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A Beautiful Death

 

[A Beautiful Death
**
**]by Les Rolt

 

Edited by Laura Mercado

 

Copyright 2016 Les Rolt

Published by Les Rolt at Shakespir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Beautiful Death

 

 

High within the hills of Andalusia an old man awoke with the dawn. He poured himself a cup of coffee, and using a wooden crutch for support, he made his way out to a seat on the front porch. His thinning, grey hair flickered in the morning breeze as he watched the sun rise above the Firs. He placed the tin cup down beside him, and closed his eyes. Reaching his hand inside his unbuttoned flannel shirt, he let his fingers trace the outline of the scar he had carried for many years. Somewhere in the distance he heard the faint sound of barking. And the man smiled. High within the hills of Andalusia an old man awoke with the dawn, and there, in the gentle glow of the morning sun, the old man died.

 

 

*****

 

 

Some years before the Guerra Civil Española, there lived a boy named Francisco Santiago Castellar. Santi, as his mother called him, was stricken with polio from a young age which prevented his leg muscles from properly developing. He walked with a limp, and could be easily spotted from great distance by his gait alone. Santi lived in a terracotta-tiled farmhouse that his father, proudly claimed was built by his great-grandfather over a hundred years ago. Santi never understood the pride in which his father spoke those words. The farmhouse was cramped; his parents, Héctor and Maria Castellar, shared the main bedroom, and he would sleep downstairs on a mattress with his Uncle Pablo. There was no electricity or plumbing, but the walls were thick and kept the family warm in winter and cool in the summer. Each day breakfast would be served by his mother, cooked in a pot above the fire. The brothers Castellar made their living as labourers. Every morning they would tend to the olive trees in the valleys, whilst Santi remained at home. He and his mother would begin their day by bringing water up from the spring and gathering provisions. Within the hills grew an abundance of citrus fruits, and they would collect lemons and oranges in bushel baskets to bring back to the house. The olive wood cupboards were lined with jars of Saffron, almonds and walnuts. Each Sunday they would walk to the white-washed chapel of Santa Maria de la Asunción. In the afternoon the brothers would fish in the lake and bring home whatever they caught for Santi’s mother to prepare the following week. At the setting of the sun, the brothers would return home and the family would sit down to eat together. Santi’s mother was a talented cook, and whilst they were poor, they ate well. The brothers would speak loudly on account of Pablo losing the hearing in his left ear during the Great War. Sometimes, Santi’s mother would allow him to fall asleep alongside her in bed as she sang to him, before his father gently carried him downstairs.

 

The young boy often sat on the front porch, looking out at the Spanish firs that lined the horizon. Early one morning, as the sun rose above the distant mountains of Sierra de la Nieves he saw a lone horseman down by the lake. Curious, Santi crept down the hillside, and watched the man dismount his horse and place a burlap sack on the dusty ground. Santi watched closely as something began to move within the bag. The man looked around, scanning the area, searching for something. Purposefully he walked towards the shallows and pulled out a large, jagged rock. With an absence of emotion he lifted it above his head, and slammed it down onto the bag three of four times until it was stained red with blood. Santi heard the yelping as multiple animals cried out in pain. The man slammed the rock down with one last, great effort, pushed it to one side with his boot, and wiped the sweat from his brow. There was silence in the air, and stillness within the bag. Santi watched as the man clutched the sack and hurled it into the lake. Cautiously the boy crept closer to the water’s edge, and waited patiently for the man to mount his horse. With a kick up of dust the man disappeared beyond the firs. Without hesitation Santi found himself wading into the lake to retrieve the sack. The water was clear and shallow. Santi grabbed hold of the bag – but it was heavy, saturated with water. With what little strength he possessed, Santi dragged the bag along the bed, and collapsed upon the shore. He took a deep breathe, and with trembling fingers, begun to untie it. Pulling it open he looked inside, before scrunching his eyes closed, shuddering at the sight of at least seven or eight pups, lifeless and mangled. Santi vomited violently. Steeling his nerves, he looked inside the bag once more. Holding it by the bottom he tipped the carcasses onto the dirt.

