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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


40. [Plate 77]
The Picadors' Club

Say what you will about being a matador, it's a blue-collar profession. One sweats, to begin with. Also, the job is performed afoot, rather than mounted. There's a great deal of danger involved, and that too is a hallmark of the laboring class. Finally, there's the slaughter of the bull at the end. One might as well be a common butcher!

No, no, matadors are scarce better than those alley-running louts in Pamplona.

The picador, on the other hand, is a profession for aristocrats. One rides high above the danger on a noble steed. One jabs at the great animal with a long lance, drawing blood, and if the brute turns nasty, why, one's friends are there to distract him and one's horse to take the brunt of his anger. Finally, one does not slaughter — one antagonizes! One provokes! One enrages! It is exactly what the ruling class does best.

As may well be imagined, the Picadors' Club is the most exclusive organization in all Madrid. Here gather the cream of society to relive past triumphs, argue the merits of various lance-making firms, and deplore the sad state to which the younger generation has brought their noble calling.

Occasionally, on a Saturday night when drink has been flowing and emotions run high, there will be an argument over technique, and then there is no recourse but to bring out the carpet bull.

The carpet bull is a primitive sausage of wool upholstered with an old rug with horns to one end, and handles underneath. A manservant operates it, charging and feinting, in imitation of a real bull.

Meanwhile, two picadors, mounted upon the shoulders of friends, will demonstrate their prowess as of old, and dazzle the onlookers with skill such as has not been seen in the public arena for decades.

It is the most genteel and refined entertainment to be found anywhere in Spain.

One gets old, of course. Just last Saturday, Don Ricardo carelessly ran his spear through the eye and into the brain of his valet, killing the poor bugger instantly.

It was bad form, but Don Ricardo, being half-blind and afflicted with the palsy, had to be forgiven. He wasn't even aware at first that the tragedy had occurred. When he was told, great was his horror and chagrin. His face turned pale and his eyes bugged out. "Oh, bloody hell!" he cried. "Not again?"


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This is the 40th of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

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