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back to christmas

by Miracle Jones

Varina and Trist locked eyes under the weak light of the last lamppost on Pennsylvania Avenue. Trist nodded, gesturing with his forked beard, and they maneuvered their two blindfolded captives out of the oil lantern’s greasy fulgor, guiding their trusting charges from the safety of the sturdy cobblestones and down into the squelching backalley mudslick that cut through the stagnant sump where the Republic festered. Murder Bay.

The Inaugural Ball at the National Theater was still going full roar. That song, that tarnal song—“OH WHO HAS HEARD THE GREAT COMMOTION MOTION MOTION ALL THE COUNTRY THROUGH”—boomed from every groggery and blind tiger like the chugging train that had brought the new president-elect to town that morning. Debt crisis-inducing levels of hard cider were being guzzled, gargled, and waterfalled over delirious grey heads and down between patriotic breasts. Bilious evidence of this celebratory excess steamed in puddles, returned by staggering plug uglies all along the promenade. 

“TIS THE BALL A-ROLLING ON FOR TIPPECANOE AND TYLER TOO!” shouted a trio of drunken men with linked arms who were all wearing log-cabin shaped papier mache hats, dressed ankle to dickey in the obligatory blue and buff. Varina and Trist kept these corned rubes from plowing right over Carter Henry and Mary Todd—who may have willingly blindfolded themselves for sport and “to see the elephant” but who had not consented to being trampled. With their eyes obscured, they were as clueless and unsteady as the trio of chanting sots—however, unlike these temporary Washingtonians, they were still sober enough to plow straight furrows. 

“How is anyone bell-fired enough to cut shines about that twisted old corpse?” marveled Carter Henry as the singing men passed. “These Yankee Jonathans are riled enough to wake snakes. Don’t they know they’ve all been honey-fuggled?”

“The General is your cousin, ain’t he?” asked Mary Todd, giggling. “The new man?”

“My cousin twice removed. And anyway, the new man’s a Whig, not a proper Democrat like a true Harrison. I’m sure I didn’t vote for him.”

Varina and Trist looked at each other knowingly. Trist laid a finger aside his nose and Varina returned the gesture. Our man!

“Never mind about politics,” said Mary Todd, sensing secret communication in the sudden quiet. “Wherever are you REALLY taking us, Mr. Trist? I am all-overish excited. I feel it in my button. There is magnetism down my backside and butterflies in my nethers as a consequence of what has been pledged.”

“Be patient,” said Varina. “You have always been one of Mrs. Trollope’s lissome theater sluts when it comes to handsome company, Mary Todd. A g’hal about town ever! Remain pliant!”

“It’s not the fulsome faces that I care about, Varina dear. That’s not why a g’hal tolerates a b’hoy.”

Mary Todd held out her hand for Varina to squeeze, waggling her fingers. Varina did so, grabbing the tiny hand as offered and then shaking Mary Todd’s whole arm like bedlinens snatched fresh from the line. Mary Todd laughed, throwing her blindfolded head back, showing her gleaming teeth. These two belles salopes that Trist had suborned into his plans were really very young, he thought, despite the full flower of their womanhood and despite their cynical ways. They had many tumbles to go in life; tumbles that might yet bring great changes.

Trist, however, was done changing. He knew who he was and he knew what he wanted—particularly on this sleeting night in the winter swamp.

“In fact, Miss Todd, we are here already,” said Trist. “You may remove your blinders, my young horses.”

Mary Todd squealed and did as she was bidden. Carter Henry had some trouble with the knot at his crown, but Varina helped him slide the scarf over his head. He rubbed his eyes, blinking out the stars.

“Why this is just a general grocery—rough and crude!” said Carter Henry, frowning at the squat grey building. “Why all the Freemasonry, Trist?”

“This modest grocery has a secret provenance, like any heroic orphan in a two-penny novel,” said Trist. “The lot was established as a trust in the days of Jefferson, though the store itself is currently leased by an independent entrepreneur. Both the grocery workers and the more esoteric artists who trade here in the catacombs beneath have absquatulated for the night to various lesser cantinae and bagnios at my request. So the wonders of this cracker barrel belong only to us tonight. Now step lively, senoritas and senor. Sigame, por favor!”

“That is the Spanish language,” said Varina. “Mr. Trist has lately been in Havana. He is an ambassador, you know. Speaks a dozen languages like a Vatican Jesuit.”

“Well,” said Trist. “Not quite a dozen.”

“Hang on, does that mean your name is truly Trist?” said Carter Henry, his mind momentarily clearing from the hogshead of pink champagne that the women had poured down his gullet while chewing his ears and teasing out promises. “The name Trist isn’t just some ponce’s shingle?”

