Science Fiction & Fantasy

REENTRY by Peter Cawdron

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Fiction

To See Pedro Infante

Love & Other Poisons

This story also appears in the author's recent collection, LOVE & OTHER POISONS, which is available now from Innsmouth Free Press.

“Pedro Infante has died!” someone yelled. “His plane went down in Yucatán! They said it on the radio!”

Cecilia stood by the window, a ream of paper in her hands, and her soul flew out of her body.

• • • •

Cecilia met Pedro the previous spring, at the offices of Lic. Luis Barragán.

She was pretty and the fastest typist on her floor. She also exuded an air of superiority which kept the other secretaries far from her and made the young men quiver.

Despite resembling a delectable sphinx, Cecilia grew up in a grey vecindad where the women had catfights next to the lavaderos while their laundry flapped in the wind. The men came home late, reeking of booze. Children with dirty fingernails stared at passers-by while their older siblings picked a few pockets and went to play at the billiards.

Everyone lived in one-bedroom apartments, no matter the size of the family. Six, five, even eight kids piled in these tiny abodes and had to watch as their parents fucked or fought or did anything at all.

Cecilia averted her eyes and leafed through movie magazines, pasting pictures of her favourite stars on the wall, hiding the mould and the cracks dotting the worn plaster. Her desire to flee this miserable abode manifested in the odd ability to flow from her body and into the body of another. It first happened in high school when her essence spilled into a boy she fancied, but was too afraid to approach. Cecilia often slipped out of herself as she rode the tram, hair pinned up, so shiny it seemed to be lacquered, looking straight ahead while the teenage neighbours tried to pinch her buttocks.

On her way back home, Cecilia would wait for the tram and stare at the large billboard across the street which showed impossible worlds she could never reach. Worlds where women wore pearls at dinner or rode shiny new cars. While she stared at the ads, she breathed one, two, three times and lost herself in someone else’s flesh for a few minutes until the sound of the approaching tram pulled her back into her body and she boarded the vehicle.

The day she met Pedro Infante they had just changed the billboard. A model, nylon-encased legs crossed together, advertised stockings. Sheer beauty, the display type exclaimed.

Cecilia glanced at the ad, then marched into Barragán’s office together with the wave of fellow stenographers, clerks, and assorted employees.

Barragán’s office was very large, with heavy wooden furniture polished bright, many typewriters neatly arranged upon rows of prim desks and an air of luxury that Cecilia had never seen except in the movie theatre. Her father worked at the local tortilleria and came home covered in flour with his white cap still on his head. No desks nor ties for him.

Cecilia typed all morning. By lunchtime, she sat perched very straight on her chair, wearing the nicely tailored clothes her mother — a brown little seamstress of scant physical attractiveness — copied for her. She always made a point to watch her posture, even when it was her lunchtime and she was leafing through a magazine and eating an apple. Unlike the other girls who went to eat tacos at the corner stand, their fingers coated with grease as they ate and laughed, Cecilia did not patronize the street sellers. It seemed very déclassé — she had picked this word from the magazines — to eat this way. To laugh so loud. To look so impudently at men as they walked by and whistled at the young women in their nylons and slit skirts.

Cecilia read and ate at her desk while the office remained empty and quiet during the lunch hour. Barragán walked in — she recognized him by his heavy steps — and sweeping past her desk, called for her.

“Cecilia, bring your notepad,” he said.

Cecilia raised her head and saw that her boss was not alone: Pedro Infante accompanied him. He looked better than in the movies, if that was possible. He had a trimmed little moustache and a dashing white smile, which he flashed at her as she rose like a somnambulist and clutching her notebook with both hands followed them.

Barragán sat behind his desk, grumbling about something. He picked the receiver, his fat fingers pulling the dial.

“Hi. I’m Pedro,” he said, extending his hand. “What’s your name?”

“Cecilia,” she muttered.

“Been working here long?” he asked.

“Two years.”

“How you like it?”

“It’s fine.”

“Pedro, take a seat,” Barragán said, hanging up. “Cecilia, take note.”

She bowed her head and began to scribble. Fifteen minutes later she was dismissed and managed to make it back to her desk where she slowly sat down and stared at the typewriter.

