"Do not even think of it," he replied.
So how did he find himself walking out the door with her a week later, lying to his wife, Mary Carmen, that Cristina was only going to kill a small goat? How did he find himself fighting to keep the grin off his face when it was over and the crowd had insisted that his girl have the highest reward, both of the bull's ears and its tail? "She was perfect," he recalls. "She was harvested."
Her bedroom walls were soon covered with pictures of bulls and matadors and little cutouts she had scissored off matchboxes that demonstrated all of the traditional passes a torero could perform with his cape. Her mind flew far away from the stacks of receipts in her uncle's factory. "Bulls or office work," her uncle finally said. Bulls, uncle, bulls. She quit that job in 1988 and began attending the 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. school for bullfighting in Madrid, one of a score that have opened in the past 15 years around Spain as an alternative to the old route into the ring, a haphazard system of apprenticeship that often drove teenage boys to take mindless risks in village bullfights to catch someone's eye. As darkness fell, Cristina often rushed straight from the school to the plaza in her town for more practice. In the morning she jumped back into her sweats, straightened up the mess her parents and three sisters had left behind in their rush to work and school, and hit the road to jog two or three miles or work out with her dad at the firefighters' gymnasium. It became an all-day regimen. "The man is born with the physical faculties to fight bulls," she says. "The woman must acquire them. The bull gives gifts to no one—not even to a woman."
Her flourishes with the muleta impressed everyone. Her capework was solid. It was the kill that frustrated her most. It was not a lack of strength or desire to kill that plagued her; she felt no remorse, saw no blur in the line between her pet mongrel Estarky—who exuberantly played the role of the bull whenever she wanted to practice her capework—and the 50 bulls she is scheduled to put to death in 1992. It was a problem of technique, repetition, self-confidence, of standing in profile two yards from the bull's skull with the sword handle cocked back by her chin, drawing the animal's head down with a flicker of the muleta in her lowered left hand, forgetting the horns for one heartbeat and driving for the meat between the shoulder blades and down to the aorta, doing it right so many times that the motion became grooved, allowing her to kill consistently on the first or second try instead of the fourth or fifth.
"It is not a problem of sentiment," she says. "I consider the kill as just part of my job. The bulls would be killed by a gun in a slaughterhouse if they were not killed this way—is that any better? Here they die fighting, in front of hundreds or thousands of people. This is an animal born to take part in an art. This breed would not exist if not for bullfighting. When I am preparing myself to do it, I am thinking only of technique."
Still, there was something shocking about seeing a woman look down those 30 inches of steel and then bury them inside an animal so grand; something that permitted Cristina to pick and choose among promoters' offers for which aspiring male matadors would have fallen to their knees. She will earn about $10,000 this year—far from the $3 million that the handful of stars in her profession earn, but already enough to call bullfighting her job. But in exchange for that, each time she makes the slow opening procession into the plaza, wearing just the faintest makeup, wearing the dark blue traje de luces because it makes her look taller and thinner than her pink one, she has to brace herself for the whistles and catcalls.
"If you are as bad as the other women matadors I have seen," a man shouted one afternoon a few years ago in Valdilecha, where the bullring was formed by barricading off a square that has a fountain in the center, "I will throw you into the fountain!" Her father's temper flared; he offered the man a deal. "If Cristina is bad, you can throw her in the fountain," he said. "But if she is good, it is you who go in." The bet was made. The flowers and hats flew into the plaza when Cristina was done; the crowd demanded that she cut both ears. Without hesitating, the heckler climbed over the barricade, walked to the fountain and immersed himself.
"I would have to put plugs in my ears not to hear the comments," Cristina says. "Those who scream at me to go to the kitchen have to know that they strengthen me and motivate me to fight bulls with even more anger, with more desire to demonstrate that women, just as men, deserve an opportunity, and let us put an end to all those centuries of discrimination. I want to make the machistas eat their words. Sometimes I even throw the ears directly to them."
No, Antonio told himself when he watched her parading around the ring after such a moment, with one of the caps flung to her by the crowd cocked on her head, with a dozen flowers cradled in her arms; no, he couldn't have stopped her, any more than he could raise his hand and halt the wind. Telling her about the horn he had taken in the scrotum wouldn't have done it, nor would talking of the one he had taken deep in his arm, nor the one in his back that damaged the sciatic nerve, nor the one across his cheek that had made him wonder if people would think he was a Gypsy. Hell, the horns had given Antonio his nickname: Scar. Nor would sitting her down with the professor at school, Agapito (Serranito) Garc�a, whose career had been ended by a broken back, nor making her listen to another professor, Faustino (Inchausti) Tin�n, who had lost his leg when a bull tossed him onto his sword, nor taking her to the tomb of a graduate of the school, Jos� (Yiyo) Cubero, who took a horn in his back seven years ago that went straight through his heart and came out his chest.
She couldn't be dissuaded by fear or anguish, because the bull had become the antidote for every fear, every anguish—not the cause of it. "Every problem in your life goes away in front of a bull," Cristina explains. "Because this problem, the bull, is bigger than all other problems. Of course I have fear, but it is fear that I will fail the responsibility I have taken on in front of all those people—not fear of the bull. Death becomes unimportant when I am in front of him. I feel so good, it does not matter if he kills me."