“You mean a nom de soutenour?” asked Trist. “No, I am no mere procurer, young Mr. Harrison. At least not in the vulgar sense, as I suppose all politics is contractual degeneracy on some level. I’m sure Mr. Webster and Mr. Clay would agree. Now which one of these is the drafted key? This door is never usually locked, you see. There is usually someone here, day or night, protecting the assets.” 

Trist finally slotted the brass key into the grey lock and popped open the wooden door. Carter Henry slipped on the single step that raised the threshold from the mud, pinwheeling sideways and nearly braining himself, but he was propped up deftly by the two women who leaped to fortify his collapse. Righted, Carter Henry slipped into the wooden shack, followed by the others, but not before the three conspirators all shared a sub-rosa smile in his wake.

“Warm in here,” said Carter Henry, mastering his spins, finding a place to lean. “Yes, the name Trist does sound a bit familiar, now that I let the name dry on the hob.”

“Mr. Trist is married to Jefferson’s granddaughter,” said Varina, her eyes shining. “He worked as personal secretary for the great man himself at the very end. Lived with him, side by side.”

“And here I thought I was the biggest toad in this puddle,” said Carter Henry, with only passing bitterness. “That makes you Old Dominion royalty, don’t it Trist?”

“We are a long way gone from the days of Jefferson,” said Trist. “But it is true that I can see the hard stamp of his proud features minted in the coin of my own red-headed brood. It is consolation as the color bleaches from my own head and as the creases in my own face cut deep and dusty.”

“Oh fie,” said Varina. “You only wish you were as old and wise as all that.”

Trist scurried around the perimeter of the store, lighting candles and then finally re-locking the door, while Mary Todd, playing the insatiable dalcop, went right for the common crackers in the ancient barrel, helping herself to the wheel of cheese on the marble board set out beside it. Varina watched them all coldly from the shadows, a frame which favored her natural pallor.

“Pilot biscuits,” said Mary Todd, her mouth full. “Lovely.”

“I like a Cross cracker myself,” said Carter Henry. “But these aren’t stale yet, which is a surprise, given the general sorry state of tuck here in American Athens. Not that I care what I eat on a spree. So fess up Trist: how do you come by the deed to this hell? If you aren’t expecting a handout for the introduction”—and here his eyes drifted first to Varina and then to Mary Todd—“then what’s the real hypotenuse of your angle?” 

Carter Henry knew Varina by reputation and he knew Mary Todd not at all, though he knew she came from money and he knew she would be a true prize to any piratical member of the lower gentry with mercenary matrimonial intentions.  She was obviously deranged, however—stricken with a disfiguring lust that removed the chaste paralysis of higher judgement. Despite this essential insanity, he did not feel in peril while bookended by these two bitchfoxy jades. He took their warping amorousness as an obvious natural result of his own strong legs and wisp of beard. However, he wasn’t some hayrot-dizzy country cousin, either: he knew there must be some price for such sudden company, even if such a fee couldn’t be settled in portable property. If ready cash wasn’t expected, might he oughtn’t to expect blackmail? Or even daggers? 

“We’re all here for pleasure,” said Trist definitively, sensing Carter Henry’s suspicions. “But if you are intimating that I have some demoniac dual purpose yoked to the obvious carnal temptations laid out before you…”

Here Mary Todd curtsied and Varina gave the slightest nod, her tongue grazing her upper lip.

‘’…then I must confess that you are as prescient as any Washington mosquito avoiding the slap. You have been seduced. But you will be satisfied for it. I swear on my flame-headed children. I promise you this as full inheritor of the Jefferson hereditaments.”

Carter Harrison blinked at him, trying to follow.

“Any chance of an anti-fogmatic?” said Carter Henry, his eyes slipping to the high shelf, where bottles of spirit loomed over the easier-to-reach jars of candied fruit and milk sweets. “If you are going to speak in such long sentences, I shall need at least a thimbleful of stimulant. I am plumb bewildered.”

“Of course you are,” Trist said. “If you will but indulge me, I will treat you to all the physical wonders of this national seraglio, young Cousin Harrison, where all your curiosity will transmute to satisfaction. But first we must gather strength on the plateau of anticipation before summiting the crags of ecstasy. To truly illuminate my purposes, there is something I must show you. Ladies, would you help me entice the stag into the bower? We must descend before we soar.”

Mary Todd giggled, dusting the crackers from her long white palms and then crooking herself under Carter Henry’s arm. Varina took him by the hands, leading him forward with a long sultry look backward. They were lamia, thought Trist, forking his glistening beard with three fingers—swamp vampires! The beauty of these pale black-haired Southerners with their dark eyes and bruise-colored lips was so insistent and definitive that America ought to peg paper currency to it.