Pedro exited the office, smiling at her.

• • • •

That evening she went to the movies with Federico. He worked as a clerk in another office two floors beneath Cecilia. Bland and insipid, wearing thick glasses and with his hair combed back, he was, nevertheless, the most promising suitor Cecilia had managed to attract. Oh, there were plenty of young men willing to leer and chat with her, but Cecilia considered herself a serious girl and behaved in an almost militaristic way when it came to her dates. Even Federico, who’d taken her out half a dozen times, had not earned anything more than an impersonal hug.

Despite her distaste for public displays of affection and her contempt for the girls who let themselves be smooched and fondled in the cinema, Cecilia, entranced by the gigantic black and white image of Pedro Infante streaming from the projector, found her hands moving, like spiders, towards Federico.

She closed her eyes and swooped far, slipping into Pedro Infante’s skin.

She sat there, nestled cozy in a corner of his mind, a half-empty glass of whiskey in his hands. She rubbed her thumb against the smooth, cool glass.

In the movie theatre, Federico was shocked to discover the young woman touching his leg, but he decided not to question this sudden change and rubbed back, his hands searching beneath Cecilia’s skirts while she stared at the movie screen, mouth slightly ajar.

Later, as she lay in the bed she shared with two sisters, Cecilia stared at the ceiling, mouthing dialogue from the movie she’d just watched. She slipped once more into Pedro’s body, into his sleeping shell, and wrapped herself snug inside him.

• • • •

The day Pedro Infante returned to the office Cecilia took special care with her dress and makeup, dressing in the tightest, shortest skirt she had and donning a pair of black heels that made her tower over every woman in the packed trolley.

As lunchtime approached, Cecilia’s nervousness mounted. She slipped out of her body half a dozen times and into the body of the elevator operator, trying to see if Pedro was coming. When she finally spotted him, she hurried back to her body.

Cecilia sat still, fingertips pressed against the edge of the desk, trying to slow her breathing. Pedro stopped, peering down at her.

“Hi,” he said. “I was wondering if Mr. Barragán is in.”

“He is,” she replied. “Do you want me to announce you?”

She stretched a hand towards the telephone, fingers grazing the disc.

“You know what,” he said leaning against her chair with a mischievous smirk, “why don’t we run away for a bit?”

Cecilia looked at him in confusion. “Let’s have lunch,” he said. “I hate having lunch with Barragán and if I walk in right now, he’s going to make me go eat with him. I’d much rather eat with you. What do you say?”

• • • •

Cecilia saw some of the secretaries clustered by a window. When she walked by, they grinned at her, white teeth; the canines of cannibals. She slipped into one of their bodies to hear what they were whispering about and was rewarded with rude words about herself.

Went off with him just like that.

Slut.

Irritated, Cecilia forced the cow that had just spoken to bump into a desk, bruising her shin.

Cecilia typed invoices in triplicate. The carbon paper stained her fingers and she wiped them clean with a handkerchief, then ventured downstairs for a cigarette and stared at the model’s nylon-encased legs.

• • • •

“I heard you had a friend come in to visit you today,” Federico said.

It was the end of the day and Cecilia was trying to duck out without bumping into Federico. News of her lunch with Pedro Infante had spread through the whole building like wildfire and she was tired of the stares it garnered her.

“He was in the offices, yes,” she replied.

“So?”

“Nothing,” she said shrugging.

“Look, I don’t like you going out with other guys. I don’t care if it’s the guy handling the mail or a movie star. You get it?”

“You’re not my boyfriend.”

“I’d like to be your boyfriend.”

“Oh, go away,” she said.

He grabbed her arm and opened his mouth. Cecilia slipped into his skin, shut his mouth so quickly he bit his tongue, and made him shuffle back three steps.

She returned to her body and hurried away, heels clicking against the hot pavement.

• • • •

Halfway through dinner, while her mother was complaining that the lady from Number 3 had yet to pay for her daughter’s communion dress and how this meant there would be no new shoes for the girls, Cecilia excused herself from the table.

Cecilia locked herself in the bathroom. She sat on the floor and closed her eyes. She willed herself out, into the night sky. It was always a bit scary to exit her skin and move long distances because she feared she might get lost. But that evening she swooped far, slipping into Pedro Infante’s skin.