“What the hell are you doing Santi?” His uncle bellowed.

Santi fell backwards, uncertain of how to answer the question.

Noticing the pained expression upon his nephew’s face, Pablo softened, relaxing his shoulders and dropping to his knees.

“Come here boy,” he said opening his arms.

Santi ran to his uncle and embraced him, tears in his eyes.

“I wanted to save them,” he muttered between sobs.

“They’re just muts Santi, do not worry for their lives.”

“But they are living creatures mi tio, they are God’s living creatures.”

“They are dead Santi, and you should not risk your own safety like that.”

“But I thought it brave to risk your safety to save another.”

“There is a fine line between bravery and foolishness.”

As Santi rested his weary head on Pablo’s shoulder, he glanced once more at the mass of bodies. One of them was moving.

He ran to the pup, and lifted her in his arms. She was bleeding from a cut above her eye, but Santi could feel her heartbeat; her little lungs inhaling and exhaling.

“Can we save her Uncle Pablo?”

“We can try Santi, we can try.”

On the front porch, Santi’s father heard the faint sound of barking. The trio cut a sorry silhouette as they climbed the hill, the boys with his limp and his uncle holding the mut soaked in blood and water.

“What are you bringing that creature in here for?” Héctor asked, not rising from his seat.

“I’m going to save her father.” Santi said with optimism in his voice.

“Well go on then, take her to your mother, see what she can do.”

Santi took the pup inside, and despite her reservations Maria helped him clean the wound, and Pablo held her as she sowed it shut.

“Will she be okay?” Santi asked.

“If she survives the night, I’m sure she’ll be fine” His uncle assured him.

 

*****

 

“She’s like a bull that refuses to accept death when it’s staring him in the face,” said Héctor, as he watched his son play with the pup on the front porch.

“Have you given her a name?”

“El Torito,” said Santi. “As you say father, she’s a little bull that won’t give up.”

That summer Santi and El Torito, his little Ratonero Bodeguero Andaluz, accompanied the brothers as they begun the olive harvest; Pablo carrying a basket of provisions, whilst Héctor strode ahead with great purpose. Santi often fell behind whilst carrying the bucaro of water to the castigation of his father. But he would press on keen for his father’s approval, until the weight grew too much. Close to tears he felt the reassuring presence of his uncle’s hand upon his shoulder.

“There is no shame in asking for help,” Pablo told him. “Carrying a heavy load is like carrying your problems – the longer you hold on, the greater the burden. Let others share the load, and your journey becomes much easier.”

Santi picked himself up from the dirt, and walked alongside his uncle, taking turns to carry the bucaro. Presently they came to the seemingly endless olive groves, carpeting the land as far as the eye could see.

“There are many varieties of olives, Picudo, Hojiblanco, Picual. You’ll come to learn more about these,” his uncle told him.

“Now, listen Santi,” his father interrupted. “Picking olives is hard work. You can collect the ones which have already fallen on the ground, collect these in baskets and keep them separately.”

“Why do they have to be kept separately father?” Santi asked.

“Olives from the floor are inferior, damaged. They can be pressed, but cannot be used to produce the extra virgin olive oil that is the most profitable.”

“It’s no easy task Santi.” His uncle told him.

“He’s right, but you can take pride in an honest day’s work, and pride in continuing a tradition that has lasted generations. These trees stood here long before I was born, and will stand long after you have died. They are a connection to the past, and a link to the future. Do not disappointment hijo.”

That winter Santi would watch the brothers placing nets beneath the trees, before shaking and beating them with wooden poles to dislodge the olives. As the brothers transported them to the trailer, Santi would wander along the rocky, limestone cliffs where the olive trees thrived, but would soon be called back to work. Whilst the brothers dislodged the olives, famed for producing the finest olive oil in all of Spain, Santi was responsible for raking the piles of glistening purple olives that darkened the arid soil around the trees. His uncles would then shovel them into large canvas sheets ready to be taken a short distance to the olive plants where they would be washed, mashed and strained.

