At last it was afternoon. The clear light rang down from the hills, filling the small square where the people gathered, watching. The man named Papa had been drinking the rum, the strong good rum of the hills, since daybreak, but he was a rugged man and he wobbled only a little as he took his seat. The woman called Marta had not drunk any of the rum, for which Papa had derided her, issuing the challenge that filled the new morning so many hours before and which was, now, to end in the hot, sunfilled square among the people who had gathered to witness this ending. But she was tired, the woman was, tired of the heat, and the flies, and the buzzing of the people, and the stench from Papa’s armpits as he braced his elbow on the table and reached for her hand. His big hand covered her small, woman’s hand and the people sighed. But the woman named Marta ignored them, concentrating on Papa’s bloodshot eyes, the red lines running through them like the blood of bulls and matadors on the sandy ground in the Plaza de Toros on hot Sunday afternoons.
They had each won a round. He had won the first one and she had won the second, taking him by surprise, pinning his broad wrist to the table in less than a minute so that his supporters cried that she had cheated. He had thundered deep in his chest, a dark thunder with some amusement in it, and waved them to silence. And now, after Papa had drunk yet more rum, they met again for the third and final match under the hot Cuban sun.
Their arms trembled, straining for movement and advantage. They stared into each other’s eyes, his blue ones in a web of blood and her brown ones, deeply brown under drooping lids. She had surprised him, forcing his arm back toward the checked tablecloth. Sweat gathered on their foreheads and dripped over their eyebrows, dripped into the blue eyes and the brown eyes, and slowly his arm started to move, so that the movement was like the trembling of the earth when the bulls begin to run, away at the edge of the village. Slowly, then, his arm rose toward the sky, the densely blue Cuban sky, until at last it surged upright once again but, at the end, he could not find the strength, the power, the will to counteract her last thrust, pure and strong, and his arm fell like a tree, like a felled mast, like the bull as it staggers and comes to its knees in the hot, clear sun of the Plaza de Toros.
The table moved.