GRIEVE FOR A MAN
Don Julian Artego stood in the glittering suit of the matador and recoiled before the ultimate immorality.
"No." he said. "they couldn't feel that way. No one could feel that way."
"But it's true," the younger matador said. "And you won't be able to change them."
Don Julian shook his head. "I'll change them."
The younger man shrugged. He was dressed in a blue business suit and had not faced a bull in three years.
"You don't understand them," he said. "If you were younger you'd understand them."
"Do you understand them?"
"It's impossible. I can't believe it. To say a machine's destruction is more moving than a man's death. No!"
He was a fine, slim man who had once been the greatest bullfighter in Spain. Now he was coming out of retirement to show these younger men and the crowd what bullfighting really was. He was about to do battle with what was, to him, the final immorality.
"It's only that you've never fought well," he said. "Let them see a real corrida and they'll turn away from their robots."
The younger man stiffened. "I've fought well," he said.
Don Julian grew silent and ashamed. In a few minutes he would be facing death in the center of the plaza. He shouldn't have said such a thing at such a time.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It's only that I can't understand bow they can feel such a thing."
"It isn't that the robot handles the bulls so much better than us," the younger man said. "It's simply that they don't care if we die. But they do care if the robot gets smashed."
The trumpets blew. Don Julian rested his hands on the other man's shoulders.
"This will be for you," he said. "For all of us."
"Thank. you. Good luck."
"Thank you. Goodbye."
He walked down the long hall to the sandy arena. He was afraid, as he had always been sick and afraid before going in, but he was also thinking deeply. To him the great point of the bullfight, the essential thing that had given it its excitement, was not the death of a man or a bull. It was seeing a man come close to death. And in being moved by that you affirmed your belief that a man's life was important.
But if seeing a machine wrecked moved you as much?
That must not be allowed to continue. Today he would make them feel what it meant for a man to defy death. Today he would bring them to their feet in admiration of his courage and fear of his dying.
A man was standing in the archway. He was the technician in charge of the robot and when Artego saw him he stopped for a minute to get his nerves under control. Then he moved, straight shouldered and erect, toward the sunlight.
"Welcome, Don Artego," said the small, quiet man.
"Good afternoon," Artego said.
"Are you ready to compete with my charge?"
"And what will you prove?"
He indicated the metal figure in the center of the plaza. "That it is nothing to see metal battered."
"I don't think you understand."
"You don't realize that this is the creation of a man's mind. Isn't it moving to see such a creation face destruction?"
"It is more moving to see a man tempt death."
The technician shrugged. "We'll see."
Artego stepped onto the sand and the crowd applauded politely. Their real attention was on the metal thing in the center of the plaza.
He had seen it once before. It was perfectly and unapologetically a machine. Gleaming metal, shaped more like a bullet than a man, it had arms just long enough to hold the cape and wheels on its base instead of legs. It was a perfect machine, fashioned by a man who loved his mind's creation.
Artego walked over to it and looked it over. The crowd watched silently. Then he reached out and flipped it lightly with his finger.
The crowd stirred.
"Junk," he said. "For once I cheer for the bull."
His voice carried over the whole plaza. The crowd murmured angrily.
"Insulting pig," someone shouted.
"Go away," a man in the first row called. "We didn't ask for you."
"Yes, why don't you leave us alone?"
A few more people jeered and shouted. Artego stood stiffly in the center of the ring and stared back at them.
A small man ran across the plaza. "Excellency," he said.
"The President asks you not to insult the other matador."
"Go to Hell," Artego said. "I swear at my car and I'll swear at this, too."
"The crowd will grow angry."
He looked around the plaza, and for the first time this afternoon he was really afraid. The bulls had always frightened him but never too much. He knew he had to die someday and he preferred to die with grace and dignity. But now he feared the crowd.
He feared the eyes that looked on him as an unimportant intruder beside the essence of what they valued.
You are nothing, the eyes said. You are only a man like us. But this beside you is more than a man. This is grace and beauty and efficiency. This is the lovely thing that we have made. Go away.
"I'll show you," he said to them. "I'll show you!"
"Don Artego." The President's voice boomed over a loudspeaker.
Artego turned and bowed arrogantly. "Yes, Excellency?"
"You understand the order of this corrida which you have requested? First the matador of steel will fight. Then you will fight. Then both of you will fight together."
"I understand, Excellency."
"Then please retire. And do not anger us with such an insult of our ritual."
His eyes became cold and hard. He walked stiffly to the wall and leaped over it.
The order of combat had been his own choosing. He wanted a chance to prove his belief that this ritual of watching a machine tempt destruction was without meaning. There could be no fairer chance than this.