As the sun rose on another morning’s work, Pablo wiped the sweat from his brow, took a drink of water and called his young nephew over, handing him a long pole.

“Go on Santi, you have a go.” He said, displaying a crooked smile.

Santi swung the stick at the stems and barely shook the branch.

“Like this.” His uncle said taking the stick and swinging against the sides of the branches. A shower of olives fell to the ground. “Go on, try again.”

Santi took the pole and tried to emulate the motions of his uncle.

Más fuerte,” came the voice of his father walking towards them. “You must strike with force.”

“But I don’t want to harm the trees father.” Santi replied meekly.

“Do not fear for these trees, for they are like us,” his father would joke. “They thrive in the harshest conditions.”

As the spring drew near, the Depression hit hard and money needed to be made. The value of olive oil dropped and so did the wages. The olive harvest always took place in the winter, between November and March. Once the season came to an end Héctor and Pablo would spend the following seven months travelling around the corrida de toros, whilst Santi remained with his mother. The brothers received contracts working as banderilleros at bullfights from Ronda to El Puerta de Santa Maria, and Jerez de la Frontera. When they returned Santi would listen eagerly as they recounted tales of the great matadors, sipping warm Kohler chocolate as the brothers argued over whether Belmonte or Joselito was the greatest of them all. He longed for the days when he would be allowed to accompany them on these great adventures.

 

It was the season after Santi’s eighth birthday when he first experienced the bullfights. He arrived in Jerez with his father and his uncle, for the annual fair. Santi was excited; he had heard many tales of the bravery and skill of the great matadors.

“A feria without a bullfight is almost unheard of in the south.” His uncle told him.

“Is this where you compete, Uncle Pablo?”

“No, we earn our money in the small towns and villages where novilleros fight novillos during the festival celebrations.”

Héctor has obtained the tickets from a tout outside the gate and they took their seats in the crowded arena in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Santi watched in great anticipation as the paseillo entered, saluting as they passed the President’s box and parading around the ring.

“Who are those people?”

“That is the cuadrilla.” His father told him, “Two picadors mounted on horseback, three banderilleros – which is what your uncle and I are famous for, and the matador.”

“And who is the boy?”

El mozo de espadas, his father replied – he prepares and hands the matador all the equipment necessary during the corrida. Next year you will do this for the novillero. It’s a true honour.”

The crowd was a rowdy mixture of young and old, rich and poor. The peñas, the most vocal and noisy, were gathered together in groups, draping flags over the railings in their section of the ring. His father and uncle drank wine, as Santi shelled sunflower seeds to eat.

“There are six bulls and three bullfighters involved in a corrida,” his uncle told him. “The least experienced matador fights the first bull, the most experienced challenges the third.”

A trumpet sounded, and the crowd roared its approval as the bull was released from a gate opposite the president’s box. Santi felt excitement as the matador and his team performed a few passes, the bull charging, the matador neatly sidestepping with perfect form.

“I can see the bravery you spoke of father,” Santi said enthusiastically.

“They are testing the bull, observing his behaviour” his father said. “Learning how it charges, where it will set its home and how it lifts its head through a charge.”

After this, two picadors, each holding a lance, entered the ring. The picadors were mounted on sturdy horses, heavily padded and blindfolded.

On the first charge the horse was knocked to the ground.

Santi shuddered, unnerved by the wounding of the horse and the sight of the lance blade.

The picador recovered and mounted the horse once more. The crowd whistled and jeered as the bull charged again. This time the picador, maintaining his composure, plunged the lance blade into the mound of muscle at the top of the bull’s neck drawing blood for the first time.

