A TWO-YEAR-OLD Spanish fighting bull is fully armed. Its horns are about as large as they need to get. They are commonly shaped like the two-tined wooden pitchforks one still secs on Spanish farms. The points are somewhat blunter than the point of an ice pick. The tips are often a dull, gleaming blue-black. The tips are as often colored a dull ivory. They catch the sun. They bounce pebbles of light from the sun.
A two-year-old Spanish fighting bull lacks weight, girth, and, importantly, full development of the immense tossing muscles. In anger, these swell with phallic ruthlessness. They provide the crushing follow-through for the thrust of the horns. In all other respects, the animal is complete. Call it small. Say it doesn’t weigh over 350 pounds. The beast is lethal.
Alas for bull and breeder, many a young animal may never be fit for the arena. It may have poor vision. It may lack casta, denoting verve and style as well as conformation. Such specimens Luis Miguel Gonzalez Lucas, otherwise known as “Dominguín,” slaughters for the meat.
To destroy in cold blood even a deficient toro bravo wrenches at deep-seated emotions in men who have fought the animals. They may come to loathe bulls, black nightmares that toss them nightly into agues. They never get over the fever. Retired matadors tinker with the brutes until they die or are killed. Belmonte shot his brains out when the doctors prohibited horse riding, lovemaking, and the caping of calves. In the opinion of Dominguín, it was the last prohibition that yanked the trigger. No man can abandon the vehicle of his glory.
Luis Miguel has dueled to their deaths some 7000 fully grown fighting bulls. My count. He has spent nearly twenty-five years in their shadow. His count. “You may select from one of my rifles,” he suggests in his soft, challenging, carefully modulated voice, “or you may bring your own. Nothing larger than .22 caliber. You’re allowed one cartridge.”
He has turned to you in the din of a party at Villa Paz, the ranch seventy miles out of Madrid to which he periodically retreats. The downstairs hall is fifty feet long. The dining room seats comfortably twenty-four people at a table whose top has been planed out of a single plank of oak. All walls buckle under the weight of big-game trophies. Stuccoed, they ricochet polysyllabic patter — melodious masculine French, shrill female Spanish, and dulcet Italian. Like ghosts, a squadron of mozos in neat livery slip among the luminaries, insinuating trays loaded with lukewarm Jerez and ice-cold glasses of scotch, or heaped with greasy slices of smoked ham, coins of chorizo, black and green olives, anchovies, prawns, fat croquetas, and tentacles of squid that have been chopped and deep-fried into succulent rings.
“A single cartridge?”
Jocularly: “Long or short?”
That word is swift. Dominguín, yesterday, now, and forever, is a matador, a killer. His eyes show it.
“Are you still interested?” he asks diffidently. He is willing to drop the subject. He may not have introduced it. Friends of Dominguín act as if they feel compelled to bring up such matters. “All right,” he says, apparently satisfied. “You enter the ring. I release the bull. I’ll stand to one side, with a large bore rifle ready. You may not shoot until the bull charges. That’s a rule, I advise you not to shoot until the bull has come within two or three meters of you. Because you must center, you see. You must place your bullet directly between the animal’s eyes.”
“If one misses?”
He smiles faintly.
Later he said to me, “I’m off on safari — Mozambique. Want to come?”
“Wish I could.”
“I’m going to cape a buffalo.”
He stretched his chin. “I don’t think so — I doubt there’s an animal on earth that compares to our bulls.”
“Maybe not in the arena, after the picadors have taken their licks. Listen to the white hunters, Miguel. They’ll tell you there’s nothing in Africa more dangerous.”
He thought about that a moment. “When wounded,” he finally conceded. “But I’ll prepare a surface; I’ll surround it with thorn bushes — a regular plaza! I’ll choose a medium-sized specimen out of a herd. I’ll arrange to capture it, give it a shot of something. When it’s quiet, we’ll transport it to the corral. After a couple of days, I’ll step in and try the animal.”
He was planning an attempt on the unknown. Why? For every Spaniard, glory may be the consummation of life, but was it necessary for Luis Miguel Dominguín to risk his hide seeking more?
“After the buffalo,” he said, “I’m going to try a rhinoceros.”
“You forget,” I replied, “a rhino is almost blind.”