It was here at this very same nameless cracker barrel that Trist had first met Varina Howell. Was it really only late last Spring that it had seemed certain that, despite the Panic, Van Buren’s infernal machine would gin out another victory for the Democrats like a perfectly seedless cotton bale? Trist had recognized the man who had brought Varina to his hell, of course. Scars down both his cheeks like the runnels of tears—haunted eyes deeper than the bore of a muzzle-loading carabine à tige. But Varina was a woman of means brought here for the man’s convenience and discretion—not a working girl at all—which had immediately piqued Trist’s interest as a collector of salable secrets. The gentleman had paid for a room in the pumped-out catacombs for the full week, purchased from one of Trist’s flamboyant subcontractors (it was true that Trist was no common pimp). The arrangement between Varina and her beau was unusual. When the couple arrived, Trist had taken up his post in his secret study, listening intently through the system of Franklin Tubes and variable earhorns that were both his avocation (purloined leverage) and his specific delight (the bestial moans of otherwise prim women possessed by animal passion).

Listening to Varina fuck her famous suitor that night—her screams piercing through the more theatrical moans of the more seasoned athletes—Trist had been transfixed—enraptured!—twisted into ravagery. He normally had quite a high tolerance for the gush of such ecstasies, but her performance made him throw aside his inkpot, stylus, and blotting paper. He shucked out of his trousers as if they were covered in Alabama fire ants, put his cheek to the wall, and began to masturbate: his sinister hand grazing his own balls lightly while his dexter blurred with supple alacrity as he loaded his cannon (he was above all else an expert self-polluter). Varina received the pleasure of copulation as if being tortured. She begged, almost weeping, to be fucked more aggressively, to be cored like an apple, splashed like a grape. The wounded grunts from her partner revealed that he was not prepared for her prowess. She matched his howling snarl for snarl, and then came sudden silence broken only by her disappointed sigh of kittenish frustration. Her partner groaned—spent, withered, juiced like a Key lime. The famous gentleman left her, making his excuses, promising to return. She was polite, of course. Sensitive to his innate misery. She assured him that she would await his return while remaining discreet. Trist heard the man clomp down the hallway and then heard him pass by his hidden office and stumble up the stairs to the street. Trist returned his own three-quarters lobcock to his trousers, steadied himself with spirits, and knocked on her door.

“I am Mr. Nick,” he said when she cracked the door open to greet him. “The owner of this establishment. I hope I am not intruding.”

“One cannot expect true privacy in such a place, I suppose.” It was clear from her honeyed Mississippi accent that Varina was from aristocratic stock.

“Madam, I have come to offer my compliments. I always have an ear out for fresh talent and that was quite a show!” 

He loved the sting in her face as this imperious Southern blueblood realized she was being assumed to be a common Dixie doxy. She blushed, but she was defiant, opening the door wider, standing with her legs spread like Napoleon in a painting.

“So you are a connoisseur of bedroom enthusiasms?” she said. “What did you like about my performance specifically?” He had read her screams exactly right: she was more curious than appalled by his écoute clandestine. Indeed, her fair features revealed that her vascular blood still pumped hotly to her lobes of Eros. Her dark eyes probed him, demanding that he reveal himself.
“Might I attend for a moment?” he asked. “Excuse my cheek, but you are the jammiest bit of jam and I am half-rats with ardor. If you are not quite finished, I would love to bear witness to your moment of glory. I assume you know yourself well enough to achieve desistance from your animal suffering? If not, perhaps I might offer verbal instruction. Even professionals can benefit from new tutelage and expert retraining.” 

He couldn’t help himself. His addiction—and the locus of his erotic center—was the way people sounded when being fucked into stupor. Men with women, women with women, men with men (rare in this particular hell, but not unheard of), women with buttered bedposts. He was a quiet man by nature, eerily silent at his center, and screams of pleasure—taxonomied—ripped through his glaciers and gave lightning to his brain. He was particularly interested in the contrast when stature’s social propriety revealed the verbal perversity just below the surface if overwhelmed by force or pleasure. The contrast destabilized him, sending him reeling with unresolved existential agitation. And here was a pristine example to plunder and despoil for the balance of a week. The table of manners had been kicked over and the splintered legs could be used as lashing posts to make a tannery of hot flesh.   

She looked around, but there was no place to hide here. She smiled at him, a hint of rage infecting her shining eyes. She spread her legs even further, turning her bare feet outward, her hem rising to the swell of her ridge. Her legs were whiter than any dirty snow in Washington; her hair as dark as any bottle of grenache in a libertine’s basement.

“I am overwhelmed,” he said.

“Well, what overwhelms me, sir, is power,” she said, bringing her legs closer together which had the effect of lowering her skirt. “Specifically political power. What are your politics, Mr. Nick? Surely you must know the man who has just visited me. You must know his reputation, at least. How can you possibly hope to compete?”

