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She felt the heat of the bull's great body brush against her, but her mind was on the Plaza's lone empty seat

"Moment of Truth"

by James and Beverly Bennett



 Vol. 3, Number 8, February 1959

    DOLORES VAUGHN stood in the shady alley of the Puerta de Cuadrillas of the largest bullring in the world. Under her tight fitting traje de corto she could feel the sweat trickling down her sides and between her breasts. Her caudrilla, the men she paid to help her face the black beasts of death, milled about behind her, enjoying a final cigarette before the afternoon's work began.
     Dolores could feel the light lunch she had eaten before coming to the plaza sitting queasily on her stomach. She was fighting to keep back nausea. Part of it was fear, she knew. She always felt fear before a fight. But this time it was more. She did not feel the presence of death so much this day as she did the need for Bob to be there in the stands lending his quiet courage and support.
    He's got to be there, damn him, Dolores thought. Today, of all days, I need him. God, how I need him. Still, her feeling that he'd meant what he said last night after the quarrel in her apartment frightened her.
    Bob had left the bed and was dressing while she continued to lie peacefully, savoring that wonderful, languid feeling she always had after their love making.
    "I won't be there tomorrow, Dolores," he had said unexpectedly. "Costillares has invited me to his ranch for a week and I'm leaving in the morning. You're invited too--after the fight, of course."
    "Why tomorrow?" she asked. "Can't you wait until after the corrida and we'll go together?"
    Dolores got out of bed, her lovely, naked body shimmering like a golden statue in the pale glow of the light from the bedside table.
    "Look, Bob, you know tomorrow means more to me than anything," she had pleaded. "It's the one fight I've been working toward all of these Sundays, a fight in Plaza Mexico. No other woman bullfighter has ever fought there and now I am. I'm especially anxious to have you there tomorrow. I need you there."
    "Goddarnmit," Bob shouted, whirling around to face her, "it's too much to expect me to be there every damn Sunday. I don't know, it--it gives me an uncomfortable feeling. I get the impression everyone we know feels I should be in the arena and you in the stands watching. That type of thing just isn't good for a man."
    Dolores moved close to him, hoping he would feel the warmth of her body, smell the light trace of delicate perfume which characterized her.
    "I love you Bob, you must know that by now. And, I depend on you. I--I don't think you know how much I do depend on you."
    "I know, baby, I know. But what the hell do you have to be a bullfighter for anyway? It isn't a profession which arouses my protective instincts you know."
    He turned back to the mirror and gave his tie a vicious tug. "It isn't right. It isn't natural. Besides, you know damn well these Mexicans have no respect for female toreras. You're just an oddity to them. I guess I am too, sitting there watching you face death once a week."
    Dolores had reasoned with him, bringing up all of the old arguments which had always mollified him before when the question of her career had come between them. This time he remained adamant. Finally, in a rage, she had told him to get out. She spent the rest of the night pacing the floor, distraught and shaken by the violence of their words.
    "A cigarette, matadora?" The voice startled her out of her reverie. She looked up and saw that it was Chato, one of the other novilleros competing on the card with her. It was their first time together. He offered her a cigarette and lit it for her, watching her face intently.
    "A little of the fear perhaps?" he said. "It will pass once we begin."
    "No," Dolores snapped. "If I had fear I wouldn't be here. It is, after all, just another fight."
    A fleeting smile flickered across the man's ugly bronzed face. She had not deceived him, she knew, but she'd be damned if she would let him know just how badly frightened she was.
    "Just another fight, matadora?" he asked, his voice very soft. "I don't believe so. This is Plaza Mexico, the biggest Plaza de Toros in all the world and you are the first woman, American or otherwise, permitted to perform here. The aficionados will be watching closely today to see if you are as good as your press. Besides, amiga, it is better to have fear now than when facing the bull. It is the fear that kills one then."
    She shrugged and turned away, not bothering to reply to his offer of good luck. To Dolores, he was like all the other male fighters with whom she competed. They did not believe an American girl, particularly an attractive one, could fight the bulls. To them, all women were meant for only one thing, for one place--the bedroom. It was probably this challenge more than any one thing that had forced her to continue in her oddly chosen profession over the past two years.
