Marco’s cousin told him real Spanish roses bloomed out of the bullfighting rings. That was nearly a fortnight ago, after the siege of Madrid, when Raul convinced Marco to flee their coastal village. The two cousins spoke over the glow of lit matches in the dark alley behind abuelo’s kite shop.
“These shadows are nothing but city lights,” Raul had said that night. His cool breath snuffed out the blue flame, and they raided the kite shop, broke into abuelo’s safe, and packed savings into a burlap sack. Marco chased his older cousin through the fields, and they hopped a late-night train for Madrid, rolling into the boxcar as pistons, valves, and wheels rumbled over the steel tracks, rushing through the salted breeze from the shore.
A gust of wind caught Marco’s hat, and he leaned outside the boxcar, watching the hat rise with gunmetal steam to the Spanish moon cast over the Gulf of Cadiz. The train horn blasted through the night, rolling with black waves across the moonlit sea to Morocco. Raul leaned against cargo boxes, counting the stolen coins from abuelo’s kite shop.
Upon arrival, Marco shadowed Raul through the bustling plazas, taverns, and brothels. He lingered outside the cafes while men, women, and children swarmed the streets of Madrid in mobs,, chanting, “One State, One Country, One Chief! Francisco Franco, Franco, Franco!”
Soldiers shouted from the Plaza Mayor, red and yellow flags unfurling from the balustrades, and days later Marco stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Raul in the roaring grandstands of Las Ventas. “Over twenty thousand seats and the fiercest bullfighting you’ll ever see,” Raul said, shaking his fist in the arena. The crowd roared. Boots stomped against the muddy floorboards as if their soles were chanting for death.
“Madrid,” Marco said. “Capital of the Setting Sun.”
“Yes, my cousin.” Raul laughed, gripping Marco’s collarbone. “Our blood runs through these streets.”
“That’s true,” Marco said. “I suppose.”
German warplanes screeched across the sky as his words faded into the ring, where the wounded bull lunged at a lancer on horseback. The beast stumbled along the querencia, leaning into the walls, drunk from loss of blood. The packed arena whistled, jeered, roared, and floorboards cracked when the matador stepped inside the ring with cape and sword. Spectators all across Europe crowned him Cortez de la Rosa—Franco’s Spanish Rose—and tales of his spine-chilling estocadas whipped like flames across the countryside.
Merchants, farmers, and fishermen flooded the Seville and Ronda bullrings to catch a glimpse of Cortez and his flailing red cape. Marco listened to their stories while mending broken kites in abuelo’s workshop, and at noon, he tilled the fields until sunset, imagining his own set of picadors lancing a prized bull, and how his three banderilleros would plunge their barbed sticks into the beast’s lean muscle. That’s when the tines of Marco’s spading-fork would meld into a matador’s steel sword. He would pierce the garden soil as if it were the thick hide of the bull—stabbing straight through the aorta as the red sun emblazoned the beast with Spanish blood.
And now, Marco watched Cortez approach the wounded bull, circling like a predator. “La Rosa Muerte!” Raul shouted. His voice dissolved into the battering grandstands of Las Ventas, where far below, the bull snorted blood, staggering on buckled hooves. Cortez halted in his tracks. He stared down his prey, summoning the arena to silence. The crowd hushed, and somewhere, a kestrel shrieked from the East. Slowly, the matador raised the wooden dowel, locking the audience into place. Cortez clicked the eternal clock and seized all motion. The sun froze over, and the moon killed tide.
Then—as if the matador could no longer suspend the grinding forces of space and time—his red cape unraveled and the laws of nature spilled into order. Toro! His voice snapped, and the world cracked open. The bull lowered its horns, charged at Cortez, and then, in a red flash, the beast vanished and reappeared lifeless in the billows of dirt and dust. A dark, crimson pool of blood drained out of the animal’s ribcage as lancers cleaned the matador’s sword, and he bowed in the tamed arena, over the carcass of the dead bull, twitching beneath the red light of the setting sun, like a horse galloping away from its stable. Marco reached for his hat but remembered he lost it a long time ago.
“Bravo,” Raul clapped. “A quick, clean death.” Only Marco no longer heard his cousin, nor could he hear the applause ringing around the arena. Instead, he watched the slaughtered bull, hatless, and his mind drifted up to the Spanish moon, casting shadows over abuelo’s empty workshop. Marco watched the frayed bridles on the bench, splintered spines on the table, cracked spools in the cabinets, and outside the window, across the fields far beyond Madrid, these city lights, and the bullfighting arena, something else rose entirely. Above is a kite, clouds, nothing else.