But he was ahead of me. “That’s precisely to my advantage. I’ll maneuver upwind of the bicho. When it scents me, it’ll charge. Fine. I’ll pass it — like a poon, wide, not like a matador. A rhino can’t be agile. It won’t be able to pivot the way our bulls do. Momentum will carry the animal fifty meters upwind; and then I’m downwind of it, and it won’t be able to scent me. I can circle it for another try.”
“Given, of course, that you’re not gutted on the first pass.”
He chuckled at that.
Such are the amusements of a man who, entering his fourth decade, enjoys a fortune numbered in millions of dollars, handsome children, and a rare beauty for a wife. The comparatively soft living of the past nine years has burdened little a physique that for a generation helped establish him as one of the world’s paramount lovers. Women famous in our time have fought amorous battles with Luis Miguel on both sides of the Atlantic. The black, wavy hair is no longer so lustrous, and no longer so thick, receding at the temples to a pronounced widow’s peak. (He lets his hair grow long in the back, so that it bushes out beneath his cap and curls glossily under his ears.) The hips have widened a trifle. But he is still slim, still dark, still outwardly impregnable, and still has that faint air of knowing intimacy that stirs even experienced hearts. I have seen Dominguín at midday coffee, when it served some undivulged purpose to exercise the totality of his charm. He was spinning tales, in an unassuming, witty, and roguish fashion. Seven women watched him spellbound. If Dominguín cared to, he could still bed just about whomever he pleased.
THERE were ten of us at a ringside table in a murky nightclub, decorated after the garish Morisco style. Dominguín had in tow several visiting Americans — retired, gentlemanly, and may simpático industrialists, whom he had first treated to a gourmet’s feast of oysters and especially prepared tongue dressed with pâté de foie gras. Upon our entrance, the owner of the cabaret bustled to greet Dominguín. We were paraded to our seats. Longstalked pink carnations had been strewn over a spotless tablecloth. The dancers on stage, male and female, blew kisses at Luis Miguel, and almost at once, a Gypsy girl with a Michelin bosom and dark, chatoyant eyes sprang from her cane-bottomed chair and began stomping out a fandango de Huelva. She raised dust off the floorboards, pink and orange. Dipping an arm between her legs, she hitched up her skirt, flaunting bare thighs and the satin wedge of her pelvis. She sang to Luis Miguel. She invited him to her bosom, and elsewhere. He watched her, thin lips pursed, eyes studious and withdrawn, fingers of one hand absently clacking out the rhythm on the tabletop.
He sent a waiter to her afterward with a 1000peseta note. “She’s good,” he said to us, “isn’t she?” He asked a nearby camarero, “Where are Carlitos and J——?” He was told that they had concluded their performances. This did not gratify Luis Miguel. With the castanets, Garlitos is champ; J —— is one of the most explosive male dancers in Spain.
Dominguín desired the best for his American acquaintances, to whom he had taken a liking. “Tell them I’m here,” he instructed the waiter, “that I have guests.” The waiter bowed and hurried off.
Presently he returned, shamefaced. “Carlitos has left. J—— says he doesn’t care who is here, he doesn’t believe you’re Dominguín anyhow, or you’d have sent him 1000 pesetas too.” At this, Dominguín laughed. He slipped another green note into the waiter’s palm. Almost instantly, J—— pranced out of the shadows.
He is a short man in his early forties, with the legs of a weight lifter — pile-driving legs that cannonade the intricate rhythms of Gypsy folk music. He was dressed in tight, high-waisted Cordovan breeches, gunmetal gray in color. The fanciful pleats on his shirt gleamed so white in the volcanic darkness of the cabaret that they cast off blue metallic glints. He snaked his hands toward Dominguín. His fingers all ten writhed in the air, flashing the half-dozen colors of half a dozen gems. They fastened on Dominguín’s ears. Drawing the matador’s head forward, J—— kissed him fully on the mouth.
Dominguín’s eyes shone like kerosene lanterns in a narrow lane at night. He snorted, shrugging tolerantly. J—— grinned. The dancer began murmuring endearments, smearing his lips over the bullfighter’s cheeks. Luis Miguel now smiled only. His eyes slid toward the American executives, whose faces were plainly scarlet — Scarsdale and New Rochelle, Grosse Pointe and Back Bay — who did not know whether to notice, who were caught with frozen half-smiles. Dominguín, el número uno, who for long years went out of his way to scandalize, who has never entirely freed himself of that imperative, permitted J ——to paw him a little longer, watching us, and gauging our reactions.
