The Santamarian Matador by William Matheson
do people go to Saint Mary's University?
Education is almost secondary - most people who resign themselves to the
existence have an ulterior motive. Mine was to meet girls, but I was soon
cured of the expectation of that outcome. I knew that I had gone to the
wrong school the moment I saw a blonde-haired lettered athlete walk into
causing the four girls that talked me into buying drinks for them to shout,
“Hockey bum! Hockey bum!” and relocate to his immediate vicinity. Things
like this were happening to me a lot, and I soon realized that to actually
get to first base with a girl, you needed to be a varsity athlete. This
was a troubling realization, for I had trouble getting to first base in
One gray September day when I felt like it would take a miracle to get girls to like me, I saw it: The recruitment poster for the Saint Mary's Bullfighting Huskies. “Fun! Friends! Excitement! Free Gatorade!” Tryouts were in two days, on the foozeball turf. It looked like something I could do, so I showed up.
The air was really cold that morning. You could see your breath, the bull's breath, and the bull's gas emissions. I looked around and scoped out my competition. It didn't look good for me in the beginning - some of these guys had come up from the legendary high school teams in Spain and Portugal. The coach had us do some drills and basic exercises for most of the morning, and in the afternoon we had some practice matches against the young steers.
Even to the late afternoon, even with my lack of athleticism, somehow I had managed to hang in with my theatrics. I would try to play the comic relief card – I'd swing my tryout baton ineffectually at the bull and just have it run over my legs so I could bruise and bleed a little. I let them see that I could be a good “jobber,” a fighter who exists to make the bulls look good. I showed them that I was willing to take some pain so that I could be associated with varsity athletics and have the pleasure of kissing a girl someday.
There were to be thirty spots on the squad, and at five-thirty in the evening, as the sun was dropping behind Loyola Residence leaving us in an enormous cold shadow, there were thirty-one of us left. I had the distinct feeling that I was the thirty-first as we prepared for the final exercise, a tag-team bout that pitted a man named Eduardo Dominguez and myself against Gate of Horn and Ikileue. Eduardo and Gate of Horn were picked to start the match. Eduardo got in some key fur-dishevelling baton hits on Gate of Horn but Gate of Horn came right back and kicked him in the ribs. Meanwhile, Ikileue I guess didn't know that he was supposed to hang onto the tag rope, because he came bounding along on the outside of the paddock and head-butted me up in the air by the seat of my pants. I landed on my back twenty feet away from my corner, and I wasn't available when Eduardo needed to tag out. I tried to scramble back on my good arm and good leg, but by the time I got back to the turnbuckles, Gate of Horn had plunged one of his horns up Eduardo's anus, rupturing his intestines.
The match was stopped with a Gate of Horn and Ikileue victory by intestinal decompression, and Eduardo had to be taken to the hospital. While the paramedics were seeing to him, the coach told the other thirty of us to stand in a line and I watched with envy as Eduardo's girlfriend accompanied him onto the ambulance. The coach walked slowly past us, saying a word or two to some of the candidates. He stopped in front of me. “You're in,” he told me. Some of the people thought that I had back-doored my way onto the team, but I was determined to prove to them that I belonged there with the best of them, so when it came time for us to plan our first pay-per-view event, I volunteered to face Bolofor in the opening match.
Bolofor's grandsire was Goromatic, one of Nova Scotia's most famous bulls. Goromatic earned his name one day in Sydney Mines when he vivisected a mainlander with his horns during Cape Breton's famous "Running of the Bulls," much to the cheering of the crowd. Bolofor was being groomed to be his successor. He was given the best paddock, the best grain, and the greenest sections of the Halifax Commons to graze on in the spring. (Rookies such as myself were given the task of meeting the “pick up after your pet” by-laws.) Sport veterinarians came by twice a day to monitor his fitness and performance. A radio in his stable was kept on and tuned to 780 KIXX Country, for the purpose of mounting his aggression. The expense was laid out in the hopes that someday bull raisers from around the world would pay through their nose rings to have their calves sired by Bolofor. In the meantime, short “squash” matches were put together to raise his profile.
In the weeks before the pay-per-view, I let my limbs heal up and explored other interests, such as probate law. Meanwhile, in performing my basic duties as a team member, I got to be reacquainted with a truly fantastic woman whom I had met just after the tryouts on a transit bus. Her name was Christine, and she bred and raised some of the best fighting bulls in Eastern Canada from her small ranch on the twenty-second floor of Loyola. The students who lived on the twenty-first floor sometimes complained about the noise from above (especially when the female animals were in heat), and they weren't too fond of the smell of manure, but Christine made peace with them in her usual way by taking her neighbours up to meet "Kinley The Kirk," one of the more personable specimens of her gentle beasts. These animals, in any other hands, were capable of inflicting serious damage to homo sapiens, but because Christine was in charge, we all knew that Kinley would be a gentle giant, and Christine's guests were enjoying themselves so much that they never came back downstairs again - their PlayStation 2's being left unused in their single rooms, the DVD drives being rendered inoperable due to the airborne hayseed.
Christine and I were sort of friendly rivals the once or twice a week that I got to talk to her, since she was a bull-raiser, and I a fighter, even though we were both working under the same umbrella. Christine's reputation was so high that she was hired as a substitute caretaker for Bolofor, and she was so fond of him that she treated him like one of her own bulls from back in her home in Country Harbour North. I sometimes wondered what she felt about me taking on Bolofor. As rivals, I liked to pretend that there was some kind of romantic tension building up between us, but I think Christine thought we were just friends. Nevertheless, I really liked her, and would gladly have knelt down to worship her greatness. I found her attractive in a lot of different ways, notably the way she euthanasied her older or unwanted animals by launching them out of her outside window to gently glide down onto the foot track around Huskies Stadium. "Moo," they'd say as they traveled on their downward route, just before becoming a fierce explosion of bovine organs. And then the nearby Dockside Dining Hall would be having a two-for-one special on hamburgers.