They would watch the machine and they would watch him. Then they would watch both together. And they would see which was the more moving.
"El Toro!" sighed the crowd.
The bull plunged into the ring The smooth thing in the center detected it with electronic beams and the jointless metal arms shook the cape. Tile bull charged.
It passed within inches of the robot. The machine and the cape turned in a slow, perfectly executed veronica.
"Uhhh." A deep, guttural roar came from the crowd.
The robot brought the bull back for another pass. And another. Each one brought the bull closer to the metal body.
Artego watched with interest. The passes were of classic perfection. The machine was the best of its kind and its designers had not intended it to use showy tricks. it moved with perfect functional efficiency.
The bull's horn slid over metal.
Even Artego found his throat aching a little. This was a man's dream of what a matador could be, moving always with perfect grace and simplicity. It was for every minute what the best of men could only be sometimes.
And the crowd, the drinking, excited crowd, each of whom worked in some industry that contributed to the building of this thing, watched the dream of its mind in action. And feared and was moved by the possibility of its destruction.
Artego shook his head It was still not the same. It was still no more moving than watching a car slide over a cliff. To feel deeply about this and to be unmoved by a man doing the same thing less perfectly-- that was unholy.
"Viva El Toro!" he shouted.
The black bull charged and charged again, held captive by the flawless machine. It was brave and charged straight and Artego looked at it with love and pride. He had loved every bull he had ever killed and the bravest ones best of all. It was not shameful to be killed by such an animal.
The bull turned around the robot in its own length. It halted, dazed, in the middle of the ring. The machine rolled away from it and took up a position near the far wall.
This was the part Artego hated most. They had eliminated the horses and the picadors. The tourists couldn’t stand them. They wanted to watch death but they wanted it to be sterile and unmessy.
The machine shook the cape and the bull charged. As it grazed past metal and headed toward the wall electric beams triggered firing circuits. A lance shot from the wall and buried itself in the bull's hump.
"Ahh," sighed the crowd.
Two more lances went in. Artego shook his head disgustedly and looked away.
There followed several passes with the muleta. Each was performed with that same flawless grace. Finally the machine squared the bull on its legs and awaited the charge with sword aimed.
The bull charged straight, head low, and the metal arm went in over the horns. The bull hooked as it went by, missed by a fraction of an inch and fell dead fifteen feet beyond its target.
The crowd came to its feet.
"Viva. Viva El Matador. Viva !"
Artego spat. Let them get an erection out of that if they wanted to. He got as much of a thrill out of shooting at tin cans.
The crowd continued to applaud as the steel matador circled the ring. The President raised his hand and the technician ran out and cut off the bull's ears.
Then Artego walked into the center of the ring. He waited in the hot, bright sun before the chute.
A .few people applauded and he bowed.
"Now I will show you what it is to watch a man die," he said.
A fat, greasy man stood up in the front row. "Then die, old fool," he shouted.
Artego flushed. He turned to face the chute and a minute later the bull burst into the sun.
It was a fine bull, the best they could get him for this day, and it charged straight and true at the cape. Artego turned it in the slow, perfect veronica that had once set crowds sighing.
"Come, bull," he whispered. "Help me show them."
Everything he had ever done, he did. It was the best twenty minutes of his life. Time after time the bull brushed his legs or his stomach while he remained calm and unmoved in the presence of death.
And at the end he went in over the horns, sucking in his stomach to avoid the point, and killed with classic perfection. Then he turned, proud of his work, and faced the crowd.
"Hot dogs," a vendor was shouting. "Real American hot dogs."
In the front row men were talking or flirting with women. Others, scattered through the audience, had idly turned to newspapers. In one corner a dice game was going on.
Those who were not occupied were politely bored.
In the rear of the, plaza an old man stood up.
"Viva Don Julian! Viva the great Artego ! Viva!" .
The crowd, seeing the fight was over, applauded quickly. "Now bring out the matador of steel," a voice shouted.
"Yes, Yes! Enough of this playing. Let's have the real thing!"
"Pigs." Don Julian cried. "Pigs!" Tears ran down his cheeks.
"Don Julian," called the President.
"You may have the ears."
He bowed and cut off the ears with his own hands. Then he retreated from the ring.
"You see," said the technician.
"I warned you." said the young matador.
"I refuse to believe it!"
"You can't escape the facts," the young matador said.
The technician shrugged. "Times change. You have to change with them."
"But this is unholy ! This is blasphemy!"
"I just do my work," the little man said. "I don't know about unholies and blasphemies."
He saw that their eyes were uncomprehending. And within him he felt a hot, furious need to make them writhe and cry.
"I'll show you. Watch!"
"Give up," the technician told him, "your time's over. It's my time now."
