comb. Raúl’s best friend had given Elena the comb. Two black presents. He had also given Raúl the bull.
Ernesto had been an artful matador. This should have been Ernesto’s bull. The poster showed that this Wednesday was Ernesto’s alternativa, his first fight as a full matador. But now it belonged to Raúl. It was rightfully his.
Possibly the bull did not understand this. Did it care that it belonged to Raúl and not to Ernesto? Possibly Elena did not care, either. The picadors did not care. This bull was for Ernesto, the most artful matador to have died a novillero. The most gifted torero to have died outside the ring. Possibly the audience did not know this.
What they certainly did know was that Ernesto was the best novillero to have died with stomach pains and vomiting one day before his alternativa.
Raúl shuddered. When he thought of Ernesto’s stomach pains and vomiting, he was sure that he felt the same right now. Sweat was trickling down the side of his cheek. Up in the stands, Elena could see the glistening and she was glad she did not know just how nervous he was because it had to be bad. She felt ashamed. In the hot black dress she remembered Ernesto and she wondered how it could be that he would die on the Tuesday before his alternativa. She was sitting just behind the bald critics with their sweaty shining heads and their yellow notebooks and their expensive pens. She wondered what they would write about Raúl, and then stopped because the question answered itself with looking at him.
Ernesto had been an artful matador. The day the apoderado had come to town, Ernesto had impressed him. “I come to this town,” he said, “because it is the most forsaken town in Andalusia. We all know that the most forsaken towns have the best toreros in them!” All of the rich madrileños who had arrived with the apoderado laughed with him, because if anyone knew when the apoderado had told a joke, it was he.
Raúl had thought, “Yes, it is true. The most forsaken towns have the most determined toreros because everyone knows the that the danger of the bullring is the only way to escape the poverty in Andalusia.”
Raúl had danced for the man. The sun was glaring on him and he did his best work with the heifer and the heifer didn’t scare him because she wasn’t very brave. Then it was Ernesto’s turn and Ernesto glided the cape as well as he could around the cowardly heifer and he kept his body straight and fine and he did not sweat like Raúl had, even though both of them felt the Andalusian sun on their bare backs. Raúl thought he was feeling the blisters from the heat as he watched Ernesto. And then Ernesto was done.
“That heifer will be fine meat,” said one of the rich madrileños, who was in the bull-buying business, “but she will never bear a brave son.” No one listened to him because no one listens to a person who speaks the obvious.
Ernesto had stood next to Raúl and the apoderado had breathed in their faces. “This one,” he had said, looking at Ernesto with some unaccustomed respect, “will be a fine matador. This one has art.” The madrileños and Raúl and Ernesto and the heifer waited in silence for the rest of the judgment. For this had truly been judgment day. This had been the goal of the young men’s lives. This had been the purpose of all the training, the worrying, the breathing. Here it was.
The apoderado was one inch from Raúl’s face. “This one,” he had said, “is artless. He is brave. But artless.” His yellowed eyes were staring into Raúl’s young ones. “He is determined. He will never be good enough for the ring. Never make him your understudy. He would kill his own brother to rob him of his place in it.” He glanced at Ernesto.
Raúl had never had a brother. All he had ever had was his friend.
The music was playing loudly in his ears, unlike the many times Raúl had heard it in his dreams. Distant then, it now took away his power to think. It took away Elena in the stands and it took away Ernesto. He forget that his friend was the reason he was wearing a black traje. Was this not Raúl’s alternativa? The alternativa of Raúl?
The great fighter’s hands shook spasmodically, then the rest of his body. He leaned over and vomited. The vomit was the only moisture he had had in his mouth for a long time. Perhaps there had been no moisture since that last drink with his friend, and his friend had had his last drink. Raúl disgusted himself. This was his alternativa, but only be default. The apoderado knew.
Elena watched the first matador without interest. The crowd was shouting “Olé!” and it was thundering in her ears. She looked at Raúl, waiting for his turn. The vomit had disgusted her. She wondered why she had not been not allowed to see Ernesto’s body. She didn’t think Raúl could hear the crowd at all. His heart was beating too loudly. Elena could not bear to look at him. Was it fear? Raúl had always been brave, even more so than Ernesto.
There was blood on the sand and the horses dragged the first bull away. Raúl’s sunburned body was hunched slightly. No time passed at all before they dragged away the second bull and Raúl was marveling at the trickiness of time when reason invaded his clouded head and he knew that it was his turn. “You’re up, señorito!” one of the other matador’s banderillos was saying.
“I know! I know!” Raúl answered disgustedly.
He could feel the hot red sand distinctly through his black cloth slippers as he was walking all the way across the ring. He dedicated his fight to the wife of the owner of the ring, who was sitting on the front stands, by throwing his ceremonial cape up to her. He had explained to Elena that he would have to do this because it was his first full fight was a matador. Elena was sitting in the stands and she did not care if he dedicated his fight to the queen. Only Ernesto’s fight would have mattered. She clutched her rose so tightly that the thorns drew blood in her hand.
Raúl’s arms were weakened by the vomiting and he was glad that the cape landed in the right place. The owner’s wife dutifully threw down her rose for him. He bent to pick it up and felt the acid slosh in and out of his stomach.
His arms shook in a disgusted attempt to leave his body while he was standing and waiting and the bull was let out. It was a good bull. His trained eye studied its moves while the members of his cuadrilla did the first teasing. The picadors were behind Raúl on their horses and they were ready with their pics. Men were standing by to lead the bull away in case Raúl was gored.
There it was. Ernesto’s bull was coming for Raúl. Raúl had stolen it and that was the only way he could ever have gotten into the ring.
Elena watched in the stands as Raúl did something no other matador had done before.
He dropped the cape.