“Basta,” he finally admonished, brushing the dancer from his lapels as though he were dandruff. “Now earn your money.”
He turned to me, and in a thoughtful and nearly pedantic tone said, “For years, people have been whispering that J —— and I are lovers. Tonight, all Madrid will shout about it.” He stared blankly at me; he did not give a damn, he would have me believe. But he wanted to make sure that I was absolutely clear about it, continuing, “The same sort of slander is whispered about all toreros, that we’re maricónes. J ——, of course, is one. Gypsies don’t care. They have all the tolerance of people who are dust under the feet of society, who have to cheat and steal for a living. But they’re kind.”
HE WAS in an expansive mood when we joined in an autumn partridge shoot. It was a golden day, with only the slightest chill in the air, sufficient to cool the melons that we raided off the fields for lunch. An implacable competitor, the more difficult the partridge, the greater his elation and the faster his swing. It seemed that he would never tire, never let up, and never get enough.
Later his mood darkened. “ This,” he declared, waving at the countryside, dismissing the sport of potting partridges, “is nothing. Africa is nothing —I’ve killed everything they’ve got. What’s a man to do?”
“Enjoy his life.”
“And when it’s finished?”
I remember inhaling that question, letting it curl through my sinuses and then expelling it. Then I asked bluntly, “Why are you trying to kill yourself?”
“What else is there?” he asked softly. “When for nearly twenty-five years you’ve fooled around with death almost every day of the week; when you’ve felt the cold shock of a horn buried to the hilt in your gut, and your blood, hot and thick, running out of your body and spilling on the sand; nothing else has meaning, nothing else gives you the same sensation, the same zest, the same thrill.”
In his brilliant Papa Hemingway, A. E. Hotchner reports on a visit paid by Hemingway to Dominguín’s bedside, following Luis Miguel’s fourth bout with Antonio Ordoñez.
Dominguín had suffered a serious goring; a horn had penetrated his abdomen. Walking back to the hotel, Hemingway said, “He’s a brave man and a beautiful matador. Why the hell do the good and brave have to die before everyone else?” He meant, Mr. Hotchner goes on to explain, a different sort of death than the merely physical, and he quotes Hemingway on another occasion as saying, “The worst death for anyone is to lose the center of his being, the thing he really is. . . . Whether by choice or by fate, to retire from what you do — and what you do makes you what you are —is to back up into the grave.”
I didn’t buy Dominguín’s package. The emotional and psychological letdown in a man who has quit such a profession as bullfighting must be indeed traumatic. But I’ve known a bunch of happily retired professionals, the late El Gallo among them. Pondering Luis Miguel’s words, my mind kept reverting to Juan Belmonte, who shot himself suggestively soon after Ernest Hemingway blew his skull to smithereens. Hemingway and Belmonte had been friends. After The Old Man and the Sea (1952), a triumph, Hemingway had produced nothing better than The Dangerous Summer, his disappointing account of the DominguínOrdoñez rivalry. That long, long-promised “major book” was stalled. Doctors had instructed him to stop drinking; a close mutual friend has told me that rampant skin cancer prohibited further exposure to the sun, and thus denied to Hemingway the solaces of fishing and hunting. Hotchner records the writer’s mental deterioration, and he implies strongly that this tragic condition was rooted not only in Hemingway’s physical afflictions but in his loss of creativity. The man had run dry; he could not write. The novelist and the bullfighter, each in his way, were through. And of Belmonte’s suicide at least, Dominguín’s analysis may be correct.
It was irritating not to be satisfied with Luis Miguel’s sad revelation, especially as it followed so faithfully the state of mind attributed to contemporaries like Ernest Hemingway, who helped write a crucial page in Dominguín’s destiny. A year ago last fall and winter, I grew closer to the man than in nearly ten years of previous acquaintance. I watched him, spiderlike, cast gossamer lines of silk around me, my will, and my sympathy. He had known me for a businessman. He had learned recently that I wrote besides. He exposed to me many facets of his complex character, uncovering private matters similar in content to the scene he staged at the cabaret. By “similar in content” I mean nothing more than that he is pursuing a course not merely reprehensible on moral grounds but savagely destructive: of his reputation, of himself, and of his family. In that way, yes, a death wish is manifest. But what he is trying to destroy is not just the physical Dominguín — if at all — but Dominguin the public character, Dominguín the imaginative projection that he wrought out of the raw materials of his being. He desires a suicidal end to the man he can no longer live with; and it is this, I believe, that he wants recorded.
