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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.