Sheldon Lee Compton ~ After Watching Ido Mizrahy’s Film Gored — July 9, 2015

I couldn’t real­ly say why I hadn’t killed the bull. Not right away, when every­one kept ask­ing. I struck at it sev­er­al times in the exact spot I should, but I could not sink the blade. I couldn’t say to my friends inside the vehi­cle what had hap­pened, after the bull­fight, but I knew. I knew exact­ly what had hap­pened. It was the bull’s tear that par­a­lyzed me. Although my body seemed to move, to make its attempt at killing, the sight of the bull cry­ing pierced me instead.

I had nev­er seen such a thing before, not in all my years of bull­fight­ing, and my years had been plen­ty. My father start­ed me ear­ly, so ear­ly that many of his friends, men and women alike, spoke behind his back of how Antonio was sure­ly try­ing to live the life of a mata­dor through his only son.

It was true. But what of it? I have enjoyed my career in the ring, dressed hand­some­ly in the suit of lights. My love affair with the bull had been my only, an affair even my wife had under­stood and endured. But that after­noon, the eve of my retire­ment, I walked just as a man would walk to the car where my friends wait­ed and sat down as any human would in the pas­sen­ger seat and thought of the bull and his sin­gle tear, how it dropped fast and oval from his right eye while he con­tin­ued to glare at me.

The bull’s gaze, the way its body of brown vel­vet remained tense and rigid, the raised and defeat­ed posi­tion of its horns, all of this, the same as usu­al, until that fast tear. Then I could see the pain inside the black cir­cle of its eye, unblink­ing pain, the kind of hurt only a beast can expe­ri­ence stand­ing so still and so men­ac­ing. The emo­tion in that sin­gle drop of salt water crushed me.

And when I say crushed, friends, I mean crushed as the moun­tain can crush the climber, as the day­time sky can feel full of God’s own weight at a cer­tain point on after­noons of intox­i­cat­ing success.

Everything in those last moments, the attempt to thrust the blade between the bull’s shoul­der blades, watch­ing the ban­der­il­las spread­ing out from the its flanks like bone-exposed wings sheared of feath­ers, the ter­cio de muerte itself, its entire­ty, was swal­lowed up and then rearranged as a kind of spir­i­tu­al vision. And all of this was sparked in the mil­lisec­ond it took for the bull’s emo­tion to man­i­fest in its crying.

I want­ed in that mil­lisec­ond to turn to the pres­i­dente, imi­tate the esto­ca­da with the palm of my hand, and be done with bull­fight­ing for­ev­er. All my ear­li­er dreams of col­lect­ing tro­phies — an ear, the tail, both ears per­haps, the imag­ined or real breeze from a thou­sand hand­ker­chiefs wav­ing me into a lap of vic­to­ry around the ring — all of these dreams had fall­en away.

It was not pity! When they worked to severe the bull’s spinal cord after my third failed attempt, I felt noth­ing, not even embar­rass­ment while I stood and watched. As the bull, colour­blind, charges the mov­ing object, not the col­or red, what hap­pened to me when the bull’s tear fell can only ever be mis­un­der­stood. As the true rea­son the cape is dyed red is so that blood stains will be less notice­able, so too was the mys­tery of my fail­ure, a truth hid­den with­in a truth. It is true! I have the blood of a mata­dor for all time. My heart is per­fect­ly cold enough.


Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three books, most recent­ly the nov­el Brown Bottle (Bottom Dog Press, 2016). His sto­ries can be found in WhiskeyPaper, decomP, Gone Lawn, PANK, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, and else­where. He was cit­ed in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016.