He was the Cassius Clay of his time, brash, assertive, ringing the cobalt sky around his index finger and proclaiming himself número uno before he had proved it: daring Manolete, the failing, aging idol, to meet him. Manolete finally picked up the gauntlet.
On the twenty-eighth of August, twenty-one years ago, at the unimportant plaza of Linares, Spain’s greatest hero confronted Luis Miguel Dominguín. They were lighting the death bulls, Miura bulls, which have extinguished the lives of more toreros than any other breed. These were large.
Manolete faltered on his first test. By contrast, Dominguín mastered his animal, exhibiting a grace and polish that brought jubilation to his supporters. Then out of the toril trotted “Islero,” Manolete’s second bull. Almost at once, it became apparent that “Islero” was a particularly dangerous specimen of the breed. Manolete’s manager warned him: Careful, don’t take any chances. Manolete stepped out into the arena and began wrapping “Islero” around his vulnerable body. The crowd began to respond. Manolete drew “Islero” closer and closer. The crowd rumbled, and then roared, because the master was again sucking honey out of the comb. And then it was time for the sword.
As Manolete’s manager handed it to him, he pleaded: Manolo, dispatch that bull quickly, and do it safely. By which he meant: Do not go straight over the right horn, which is the true, the proper address. Manolete ignored the warning and was killed.
He vacated a throne. But for Dominguín, it was a bitter accession. He had been ahead; his youth alone guaranteed ultimate victory. News commentators abused him with every pejorative word in the Spanish dictionary; and as we know, many of the most knowledgeable foreign aficionados have echoed the accusations. Dominguín was number one because he had driven his rival to death.
This is, of course, hogwash. It was Manolete’s professional pride, combined with too much drinking, an unfortunate liaison, and too many years of too many bulls, that killed him. No matador seeks the death of another. Their fraternity is special.
Dominguín was only twenty-one years old. He was not yet sophisticated. In Spain, peasant and noble are the natural aristocrats. Anything slightly above the first and lower than the second tends to brassy impertinence. Cheek is answered with cheek, and a cara dura is the reply of mortified natures to a hierarchic world that is forever censorious, and against which there is no other defense.
It may have seemed to Luis Miguel Dominguín that he had this choice: to crumble inside, and hang his head; or to brazen it out. Now he flouted his love affairs. There was vengeance in more than one of them. The Duke of Pino Hermoso allegedly had to appeal to France in order to spring his daughter out of Luis Miguel’s arms. Humbling so proud an escutcheon must have tasted sweet. In the ring, he stung the eyes of his detractors with fistfuls of sand, flaunting his consummate skill, splurging it in grandiose heroics. The disdainful fashion with which he reduced noble toros de lidia to hunks of quivering flesh infuriated the critics. That disdain, they sensed, was aimed at them. Dominguín jerked his head back; he jutted out his lower jaw, strutting from faena to faena, turning an arrogant rear on the high-priced shady side of the bullring while opening his arms to the sun-drenched poor.
Dominguín was too intelligent to alienate completely the powers that be. Many critics are purchasable; it is alleged he bought them. Many members of the establishment are not above swallowing their principles if the contortion is eased with vintage wine; Dominguín squandered fortunes on pharaonic parties. Watching, listening, he smiled through his bitterness, knowing that some of his guests would return to their homes and there regale acquaintances with fresh malice.
Daily, his contempt for humanity grew, as did his contempt for life and life’s rewards, and with that, his contempt for death. He never lost his cool while actually engaging the horns: when he dropped to his knees in front of a bull, flinging sword and muleta away, stretching his arms out as if inviting the animal to charge and destroy him, Dominguín’s brain, those probing eyes, that calculating empathy had all spoken to advise him that the bull was anchored to the sand. He was, and remains, a great domador. Slowly, he imposed his will. He acquired dominion over himself.