“I’m a married man,” he said. “Happily married. I never partake. I only listen and watch as I collect the rents from the scoundrels who rent my rooms. As I have explained, I am the top of this pyramid.” He gestured to the store up above. “With respect to what you are offering, I only wish to bear witness to the fruits of what this better man has planted.”

“Then listen and watch,” she said, backing away from the door to return to the bed. She sat down, fixing him with her eyes. She lifted her skirts over her head, slid her inexpressibles down her long smooth legs, and lay down. She breathed heavily. Spots of red came to her pale cheeks and full lips. It was sordid and sad, just as he liked it. He entered the room fully and closed the door behind him.  It was rare for him to get so personally involved and risk himself, but he had no choice here. He could not look away. 

She had caught yet another powerful admirer. He hated to be ensnared so easily. How could he possibly turn this to his advantage? Perhaps if there was no way to get the better of her, perhaps he had found something superior to a mere asset: perhaps he had found a co-conspirator.


It was always humid down here beneath the cracker barrel, and the night of General Harrison’s inauguration was no exception, despite the swirling frost outside. Carter Henry mopped his brow with the ruffles of his sleeve. Trist fumbled with a knob near the bottom of the stairs, igniting a spark that caused Mary Todd to squeal with delight. The spark snaked down the hallway, causing lanterns to burst to life in front of every room. Mary Todd and Carter Henry clapped. Varina had seen it all before. 

As they walked down the dank hallway, Trist revealed the theme of each stone cell. One room was a perfect representation of the famous elliptical salon in the dead center of the White House (“You’ll just have to take my word for it,” chuckled Trist). Another room was painted entirely in seafoam blue with waves along the walls and with windows like portholes in the side of a galleon. There was a real diving bell in one corner, and stuffed leviathans on every wall (“Formative years at sea often give gentleman their first unwholesome taste for the sodomy they later come to crave,” said Trist). One room was the exact twin of the upstairs parlor in the Wild Mustang, the most famous saloon in Independence, Missouri (“The empty prairies make lonely hearts ravenous,” said Trist). Another was a perfect mimicry of a New Orleans boudoir, complete with canopy bed and curtains that wreathed fake windows. The curtains were made of thicker, more luxurious velvet than most honest American women would ever crush to their bosoms in their entire lives (“We must replace the curtains once a year,” said Trist. “They become quite stained”). 

Along one side of the hallway, there was an enormous copper pipe riveted to the wall. Smaller pipes snaked into unseen corners. Holding hands, the four explorers followed the large pipe to its terminus beside the very last room.

“Not many basements in this blighted town,” said Carter Henry. “I imagine the pump here must run night and day.”

“Basements here do tend to flood,” said Trist. “In fact, the plumbing was here first. It was a federal waterworks. The store was built on top of it. It’s a good place to shelter the sins of the night, as long as you can suck out what won’t drain. No one suspects that such a humble cracker shack might be two-tiered and double faced.”

Another long grey key went into the polished lock on this last door. Trist turned the key gently, giving the lock the slightest pressure as the humidity down here tended to warp the wood. The door snapped open. Trist lit the candle on the small side table by the door inside with a phosphorus match. 

The furnishings in the room were spare. A thin circular mattress big enough for five people filled up most of the space. In one corner, on a Persian rug, there was a strange chair that was propped up on gears instead of legs. The entire back of the room was painted as if it were a massive open window looking out onto the guillotine of the Place de la Revolution from the Hôtel de Ville, the provisional seat of the French revolutionary government. In front of the painting of the mammoth guillotine, there was a lever protruding from the stone floor that was attached via rivets to the final length of copper pipe where it plunged underground.

“Voila,” said Trist.  “This room is a reproduction of Jefferson’s suite near the Tuilleries during the La Revolucion Francais. He was never in the de Ville, of course—he rented his rooms in the Hôtel de Langeac—so certain artistic liberties have been taken. But I think the effect is quite somptueux.”

“That’s the French language,” said Varina, walking slowly around the room and then spinning to the ground to collapse onto the mattress. Carter Henry only had eyes for the painting of the guillotine. He approached the scene slowly and then peered at the real lever beneath it, affixed to the thick snake of pipe that disappeared into the molding. The real lever seemed as if it might truly make the imaginary blade fall.

“What does this dingus do?” he asked. “Is it only decoration?”

“Ah, you have gone right to it,” said Trist. “Instinctively, you understand the moment.”

“We knew you would,” said Varina.

“That lever is this town’s greatest secret,” said Trist. “It is Thomas Jefferson’s L’Interrupteur de Merde.” 

“I do not speak French, Trist.”

“The name in English means the Shit Switch, my young scholar. Would you please close the door, Mary Todd? There’s no chance of us being interrupted, but enclosure increases intimacy, like the grave or the womb.”

