A Question of Circumstances by Kim Farleigh

Shocked murmuring erupted around the arena as the bull’s horns unexpectedly rose before El Fandi, whose cape, draped over a sword, fluttered in the wind, confusing the bull, producing haphazard signals, like a bad parent.

The cape bumped over the sand as El Fundi backed away, a woman in the whistling crowd snapping: "This isn’t bullfighting!”

Her blue eyes glinted like knives.

The puffing bull’s stomach heaved like a stirred-up sea. Cape-dragging El Fundi was tiring the bull without taking risks. Shrill whistling's disdainful shrieks filled the ring, El Fundi not caring.

His sword lacked a killing sword’s curved end, the cape hanging off it like a curtain–one for closed windows, nature’s windows ajar, the cape fluttering.

El Fundi's feet moved awkwardly backwards quickly, the bull’s charging head flicking wildly at retreating fabric, the wind turning the cape into a shaking rag that couldn’t eliminate this bull’s defect of changing direction at full speed when lunging at the cape.

El Fundi’s pink socks radiated against the bull’s blackness, the bull’s eyes pearly with intrigue, stars igniting on El Fundi’s suit of lights, still heads between flickering fans upon the arena’s circular waves.

The bull charged; then stopped; then charged, El Fundi’s feet shifting as the bull shook its head, the crowd groaning. A bullfighter’s feet must remain stationary against attack.

Cigar-smoke clouds, drifting between heads, drifted into nothing, like most things leaving people’s mouths.

A cigar-smoker yelled: “He thinks it’s a lion.”

His cigar resembled a blunt, brown horn.

El Fundi got the killing sword. With this bull, crowd and conditions, I’m getting out of here now, he thought.

The sunlit sword became a golden bar, the horns’ black shadows imprinted upon the cape by ultra-violet.

The crowd whistled as El Fundi raised the sword.

“He didn’t fight it,” the blue-eyed woman said.

Wind rattled the banderilleras hanging upon the bull’s flanks; the bull had two minds: one on the cape, one on the man, two-mindedness reducing El Fundi's interest in bullfighting.

The bull’s horns rose, the descending sword striking bone and flying out of El Fundi's hand, crowd groaning echoing around the ring.

El Fundi picked up the sword and lined up the bull again, the blade gilded by light; man and bull sped towards each other, the bull’s head not dropping with the cape’s downward movement, the sword's tip striking bone again, a groan sweeping around the ring, the flying sword pirouetting before plummeting into the sand.

The cigar-smoking man yelled: “Shoot it.”

“The man or the bull?” a man, drinking gin, inquired.

The gin drinker’s girlfriend’s curly, blonde hair shook as she giggled.

The next attempt to kill left three-quarters of the blade protruding from the bull’s back. Bullfighters, flicking capes into the bull’s face, moved the bull, whose energy levels remained unchanged, despite a blade embedded between its shoulders, its ebony flanks red.

The wandering bull staggered as if drugged, the crowd shouting; they wanted this finished.

El Fundi got a dagger.

“It’s not down,” an assistant said.

“It soon will be,” El Fundi hissed.

Whistling filled the ring as El Fundi faced the bull. He drove the dagger into the bull’s spine, people’s minds flying on surprise’s wings, unusual seeing a still, upright dangerous bull get stabbed front on, fury giving El Fundi nerve without the crutch of the cape.

His brutal, courageous decisiveness contrasted with his previous uncertainty, the bull dead before hitting the sand.

After the bull got dragged off by horses, broom-wielding men, wearing green shirts, green berets and black trousers, red slashes around their waists, like characters from a sixties rock musical, swept blood off the sand, conversation’s final, cracking specks evaporating as the next bull appeared, the only things moving being the bull and fans in women's hands.

The bull's sedate entry belied its furious attacks on the bullfighter’s assistants’ pink capes. It knocked a picador off his horse, the horse shoved over onto its side. Red-shirted men, wearing red berets and black trousers, like actors in the same sixties rock musical, pulled the bull’s tail to get it away from the horse. A bullfighter manoeuvred the bull away with a pink cape. The red-beret men lifted the horse onto its feet; thirty seconds after the horse rose, the bull was lifting up the horse's front hooves again with its horns, rotating the mounted horse before knocking it over.

