For All Nails
Death in the Afternoon, Popcorn Extra
Plaza de Toros Lorenzo de Zavala, Fredonia City, Jefferson, April 10,
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 bullgot 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
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
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 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 on
the seats, not even Anglo Jeffersonians. Was this all just a
grimy show put on for the tourists? God help me.
Some one 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. 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 . 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 don't suppose it doesn't stack up favorably against duelling on the
green at the Royal War College. In between rounds of fox-hunting," he
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.
. The Easter Holiday at New Orleans runs for two weeks. Classes
on April 9 in 1976, the friday before Palm Sunday, and resumed the
monday after Low Sunday (April 26).
. Better left to the imagination, though Spode may be stretching