    Two years, she mulled. Two years of listening to the stupid, doubting mob jeer and whistle, trying to raffle, hoping the horn will catch. How many Sundays is that? How many hours of facing death does two years amount to? No matter, this is the one Sunday I have waited for, the one day that will make all the rest worth it, and I'm still here to enjoy it.
    But the enjoyment, the wonderful feeling she had always believed she would have when she finally fought in Plaza Mexico was not there. Everything had turned sour.
    She looked around and saw the members of her caudrilla still standing in a circle by themselves, ignoring her. The hypocritical bastards, she thought, they don't want to have anything to do with me outside the plaza. They never have. It's just another day's work to them, and not very honorable at that. Well, maybe they'll be out of work after this one. Maybe I will quit. Let's see them find some one who'll pay them what I have. I take the chances and they bleed me white.
    The brassy strains of La Virgin de la Macarena--the traditional song of the Mexican bullfight--broke in on her, calmed her. It was time. Thank God for La Macarena, she thought, forgetting her fears for the moment. Now, she was conscious only of the spectacle and the part she was to play in it. She took her place with the other two novilleros, but stayed a few paces ahead of them as they started their colorful journey across the sandy arena. If nothing else, I'm a showman, she gloated, and I sure as hell know how to upstage these other fools in the paseo. She carried her head high, acutely aware of the picture she made. On the other side, she would stand quietly, statuesque, while the other two matadors saluted the Presidente, then make her own sweeping, graceful bow. This, and pacing herself ahead of the others, always captured the attention of the spectators. It was a little trick Carlos, her manager, had taught her.
    The walk across the ring seemed unusually long today and Dolores was glad. She wanted it to last. This was her entry into Plaza Mexico and the excitement of it gripped her. She smiled, feeling confidence flow into her body. There was no doubt, the pure white traje de corto she wore, made especially for this appearance, was creating quite a stir among the spectators.
    It was perfect she knew, accentuating her soft curves and highlighting her seeming helplessness.
    It also served another purpose, to her a more important one. It annoyed the Mexicans. White had never before been worn in a plaza and it was a way to pay them back for the invective they hurled at her every Sunday. What better way to defy their stupid, superstitious traditions? She only hoped the perspiration--her sweat of fear--did not show through the material.
    On the other side, she made her salud to the Presidente and slipped behind the burladero. Looking up, she saw the spectators gaping at her. Her heart sank when she saw the empty seat in the barrera just above where she stood.
    Oh, God, he didn't come--he really didn't come. She felt the tears sting her eyes and turned away to hide them from the crowd. The good feeling she had in the parade across the arena was gone now, and in its place came one of frustrated anger.
    What does he expect from me, she fumed, wiping away the tears. Why do I have to pay his price, to give up every thing I've worked so hard for to keep his love?
    Confusion and doubts about Bob's love welled up. To quit in her own time and for her own reasons was one thing, but to quit because Bob demanded it was another. And, could she quit? Could she actually lay aside the excitement of the ring, the thrill of being one of the world's most notable female bullfighters?
    These were questions she had asked herself many times lately, particularly since Bob had entered her life. Oh, she had threatened her manager many times with her retirement from the Fiesta of the Bulls, but in her heart she hadn't meant it. She said it to keep Carlos in line, to remind him that she was his meal ticket, that she held the whip hand over his destiny as well as her own. When was it time to quit then, to give it up and return to a normal way of life? To day? After this corrida? Certainly she had reached her professional pinnacle.
    Dolores knew, in that small corner of her mind where even she seldom entered that her deep-seated fear of the bulls would prevent her from attaining true artistic achievement in the ring. She never admitted it to anyone else and rarely to herself. It was only during those moments in a corrida, when death stood close and her fear nearly overpowered her, that she realized the mediocrity of her talents as a matadora.
    A fly buzzing against her leg brought her back to the plaza. Looking down, she flicked it off, smiling. The sight of her long, beautiful legs in the snug fitting costume always pleased her. It had been the dramatic, flattering dress of this primitive spectacle which had attracted her in the beginning. Then, the smile froze and she again felt the pangs of fear tear into her stomach, this time stronger. She knew why the fear came now, knew that it was the terror of having her beauty marred, perhaps her womanhood destroyed with one thrust of a great horn.