“What a bull!” a man screamed.

The men in red lifted the horse onto its feet again. The remounted picador shouted at the bull to get its attention. The horse’s front legs rose, the horse rotating on its back legs, the bull pushing and pushing, the picador placing his lance's tip into the bull’s back, the horse rotating, the picador not twisting the lance, refusing to defend himself excessively, refusing to do the bull unnecessary damage, the horse tumbling, the picador striking the ground.

After the picador remounted, the bull charged; again the picador didn’t twist the lance as the horse’s front legs got lifted awkwardly upwards by the bull’s pressing horns, the horse’s flanks protected by a wicker mesh. The picador hung on as the horse arched back and rotated, the bull digging its horns into the padding protecting the horse’s flanks.

The ring’s orchestra indicated that the picador should leave the ring, the bull lured away by pink capes. The picador rode along the alleyway between the barrier and the stands, the crowd’s applause rotating around the ring with the picador’s circular trajectory, applause rising and falling and rising like an auditory Mexican wave that followed the picador's progress along el callejón, the picador always passing before rising sections of crowd. He hadn’t used the lance to weaken the bull unnecessarily, avoiding giving the bullfighter an unfair advantage. His only purpose was to make the bull realise that danger existed. He didn’t react to the crowd’s appreciation of his courage and honour. He just rode, self-effacing and dour, like a true picador, disappearing through a gate into the obscurity of the pens where he collected his money and went home to his family.

Iván Fandiño then entered the arena, blonde, wide-shouldered, narrow-hipped, unusual to see a white-haired man fighting a bull. His pink socks neared the adversary; his steps, across the bull’s line of sight, accompanied the cape emerging from behind his right leg.

His feet remained still as the cape swung forward and back, the bull turning, describing ovals, following that red wing, the crowd chanting “Olé” as the bull followed the cape, the crowd manipulated like the bull, the bull turning, Fandiño switching the cape to his left hand, the horns rising with the rising cape, horns passing before Fandiño’s chest, the crowd’s cheering like a waterfall crashing over a cliff.

Muy bien, chaval,” someone screamed.

Conversation disappeared as Fandiño began stepping towards the bull again. Fandiño had taken a great risk in difficult conditions and the confidence born from this bravery’s positive outcome drove him to place his left hand on his left hip, his left shoulder rising to form a curve that magnified his size in the bull’s eyes.

“Great stuff,” a man said. “Give it to him.”

Fandiño approached the bull with the nerve that mocks death. The disillusionment induced by El Fundi’s refusal to alter the last bull’s eccentricities had reduced the crowd’s expectations; but now the silence had ownership’s stamp; Fandiño owned the crowd, the crowd’s quietude polished with expectation.

The cape was in Fandiño’s left hand before the bull’s snout. Fandiño’s cry of “Ha!” cracked in the silence, anticipation zinging with hope... the bull charged, the cape sailing in a half circle, stopping, sailing, throats ejecting surprise, the bull following the cape, the crowd roaring, the following bull turning, Fandiño switching the cape to his right hand, the bull flying, airborne front hooves rising with a rising cape, whose bottom edge danced down the bull’s spine, Fandiño swinging his right hand up triumphantly, the stationary bull watching Fandiño's glistening, disappearing back.

The crowd’s roaring ended with that lively conversational murmuring that indicates pleasant surprise, individual voices extinguished independently as Fandiño stepped again towards the bull.

Only Fandiño's pink socks, and the flickering fans, were moving; the bull’s tail, paralysed by fascination, became hanging rope whose tip touched the sand.

The bull wasn’t the only creature whose concentration was as intense as its stillness. It was so quiet that Fandiño’s “Ha! Come on, bull,” filled a ring as still as the bull.

