Mary Byrne 

If love of mine could lure you back to me

Reventando al Campo by Jannamaria

Along the beaches that year, perfectly ordinary men called ‘Come to Papa!’ to their dogs. On village squares, elderly women wearing little but wrap-around aprons sat on wooden chairs, arms folded, unblinking.

In the city, there was a long queue for the corrida.

“You have to see it, just once,” you said.

Inside the arena young men drank from a bucket, their tee-shirts dark with sweat and wine, singing. From sun-warm benches everyone booed the thick-set picadors, their right leg in steel armour to protect from the horns as they aimed their lances at the back of the bull’s neck. Their heavy horses were blinkered, their cushioned peto almost to the ground and dark, quite unlike cheerful pink Spanish or Mexican ones. When the banderilleros came and planted their colorful banderillas along the bull’s back, a sheet of blood formed over its trembling sides. As the bull ran, the banderillas bounced and did their work, drawing more blood, tiring the beast. I had already seen enough.

Despite the hot sun, the young men showed no sign of doziness when the matador appeared. They watched his every move, then said: ‘Oh, that’s not good’ or, ‘He did exactly the same thing in Nimes last week.’

I thought the young men might be considered followers of Thomas Aquinas’s natural law, since they saw a complete distinction between the life of an animal and their own. I wondered what became of matadors who were too old to fight, and if the Romans had awnings in their amphitheatres to protect them from the hot sun.

Six bulls were killed that day. I remember nothing after the first, and could not have said how many ears or tails the matadors were awarded.

Back then, Juan Jose Padilla would have barely reached his teens down in Jerez de la Frontera, world capital of sherry, flamenco, Carthusian horses and motorcycling. Today, a generation later, Padilla features in Paris Match wearing an eye patch, looking much older than his 45 years. He has announced his retirement, after a short life of serious injuries, including losing an eye and being scalped by a bull, he received the last rites multifarious times. Sitting in his home, flanked by the enormous mounted heads of Impositor and Seductor – bulls he defeated some years ago – his remaining eye studies the camera. One of the bulls eyes the camera too. The other appears to be rolling its eyes to heaven.

I am reminded of that long-ago summer day and its feria, and of you, strong and direct, your own fight unsuspected, sleeping.

That evening we wandered the festival. Tourists dawdled, arms around each other’s waists, memorising images to recount in dusty offices during winter coffee breaks.

A band sang Without love, where would you be now.


About the writer:
Mary Byrne is the author of the short story collection Plugging the Causal Breach (Regal House 2019). Her short fiction has been published and broadcast in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. She was born in Ireland and now lives in France.

Image: Reventando al Campo by Tirpak Sandor. Oil on canvas. No size specified. 2011. By free license via Jannamaria (2013)