"I don't want to live in your time."
The young matador paled. "Don't," he said. "I know what you're thinking. Don't!"
Artego strode back into the ring. The matador of steel was already there. A force field ran down the middle of the plaza. They were visible to all but completely separated.
"Now," he said, "we'll see who you watch."
"Everything that Don Julian Artego does," the voice of the President said over the loudspeaker, "the matador of steel will also do. And at the same time."
Don Julian bowed and they applauded lightly. The robot bent slightly and the plaza shook.
"Viva. Viva the matador of steel!"
Artego turned and waited for the bull to come out. The two chutes opened and the two bulls burst into the sunshine.
He shook the cape and once again met the bull with a perfect veronica. His legs remained straight and rigid as the horns passed within six inches of them.
A second later the robot did the same thing.
"Arrhh," groaned the crowd.
He moved the bull in closer with each pass. Then, desperate to make them watch, he did six slow, sculptured veronicas in a row. Each time the bull's horn slid over his body.
And every time he looked up at the crowd. They were watching the robot.
"God n Heaven," he murmured "what must I do to reach them?"
He got down on his knees so he was helpless if he should misjudge the hook. The robot dug spikes into the ground so it couldn't move. They shook their capes.
"Ha. Toro. Ha!"
The horn slithered over his chest. Cloth ripped. At the same time he heard the clang of horn on metal.
"Arrh." "grunted the crowd. "Ole!"
His eyes searched them hungrily. They were intent on the scratch on the robot's metal frame.
He got to his feet and brought the bull in for another pass. He turned it in its own length and brought it to a halt. Then he walked away, offering his back. The bull was too dazed to attack.
When he looked at the crowd they were watching the robot.
"Viva Don Julian," shouted the old man in the rear. "Viva Don Julian Artego!"
Only Don Julian heard him.
His face was hot and greasy with sweat. He looked at the dangling strips of cloth on his chest and saw he was bleeding. He wiped his hand in the blood and held it up to the crowd.
"See," he said. "Blood. Just like you've got. Blood!"
A few of them looked over. Their eyes were uncomprehending.
"Christ in Heaven," he said, "what must I do \?"
No one heard him. He was alone in the plaza. He and the old man and the bull.
The picing went quickly and smoothly. He brought the bull within inches of him and even let the lances graze his shoulder. No one bothered to look.
Then he took the sword and the muleta and faced the bull in the center of the plaza. Taking a deep breath he began to swing the cape back and forth in front of his body.
It was the most dangerous of the passes. The swinging of the cape had to be timed so that the bull would hit it when it was to either side of the man. A slight miscalculation and the bull would charge right into his body.
This was his last attempt. If it didn't work, there was only one thing left.
"Ha, bull. Come and kill me. Ha!"
The bull charged. The cape swung like a pendulum from side to side.
The horn grazed his side as the beast went by.
'Ole!" shouted the crowd.
Artego looked. He searched for some sign that he had moved them.
They were watching the robot.
He beat his hand against his head. A long wail came from his lips. The crowd turned at last and looked at him.
There was a long, heavy silence. Then he spoke.
"I will show you," he said, "what it is to see a man die."
The silence continued. He was facing the force field so he could see the robot in its half of the plaza. The robot's bull and his bull were between them. His own bull looked very black and frightening as it lowered its head and watched him.
Very slowly, yet without theatricality, just as a man would who wants to hang onto every minute of life, he threw away his cape and sword.
"No," they shouted. "Stop him!"
He snapped his fingers. "Come," he said to the bull, "kill me."
He had faced many bulls before, but this, his last, was the most difficult of all. He stood there with his legs straight and planted together and he did not close his eyes or move his feet.
The two bulls charged almost simultaneously. Don Julian's stomach turned over as he saw his bull bearing down on him.
"Christ in Heaven," he breathed, "do not let me run."
The bull's hump grew larger and blacker. Little dust clouds swirled about its feet. Don Julian's eyes focused on the horns.
They were smooth and white and glistened in the sun. At the last minute he threw his arms over his head.
Then the horns cut up, sliding into his stomach, and he felt himself being lifted into the air.
At the same time he heard a crash and a clatter of metal.
The crowd came to its feet and screamed in horror.
Crucified on the horns, dying in the air, his head tossing on his neck, he saw, in his last few seconds, where their eyes were turned.
They were watching the twisted pile of metal at the other end of the plaza. And their faces were bloodless from shock.
Copyright 1957, 1985 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited. Under current American copyright law, works published before the current law went into effect in 1978 are copyrighted for ninety-five years from date of publication. This story will remain copyrighted until 2052.
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When I was Writing, a Literary Memoir: Installment One