by Kim Farleigh
Yellow sand made the black bull blacker, the bull’s blackness making yellow look gold.
Gold’s imperishable beauty, Rudolph Mazzacelli thought, consoles; its durability suggests certainty, a luxury no one possesses.
The bull’s certainty was illusory. It was soon going to die and it didn’t know.
We maul empiricism, Rudolph thought, with voracious belief.
A cape-holding creature, crying “Hah”, made the bull’s front legs become airborne, the cape sweeping back, the charging bull groaning, trying to damage a cloth of playful trickery, left standing with eyes intrigued, its tail’s tip, like a pendulum marking time, sweeping sandy gold.
Our consciousness of time, Rudolph thought, is consciousness of death. But we hide death behind time’s veil: University, four or five years; working life: That depends on you; retirement… These phases expand temporal perceptions, like bulls following capes, distracting us from the end.
A yellow-suited creature entered the ring, relaxed in the presence of something that had bashed its head into solid timber at terrific speed.
The bull’s eyes moved from the creature’s crystal flashes to pink and then back again, pink presented, the creature huffing: “Hah!”
Sandy pellets flew as hooves flashed across the ring, the sparkling creature still, the crowd’s apparel like rubies, sapphires and opals in the ring’s raised curve.
This bull, Rudolph thought, is undertaking a series of phases guiding it to death. Each phase reduces the feeling of inevitability, allowing self-importance to flourish. People now have so much time, Rudolph thought, that we, like medieval kings, can expand our self-importance up to pinnacles of such creative “certainty” that we, too, believe that we are related to universal creation.
The man moved the cape aside, the bull passing, the bull turning and charging, the cape and the bull’s horns rising…….
Another man entered the ring, holding sticks covered with frilly paper, the bull now in another phase. It didn’t choose the phases, the phases creating hopes that expanded temporal perceptions.
The raised, pronged sticks resembled fangs, the bull charging, the running insect man jabbing his fangs into the bull’s back, the bull trying to flick those fangs off, shaking its neck, fangs not falling, the bull experiencing petulance! The fury of loss of control!
Yes, bull, Rudolph thought, we’re so insignificant that even insects can kill us.
The blood-soaked sticks hung on flanks painted red by wounds, the bull’s white tongue visible in its open mouth, its eyes now shining with curiosity, less confident, its flanks glistening with sweat, a shining man now showing the bull a red cape, the man’s left hand on his hip, his right leg moving forward, the bull seeing red closing in, the quiet crowd still, a precious-stone crowd looking solid and permanent, the bull charging, the man sweeping the cape back, the bull turning, man and bull turning in smaller and smaller circles, time slowing as spiralling entered tighter and tighter spaces, the bull left standing, the man uncoiling from the tightness and walking away, time expanding again with this uncoiling from the sequence that had created time-expanding refection, the crowd roaring, delighted with the feeling of immortality that the bullfighter’s performance had provoked.
If we’re so important, Rudolph thought, why do we feel so controlled?
It seemed as if aeons had passed since the bull had charged into the ring, the time it takes to change your attitude, the bull now better informed, less belligerent, no longer sounding off like a fog horn, trying to understand.
Its previous certainty, Rudolph thought, is being challenged. I remember that.
The creature of brilliant flashes presented its red cape, the bull now observing with perplexed reluctance.
It isn’t nice, Rudolph thought, discovering that you have to learn.
The bull stared at that red-winged creature. This was no ordinary prey: this gilded being of glinting hide has a wing that dances like a butterfly. So the bull really watched, its eyelids flickering, temptation and hope making it charge, horns swinging in the hope of capturing that red cape, the bullfighter realising that this bull was ready to die, the horns waving wildly, without intelligent purpose, like a beast of hope that had become full of doubts, the bullfighter dropping the cape downwards and leading the bull around so that the animal would be so tired that it would have difficulty lifting its head; then the bull and the man faced each other. The man raised his sword, a steel proboscis attached to his right hand, long stillness as the matador lined up his spot, expectation overflowing, the man moving forwards, left hand lowering the cape, the horns following the cape, the sword disappearing into the bull’s back, the bull spinning, pink capes flashing in its face, the bull stepping backwards, collapsing against the fence.