Age also brought maturity. He married. (Miraslova Stern, the Mexican movie actress, killed herself when she heard the news.) His skill in the arena gained dimension. Whenever challenged, he revalidated his crown with ease, and with such extraordinary polish that many of his most convinced partisans, as well as hard-core critics, failed to realize that he was lifting his art to a peak. He retired. He came back. In Venezuela, he battled an ebullient César Girón to a standstill. People began to praise his graciousness with rivals. They noted that no one was faster with a perilous quite, faster to get to a fellow matador in trouble and extricate him from it. Years rolled by. The memory of that mortal afternoon in 1947 faded. Time clothes nearly everyone in respectability, and Spain was changing. New money stuffed new shirts and powdered new faces. If there is one truth about a viable aristocracy such as Spain’s, it is that money makes the man. Jets were about to land at Madrid’s Barajas Airport, unloading a different and easier set of standards. Those of the old establishment who had not shriveled on the vine accommodated themselves. Dominguín qualified as a member of the new society. He retired once more, now definitively, the undefeated champion. Perhaps he expected peace.
It was during the midsummer Malaga feria of 1958 that a young man from the broiling Andalusian town of Ronda unfurled what may be the most exquisite cape in the annals of bullfighting. Appearing on five occasions, Antonio Ordoñez displayed a dramatic, delirious, and erotic style that crushed out of the tightest throats groans of ecstasy.
It was a revelation. Ordoñez had been around several years. He had shown early promise, and had then sunk into mediocrity. But during this summer, he exploded on the world of the fiesta, fighting with a passionate involvement that had the crustiest critics comparing him to Manolete.
He did not personally place his bandenllas, as did Dominguín. In all else he was complete: a lover with the cape, a stern, sorrowing master with the muleta, and a noble executioner. There was never an excrescence. Never did he permit himself a cheap play for vulgar emotions. Integrity — total dedication — distinguished him, and that season he spanned the paleolithic face of Spain with a single arch of triumph.
Dorninguín, brooding at Villa Paz, announced that he would accept limited engagements.
It was not necessary for him to come back. There is always, somewhere on the horizon, a challenger. For over a decade, he had met them by the dozen and put them away. But he foraged out of his hole anyhow — when, in his first year of middle age, the reflexes were no longer so sharp, the body not so supple, nor the nerves so steady. In a single season, enthusiasm for Ordonez had gone a long way toward eclipsing the memory of Dominguín.
The autumn of 1958 and early spring of 1959 was a time of dazzling rewards for the aficionado. Ordoñez fought with mounting passion; the maturity that Dominguín had begun to evidence before his retirement now honored almost every performance. He was no longer playing for the fickle affections of a particular plaza, but for history. Gone were the stunts that had expressed his contempt. Gone were the false dramatics with which he had frequently dressed his cold art. He had skinned that art to its skeletal foundation. He had grown into an overwhelming domador, who could take any bull, the biggest, the most recalcitrant, the most perilous, and forge it on the anvil of his will into an implement with which he completed passes that for a lesser matador would have signified disaster.
Desgraciadamente, something less lovely than the desire for an ideal bullfight entered into the clamor. By coming back (as he surely must have realized), Dominguín had exposed himself. People whose spite had never been satisfied now worked up a parching thirst. That thirst was tickled by the element of personal antagonism that was said to divide the matadors. Ordonez had married Dominguín’s sister; it was rumored that at a certain dinner, Dominguín had treated his brother-in-law cavalierly; that Ordoñez had turned churlish; that someone had had to come between the two men. How delectable are family feuds!
IT WAS in Zaragoza, a town named for Caesar Augustus, that Dominguín and Ordoñez first paraded together into the bullring. That afternoon, the followers of Antonio were disappointed. Nobody denied that his verónicas with the large cape were breathtaking; but with the muleta, Luis Miguel Dominguín outthought and outfought him.
Not long afterward, at Valencia, Ordoñez and Dominguín met a second time. This was a true mano a mano, with only the two fighters participating. The younger man trounced his brother-in-law. Supporters of Ordoñez whooped it up. Their spirits were dashed somewhat when a gust of wind, catching Dominguín’s muleta, exposed him to the horns, and he received a wound in the groin. To them, this was a heavy blow. They could not wait for the next mano a mano, scheduled to take place at Malaga, where they confidently expected Ordoñez to confirm his triumph. Then, when Ordoñez was gored in the thigh at another bullfight, they were wholly dispirited. That the matadors would meet again was in doubt.
