Cesario, or What He Will
I stand before the altar, watching the vision that is Lady Viola progress towards me. She is perfection incarnate—soft, airy, undeniably feminine in her form-fitting bodice. Her white décolletage blooms from her low neckline, unambiguously declaring her sex to any remaining disbelievers. Lace spills down her back, concealing the shorn hair that had won her a place in my service. A few artful curls tremble at her temple, and I think of the tumbled mop that had just brushed Cesario’s—no, Viola’s—velvet collar.
Her legs, too, are well veiled. Yards of fine fabrics, pearl pricked chiffons and silks, bell from her waist, and I wonder, a little wildly, if some new transformation has come over her—if she is masking a mermaid tail or a pair of hooves underneath the dense explosion of fibers and gems.
The first transformation, Cesario to Viola, was such a shock. I doubt that a sudden revelation of octopus tentacles could confound me further.
I wish I could see her legs. Men’s hose were invented for legs such as hers. The way her lithe, narrow muscles would tense beneath the thin silk, how they would release and turn, drawing a perfect curve so pleasing to the eye… Perhaps, if I could see her legs, I could believe that she is the same person who attended me throughout my trials, such as they were, with Olivia. In those days, I would deliver entire monologues to his—her—legs, too ashamed to meet the eyes of the one I wanted as I vowed my eternal love to another.
Viola stands before me, smiling with her lips closed. I imagine Cesario’s toothy grin and close my eyes as I reach for her hands.
After the initial confusion, I was, of course, delighted to realize that the object of my affections was a lady. Surely, I must have detected her feminine essence, her irrepressible womanly spirit beneath the fragile façade of her manliness. In a state of happy madness, I implored her to become her “master’s mistress.”
But Viola does not laugh with the heartiness and abandon of Cesario, and her legs do not look the same dangling helplessly from the same side of a horse as they did when Cesario thrust his heavily booted feet into their stirrups and gripped the horse’s wide, surging flank with his thighs.
My throat constricts.
I open my eyes. The ceremony is almost at its end. The priest is speaking, and Viola is making some reply, but I cannot hear her. Superimposed over her fine, steady alto is Cesario’s tenor, cracking unpredictably and veering haphazardly into other, more tender tones.
The priest gazes benevolently at me, and I focus on his words: “Will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?”
My lips part.
I stare at the woman before me. Her smile widens, and a hint of teeth gleams between her lips. Her hands, small for a man but large for a woman, feel familiar in my own. She shifts her weight, and a long, narrow calf emerges from the folds of her skirt.
“Cesario…” I breathe.
Sara Cleto is currently pursuing her PhD in English at the Ohio State University. She enjoys fairy tales, coffee, and obtaining more stamps on her passport. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Cabinet des Fees, Eternal Haunted Summer, Niteblade, and others.