He was having dinner with his wife and the sight of the woman startled Cecilia, but then she recovered and swept into his wife’s body so she could get a good look at him. She brushed a crumb from her dress and tilted her head.

She’d never dared to talk to anyone when she stole into a body but the urge to speak was enormous. She licked her lips and opened her mouth to say something.

There was a loud knock on the door.

“I need to pee! Are you reading your magazines again?!” one of her sisters screeched.

Cecilia slammed the door open and shoved her sister aside.

• • • •

Awake, that night, she journeyed back to his house, to his wife’s body. She lay next to him as he slept, staring at Pedro for a long time. She dared, just for a few scant breaths, to hum one of the songs she’d heard him sing on film and then — exhausted by the effort, by the distance her soul must travel — returned to her own body and was late for work in the morning.

• • • •

He returned a month later. The model with the long legs and the nylons was gone. Instead, there was an ad for Tabu: The Forbidden Perfume, featuring a woman with long white gloves in an evening dress. Cecilia stood outside her office, waiting for the trolley, while her mind lay hidden inside a fat, rich woman who had come into Barragán’s that morning. The woman had just left and was buying jewellery at a shop nearby. Cecilia stared with interest at the emeralds and diamonds and gold.

The claxon made her jump back into her body. She blinked.

Pedro Infante, driving a Harley-Davidson, was right in front of her.

“Fancy seeing you here,” he said. “Let’s go for a ride.”

From the corner of her eye she could see Federico, who had also been waiting for the trolley just a few steps away from her. She rushed to sit behind Pedro. Federico looked very small in the rear view mirror and as the motorcycle sped away, he grew diminutive and disappeared.

The sky was indigo and the motorcycle was fast and for the first time in her life there was nowhere else she’d rather be and she hoped against hope that the credits would just begin to roll and it would fade to black, because there was no better finale and she did not want the moment tarnished.

• • • •

But it did end and he did not return.

The perfume ad disappeared. It was replaced for an ad for cleaning products. Then one about suitcases. Then it changed again.

Federico walked hand in hand with a secretary from one of the other floors.

Cecilia walked alone, with her file folders pressed against her chest, looking straight ahead.

And sometimes, late at night, she slipped into his wife’s body to look at him as he slept and she wanted to speak, words lodged deep in her throat. But speech, it seemed, was impossible. So she flew back into her body and promised herself she’d search in Barragán’s files and find his phone number and she’d phone in her own voice, in her own self, and ask, ”Remember me?”

The ad changed once again and she didn’t phone.

• • • •

One day in April Cecilia was walking towards her desk when a co-worker rushed into the office.

“Pedro Infante has died!” he yelled. “His plane went down in Yucatán! They said it on the radio!”

Cecilia stood by the window, a ream of paper in her hands, and her soul flew out of her body. It flew right into a young man who stood watching the conflagration fuelled by the twisted remains of a small plane and the debris of several houses. The stench of fish, fuel, and burning flesh bore into her nostrils.

Cecilia’s soul flew from the young man’s body and back to the office building where she stood by the window and she saw herself, the papers escaping from her hands and flying up in the air, taken by the breeze.

And she saw below the grey, dirty misery of the streets, heard the clanging and the din of the tram, the screams of street sellers and the wails of women. And there, below, she’d never again be able to gaze into the face of Pedro Infante.

Instead of swooping into her body Cecilia’s soul flees up, into the air, following that same breeze, unwilling to sit in her cage of muscle and bones. Up and up it flows, reaching towards the stars. Never to return while Cecilia’s vacant body tumbles out the window.

Love & Other Poisons

This story also appears in the author's recent collection, LOVE & OTHER POISONS, which is available now from Innsmouth Free Press.

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia by CG Cameron

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the critically-acclaimed author of Signal to Noise—winner of a Copper Cylinder Award, finalist of the British Fantasy, Locus, Sunburst and Aurora awards—and Certain Dark Things, selected as one of NPR’s best books of 2016. The Beautiful Ones, a novel of manners with a speculative element, is her third book. She won a World Fantasy Award for her work as an editor.