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  aimee bender: Bull

The robber I married was bothering me; we kept having fights about the fact that he wouldn't fight with me. He wasn't touching me as much either. He was all too distracted by his current robbing scheme which involved anklets and starlets. I'd pick fights and initiate sex and he'd nod during the fights and pat my back in bed. I suggested we get away and go on a trip. My robber had one brother, who happened to be a matador, so, in July, we took a plane to Spain (we paid for the tickets) and went to the bullfight. I was fine with it but the robber was very protective of the bull.

This is awful, he said, hiding his face in my sleeve.

We are the big fish, I said proudly, we rule the world.

After the show, the matador took us to dinner at a tapas restaurant and in between bites of wine-drenched garlic mushrooms he told us it was all a fake.

It's a man in a hollowed out bullskin, he said. That's how we do it nowadays. It's too tricky with the bulls. You never know when there's going to be a bad seed, and animal rights groups get forceful. The bullskin frame is constructed, over a period of several weeks, by the best engineers in town.

The robber was relieved but I was terribly disappointed. What about the arrows? I asked. What about the spears and the blood?

The bullskin is thick and spongy, he said. The man inside has packets of sangria that he pushes through pre-set holes. It's a bitch of a job, he added. I've got to do it on Friday and in the summertime it must be a thousand degrees in there.

I wanted to tell the president of Spain but the robber assured me that he knew and if for some strange reason he didn't, he said, then it would get his brother in trouble. His matador-brother explained that Spain did not have a president but instead had a king and a prime minister, and, embarrassed, I cursed my ineffective high school history teacher, and focused on sopping up the wine sauce with some bread.

In Spain, my robber was not a robber. He was just a regular man. He said he only robbed Americans. So when we went out at night we didn't look too hard at the rich people with their glittering necks and wrists. He lifted one wallet just out of habit and when he realized what he'd done, he actually went up to the man and said: Sir you dropped your wallet. The man was so pleased, he bought the robber a pitcher of sangria as a reward.

See, my robber said to me, Honesty pays.

I nodded and then he started laughing and hooting and I felt better. I didn't marry a robber so I could get lectured.

The morning after the bullfight I was still feeling very bothered about the bull situation so I asked my robber if he wanted to go to a farm with me and check things out; I thought now that he wasn't robbing he would have more time for me, but, he said he had his heart set on a shopping spree. I kissed him before he left but he was distracted and forgot to kiss back. My lips felt neglected. I put on some lipstick. I took a bus to the farm where they raised the bulls and found only two, grazing calmly in a large yard.

Where did all the bulls go? I asked the farmer.

They're hamburger now, he said. No one wants a live bull anymore.

The yard felt huge and ghostly with only two bulls. Did there used to be a lot? I asked.

His face grew wistful. This whole field, he said, waving his arm, used to be covered with big fat mean bulls. Now, he said, there is just me, my dog Simcha, and a lot of overgrown grass. He shook his head, and I shook mine too, for sympathy.

On the bus back to the hotel, I was so disturbed by what I'd seen that I jumped off at the stop closest to my brother-in-law's apartment. The walls inside were pale blue and he had hung photos of trees on them; he was a peaceful kind of matador.

I want to do it, I said. Can I be inside the bull?

He stared at me. The bull? He blinked. It takes training, Penny, he said. It's hard.

How hard can it be? I asked. I'm okay with heat and I can open little packets of fake blood. And I can walk. I just want to try it. Just give me a chance. You have to do it tomorrow, right?

He kicked around a little rubber ball on his floor. Yeah, he said.

And you hate it, right?

He rolled the ball under his sole. Yeah, he said again.

I'm great with heat, I said again, I'm a desert flower.

He looked up at me. We would have to practice tonight, he said.

I agreed. And we can't tell your brother, I added.

That evening, while the robber was sleeping off his shopping exhaustion, his brother and I crept to the stables and I crawled into the frame of the bullskin. Inside, it had complex metal hooves where I could put my own feet and an interior shelf for the blood packets. I had no firm plan yet but I was sure I was not going to be an obedient bull. I was going to make my robber sit up and notice. I kept seeing that farmer's sad face: Now, he'd said, it's just me and a lot of overgrown grass.

We practiced and the matador was very encouraging, saying nice things like: Great job Penny! which made me feel really good, like I was the best bull. The inside of the bull smelled like beef jerky and my father's old suede backpack. After two hours of good practice, learning how to pull the levers and getting the running right, the matador walked me back to my hotel. He said, with dopey eyes: You're a brave woman to do this Penny, and I said: Thank you but watch it-- I'm married to your brother, remember? He nodded, said something mournful in Spanish, and I smiled at him and shook his hand. Once inside, I crept into the dark hotel bed; my robber was muttering in his dreams, shopping bags piled against the closet door.

I'm home, I whispered, moving closer to him.

He sniffed a little, and turned to the wall.

I woke up at six, ate a good breakfast, and dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt. I told my robber I was going to be in a parade and he believed me. I said it again: I'm going to be in a parade, and he said: sounds great! I said: I'm going to be in a PARADE. He went to take a shower. I felt bad that he was so stupid and ignored me. He sang in the shower because he was very excited about the bullfight now that he knew the truth about the bull.

And what if it was a hollowed-out ME? I called to him, imagining my stuffed skin next to him in the bed.

It might as well be a hollowed-out you, I said, to the carpet, but the water was pounding loudly and I knew he couldn't hear a thing.