Trist was closer to the door and could have shut it himself, but Mary Todd did as she was told with a flirty flounce. Carter Henry got the point. He was outnumbered here. He was decidedly not in charge.

“As I said, this pump house predates the cracker barrel,” said Trist. “As Washington has expanded outward, it has become advantageous to disguise the to and fro of the flowing waters—especially their clandestine verities. You won’t find any blueprints that prove it, but the plumbing from this cracker barrel is directly connected to the water supply of the White House itself. As a result of a series of ingenious architectural elisions by President Jefferson, its flow has never been fully sundered. If you push that lever all the way to the right, reversing the current, the sewage from this secret hell will flow directly into the drinking water of the president and his staff, merging with the intake.”

“What fun!” said Mary Todd. “A scandal!” 

“Good lord,” said Carter Henry. “To what end?”

“It is a weapon,” said Varina.

“It is a harmless jape,” said Trist. “Originally, it was a sort of accidental redundancy in the early schematics that Jefferson did not remove even after striking the aberration with his little red pen. Instead, the redundancy was built in secret and kept secret. He saw a powerful advantage in the ability to exert hidden influence on the waterworks of the chief executive. This secret remains a Jefferson family heirloom, protected as a sacred trust. Imagine what some foreign villain might accomplish with such knowledge! However, since we are all patriots here, I can tell you that throwing a little sewage into the shaving cup of the chief executive is not meant to be anything but a jolly tapdance to gently deflate the opponents of the Old Dominion. It is just a little tradition we have. Jefferson intended it as a way to signal when policies might be putrid and un-American. The idea is to fill the White House itself with a malicious miasma for a time in order to rub the executive’s nose in his dangerous plans. To train the man like a disobedient dog.”

“Won’t the stench of miasma spread the plague?” said Carter Henry. “Everyone knows that foul odors cause disease.”

“Do they?” said Mary Todd. “Oh no!”

“Ah, but the flow of sewage is only temporary,” said Trist. “The smell is spectral, the mere whiff of bad governance made manifest.”

“He’s not getting it,” said Varina. “You are being too sly.”

“Get what?” asked Carter Henry.

“Your cousin, the new man, wants to free the slaves,” said Varina, getting brutally to the point. “He does not own any people. Never has. He was not born to authority. He is a handpuppet for Interests. We mean to teach him a lesson.”

Carter Henry picked at his chin whiskers, suddenly uncomfortable. He looked at the closed door longingly.

“We do not care for the term ‘slave’ here, Miss Howell,” said Trist. “It has a negative feel in the mouth. We prefer the term familiar, which was the term that Mr. Jefferson liked to use when referring to one of his amalgamations by blood.”

“Slave, familiar, footstool!” huffed Varina Howell, the future Mrs. Jefferson Davis. “Surely the natural situation of inferiority precedes the artificial language used to describe the STATE of such. The Yankees use the term ‘worker.’ It’s all the same in the end. A dependent. A thrall.”

Trist cleared his throat, wincing at young Carter Henry’s discomfort, trying to read his man.

“It is an issue of self-governance at the local level,” said Mr. Trist. “Civilized people may disagree. It has been proven in a Philadelphia monograph that the nation’s treasure of helpful familiars—our people of color—flourish when their breeding is steered by wise and benevolent trustees of fruitful estates.”

“Oh fie, Mr. Trist!” said Varina, growing heated, unwilling to let him prevaricate. “You know as well I do that it is people of color who do the breeding of us. Conniving against us to bring us together for their own ends. Steering us into marriages that will reunite THEIR families at the cost of our happiness. We are becoming useless and it is our slaves—our ‘familiars,’ if you must—who are breeding us into decadence. And now we must manumit our property and risk our oblivion further? It won’t answer!”

She spit on the ground. “Confusion to the enemies of the Old Dominion,” she said.

“Be mindful of that very expensive rug,” said Trist.

“I’ve done worse on better rugs,” said Varina.

“I came here for larks,” said Mary Todd. “Not for venom. Ain’t you two had enough of politics for one night?”

“Imagine sweet Mary Todd yoked to a plow,” said Varina.  “Imagine her stooping to pluck a vegetable from the ground. That’s what the new man—your cousin—wants.”

“Anyway, abolition is not the primary reason why we think President Harrison deserves to have his first days in office stink of the refuse of Washington’s prostitutes,” said Mr. Trist, trying to calm the situation down. “No, the very nature of the Whig Party stands athwart the very path of freedom. These Whigs will cause us to risk everything for their dream of a central bank. The entire unity of the original Constitutional compact is at stake. The divisive arrogance of these Yankee upstarts could tear us apart. Never trust anyone who wants to hold your money for you.” 