The gin drinker wasn’t sipping, the cigar smoker not smoking his Habana.

“Ha!” Fandiño gasped, to make the bull charge.

He slowed down the first pass halfway through its execution, slowing the bull, then speeding it up, time halted by speed changes, heads made thoughtless by speed changes that branded permanent images onto minds–like moments in history.

The crowd roared with felicitous astonishment; then came enthusiastic murmuring; then that inspired silence as Fandiño stepped again towards the bull, the cape held in both hands, his left arm behind his back, bullfighter feet planted as the bull lunged for the cape that emerged from one side of Fandiño`s body and then the other, emerging from behind his back, Fandiño turning and facing the bull, the bull lunging for the cape, the crowd chanting “Olé” with each pass, a man screaming: “Brilliant, chaval; now kill it,” victory’s fire in the man's voice, the crowd receiving the thrill of victory.

Fandiño’s raised sword resembled the proboscis of a colourful, tropical creature, one sting and you’re dead, the silence filling with the hope that bravery and panache could create a perfect kill. The crowd felt elevated because they were expecting a gorgeous image to get stamped onto its collective memory, the silence humming with excitation.

The cape descended as the sword passed over the horns, arms, legs, and shaking banderillas becoming a single mass; Fandiño emerged from this blurring confusion, the crowd roaring like a wave crashing onto a shore, the sword in the bull’s back up to a red hilt.

The staggering bull’s legs wobbled in unnatural positions; then its hooves were suddenly horizontal, everyone rising, pulled up by appreciation, white handkerchiefs, fluttering around the ring, like butterflies fluttering above the crowd, telling the bullfight’s president to acknowledge the greatness of Fandiño’s performance, Fandiño’s raised right hand acknowledging the crowd whose roaring rose as a white handkerchief fell onto the president’s box to indicate official recognition of a fine performance; then Fandiño was taken closer to the barrier by his assistants, scarves, jumpers and hats flying down from the stands, landing near Fandiño’s feet, the objects thrown back in a ritual of mutual appreciation, a woman with long, black hair, like lacquered ebony, hurling a rose, Fandiño kissing it and then throwing it back, applause increasing in those parts of the ring in which Fandiño was walking in front of, holding up his hat, applause ascending and falling around the ring like an another auditory Mexican wave.

Fandiño, holding up the ear that the president’s white handkerchief indicated could be cut from the bull, left the ring on the opposite side to the changing rooms; he stood between El Fundi and the other bullfighter who had fought that day. After each corrida the bullfighters have to walk back alone across the ring to receive a final analysis from a demanding public.

El Fundi went first, heading for the changing rooms, cushions, thrown with disdain, flying out of the jeering crowd. El Fundi only looked at the exit doors, cushions falling on his vision’s periphery. His feet hadn’t stayed planted against the imperfect bulls he had faced in the blustery conditions, his mind screaming: “I’ll shut these fuckers up in Valencia.”

The crowd’s whistling became an applause like a shrill tearing done at tremendous speed as Iván Fandiño, holding up the ear, started following behind El Fundi, appreciative hands colliding, El Fundi facing the black tunnel behind the open exit gates.

Young Fandiño had had two options: death or success.

In Valencia’s hot wind, so many things fell from the stands after each of El Fundi’s performances that it took them twenty minutes to clear it all up on both occasions, then another twenty minutes to get El Fundi back into the ring after they had carried him out onto the streets through the main doors, four ears and two tails in El Fundi’s raised hands, the highest honour a bullfighter can receive, his teeth gritted in a ferocious smile.

One of El Fundi's troupe held up a newspaper article later that night that had been written after Madrid that had said: “The connection between El Fundi’s mind and feet has been broken forever,” El Fundi driving a fist through that article, screaming: “The connection between pen and reality has been smashed forever.”

Kim has worked for NGO's in Iraq, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Palestine. He takes risks to get the experience required for writing. He likes art, classical music, painting, bullfighting and architecture, which might explain why this Australian lives in Madrid. 158 of his stories have been accepted by 96 different magazines.