At the stadium, the matador-brother was Mr. Professional again; he helped me inside the bull, wished me good luck, and then left to go see a matinee. When the crowd was seated, and the gate opened, I looked out from my frosted eye-holes, and walked forward. The crowd roared. Toro! The matador-of-the-day greeted me with a flourish. Faker, I thought. I thought of the girls he must get, girls who think he's so brave to face a wild bull: beautiful ladies in red dresses with red lipstick and black hair. At night, he holds up their dresses, flaps them, says Ole! Just thinking about this made me mad. Dumb women think they're with a fighting man, but really, he's just an actor. I used the lever that made the bull's nostrils flare, and charged forward.

On the shelf, by my side, were five packets of sangria and five cartons I'd smuggled in on my own: these were filled with milk.

I adjusted my feet in the bull footholes, and we did the standard teasing dance, the matador-of-the-day and I, but when he speared me first, I spilled out a stream of white milk. The crowd absolutely froze.

All the cheering stopped and the announcer started stuttering.

This must be a sick bull, he said. I dribbled out a packet of sangria to balance, to buy myself more time, and the crowd relaxed a little.

The matador kept waving the red flag. I thought of how, on his shopping spree, the robber had forgotten to buy anything for me. I started to charge the flag and then ran away, ran back and charged the flag backwards, butt first. The crowd started laughing. I let out more milk.

If it's not a sick bull, said the announcer, it must be a cow?

The crowd murmured.

But it has horns, I heard a woman call out, what kind of cow has horns?

I picked up my front hoof and scratched my nose.

The matador threw another spear. The air in the bull was hot and sweat was dripping into my ears. I released sangria this time but the milk hadn't finished completely, so two streams poured from the side of the bull: one white, one red.

Several people in the audience crossed themselves.

The announcer cleared his throat repeatedly.

The matador-of-the-day brushed by me. What are you doing? he hissed.

I splashed milk on his fancy pants. His nostrils flared.

I backed up and got ready to charge again. He waved the red flag at me. C'mon you milky old bull, he said. You think you're so clever.

I pawed the ground and went forward. Squinting in the darkness of the bull, I went as fast as the bullskin would let me. I went straight for the matador.

He threw another spear at me and I ran at him still, letting out all the milk, dripping white streams, the bull skin like a water balloon with pinpricks across its sphere; I released most of the sangria, dripping red, and the crowd made gross sounds and shocked sounds in turn, and I ran straight forward until I pummeled into the matador and he fell down. The crowd gasped. I stood over him-- huge and buffalo-like. Using my hoof, I lifted his wallet from his back pocket.

I listened for the one piercing laugh in the crowd, for that familiar and intimate voice. I waited for the sound of my name. It was quiet.

Instead, when I peered through the eye holes, I saw my robber, on the edge of his seat, face white with focus. He stood up.

Sir, my robber called out, waving his arms. Sir! Matador! I believe you lost your wallet!

In a ball on the ground, the matador swivelled around on his hip. The crowd craned back their heads to stare, and the matador even tipped his hat at my robber who gave a gleeful look back. Inside the heated bull, my shoulders sank.

Even though no one was really watching me at that point, I made a show of eating the wallet, which of course just went straight down the hatch into my lap. I looked at the matador's identification card. His picture bugged me, with that kind of overprepared smile.

I was fiercely hot, and sweaty, and upset. In the sidelines, I could see the robber's brother, back early from the matinee, talking happily to a young woman with brown hair so shiny it looked almost clear.

In the spur of the moment, I made for the exit and galloped off. I ripped through the loose wooden gate, rebel bull, leaving my robber behind. I hit the street. The cars screeched.

Toro! voices cried out.

I galloped and galloped. It was somewhat awkward with those metal foot holes but I was swift. I was mad. I figured the matador-of-the-day was now sitting with my robber and his brother sharing a pitcher in a cool-fanned bar. I bet my robber was glancing out the window every now and then wondering when that parade I was in would come walking on by.

Good old Penny, he'd think. Off marching somewhere.

I galloped all the way to the farm. Simcha the dog barked with joy, and the farmer, raising his head from the corn he was husking, opened up his arms in greeting.

Torito! he cried.

I pulled to a stop, and pushed open the bull's back, poking out my head. My hair was plastered to my forehead. I gulped in the breeze.

It's Penny, I said. I brought you a bull.

His face was a collapse of disappointment.

It's no bull, he said to me.

The other bulls, two, were approaching, sniffing. They came all the way up to me and sniffed the milk-stained sides.

They look for cows, said the farmer.

The smaller bull with the redder coat nudged the bullskin. I patted its forehead, but it didn't react.

Above us, the sky was moving, white on blue.

They think it's alive, I said to the farmer.

No, they don't, he said. He went back to ripping the corn free. But they might know the skin, he said. It might be the skin of a bull they loved.

Really? I looked down at the bull noses. Did you know him? I said, pointing to the skin. They began to smell and nudge each other. I was feeling trapped in the bullskin so I hopped out.

The two live bulls resumed their nudging of the bullskin. I stood near and petted them, muscles warm and strong beneath the thick coats. They nudged and smelled until the bullskin creaked and toppled over. The two bulls jumped, briefly startled, but then the reddish one walked around and poked his big bull nose inside the back. Nothing in there. His friend walked around too. They stood on the grass together, tails flicking, looking in.
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Copyright © 1998 Aimee Bender