The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnThe Horror!rnAt four-thirh- in the afternoon Papa’s onrnNorth Mesa Street in El Paso was preparingrnto open for business. Although thernplace looks like a student hangout and isrnlocated near the university, the clientelernis largely well-to-do professional menrnwho can easily afford the nine, twelve,rnand twenty-dollar cigars displayed in arnwide tall case to the right of the long barrnup front. The barman rolled the dingedrnaluminum kegs under the bar andrnhooked them into the beer taps while, atrnthe opposite end of the restaurant, thernfeatured rock band that evening carriedrnin its sound equipment from a pickuprntruck. The waiters in black pants andrnclean white shirts, finished with their setuprnand ready to go to work, sat across thernroom by the windows, smoking a lastrncigarette and talking. With them wasrnBobbv Ramirez, the El Paso ticket agentrnfor the Plaza Monumental de Toros inrnJuarez. The big man who questionedrnme at the door wasn’t admitting drinkersrnyet, not even his best lushes, but whenrnBobby saw me he stood from the tablernwhere he had been sitting with his backrnto the window and walked down alongrnthe bar and put his hand out.rn’Tou’re going over to the fight tomorrow?”rn”Of course. Are you?”rn”I don’t think so. It’s only a novillado.”rn”In the last corrida the best performancernwas by a novilkro.”rnBobby Ramirez smiled.rn”You didn’t like El Juli?”rn”I thought he seemed in a hurry to getrnthrough and get out of there.”rn”I heard he had a plane to catch tornMadrid.”rn”He is still in Mexico. But he isrnbooked ahead already for two years.”rn”That isn’t bad for 15 years old.”rnHe shrugged. “Anyway, there is no ElrnJuli fighting tomorrow.”rn”Well, we’ll see you on the 28th then.rnIt’s supposed to be a good fight.”rn”Or maybe tomorrow, who knows? Irnlike going for dinner afterward and drinkingrnin the bars in Juarez where no onernknows me. In El Paso I run into all therngu)’s I’ve had to throw out of this place.”rn”So you go across to Mexico for a littlernpeace and quiet.”rn”Sure. Last year I had a seat just abovernwhere the guys who got shot were sittingrnand just below the guys who killed them.rnThey were all packing guns and smokingrnbig cigars and I could tell something wasrnup. Going away from the ring I was tr’-rning to put some distance between mernand them when I got caught in therncrowd, and then the shoofing started.”rnThere was a thing I had been meaningrnto ask Bobby before, and now I rememberedrnit.rn”Have they been after you yet, in ElrnPaso?”rnHe looked surprised. “Have who beenrnafter me?”rn”The animal rights people. Theyrnmade life hell for the previous ticketrnagents over here.”rn”I haven’t heard a thing.” BobbyrnRamirez grinned. “Anyway, I haven’trnhad to throw any of them out.”rnI exchanged $66 for three tickets andrnwe shook hands again. A sign on the outsidernof Papa’s overlooking the little parkingrnlot read, “Ask not for whom the bellrntolls, it tolls for thee.” It seemed to say arnlot for the place that it didn’t attribute thernquote to Ernest Hemingway.rnWe did not look at the program nextrnday before the fight. “It’s a woman!” JimrnRauen exclaimed as the cuadrilla enteredrnthe ring and the three aspiringrnmatadors advanced across the sand withrntheir folded capes on their arms. Two ofrnthem were tall and dark-headed, the otherrnsmall and blonde with a figure that fulfilledrnthe gold-and-green brocaded suitrnin pleasing and arresting ways. Herrnname was Marbella Romero, billed asrn”la preciosa Torera de Mordia,” Moreliarnbeing an old colonial town in the southrnof Mexico. With her blonde hair, palernskin, and straight, almost severe profilernshe looked more Castilian than Mexican,rnbut what mattered now was whatrnshe was inside, not out, because in 30rnminutes she had to face a bull here in thernring with her cuadrilla, which is to sayrnwith help but still very much alone. Thernmen walking beside her were JosernGabriel and Javier Gutierrez, and therncombined age of all three of them wasrnprobably around 54 years.rnThe bulls were from the Piedras Negrasrnranch, wonderful gray animals propelledrnby plenty of muscle and spirft andrnver’ fast on their feet. They knocked atrnthe burladeros with their horns as thernmen drew in their capes from beforerntheir noses as they passed by, skidded onrnto a halt, and stood pawing the sandrnfiercely. Gabriel and Gutierrez didrnsome good cape work, but they shiftedrntheir feet too often as the bull chargedrnand led him too far, interrupting the fluidrnrhythm of the pass and repass until thernaction in its entiret)’ became awkwardrnand broken. Both Gabriel and Gutierrezrnreceived knocks from the bull a couplernof times without serious injury, whilerntheir families looked on calmly. A smallrnboy with his father in the first row of seatsrna short distance awav sat messing with arncob of sweet corn on a stick.rn”Look at that kid eating cob corn,” Irnremarked.rn”He’s not eating it,” Jim said. “He’srnputting it in his hair.”rnThe mules hauled away the carcass ofrnGutierrez’s first bull, the men smoothedrnthe sand over with rakes, and SenoritarnRomero finished her warm-up exercisesrnbehind the barrera. As her cuadrilla tookrntheir positions around the ring, shernspread her forearms on the red-paintedrnwood and rested her chin on her hands,rnwatching the door marked Toriles directiyrnacross the arena. The door openedrnand the bull charged through it, wearingrnthe Piedras Negras rosette on his shoulder.rnHe made one complete circuit ofrnthe ring, hitting at the burladeros with hisrnhorn, reversed direction, and chargedrnagain with a momentum that carriedrnhim over the barrero and the callejon behindrnit, almost on top of the boy with therncorn cob and his father. The bull’s frontrnhooves struck the concrete wall just be-rnSEPTEMBER 1998/49rnrnrn