Trist didn’t say anything about Jefferson’s experiments with ether and gases. He did not elaborate upon Jefferson’s discoveries on the epidemiology of egesta and the spread of cholera. He didn’t mention Jefferson’s unpublished papers on civic waste disposal; on the hidden harm of ingesting standing water in captive municipalities. As a farmer, Jefferson had bought and sold urban shit at a premium, and he had used it well: not just to feed his crops, but as a method for understanding the entire fragile human organism. Jefferson had proved to himself, at least, that the ingestion of even small amounts of feces could lead directly to choleric fever. Unlike Franklin, Jefferson preferred to use his discoveries for his own ends. L’Interrupteur de Merde had been built as a hidden failsafe for a White House that needed rails and governors beyond twistable laws. But until today there had never been quite such a threat to the traditions of the South as this new political party. Jefferson had been quite clear about what had to be done in such an event. And he was equally specific about who must drop the blade.

“Here’s the nut,” said Trist. “Jefferson stipulated that L’Interrupteur de Merde could only be used if the Constitution itself was in peril. Furthermore, as a devotee of human husbandry and the awesome wisdom of bloodlines, he also stipulated that the lever on the pipe might only be manipulated by a family relation of the President to whom the fetid contents of this waterworks would be delivered. He was very adamant about this. It must not be a tool of vengeance, but of stern love.”

Carter Henry slowly sat down on the mattress.

“A family relation like me,” said Carter Henry. “That’s why I’m here, ain’t it?”

“A true Harrison,” said Varina. “A Democrat.”

“A handsome hero,” said Mary Todd. “With such strong legs! Lawd!”

“It is a check and a balance,” said Trist.

“But I don’t want to hurt anyone,” said Carter Henry.

“Don’t you though?” cooed Varina. “Not even an exasperating flibbertigibbet like Mary Todd? Not even a domineering witch like me? Don’t you want to put thoughtless Southern girls with retrograde notions in their place?” 

Mary Todd giggled, throwing herself across Carter Henry’s lap and lingering, her mouth wide open and her eyes wide as if listening to faraway music. Carter Henry blushed, feeling himself stir. 

“We have to show these Whig upstarts that we cannot be cowed,” said Trist. “And yes, that means Westerners like you must begin to make alliances with Southerners like Miss Mary Todd and Miss Varina Howell. These are charming women of quality and you must get to know them better. They are aching for instruction. Their unfortunate Southern decadence must be mastered by Western discipline. It is the only way forward for the party and therefore for the country.”

“And what will truly happen if I pull that lever for you, Trist?” asked Carter Henry. “Tell me plain.”

“We will be ever so grateful,” said Varina. “We will gush with gratitude from every fillable hole.”

“I love a man who takes charge,” said Mary Todd. “Who does what he wants.”

“Maybe he doesn’t know about the Butcher’s Odyl,” said Varina to Trist. “Do young men in the West fight to wear the hangman’s hood like they do in Mississippi?”

“The ‘hwhat?” said Carter Henry.

“The magnetism of killers,” said Varina. “The priapism of the executioner.”

“I fucked a butcher’s boy once,” said Mary Todd. “Or twice.”

“I’m no killer,” said Carter Henry. 

“It’s just a legend anyway,” said Varina. “Just a Republican myth.”

“It’s no legend,” said Trist. “It’s a scientific phenomenon. Well-documented.”

“The Butcher’s Odyl?” said Carter Henry. “What legend?”

“The phenomenon comes from studies of the royal executioner under the French monarchy—and therefore the first high executioner of the French Republic,” said Trist. “A man named Charlie Sanson. Sanson loved Americans and he let Jefferson examine him. Sanson was very proud of what France had done, supplying us with money and men to defeat the English here. But what provoked Jefferson’s interest in Sanson was the fact that Sanson was trailed at all times by ten to fifteen young women who were hopelessly enamored of him for reasons that they couldn’t fully explain. They were downright obsessed, their affections for him rivalled only by their interest in that goat Mirabeau. It was something about his smell, they said. Jefferson wanted to know if the allure was hereditary. Killing was a family business for Sanson, but so was his genius for the marital arts. Sanson’s own father, also the royal executioner, had sixteen children. Do you know what Sanson said when Jefferson asked why he was so sought after by the women of Paris—women of high and low stature, virgins and also those in the high blossom of their full flower?”

Carter Henry shook his head, his eyes shining.