The bullfighter raised an arm and shouted, anticipating the bull’s demise. The glimmering in the bull’s eyes revealed innocence, its aggressive arrogance having departed forever, its white tongue now red like that thing that had tormented it, its enthusiasm for capes gone, like faith disappearing, as something else was going as well – that confident radiance that had beamed in its irises – that was going too, replaced by ignorance, the bull’s irises now pearls of gentle bewilderment in its slumbering hide, those once imperious eyes now like a puppy’s seeking affection.
The surviving, precious-stone crowd looked on, multicolored under sapphire.
At least I won’t be receiving the shock of discovering that I’m nothing, Rudolph thought. That I have accepted. This has to be the least disillusioning attitude. I’ve been lucky: I haven’t wasted time on glamorous beliefs. It would be horrible having fate mocking your beliefs at the end.
The bull collapsed onto its front legs, its wobbling back legs remaining upright, its snout touching the ground, a creature clinging to life, hoping for charity from its tormentor, its eyes crying for help.
Help arrived in the form of a dagger stabbed into its spine.
The bull got dragged out of the ring; it was going to be chopped up and loaded onto a truck to be sold to restaurants.
Rudolph stood in the abattoir’s doorway. The horned head get thrown into a corner where it sat like a trophy. The walls were white, butchers wearing white, white peaceful, comforting watching something powerful having an insignificant end. Rudolph noted that down. This observation had the pleasing vibrancy of justification.
He stayed until he saw the loaded truck leaving. The bull was going to be eaten, life-force passed on. The remaining pieces were going to dissolve under the ground, the head placed onto a restaurant’s walls, the only thing destined to remain, a future tribute to courage.
Rudolph felt that he had little option but to see testimonies to previous existences as lifeless entities; but this was comforting. I can die, he thought, knowing that my lifeless testimonies will survive.
He returned to his hotel. Bullfighting reinforced the suspicion that death is nothing. This brought the satisfying resonance of certainty. It wasn’t real certainty, but it possessed something almost as pertinent. Throughout his life, Rudolph hadn’t wasted time on hopeful distractions. He was pleased about this. And he had been creative, inventing jewels that were going to survive, to become testimonies to a life that fate was going to cut short. Not everyone gets that lucky, he thought. Most people, he contemplated, who have beliefs about the vastness of their imagined destinies, and who don’t create anything, must have doubts at the end, especially if you die slowly. You would have to be crazy if you didn’t have doubts under those circumstances at the end. You can’t escape from the threat of nothingness forever. There’s something gratifying about nothingness: you can’t go to hell, and your work survives, hell or otherwise. The admiring, precious-sto
ne crowds exist after you go, this a treasure for those who love you.
He put his notebook into an envelope that he addressed to his daughter. He rang her, saying what a wonderful day he had just had. Her voice had been concerned.
“When are you coming home?” she had asked.
“Tomorrow,” he had lied.
“I hope so,” she had said.
Tears streamed from Rudolph’s blue irises, irises youthful in withered surrounds.
He was going to Amsterdam to die. The doctors had given him three months. He preferred the dagger into the spine, his work done, this preferable to withering pointlessly, glad he didn’t need supernatural consoling; he had placed all his energies into a finely-cut, earthly destiny: to become one of the great jewellers in history. He had achieved this. His work would live on.
But he sucked in hard. Life was everything and death nothing. He recalled that moment when he realised that his destiny was going to be fulfilled – that elevation that no drug provides – and he was hit by gratitude: not many have experienced this blissful separation from the majority.
He had nothing to complain about.
The letter he sent with his notebooks began: “Dear Jenny, by the time you get this I’ll be gone. I didn’t want you to have to say goodbye to someone you were never going to see again. That would have been terrible for both of us. Everything I’ve ever done has been done to make you proud of me. I know you will understand. I can’t remember a day without you being in my thoughts. Such a day would have been impossible……..”
The doctor said: “It’s better if no one visits you here. You did the right thing. I’ve seen too much unnecessary pain.”
Rudolph felt he was going to survive – not physically – but like a truth beyond dimensions, his part of the earthly contract fulfilled.
The gratitude felt like permanence.