The confrontation at Malaga was scheduled for August 14. Ordoñez left the hospital on the eleventh. This cheered his fans. But I remember their sneers at Dominguín. His wound was the more serious; they discounted it. “Watch the fox use it as an excuse!” they cried. “Watch him back out at the last moment.”
Dominguín was aware of the humiliation and worse that these people were wishing on him. Much of his bitterness must have returned. A day or so before the fight, he said to me, smiling a distant, sorrowful, cynical smile, one that he might have inherited from Manolete: “I’m going to disappoint them. I won’t run, and I’m damned if I’ll let myself be killed.”
“How’s the wound?” I asked him.
“You’re foolish not to withdraw.”
He didn’t answer.
I said, “You’re feeling all right, then.”
“I’m decentrado” he replied.
He explained. “I see the bull coming, there.” He took his right hand, palm open, and passed it along his loins, stopping it with a jerk about a foot in front and to one side of his left hip. “Then I see the bull going, there.” He drew his palm back, extending his arm until the palm jerked to a stop two feet away from his right hip. What he meant was: as the bull entered, he saw it; as it went by, he suffered a blackout, sighting it again only when the horns had already raked by his middle and were past him.
For a man engaged in the business of taunting and caping wild animals, this is less than an ideal emotional state. A glance at the man’s face was sufficient to register its fatigue. He was being pressed by Ordoñez, perhaps more than he had expected. Too many years of exposing himself to too many horns were achieving their cumulative effect. He was in hardly better shape than Manolete when that man met the bull that killed him.
PEOPLE remained seated on the concrete rows well after the fight was over. An old man wept shamelessly. He had not witnessed such a corrida in twenty-five years; he did not expect to live long enough to witness another. Six bulls dropped almost instantly at six single thrusts of the sword. Twice Ordoñez killed recibiendo, an extravagantly perilous method whereby the matador stands in place, cites the bull, and invites it to impale itself on the blade by its own inertia. Mobilizing every skill acquired over a quarter of a century of active fighting, Luis Miguel proved his brilliance in each tercio, placing the banderillas himself, al quiebro, and consistently drawing the bull into risky terrain. Then, while engaging his second bull, Dominguín was tossed.
The voltareta occurred at the faena, the prelude to the animal’s death. This was a bad tossing, a spectacular cartwheel. Dominguín’s right knee (I believe) had been hooked; he was hurled into the air. He came down with a thud heard throughout the arena. At once, Ordonez came running out to play the bull away; the peones of both principals ran headlong for that lonely center of the arena where Dominguín had chosen to fight.
Luis Miguel took time hauling himself up. He limped. He neglected the formalized histrionics of the fallen matador, the angry waving away of assistants, the melodramatic shrieking for cape and sword. Cynics at once began mumbling, “Ah, he’s faking, it’s come out at last, he can’t keep up this pace and wants to quit.” Even when red stains began to spread through the satin in the area of the groin they continued their mumbling. Then it became evident to the most skeptical that the pain wrenching at one side of Dominguín’s face was real, and the limp unaffected, and the blood not borrowed from the bull, but his own. Now when he dismissed his helpers, reaching for cape and sword, there was silence. I believe no roar, no accolade, ever developed. The man’s wound had indeed been grave; it had not healed; he had fought two bulls for almost forty minutes without letting on; and now it had burst open with the tossing.
Dominguín was sending everybody back to the protection of the burladeros: he was shaking his head furiously at Ordoñez, who remonstrated with him, grabbed him at one point by the biceps and tried to drag him to safety. Whatever clash of personalities may have existed was forgotten under the binding pressure of the risk to which Luis Miguel was subjecting himself; because Dominguín was insisting on completing the faena, and alone, without his cuadro close to him, again in the center of this ring. And as Ordoñez realized, and even the meanest soul in that crowd perceived, Dominguín, who had felt that wound tear open, whose loins and thighs were soaking in blood, was not now in total command of his body. His reflexes could not be functioning with the requisite precision.