“See the manner in which the bull charges the horse,” Héctor said. “This provides important clues to the matador about which side the bull favours. If the picador is successful, the bull will hold its head and horns slightly lower during the following stages of the fight. This makes it easier for the matador to perform the killing thrust later in the performance.”

The trumpet sounded for the beginning of the second stage, el tercio de banderillas.

“Now watch closely Santi, you will see what your father does so famously.”

Santi watched on, but the colour had drained from his face. He was not enjoying the spectacle as much as he had expected. All those nights his uncle and father had spoken so passionately about the artistic beauty of the matadors, but he found nothing beautiful in what he was seeing.

He watched the banderilleros enter the ring carrying flags attached to wooden sticks.

“What are the flags for?” He asked his uncle.

“They are not just flags,” Pablo said. “They have sharp metal barbs at one end. I will show you one up close. They are decorated with coloured paper, in Jerez they’re always blue and white.”

“And this is what the banderilleros do?”

“Well, sometimes the matador places the banderillas himself but most often there will be banderilleros to do this for him. It’s no easy task, they must get the banderillas into the muscular area at the top of the bull’s neck. To do this a banderillero puts himself in great danger by getting his chest to pass close to, or even between, the horns.”

“And my father does this?”

“Yes, but he’s very skilful Santi, I’ve seen him hold one in each hand and place them both at once with such grace and style. Not many people can do that, and no bull ever gets close to him.”

Santi watched on as the banderillero expertly placed the banderillas into the bull’s neck, angering and agitating the bull whilst also tiring and weakening him.

The trumpet sounded for the third and final stage to begin.

“This is it Santi, el tercio de muerte.”

Santi watched the matador throwing his cap up into the crowd.

“Are you okay?” Pablo said, noticing the unease on the boy’s face.

“I’m not sure I like this Uncle, I don’t want the bull to die.”

“Don’t let your father hear you say that,” he laughed, unaware of how distressed the boy had become.

The matador emerged with the muleta in one hand, and a wooden imitation sword in the other. Santi looked on with trepidation, as the matador waved the red cape, working the bull with a sequence of elegant passes bringing it closer to his body each time, the crowd encouraging him with chants of “olé”. With each faena the bull passed closer and closer as the matador stood upright, his feet together and straight, only moving as the bull turned to repeat its charge. Each pass slowly moving him towards the centre of the ring, twisting and contorting the animal’s body with increasingly shorter passes. The trumpet sounded once more, signalling the moment of truth had arrived. The matador headed to the barriers and exchanged his wooden sword for one made from tempered steel. As the bullring fell silent in anticipation, the matador strode forward with elegance and poise. Clutching the blade in his right hand he lined it up with the bull. Irritable, but weary, the creature charged towards him. Taking a sideways step he thrust the sword, but the angle was all wrong. The sword struck bone and fell to the ground. The matador collected the sword and composed himself. The bull turned, his head bowed focussed on the muleta. He charged forward once more, again the matador tried and failed to place the sword effectively. Time was passing; the trumpet sounded a warning that a further three minutes were all that remained to complete the kill. Santi winced as the bull stumbled forwards. The crowd begun to whistle and jeer; the unsatisfying ending spoiling the spectacle. The blood dripped from the bulls wounds, glistening in the sun. Wearily it charged one last time – and with a solid thrust the matador plunged the sword deep into the bull’s shoulders, down to the hilt, cutting his heart. The bull staggered momentarily and then keeled. The kill was complete.

*****

 

The sun was sitting low in the sky as they made their way up the hill. El Torito ran down the hill barking enthusiastically signalling their return. Maria came to the door to greet them. Santi ran to her as fast as his legs would carry him.

“I’ve missed you Santiago,” she said holding him tight.

“I’ve missed you too mami.”

“Did you enjoy it Santi? Did you enjoy the bullfight?”

Santi glanced up at his father who walked straight past them and into the house.

“Not really.” He replied, shaking his head. “I felt sad.”

