The Bullfighter

He was an adult and he was dying. He had not had a physical since he left his parents’ home two decades before. Cancer knows where it can live undisturbed; it moved into his esophagus.

He moved back in with his parents shortly after the diagnosis. While there, he spent his days on the couch in the windowless room in the basement. In the dim, he tried to escape the passing of the days by not acknowledging their existence. He didn’t want to be reminded of the life he used to have, the things he could no longer do. He did crave sunlight and brightness, though.

On the couch, he read and read, losing himself in books that he should have read in high school, but didn’t.

He read The Sun Also Rises and decided that he wanted to see a bullfight in Spain. He admired the strength and bravery of the bullfighters as they danced with death.

He, too, was dancing with death.

Within months, the cancer ravaged his body. Visiting friends searched his gaunt face for remnants of who he used to be.

He lost so much weight and muscle that he walked with a walker. He inched his way across the floor to the bathroom, sometimes not making it. His father would clean up, never complaining, never saying a thing.

His father wanted to take him to Spain but couldn’t afford it. He bought a projector and a large screen for the basement, so they could watch life-size bullfights on YouTube together.

They watched one bullfight, and the son said, “Can we please stop watching this?” His father stopped the video. The son rolled over and faced the back of the couch. The father sat on the edge beside him and ran his fingers through his son’s hair; something he couldn’t remember ever doing.

“What’s wrong?” his father asked. “You didn’t like the video?”

“I am not the bullfighter,” the son said, turning around to face his father. “When that bull’s heavy head dropped to the dirt after he was stabbed with the last banderilla, I knew that was me. I am the bull, not the matador. I’m dying.”

The father awkwardly wrapped his arms around his son. They sat there in the dim; they sat there in the silence. They did not move. It was as if they were waiting for something, but neither knew what.

Then the son spoke: “Did you know that sometimes, if a bull fights gallantly, they pardon him? They let him live?”

The father nodded and kissed the top of his son’s head. “It’s okay if you’re tired,” he said. “It’s not a fair fight.”

Jason Fisk lives and writes in the suburbs of Chicago. He has worked in a psychiatric unit, labored in a cabinet factory, and mixed cement for a bricklayer. He was born in Ohio, raised in Minnesota, and has spent the last few decades in the Chicago area. His website:

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1 Response to The Bullfighter

  1. L.K. Latham says:

    Very well done! I had to sniff back the tears.

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