Story Excerpts

Torero-jason-eckhardt
Art by Jason Eckhardt

Torero 

by John F. Dobbyn

There’s one moment that causes my breath to freeze every single time. If I might explain. The corrida, the bullfight, in my native Spain, has been my life since I was able to sit in my grandfather’s arms in the row behind the toreros every Sunday afternoon and hear his whispered words—words that would never be heard, much less understood, by the American tourists who call it a “sport” and cheer for the bull.

My grandfather began before his teens as cape and sword handler for the incomparable Belmondo. When he was tall enough, he was taught to place the banderillas, short barbed sticks, into the high back muscle of the bull by running in front and reaching over the charging horns. When he was old enough, he served the best matadors in Spain as picador, weakening the head-tossing muscle between the shoulders with a lance while seated on a horse, padded to blunt the charge of the bull.

He learned from the bravest and the best in all of Spain. When his time finally came, in his early twenties, he wore the “suit of lights” to face his first bull as matador in the bullring of Seville. I was not yet born, but I’ve read the old newspaper reports by those who knew. They said his first bull told it all. His skill with the cape had been honed to a peak. His grace in every movement was flawless. But that which a matador cannot acquire unless God has placed it in his soul—unflinching bravery despite the fear of death on the horns—that was truly the rarest of his gifts.

On the Sunday following his debut in Seville, he was to appear in the great plaza in Madrid, La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. The stands on the sunny side of the arena were filled with old men who understood what they hoped to be seeing. They came to glimpse one more time before they passed what they had seen in a scant handful of those who faced the bulls over the decades of their lives.

They received what they came for. With his first bull of the afternoon, my grandfather brought them to their feet. I’ve heard that there were actually tears in the eyes of some old enough to remember the incomparable Bello, whose equal they thought they would never experience again.

My grandfather’s second bull that afternoon had an inconsistent habit of hooking with both right and left horns. In spite of the danger, my grandfather worked the bull with the cape so closely that the sweat and blood on its flanks were smeared on his suit like a medal.

Then, on the third pass, my grandfather’s feet were so firmly planted that an unexpected hooking of the right horn caught him under the rib cage. He was gored and trampled until his body could never again perform the lithe movements that his courage demanded. He never wore the suit of lights again.

But the corrida was in his blood. He worked with rising toreros to help them perfect their physical techniques. And even before I was old enough to understand, he began filling my insatiable curiosity with an understanding of what separates the pretense of courage from that which cannot be feigned. READ MORE

 

 

NeverHaveIEver-mark-evan-walkerArt by Mark Evan Walker

Never Have I Ever

by Anna Scotti

I became aware of him slowly, as if my conscious mind were somehow easing me into the knowledge that someone was sunk into the thick, deep cushions of my burgundy sofa, almost, but not quite, invisible in the shadows beneath the undressed window.

You’re not supposed to drink alone, everyone knows that, but my nightly Chardonnay over ice was a solitary treat I was not going to give up willingly. I nearly always poured a glass as the sun went down, and sometimes another before dinner, but never more than two. Now I set my glass down and leaned back in the big leather chair where I spent most of my free time.

He wasn’t frightening, oddly, though he was utterly unexpected, and the size of a man, if not yet the size of the man he promised to become. He might have been eighteen, lanky in worn jeans with both knees torn out, one leg thrown over the sofa arm and the other stretched out before him, clearly comfortable, face shadowed but eyes big enough and bright enough for me to see they were fixed on me. He had a thick swatch of bangs that hung down over an attractive angular face with a sharp chin beneath round, rather girlish lips.

“What do you want?” My voice was so flat and calm it sounded more like I was taking his order in a restaurant than inquiring about his unexpected presence in the sanctity of my shadowed living room.

The boy shrugged, then grinned. A flash of white, a lifted eyebrow, and I knew him. Mike Parker.

He was dead.

“You can’t talk, can you?” I remarked absently, mentally comparing this skinny, somewhat handsome boy with the picture his mother had e-mailed me just a couple of days earlier, along with a heartbreaking paragraph about his life and death. That’s our modern world, where news of the worst that can happen is disseminated over the Internet. He’d been nineteen, a druggie, yes, but apparently a nice enough kid, a little immature, still bucking curfew and trying to finish high school as his peers moved on to college and apartments and jobs and all the Big Life that unfolds after that. Mike. Mikey, last time I’d seen him, a fifth-grader then, dragged along to a ladies’ lunch, a bunch of us getting together ten years after high school to compare notes—husbands, kids, jobs . . . boring for a kid. And a little sad, for me, being the only one without a family and, judging by cars and shoes and purses, the least well-off of the lot. I was the lone security guard at a private school in Burbank—low pay but great hours, with plenty of down time. But these gals, at our lunch nine years before, had been carrying Prada bags and wearing Manolos or at least decent knockoffs, already juggling husbands, nannies, and big-city careers.

In my own mind, I wasn’t exactly a failure, but I no longer fit with these women who had been my best friends just a few years before. I’d never been the most popular girl in our group, and now I had nothing to brag about over spritzers and oil-cured olives on the patio at Lulu’s. READ MORE