“I was the same as you Santi, I could not bear the sight of the bull being killed.”

“I felt bad for the horses too.” Santi said clutching his mother.

“It used to be a lot worse than that Santi,” his uncle said. “When I was your age the horses had no protection at all and many were gored and killed. In those days the picador was a much more important part of the bullfight. He had to show off his skill of lancing the bull while keeping his horse out of harm’s way. Back then the number of horses killed during a fiesta generally exceeded the number of bulls killed.”

“Do we really need the gory details Pablo?” Maria said, glaring at her brother-in-law. “Why don’t you boys go clean up, whilst I prepare supper?”

Later that evening as the family gathered around the dinner table, Héctor refused to let the matter of the boys behaviour go. He had been drinking since the moment they returned and became increasingly irascible as time wore on.

“Death shouldn’t change a man,” he said, swinging his glass, wine splashing to the floor. “Death should be confronted with dignity. There is such a thing as nobility in death, there can be beauty in death.”

“Oh do be quiet Héctor.” Maria snapped.

“I have seen death many times, it has never changed me.”

“Well he’s just a boy. He’s never had to witness it first-hand.”

“It was a bull, por el amor de Dios, Maria.”

“Alejandro Héctor Castellar, do not take the Lord’s name in vain in this house.”

“Did he tell you what happened?” Héctor said, taking a swig of wine and scoffing. “Did he tell you that Pablo has to take him out after the second fight? The boy was sick over the back of las peñas! I had to apologise profusely and offer them my wine to placate them.”

“They were in good spirits brother, and it did not bother me I have seen many fights before.”

“That’s not the point – it was embarrassing. Disgraceful to the Castellar name, to have such little dignity in facing death.”

“Enough Héctor, he’s just a child.”

“Hell, even the mut has faced death with more dignity than the boy.”

“I said enough Héctor!”

Santi remained silent. He had watched with tears in his eyes as the bull’s limp carcass was tied up to a team of mules and dragged from the ring – the trail of blood following behind him. It was too much for him to bear – he had tried to hold it in, tried not to be sick – but couldn’t contain it. The thought of it made his stomach feel queasy once more.

“May I be excused mami?” He said.

“No Santi, your father will change the subject.”

“Oh, let the coward go play with his dolls.”

Santi pushed back his chair and ran from the room.

“I’ll go after him,” said Pablo, rising from his chair.

Maria slapped Héctors face, startling him.

“You are a horrible drunk Héctor.”

“Ah, come now Maria.”

“No! Must you always romanticise the bullfights? You love them, your son does not. He is a kind hearted boy, is that so wrong?”

“A man who cannot face death with dignity is not a man at all.”

“Exactly Héctor, he is not a man, he is a boy. I will not sit here listening to the ramblings of a bitter drunk.”

Héctor grabbed her arm as she went to leave the table.

“Let go of me Héctor or so help me I will smash this plate over your thick head.”

He let go of her wrist and sat back in his chair.

“Come sit down; let us enjoy what’s left of dinner.”

“I’m going for a walk.” Maria said, slamming the door behind her.

“At least I still have you girl,” Héctor said, handing a piece of monkfish to El Torito who had been sat by the fire. “You wouldn’t leave me like the rest of them. You understand don’t you? You faced death. Were surrounded by death. You understand.”

“He hates me doesn’t he?” Santi said, as his uncle sat down beside him upon the hill in the light of the moon. “He’s ashamed of me?”

“He doesn’t hate you Santi. Your father is very passionate about the bullfights. He hoped you would share his enthusiasm for the skill and bravery of the men.”

“Oh the men were brave Uncle Pablo, and very skilful. But it seemed so cruel, to see those poor horses getting hurt, and the way they made the death of one of God’s creatures into entertainment.”

“That is the way of the bullfight Santi.”

“But must the bull always die?”

“Not always.”

“So they let them live sometimes?” Santi asked, his eyes lighting up.