“Sanson’s own theory was that his odyl came from the fact that after a kill he was so stimulated that he could fuck for days. Days without cease, like a Bedlam lunatic, but without suffering from the stupor. Sanson told Jefferson that the women would line up to take their turn. He went after them one after another, the way a bear stands in a river and rips the heads off fish swimming upstream, stripping them down to their ragged bones and tossing them aside. Jefferson had to see this for himself. When Charlie Sanson cut off the head of King Louis, Jefferson spent the holiday afterward documenting Sanson’s appetites. Jefferson said that at the end of the holiday, one woman had to be put under strict doctor’s care as a result of friction wounds to her thighs and interior. Two women were committed to the Charenton asylum. The spree resulted in five pregnancies, two of which came to fruition. By Jefferson’s count, 49 women were bedded by Sanson during the bloody jubilee. He used the ice from his oysters and champagne to chill his testicles between romps. This does not count the intercourse he performed with his hands and mouth—nor does it include the intercourse he commanded that his attendants perform for his pleasure or any incidental intercourse from those merely watching the proceedings.”

“Oh, I do hope this will finally be the end of my long quest to finally find a man who can satisfy,” said Mary Todd. “I have always said he should be tall.”

“Do not be presumptuous, Mary Todd,” said Varina. “You do not want to end up in the hospital or madhouse.”

“That is all some pumpkins,” said Carter Henry, astonished, looking from the two eager young women to the painting of the guillotine. “Truly. But pulling this lever won’t hurt anyone. Right? So I wouldn’t therefore be a killer.”

“Surely President Harrison will outlive us all, twining his long white whiskers around his staff of office like a serpent climbs the apothecary’s caduceus,” said Trist. “And yet plenty will die under him, starving to death, hoarding their gold and seed corn as a result of his misguided policies. Don’t you want to send a miasma his way? Just to show him that even though he might be invested with the mystic trust of the general will, he still occupies the same terre vulgaire as the rest of us?”  

“49 women, you said?” said Carter Henry. “Did they not feel cheapened by being part of such a pack?”

“Some women are always on the lookout for a man possessed,” said Varina, her eyes darting to Mary Todd. Mary Todd’s eyes were now fixated on Carter Henry’s thighs, as if waiting for something to happen. 

Carter Henry’s hand grazed L’Interrupteur de Merde experimentally. It seemed to give him a charge. He let it go—but like a magnet, his hand returned to the top of the lever and gripped it, his knuckles whitening.

“So this will shoot shit water right into the White House,” said Carter Henry. “Just a little message from the real Americans to this pretender. And that’s all it will do. And no one will ever know it came from me?”

“I swear I just smelled the Odyl on him,” said Mary Todd. “The smell of iron and salt. It’s made me warm and tingly in my knees.” 

“He’s going to do it, Mary Todd, darling,” said Varina, patting her knee. “Be patient.”

Trist walked over to the strange chair on wheels in the corner. It was upholstered in glowing yellow velvet. He sat down in the chair (it creaked) and he crossed his feet at the baseboard that elevated his shoes from the ground. There were handles jutting out from the arms that could be rotated. He spun them in circles and they turned gears inside the wheels that caused the chair to roll forward. He reversed them and the chair moved backward.

“This was the chaise roulante of Georges Couthon, the scourge of Lyon, the second most feared man on the Committee of Public Safety after St. Just,” said Trist. “In my opinion, his role in the massacre at Lyon has been quite overstated. He was actually a very thoughtful man. His legs were frozen in his middle age, and so he was carried on the back of patriots until he liberated this brouette from the Countess d’Artois in the name of the people. He had the second worst death during the reaction, after Robespierre. They say he screamed for fifteen minutes straight as they affixed him to the board for the guillotine, his sclerotic tendons snapping and his brittle bones twisting apart before the blade separated his thoughtful brains from his broken body.”

Trist rotated the winches, folding his hands in his lap, rolling the chair closer to the bed.

“Please do be quiet now and let us enjoy ourselves without your prattle,” said Varina, winking at Trist before returning her level gaze to Carter Henry. 

Varina leaned into him and put her hands around his head, kissing him tenderly from below, bringing him down to her. His grip slackened on the lever but then returned. 

“Do it,” said Mary Todd, unshackling his belt and then sliding Carter Henry’s cock out of his pants while he kissed Varina. It was still soft. Mary Todd breathed hot air on the soft tip and then licked along the swelling ridge, smiling. Varina helped Mary Todd out of her party dress, unhooking the clasps, and then pulling it over her head while Mary Todd focused on Carter Henry’s soft dick. 

“Pull the lever and fuck us,” said Varina, sliding behind Carter Henry and then putting a hand around his throat. “Do it now, boy. Or we’ll cut your throat and fuck you instead.”

Carter Henry blinked. With a groan, Carter Henry leaned over—leaving his dick in Mary Todd’s tiny hands—and swung the lever all the way over to knock against the ground. Immediately, they could hear rattling in the pipes and a loud churning in the walls as the reservoir was released.

“Unnnnh,” said Carter Henry.

“Look!” said Mary Todd, cupping Carter Henry’s balls. His dick strained upward from her palms, reaching almost to his belly button, curving slightly like the ivory handle of a portmanteau. They all listened to the ping and whirr as the sewage whirlpooled violently in the copper main. The pipe shook violently, making the whole room vibrate.

