by Shome Dasgupta
And the bulls shuffled their hooves and jerked their heads. There were jeans and boots and hats and ropes. And the bulls looked mad. Mad, mad, mad bulls and their dreams of freedom. They were made to throw us off their backs. They were made with angry eyes. They were made to snort and kick the dirt.
There was a strong smell of manure and dirt, and everything around us was thick and heavy.
Pepper looked on with a sad face.
It's not fair, Pepper said.
I said, Their anger fuels them.
They should be gone, Pepper said.
It didn't take her long to get into it. Pepper was real competitive and once she saw the first few rides not lasting longer than a couple of seconds, she wanted to give it a try.
Twelve seconds, Pepper said.
I said, You wish.
She looked at me.
I could last twelve seconds on any bull, Pepper said.
I said, I could only last four seconds with you.
Not even, Pepper said.
The next bull was Cap. He was in the stall, and the cowboy wrapped himself in rope and tied himself to the bull. He was wearing black jeans and a black hat and a black shirt. The crowd cheered when he got into the stall and onto the bull. They were all shouting his name.
It took him a while to get himself set on the bull. Cap wasn't gentle in the stall. There was snorting and shuffling around and jerks, and the rider had to untie himself and get off the bull and get back onto the bull and re-tie himself.
The arena was dirt, and there were these barrels all around the place and there were bales of hay. The bell sounded. The stall unlocked. Cap came out and the crowd started yelling.
Pepper clasped her hands.
The bull was empty and the rider was in the dirt. He kept rolling and rolling and as soon as the bull was empty, there were clowns. They started to dance around Cap, and the bull went this way and that.
Get them, Pepper said. Pepper said, Hit them.
She was rooting for Cap. She was always rooting for the bull. The bull was what Pepper knew.
I said, Toro.
The cowboy stood up and looked at the bull for a second before running to the side and jumping over the wall. He rubbed the side of his body and fixed his collar. The dirt in the arena had these trails and paths and we could tell where the bulls had been and where the riders had fallen.
Pepper was standing and clapping her hands, yelling the bull's name over and over again. The clowns were dancing, and the bull caught one of them in the back of the thigh. The clown flew in the air for a second and landed on his back. Another clown ran in front of Cap and another clown threw a rope around the bull and it caught around its neck. The crowd oooooed. Pepper cursed.
Break it, Pepper said.
They led the bull back into the stall, where it quietly stood as if nothing had happened. It was over and there was just a humming of voices. Two clowns helped the fallen clown get up and they helped him limp out of the arena. The crowd clapped their hands and cheered the clowns as they got out.
The bull won, Pepper said.
Her nipples were hard. The bull had made her hard. The dirt had made her hard. The clowns had made her mad. Her thighs were tense and flexed.
The next bull was Ace Kicker. Ace Kicker was more gentle in the stall than Cap. It didn't take long for the next rider to tie himself up on the bull. There was popcorn and butter and hot dogs and beer.
When I looked around the stands, I saw endless heads — they were all talking and smiling and shouting and laughing. This was the rodeo, and the bulls were winning, and the fans were still happy because there was plenty to see.
When the stall unlocked, I sneezed, and the rider was in the dirt, and the bull was empty. Before the clowns could jump out of the barrels, Ace Kicker was all over the cowboy, and there were legs and arms in the air. The clowns finally got out and they got the bull back into the stall, and it was all quiet. The rider didn't move.
Pepper was smiling.
She said, Kicker.
Pepper ran her hands through her hair and pushed her head back. Her eyes were closed. She crossed her legs and she crossed her legs. Pepper grunted.
There was a team of hospital people and they came out with a stretcher and they took about ten minutes to get the rider onto the stretcher. Everyone was clapping. The rider stuck out his hand and waved and gave a thumbs up, and the clapping and cheering got louder.
What are they cheering for, Pepper said.
I said, Alive.
What about the bull, Pepper said.
I looked at the stall, and the bull was facing the other way. Its head was down and gently moved back and forward and it shuffled its hooves.
I said, It'll be good.
That's a good bull, Pepper said.
I said, You wouldn't last a second.
Pepper was still confident.
I'm good with bulls, Pepper said.
She stuck her hand in a bag of popcorn and started chewing. We watched the next bull, and the next bull, and the next bull. We watched all the bulls for two something hours and no one lasted longer than seven seconds, and Pepper was aroused. She rubbed her buttered fingers against her thighs.
Good for the bulls, Pepper said.
She was drunk by then, and she was ready to go. We walked past the stalls and Pepper stopped and looked at one of them. The bull went up to Pepper, and Pepper ran her fingers between its eyes.
Stay strong, Pepper said.
The bull was gentle and nodded its head. Maybe Pepper could have lasted twelve seconds.