“Sometimes. When the bull is considered to have put up a particularly brave and noble fight, it is allowed to live. If the crowd or the matador believe that the bull has fought extremely bravely, the event’s president may be petitioned to grant the bull a pardon. If the indulto is granted, the bull’s life is spared; it leaves the ring alive and is returned to its home ranch. There the bull becomes a stud and gets to live out its days on a pasture somewhere.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

“Not often Santi, not often.”

That summer they returned to work in the olive fields. Héctor did not mention the bullfights. Privately he had admitted his deep shame over his behaviour during confession to the padre at Santa Maria de la Asunción. While he longed for his son to share in the passion he held for the bullfights, he had taken to heart Maria’s conjecture that perhaps the boy was too young and that maybe in a few years once he had grown older he would be more receptive to the idea. As the years passed Santi remained with his mother whilst Héctor and Pablo competed in the bullrings. Maria’s health had begun to deteriorate and it was felt that Santi would be of far greater use at home. Héctor hid his disappointment that his son never performed el mozo de espadas, he had long since accepted that Santi’s polio would prevent him ever competing – but he had hoped that the boy would still find some involvement in the bullfights. The summer following Santi’s fourteenth birthday he had been working in the olive groves with his uncle and father when news reached them that Maria had been taken ill, struck down with pneumonia. They left for home immediately, but arrived to find that she has passed away in the early hours of the morning. That night Santi drank with his uncle and father for the first time.

As the bullfighting season came around. Pablo pleaded with Santi to accompany them. Whilst Maria’s death had been hard on them all, Héctor had coped particularly badly. He barely ate and would spend his evenings sleeping with la rameras, returning home drunk and aggressive. Pablo had hoped that the bullring would prove a welcome distraction, and that Santi travelling with the cuadrilla would give his father something to be happy about. Héctor had been a reputable banderillero at the novilleros in Ronda, famed for his courage and flair. Each year they would travel together to the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla for the annual Seville Fair, where he would perform as part of a cuadrillo in the novilleros.

“These are bullfights for novices where bulls not up to scratch for a proper corrida are fought.” Pablo had told him. “These are often less dramatic events, the bulls not great, the performance lacklustre, but occasionally a better than expected bull combines with a novillero out to prove himself and the results are spectacular.”

The brothers had witnessed the rise and fall of many novilleros, but Héctor was a constant, returning each season, proud to be a banderillero. Santi too became a fixture at the novilleros, steeling his nerves, convinced that this was something he needed to do for his father. But he did not take any pleasure or enjoyment in the spectacle, and would always bow his head at the sound of the final trumpet, averting his gaze as the matador returned to the ring, muleta in hand.

 

Weeks passed by, Héctor’s disappointment with his son turned to anger. His drinking increased and his performances in the arena grew erratic. What little money he earned seemed to disappear as quickly as it arrived. One morning as Santi bowed his head upon the final trumpet he felt his father’s hand upon his shoulder.

“You will watch this time boy” his father demanded, dragging him to the front. Santi struggled at first as his father grabbed his hair with one hand, and held his sons arm behind his back with the other – forcing him to watch the kill. For a split second his gaze met with that of the bull as it breathed its last breath and collapsed to the ground. Pulling himself free Santi pushed his father to the ground and ran from the arena.

Dinner that evening was a sombre event, Pablo has not yet returned. Barely a word had been uttered as Santi prepared the meal.

“There you go father,” Santi said, placing the bowl down on the table.

“Father? You’re no son of mine.” Héctor scoffed, taking a swig of wine. “Your cowardice is a disgrace to your mother’s memory; she would be ashamed of you.”

Santi said nothing in reply, he simply took his seat opposite his father and begun to eat.

“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself boy?”

Santi remained silent.

“Speak to me, say something.” Héctor demanded angrily.

“I said speak!” He roared, reaching across and striking his son.