    She looked around in panic for her manager. He wasn't in the callejon. Her sword handler, Rafael, was hanging her capotes over the barrera, ready for her.
    "Where's Carlos?" she demanded.
    "I don't know, matadora," Rafael said. "He said he might be a little late."
    "Damn him," Dolores exploded. "My first fight in this plaza and he can't get here on time. Go look for him. Tell him I won't enter the ring until he's here."
    Rafael stared at her for a minute, a derisive expression on his wrinkled face.
    "Don't stand there looking at me like that, you--you monkey," she shouted.
    The novilleros watched her with amusement, but she couldn't control her panic now. I can't go out there today and face those horns, she thought.
    She could feel the stares of the spectators boring into her back. The huge Plaza was now nearly full and the hum of the crowd grew to a roar in her head. She knew the dreaded hour of 4 p.m. was at hand. The trumpet blared from the judges' stand, signaling the beginning of what might be either her greatest triumph or her last day on earth.
    The red toril gates swung open and all eyes turned to the dark alley. The name over its opening was Dulcito, "Little Sugar."
    What a sense of humor these breeders have, Dolores muttered, Dulcito for a 350 kilo killer.
    The beast, drawn by the light and annoyed at his long captivity in the dark corral, burst through the "Gate of Fright," anxious to see his foes. His charge carried him to the center of the ring where he skidded to a halt. He tossed his hand some head as though to display the two glistening sabers which tapered forward, their razor-sharp ends curling slightly upward. Anything caught on those horns would be there until he chose to toss it.
    She watched as her banderilleros passed her enemy in his first wild charges. He seemed to charge true and Dolores could detect no hook, but she couldn't be sure without Carlos. He always decided such things.
    "He's on rails, nina," Carlos spoke at her side.
    "Where have you been, you fool?" she hissed at him, trying to maintain a bright smile for the crowd.
    "Don't you know I can't fight that demon? Novillo! Small! Easy!" she spat each word in staccato, as if hoping they would draw blood. He too preserved his casual grin, his facade of idle conversation with Dolores.
    "Nina, he's all right I tell you, he's on wheels. Look at him, you can see he doesn't hook. Just pretend we've fixed him, pretend the horns have been shaved all the time you're out there."
    Mollified for the moment, Dolores took up her cape of raw silk and rayon, magenta on the outside and yellow on the inside. The yellow matches my mood this day, Dolores thought as she took her first tentative steps into the arena. She waved her banderilleros out of the sandy circle and stood alone with her enemy.
    Dulcito watched as she moved slowly forward, preparing for combat. He pawed the ground and lowered his head. The crowd, a moment before roaring their approval at the beauty of the bull, grew silent. When Dolores was less than 15 feet away, the beast lunged forward in his first charge.
    He swooshed by her as she executed a Veronica, rooted to one spot more out of fear than any sense of artistic value. Dulcito turned and charged again, then three and four more times.
    Although her opening gambit actually was only mediocre, the crowd signified its approval and Dolores danced behind the barrera as the picadores entered the ring. She picked up a bota and shot a stream of clear water into her mouth. Wiping the beads of sweat from her brow, she turned to Carlos.
    "He's a brute, a monstrous brute. How the hell did you ever expect me to fight an animal like this?"
    "You can do it, amiga. Look, even the crowd is with you for once."
    Dulcito was now charging the picadores. He plunged his rapier-like horns into the padded sides again and again, and each of the two horsemen placed his pic perfectly into the swollen muscle.
    The other two novilleros took the completely infuriated bull away from the horses in one suicidal pass after another. Chato, particularly, behaved like a man gone wild in the passes he executed. It appeared that only the grace of God kept him off the horns.
    "They're crazy," Dolores said sulkily, watching the action. "The bull hasn't even begun to slow down yet. The fools, the idiotic fools, they're just trying to show me up--and with my bull."
    "Si, nina," Carlos replied. "They are young and eager and they are competing against a woman. They have to look good or be laughed at for not doing as well."
    The six banderillas were placed neatly in Dulcito's shoulders and the aficionados were particularly happy with the placing of the last pair. The multi-colored sticks quivered along the animal's withers as he stood alone in the ring.
