For All Nails #205: Death in the Afternoon, Popcorn Extra
by M. G. Alderman
Hugh Schreck (Cadet Second Class, when he was at school, which he was not, though he was wishing he was) was beginning to feel faintly ill as he looked down onto the sandswept floor of the crowded Plaza de Toros arena. Though there was no way he was going to impart this bit of information to the beauteous Marie-Claire Reynard, who was now chastely sheltered beneath his outstretched arm, clad in a long white linen spring dress and herself feeling mildly unnerved. It wouldn't do, really. Being a nice sweet Quebecoise girl, she wouldn't like the notion of watching a contest in which either the bull got slaughtered or even worse, the young man in the gaudy retina-burn orange getup and shoulder-pads got gored. She could take blood -- she was certain she wanted to become a doctor, but not blood spilled like this. If it was not barbaric, then it was absurd.
Hugh didn't really have much of an excuse, however, having grown up on a farm in Indiana. At least, in the unlikely event that someone got stamped to death or gored by one of the farm animals, it wasn't due to some insane attempt to show off.
Seeing a man die, however, was another matter entirely. A man die for sport, not for God or country or Fort Radisson or New Orleans, not for something, but just for ticket sales and bums on seats. Did the matador get killed often? Had he contredansed in with his best girl into an occasion of sin where he would be privy to someone's murder? Stupid Indiana boy, he whispered to himself self-depreciatingly. His eyes wandered, and he tried to tell himself that surely the Mexicans weren't so mad as to devise a sport as bloody as the combats of the Coliseum. They were Christians, like us. Right?
Well, almost; he'd heard some wild, scandalous things about some of the priests and bishops west of the border which he didn't dare even think about. He heard a few even shuttled about their mistresses in broad daylight.
Occasion of sin, hmm. The hideous jerseys, the scantily-dressed girls leaping about in wild acrobatic routines that he hoped would remain merely acrobatic instead of jumping into borderline suggestive, though it would probably be too late. Maybe it was not grotesque, it was just ridiculous.
It would be over soon enough, and he would be on the train with M-C to spend Holy Week in Quebec with her family. He was still not sure how he'd been netted in to this daytrip over the border; a bunch of cadets had piled onto the bus and the next thing he knew they were sitting in this sweat-stained metal-seated arena smelling of cheap cologne, sweat, fear and burned tamales. It resonated with melodramatic piped-in announcements that sounded like they had been voiced by a Z-grade newsreader on Vitamundo, a station he had learned to avoid when tracking through the channels on the dorm lounge box. Sheesh, those vitanovelas. It was odd -- there weren't too many Mexicans in the seats, not even Anglo Jeffersonians. Was this all just a grimy show put on for the tourists? God help him.
Someone spilled popcorn over his shoulders, and he pulled M-C towards him; he felt her clutching closer, as if afraid. "Whopping day for a slaughter, eh, Schreck?" said Robbie Spode in the row behind him. FN2 Hugh rolled his eyes, and Marie said quietly to him in her incisive accent, "Offer it up for the holy souls in purgatory," and she was only half-joking. Dealing with Spode on a daily basis was worth a plenary indulgence at least.
He turned around to look up at the cadet behind him. Spode had his foot on the back of Hugh's chair. "Not now, Nat-breath, can you handle that or do you need me to spell it out for you?"
"I'm just pulling your leg, country boy," he said, sarcastically. "Old chappie, this is all damnably barbaric stuff, Schreck. Of course, we're in Mexico, they just about hand you a revolver when you cross the border. Look at the way they settle their differences -- pub-brawling, virtually. Knife-fights, punching, broken bottles, even things involving grenades, I've heard. FN3 Not a single scrap of rules. Hardly Marquess of Queensbury. Slaughtering bulls like a bunch of mad Mithraists out of a big-screen Roman epic isn't too far away when you carry on like that."
"I suppose it doesn't stack up favorably against duelling on the green at the Royal War College. In between rounds of fox-hunting," he said, flatly, and he heard M-C laugh quietly with a gleam in her dark eyes.
Spode frowned, disconcerted. "Nothing at all like it, old chap, it's demmed civilized. No, really. You have the seconds and the rules and the first blood ... come now, it--it--it just is, dammit ... "
The matador came out onto the field with a fanfare and thunderous applause, and Hugh turned to Marie-Claire and said, "I think it's time we left, dear. Enough time spent among barbarians and beasts ... and bulls and Mexicans, too," he said, eyeing Spode guardedly.
Forward to FAN #206: Mi Lucha.
Forward to 14 April 1976: A Farewell to Kings.
Return to For All Nails.