No! No! No! rolled out of the crowd. Dominguín jerked his head back in a Yes! They had asked for this; they had come desiring it. He would give it to them. There was nothing of the challenger in the downcast eyes and the hunched shoulders of Antonio Ordoñez as he walked slowly away from his brother-in-law and toward the burladeros, clamping the collar of his cape between his teeth, folding the cerise-and-yellow serge with his hands, his face demonstrably the more pallid with concern. It may be that the vision of another Manolete death crawled through his mind. It may be that he envisioned his wife’s brother sprawled like an abandoned puppet on the sand, and the crowd then turning on him with all the implacable rancor that so many had directed against Dominguín.
The shadows of a westering sun had sliced a chunk out of the pale yellow sand. Dominguín stood just beyond the rim, in the dusty, filtered light. His bull, winded, stood about thirty yards away, gulping oxygen into its lungs. Slowly, Dominguín arranged muleta and sword. Then he straightened, twitching his jaw, freeing the skin caught at the collar. He squared himself, planting his feet. That movement pained him. The crowd saw that it pained him. The crowd was aware that he was unable to run from trouble. With a Ja, toro! he summoned the bull.
To cite a bull from a distance is asking for trouble. The animal has all the time in the world to make up its mind, to swerve or hook or plan on any number of potentially lethal maneuvers. The bull whose horns have once made contact with the solidity behind the phantom cloth that for fifteen or twenty minutes has been teasing them tends to have learned its lesson, and to jab not at the lure but at the living flesh wielding it. Incompetent practitioners perform the preliminaries with bravado. They suck in their waists. They puff up their consumptive chests. They crack their spines bending back on them. Toro! they yell. And the bull doesn’t budge.
They are not in control of the animal. When Dominguín cites a bull, it charges.
This one came barreling at him. Dominguín stiffened, dropped the crimson cloth unfurling in front of him, and accepted the fury of that rush with an indolent, architectural naturale — when properly performed, the most difficult, the most classical, one of the most dangerous and commendable of passes. This naturale yanked us to our feet. Dominguín did not budge. The animal emerged from under the muleta, ran a few yards, wheeled, and faced him again. And again the matador summoned his enemy. Again he seduced the beast with a patch of red cloth held with supple magic by the right hand. Feet riveted to me sand as though only physical uprooting would remove them, body erect and graceful, head raised, arm mesmeric; the cloth caressing the thickening twilight air in front of the bull’s muzzle, then caressing the horns and sweeping over the animal’s black back; Dominguín passed the bull a third, a fourth, and a fifth time, carving into the long history of the fiesta three unforgettable minutes.
I went to congratulate the two men after the fight, first to the quarters of Ordoñez, as was his due. The trophies tell it all. Antonio Ordoñez was awarded six ears, two tails, and two hoofs. Luis Miguel Dominguín was awarded four ears, two tails, and one hoof. Nothing more could have been asked of either man.
Nine years have gone by. El Cordobés, all guts and no art, has displaced even Ordoñez in the esteem of tourists and the vulgar, who today have usurped the plazas. Belmonte and Hemingway lie in their graves, and Dominguín — so he believes — seeks to terminate his existence. But it is a ghost that he would lay, and a memory destroy. He is a proud man, a flawed, proud man, who has accomplished much, all of it funded out of his supremacy in the ring. There he was at last bettered, and a writer esteemed by Spaniards as a Titan in the world of letters has pronounced imperishably on the fact. No cape buffalo winding like a cummerbund around his waist; no rhinoceros blundering myopically into his cape; nothing in this world, no feat, no excitement, can conceal from Luis Miguel Gonzalez Lucas that “Dominguín” should have died that torrid afternoon in Malaga, to satisfy Spanish vengeance, Spanish poetry, and the Spanish sense of destiny. On the afternoon of Manolete’s death, twelve years earlier, he, Dominguín, had fought better, and it was Manolete who had been apotheosized. Had Dominguín died in Malaga, his valor might have overshadowed the surpassing art of Ordoñez; and the glory of those five incomparable naturales — that song in slow motion he sang for us and for himself — would today be chiseled into legend and commemorated in fandangos de Huelva for such as J —— to stomp out. That ultimate garland has eluded this tortured, chaotic, ambiguous, and uncommon man. Death cheated him, and so he hounds it in pursuit of symmetry.