Santi rose to his feet and headed for the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?” His father demanded, stumbling over El Torito as he tried to chase after him.

Santi disappeared into the street; Héctor slowly rose to his feet.

“Stupid mut, he shouted, kicking the dog hard in the ribs. El Torito let out a pained yelp, before running out of the door.

“Come back,” he shouted. “Come back you stupid mut.”

In the lonely darkness, Héctor collapsed to his knees and cried.

Come back, please come back.”

The following day Héctor returned to the bullring, but Santi was nowhere to be found. Pablo pleaded with Héctor to withdraw, suggesting that he was in no condition to perform. But Héctor was not in a state to be reasoned with. Adamant that he was the best banderillera in all of Spain he arrogantly made his way to the arena. As the trumpet sounded, he stumbled into the bullring with the smell of whiskey still on his breathe, he had been drinking the night before and on the morning of the fight. He was drunker than usual and off balance; he was booed by the crowd as he failed miserably to place the banderilla. On his second attempt he missed completely, falling to the ground. Visibly disoriented, he looked up at the mass of blurry faces, trying to catch sight of Santi. He turned to shout at the crowd, before preparing for his final attempt, keen to show them all that he was a performer who deserved their respect. The bull charged, Héctor attempted to let him pass closely, he landed the banderilla cleanly but his footwork was clumsy. He felt the impact immediately. The bull’s horn had pierced is stomach. The crowd cheered as he fell to his knees, collapsing upon the dirt. Héctor lay motionless; his body contorted, his face in the sand. Blood pooled around him. He could hear the sound of footsteps, and see the bull being directed away, a cape draped over his head. Pablo placed his hands on the wound, applying pressure, doing his best to stem the flow of blood, but the bulls horn had penetrated clear through. All colour had drained from Héctors limp and lifeless body as they lifted him and carried him through the barriers and down the passageway that led to the infirmary. They laid him down upon the cot and waited as the doctor finished sewing up a minor wound received by a picador. As he washed his hands the doctor commented on the whisky he smelt on his breath and muttered that he shouldn’t have been allowed to compete. Héctor looked up to see Santi stood by the door, before closing his eyes and drifting out of consciousness.

Later that afternoon an emotionally drained Pablo returned to their lodgings, where he found the boy packing his bags.

“What are you doing Santi? Don’t you know what happened to your father?”

“I saw what happened Uncle Pablo, I was at the bullring. Will he be okay?”

“He’s in a bad way Santi, but if he survives the night, I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

“Then I am leaving. There is nothing to stay here for. If he dies, then he dies. If he lives I will not care for him.”

“How can you say that Santi?”

“He’s beyond help. He’s trapped in his ridiculously notion of what a man is supposed to be. Always lashing out at those close to him.

“We each mourn in different ways Santi.”

“He cannot mourn, Uncle Pablo. That is his problem. He cannot show any emotion except bitterness and anger.”

“He is your father Santi.”

“My father died when my mother died. She was the only one that could bring out any humanity in him. You’ve seen how he acts. If the bull hasn’t killed him then surely the drink will. I cannot stay and watch him destroy himself. You must understand?”

Pablo shook his head and made his way across to the dresser in the corner of the room. He pulled out a small leather wallet.

“If you must leave, then take this with you. It’s not much, but enough to keep you going.”

Pablo gave him the money, and embraced his nephew.

 

 

In the days that followed Héctor drifted in and out of consciousness. When he finally recovered lucidness he found El Torito by his side, her head resting upon his lap.

“Santi?” He said, calling out for his son.

“Santi?” He called again.

“He has gone Héctor,” said Pablo, rising from his chair.

“Back home?”

“No brother, he’s gone out on his own. Left to make his own mark in the world.”

With a furrowed brow, Héctor climbed from his bed, clutching the wound on his chest.

“How could you let this happen? How could you let him go?”

“It was not my place to make him stay, and you were the one who forced him away.”

“Lies! It is your fault he is gone.”