I never ate there much myself, though, since the food wasn't very cheap, and everything was sold à la carte. I didn't like to think about what the people in residence were doing to cope with that. Some would purchase "declining balance meal 'plans,'" in which they would deposit a few thousand dollars, eat nothing but one cold ham & cheese sandwich a day for three weeks, then find that their cards had run out, at which point they would starve to death. This was becoming a larger problem, as the University soon found that dead students didn't usually make their second semester tuition payments on time.
One day I came up to visit Christine, who was cleaning out her stalls at the time and sending the manure and soiled bedding straw down the laundry chute. It was the day before the pay-per-view and I was hoping to have a few more interactions with her before the match in case something happened to me. As I darkened her gate, she turned around and said, "Oh, it's you. Come in. You can keep your shoes on." I was in Heaven. I would have helped her clear the stalls, but I had just come back from practice, so I was still wearing my matador's uniform. For those of you who have never seen one, it's actually a pretty simple affair. I wear black Guysborough-county style wading rocket boots, a Kurt Angle t-shirt that says "I'll make you TAP out!" some Christmas lights on my arms, a red Darth Maul-style double-ended lightsaber, a Hogwart's backpack containing a car battery to power the previous two items, safety goggles, and a special cheddar cheese wedge hat. I knew I was looking sexy, but I kept to myself because I didn't want to look like I was coming on too strong.
By now, I was worried that Christine would be upset with me, since I was scheduled to fight and perhaps injure one of her favourite bulls - it was an "either him or me" situation, and if I didn't hurt the bull, he would seriously hurt me. I didn't like having to put her in such a position so early in our relationship, and I was hoping she wouldn't shed any tears over me. As it turned out, though, I didn't have any need to worry. The next words out of her mouth were, "I value Bolofor and my own bulls more than anything else in the whole world. If you bend even a single one of his hairs, I am going to introduce you to Kinley." So it was looking as if a brutal loss to Bolofor might be in order for me since I wanted to win Christine's love - girls go crazy for injury and death, as evidenced by the success of the movie Titanic, which some women I knew went to see more than sixteen times. It's really tragic that guys who are going to be around for a few dozen more years are no good at satisfying female desires compared to the dead and dying, but there's no sense complaining about what you can't change, is there?
You know that feeling you get when you know it's your last day on Earth? As it happened, when I got up that day I decided not to attend my 8:30am English Composition class, as I felt that knowing what a coordinating conjunction was wouldn't assist me with facing my possible death and certain dismemberment. I mean, c'mon, I'm an athlete! What does this shit have to do with me? I've got to work hard in my training if I want to make the AUS All-Atlantic Matador List and win the heart of Christine! Oh wait, I might get killed today. Forget I said anything.
I really had to force myself out onto the turf that afternoon. But when I heard the cheering of the crowds in the stands, I knew that I was doing the right thing. Bolofor was introduced at the end zone closest to the Alumni Arena; I was at the 50-yard line with nothing but my uniform and my lightsaber. Even as Christine's handlers held him back behind his gate, Bolofor was looking straight at me. He must have hated cheddar cheese. I took a deep breath. My mission was to get levelled before laying a finger on Bolofor, yet still making him look good. Anything for the lovely Christine.
The gate swung open, and with a fury of hoof beats Bolofor was upon me. I ducked around his first attack, but still left myself open for a second. He ran at me again, this time slashing me in the abdomen with his right horn. My intestines started to spill into my wading boots. But the match was far from over.
I turned myself back towards Bolofor and clicked my heels together, activating the rockets in my boots. In midair, I activated my lightsaber and swung it a couple of times, thrilling the crowd. But I timed the boost such that it wouldn't get me far enough to actually strike at the bull, and so I fell short of my target, landing prostrate directly in front of him. This time he chose to trample me, crushing several of my ribs and snapping the bones in my legs.
It was about then that the finality of my experience was sinking in on me. I turned my head and saw Christine in the stands, cheering on her beloved bull. With a smile, I thought back to the first time I saw her...
I was seated on the bus, wearing my matador's uniform. This was just after I made the team, so I didn't have the Kurt Angle t-shirt yet - I wore something from GAP Kids instead.
Suddenly, the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen walked on the bus. She had long, ankle-length black hair, she looked about ninety pounds, and she was six foot four. I dearly hoped that she would sit next to me, and she did!
"What's your name?" I asked, because it was the standard thing to ask of anyone new who sat next to you on the Metro Transit busses.
"You smell like cow manure. Do you live on a farm?"
"Yes, I raise fighting bulls."
"And I'm one who fights the bulls! What a coincidence!"
"Oh, I guessed that. That's an interesting uniform."
A blow to my shoulder, shattering the bones, brought me painfully back into reality. I opened my eyes to look upon Christine one last time as Bolofor came back for his finishing move, which was to separate my right arm from my torso. The amputation was quite painful, but I think I got a glimpse of Christine half-smiling at me as my arm spun through the air. It was an unimaginable agony, but dealing in the realm of modern gender relations where female affection for men (or maybe just for me) is so rare, it was worth getting injured just to get one little sympathetic or kind emotional response from Christine. Lying here in the hospital in the bed next to Eduardo, I'm even getting emotionally greedy. I'm still waiting for her get-well card, but I'm thinking it would be even more fantastic if she came to visit me in person, so I could see her sympathy for me upon her gentle face. There's an orderly here who keeps saying that I'm hot, but she only raises swimming pigs, and you can see as well as I can that bullfighting and Christine are my true callings.
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