“There must be some blockage,” said Trist. “It has been decades since the switch has been used, if ever.”

Carter Henry’s face was bright red. He was unsteady on his feet as Varina knelt down beside Mary Todd, marveling at the massive rush of bloodwind that billowed the mainsail of his fucksloop.

“It hurts,” said Carter Henry. “I’m so hard it hurts.”

Mary Todd hugged herself with joy, grinning, and then spit between her plump breasts to make them slippery. She rubbed them against his nozzle, grinning up at him with drool on her chin. Varina sneered at Carter Henry challengingly as Mary Todd made a goddamn mess of herself trying to fit his spit-soaked penis into every crevice of her round jaw.

“Pile on the agony, Cousin Harrison,” said Trist from his chair-on-wheels. “Peach what you want from these viperous sluts. Don’t let them bully you. You’ve paid the price. Now take it out of their hides.”

“Yes, please do,” said Mary Todd. She fell backwards into Varina’s arms. “He’s all slick and ready now,” she said. Tickling Varina, Mary Todd removed Varina’s clothes while Carter Henry stroked himself. Varina was left wearing nothing but her striped stockings. Mary Todd removed the black scarf holding Varina’s hair and tied it around Varina’s neck in a bow. It was clear that Mary Todd was more comfortable in a natural state. She lay back in Varina’s arms, kissing her cheek and then spreading her legs so wide that everyone heard her knees pop. Mary Todd flexed her toes and Carter Henry crawled toward her across the mattress.

“Steady her please,” Carter Henry begged of Varina. “I'm buck wild and I fear I'll split out of my skins.”

The vibration in the walls grew extreme. An antique vase fell from the interior table, bouncing on the rug, and then jouncing across the floor in a juddering circle as the room shook. Carter Henry entered Mary Todd and began to fuck her, yelping as if being prodded from behind by the devil’s trident. He clenched his firm ass, dizzy as he struggled along the jagged journey toward relief, wrapping his arms around both women. Trist shimmied out of his trousers and began to pleasure himself, ignoring the howling in the walls and the knocking from the pipes that sent dust sifting down from the eaves.

“It was the cold that killed President Harrison,” Varina and Mary Todd would tell each other later. “The new man refused to wear a hat out of his vanity and Whig pride. He died of the bronchial catarrh.”

But they each knew better. Much later, when they were no longer friends, when they would each read about the same sudden fever again in Zachary Taylor, they knew it was Trist again. General Taylor had been thwarting Millard Fillmore the same way that Tippecanoe thwarted John Tyler (who would serve out his time as Harrison's VP and then join the Confederacy 16 years later). General Taylor died before he could veto the Fugitive Slave Act, which Fillmore signed into law as part of the Compromise of 1850. The papers blamed rancid cherries, but they both knew it was L’Interrupteur.

It would be years later that Mary Todd Lincoln would go insane with dread, investigating every shop in Murder Bay on a quest to find the cracker barrel with the Shit Switch below it. She bought dress after dress, running up impossible debts, inspecting basements in every store to protect her family, unable to tell her gentle and beloved husband about her murderous part in the preservation of a way of life that she no longer believed in. She would fail to find the specific hell that Jefferson had enshrined. The Shit Switch would claim the life of her son before she would finally confess to the Pinkertons what she had witnessed so long ago. The Pinkerton’s would finally discover the method of the South’s revenge during the days of martial law, tearing out the White House’s plumbing root and branch, finally replacing it with a private reservoir. The would tell no one, protecting Mary Todd's broken mind for her husband’s sake.

Look for me in the shit, Trist told HISTORY as he watched Varina Howell taken from behind by the future five-time Mayor of Chicago, friend to immigrants, enemy of Interest.  “Yes, I see,” Carter Henry would say when Patrick Eugene Prendergast shot him in the guts and left him to die 50 years later, assassinating him just two days before the end of the Chicago World’s Fair. A great circle, like Mr. Ferris’ giant steel wheel. Up and down, carrying us all, a moment at the top to gawk, and then back down screaming to the fundament.

Trist saw it all as Varina reached out to him. He grabbed her hands as the shockwaves of Carter Henry’s thrusts made her grit her teeth, as sweat rolled down the straining rosebuds on her pale chest. She blew her black hair out of her eyes and held his hands as the walls shook, as plaster from the walls rained down around them all, as the pent-up pressure around the impacted bolus finally pierced the stack and the pipe shot the brown water toward the alabaster manse, as Carter Henry screamed in triumph, his voice breaking, his callow ecstasy joined by the two future first ladies of two countries, one real and one imaginary—countries that would never be as fundamentally united ever again.

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(c) Miracle Jones 2021