“My fault?” Pablo shouted indignantly, “Héctor – you destroyed that boy with your drinking, your whoring, the way you forced him to watch the bullfights.”

“He needed to be a man! To recognise that life is not all happiness and light.”

“No Héctor, he needed a father to give him hope – to show him that there can be happiness and light in the world. And you? You were selfish. You cared only about yourself!”

“I lost my wife!”

“He lost his mother! Maybe Santi had the right idea, you are not my brother. My brother died when Maria died.”

“Leave then, get out of here.”

“Fine,” Pablo responded. “You’re on your own.”

 

The man who returned home with El Torito by his side, was not the same man that had left. He no longer ventured into the village, other than to attend mass and would always be accompanied by El Torito. Those in the village always knew when Héctor Castellar was attending confession, for his mut would sit loyally by the door. Héctor never returned to the bullrings, nor did he allow anything stronger than communion wine to touch his lips. For many years he continued to work on the olive groves accompanied by El Torito, but did so in silence. As time wore on, he grew lonely and longed for his family to return. It was the anniversary of Maria’s death when his willpower grew weak. There had been steady rainfall throughout the morning, but Héctor had braved the conditions to pay his respects. Leaving her graveside he spent the day drinking wine until he could barely stand. Lightening lit up the sky, as he made the long journey home. He pushed open the door, and in the darkness stumbled over El Torito, his bottle falling to the floor smashing instantly.

“See what you’ve done, you stupid mut!” He roared, kicking out at her. Afraid, the old dog ran through the open door and down the hill. Héctor fell to his knees, and passed out on the floor.

 

The following morning as the sun rose above the Firs, Héctor awoke to find El Torito had not returned. He searched for her day and night, through the villages and the olive groves, he followed the streams that fed into the lake, and searched far beyond the Firs. The months slowly turned to years, and the years to decades. Héctor longed to hear that faint sound of barking on the front porch. For Héctor, El Torito had begun to represent hope and redemption. She had returned to him once before, and stayed his side when others had abandoned him. People mocked him, as people often do, but each morning as the sun rose in the sky he would look out at the firs lining the hillside for he knew in his heart that someday she would return to him and his family, his world would be whole again. He had vowed to be a better man, and in many ways she had given his life meaning again. She had given him a reason to go on, and when she went away he waited his entire life for her to return.

*****

 

 

High within the hills of Andalusia an old man awoke with the dawn. He poured himself a cup of coffee, and using a wooden crutch for support, he made his way out to a seat on the front porch. His thinning, grey hair flickered in the morning breeze as he watched the sun rise above the Firs. He placed the tin cup down beside him, and closed his eyes. Reaching his hand inside his unbuttoned flannel shirt, he let his fingers trace the outline of the scar he had carried for many years. Somewhere in the distance he heard the faint sound of barking. And the man smiled. High within the hills of Andalusia an old man awoke with the dawn, and there, in the gentle glow of the morning sun, the old man died.

 

 

 

- END -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Les Rolt was born in London, England in 1985. He is the author of three published short stories A Beautiful Death, The Bitter End, and Wish You Were Here.

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A Beautiful Death

High within the hills of Andalusia an old man awoke with the dawn. He poured himself a cup of coffee, and using a wooden crutch for support, he made his way out to a seat on the front porch. His thinning, grey hair flickered in the morning breeze as he watched the sun rise above the Firs. He placed the tin cup down beside him, and closed his eyes. Reaching his hand inside his unbuttoned flannel shirt, he let his fingers trace the outline of the scar he had carried for many years. Somewhere in the distance he heard the faint sound of barking. And the man smiled. High within the hills of Andalusia an old man awoke with the dawn, and there, in the gentle glow of the morning sun, the old man died.

  • ISBN: 9781310421341
  • Author: Les Rolt
  • Published: 2016-01-29 17:05:07
  • Words: 6410
A Beautiful Death A Beautiful Death