It’s that time of year again, and I have a new anthology to share with you. This one is published by the wonderful Storm Moon Press and edited by Salome Wilde and it’s full to the brim with stories about and around Shakespeare that highlights queer relationships, in whichever form.
My own story, Smoke Signals, follows a young actress into her gender-bending fantasies, brought on by playing Viola and Cesario in Twelfth Night. They are fuelled by the appearance of her colleague Harry, who rather enjoys this different version of her.
It’s quite honestly one of my favourite stories I’ve ever written and I’m really excited to share an excerpt with you!
“Viola,” I say to the face in the mirror. But Cesario smiles back at me.
I run my fingers over my chest—my breasts bound tightly, squashed against my ribs. Every night I come home with deep pressure marks that cut into my skin. It’s worth it, though. The shirt fits, running straight down my chest; I feel neither hills nor valleys, neither curves nor soft places. I square my jaw and tense the muscles behind my cheek-bones, which takes away the last softness in my face.
Cesario is the personal assistant of a media mogul desperately in love with a fashion model: Olivia. How I loathe modern productions, so desperate to draw attention, to prove that Shakespeare is more than wigs and tights under funny trousers. The dialogue remains intact, for the most part, beautiful and flowing, but I am embarrassed by the heavy-handed hints toward glass ceilings that would make a woman dress up as a man to become a successful businessman’s protégé. Secretly, very secretly, I may be grateful I am not wearing a silly page’s outfit with a long feather on a fluffy hat, but I miss the fairy tale, the unencumbered lightness of the play. Why make something serious that was always meant to amuse and entertain?
No, mine is this beard, the jeans, the waist-coat, and the straight, hard chest I can run my fingers over. Mine is the serious look of a young urban professional, slick and well-versed in the language of hair products and a dab of concealer under the eye to hide a night of debauchery. He wears narrow ties with the occasional clip; he shops in outlet centers to get hold of the fashion he couldn’t afford in mainstream boutiques. He doesn’t look like a Cesario—he looks like a Dylan or maybe a Riley. He is a man who enjoys playing up a certain hint of metrosexual androgyny.
I touch my chest, slip my finger under the blazer and down over my waistcoat.
The cloth bands wrapped around my chest numb the sensations and it is almost—almost—as though I am touching a stranger. It still feels good; maybe that’s why it feels good. I pop open the buttons of his waistcoat; my fingers slip over my stomach, now covered only in expensive, high-thread-count cotton. I don’t open it, conscious of being in semi-public, but I watch my hand linger. I spread my fingers in a way I’ve seen men do. Immediately, the touch seems to lose any feminine quality. Of course, my triumphant smile ruins the moment. I take care to keep my cheeks tight when I smile again. Better.
There is a tingling between my legs when I watch the transformation reach all but perfection. I have tried to convince myself that this is vanity.
Finally, my index finger brushes the waistline of my jeans. They fit snugly, and I know better than to open them. Still, eyes fixed upon my reflection, I let my hand slip inside. I grab my crotch and re-adjust the bulge, and then square my shoulders and exhale shallowly.
It doesn’t feel right; how could it? It is just a sock stuffed with wool, but it rests in my briefs, snaking along my groin. Cesario is well-built, and just for a moment it doesn’t matter that it is wool and fabric; I feel the power in the gesture. I squeeze again, imagine it might give me pleasure, imagine holding it, touching it, pumping it hard to all the wrong images in my head, until a white spray of come lands on my expensive shirt. For a heartbeat even, no longer, I imagine sliding my fingers into a lover’s hair, kneeling at my feet, taking my cock deep into her or his mouth. Then I snap to. I’m blushing a little, and immediately I am not believable anymore: a woman
dressed up as a dude. There’s Viola.