    "It's a story book fight," Carlos exulted. "We could have hoped for none better for your first here. Now don't try anything fancy. Today is a day to be classic. Just do some pretty naturales and finish them off with a paso de pecho. They'll love you.
    "Just a few naturales, just be classic," Dolores sneered at him. "I have made up my mind, when this is over you can get a new girl. I'm through."
    "All right, amiga, all right," Carlos replied. He did not believe her, she knew. She wasn't certain whether she believed it herself.
    "Quit after this one if you must, just do this last one for me, but do it right. It's the big one."
    Dolores once more entered the ring. She lifted her right hand above her head, pivoting slowly in a circle, dedicating the bull to the spectators. The crowd was pleased at the gesture.
    Dulcito now stood quietly near the gate through which he had charged so wildly just a short time ago. He was no longer wild, but more dangerous than ever. The horns had found little to toss. Everything he had charged had vanished. Now he was wary, waiting patiently for a target that would not vanish.
    The girl walked slowly, deliberately, toward the center of the ring, the red muleta in her left hand barely touching the ground as she moved. Dulcito watched her come. To him they were one object, but the piece of cloth moved tantalizingly.
    She stopped to get a tighter grip on the muleta. Dulcito did not move and she could hear the snuffing of his heavy breathing. She admired him silently. He is beautiful. He is truly the most magnificent beast I have ever seen. She felt a heady, sexual sensation come over her, not unlike the moments of love with Bob which always left her limp with satisfaction.
    Dizzied for a moment, she staggered forward. The movement of the muleta appeared to be the cue the bull had been waiting for. His tail snapped once and then he snorted as he charged forward. Dolores froze. I'm dead. If I move I'm dead.
    She held the muleta out from her body. Don't blow wind, don't blow, she prayed, closing her eyes. Where is he, she thought wildly, why doesn't he get here? Then she felt the heat of his great body brush against her and once again felt her stomach tighten in a sexual spasm.
    The crowd roared "ole" in one frantic voice. Dolores turned instinctively toward the bull to receive his next charge. This time she watched him come. He wasn't so far away, but still far enough to look wonderful to the crowd, to scare her.
    Dulcito lunged again toward the moving cloth, but the maddening thing kept escaping his horns. Two naturals and again he came; three, four, five more times and Dolores stood there, apparently without fear.
    The crowd didn't know she couldn't move, that she was paralyzed by fear.
    "De pecho, de pecho," Carlos was shouting at her from the barrera. Automatically Dolores raised the cloth even with her breasts, never moving it from her left hand. The bull tore through again, this time so close her white suit was stained with the blood from his wounds. She executed the pass perfectly.
    Dulcito stood still now, eyeing her, confused, his withers heaving with his heavy breathing.
    "Here, Dolores," Carlos called, and she walked to the fence where he held her sword. "Now kill him, he's ready. Kill him well and you'll have all Mexico at your feet."
    She walked again to the center of the ring and knew only that she had lived until this moment. Soon it would be over and she could leave this arena of death.
    Dulcito seemed to be waiting for her, his hoofs placed squarely as the lowered head swayed slightly. He was tired. The girl standing tall and straight, sighted along the sword.
    "Huh, toro," she called softly to him, "come on 'little sugar,' let's make this beautiful."
    She shook the muleta and he came, head low, seeking the red cloth Dolores held down for his horns. His black shoulders seemed to invite her sword as she eased over the lowered right horn and placed it between them, slipping away in one movement. Her great enemy fell.
    It was a perfect kill.
    The huge crowd was silent for a moment, as if stunned, and then broke into a frenzied chant, "Matadora! Matadora!" The mammoth stands seemed to be a sea of frantically waving white handkerchiefs, the supreme tribute of the spectators.
    Dolores felt the furry ears of her former foe placed in her hands, heard the still wild crowd shouting their appreciation as she held the ears high and circled the ring.
    But she knew that her own "moment of truth" had arrived.
    Instead of being exalted with a sense of victory, she knew only a sense of peace. Instead of responding to the mob's adulation, her thoughts were at a ranch miles away from the plaza. Her smile was merely a theatrical facade, the finishing touch to a performance she now knew she would never give again.

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