Caroline. For the past year Caroline had consumed him, as phthisis consumed her. Benjamin could barely pronounce the word, and when they pronounced her dead, he was as wide open as the upstate New York springs that could not sustain her. What would he do without his role as caretaker? He was so used to life caring for an invalid that he forgot his own in his new, and subservient, role. For a time it chafed his style, and distracted him from, what, Indian Affairs, but after some time he grew to like the doting, conceding his campaign responsibilities, all thanks to Grover.
And Grover! That big bitch had beaten him in 1888, without the electoral vote on top of it, but Grover had suspended the Democratic campaign for him—such an unexpected gesture! Ben didn’t think the Bourbons capable of such tenderness, especially Grover, who always looked so miserable all the time mushing his mouth around like he had something he was trying to push around in there. So things had been better between them lately.
Was it the wedlock taunts haunting him, or the child wifey? And why was Ben so fixated on the man’s jaw? It wasn’t even square! Whatever it was, it made him weirdly hot, that he even wanted it to be square, in the way all people who you hate eventually make you want to, you know.
Lost again in his thoughts like that when the telephone rang in the White House, he decided to make a concession to answer this time. He needed anybody right now, even if he was still a little unnerved by the bell. It seemed to come from the beyond!
“I’m sorry to hear about the missus,” he said, sincere. Grover! That was out of nowhere.
“That really means a lot to me.”
“But it must be lonely to while away the hours in here without your beloved,” he replied after a long pause. Of course Ben knew like everybody in Washington that Grover was quite the horndog, but they had never talked about, you know, that. And he was known, whatever his political reputation as Good Grover, as having a thing for playing Daddy.
“So moral, playing it up like you’re such a googoo, like you don’t know what a rout in the marriage bed is? No, you’re Mr. Prez, trying to play the progressive and rein in the banks and the trusts and all that! What a good man, Sir! Well, you do have a hard little ass, that’s true, but you know the truth, who’s Sir. The mugwumps like you all work for me now, and so will you. Because I know what you are, Benjamin.”
“What am I?” he asked, cheeky, suddenly bold.
“You’re a little cumslut, Benjy boy. You may have won on the first ballot,” he finished, “but there might be room for a recount.”
At that Benjamin felt a twitch in his back. Of his own volition? Wow, he hoped not. Was he game for this? He didn’t even know what this game would be? But he was game.
“Here, I’ll show you,” Grover said. “Stand over by the chaise.”
That chaise had been reupholstered by the Arthurs, as Grover knew, and it had not gotten much wear for fear it would not soon be replaced. Always so many money concerns at the Mansion, with the stock exchange fluctuations, and neither of them wanted to look decadent. Well, not Ben, anyway. Grover maybe saved his decadence for his bedroom games.
“What are we going to do, Grover?”
“Whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to do one hundred of them. We need the exercise! Bend over, Ben. You know how I feel about spoils.”
Something about his command of the language was getting to Ben. It reminded him of having to tell Caroline what to do when she was infirm, only this time he didn’t have to do the thinking, just take orders. And it was weird for him—he found that kind of subjugation of the races so appalling in his presidential work—to see himself in that role, but sometimes it’s nice for someone else to be the President.
“Do you like that?”
Smack. Well, that he was not quite expecting.
“Or would you rather them be consecutive? Then they’ll come one after the other, and you want to come, Ben, don’t you? You’ll feel them so hard it’ll be like there are two of us.”
“Pull your pants down, undergarment as well. Say you want another one, Benjy.”
“Is that a question? Answer me, Ben! What do you want?”
“Are you scared, Ben? I heard you’re scared of electric lights. Are you scared of a large grown man whipping you around a bit in the way you like to be touched?”
“I’m not scared, Grover!”
“I think you want me to be Mr. Edison, light your bright ass up so much from my touch that the labs back in Jersey will see!”
“Yes, Mr. President! I want you to slap my ass again until I come!”
“So each time I slap you, I want you to thank me for it and give me the count.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. That’s four.”
“No, starting now. Back at one.”
“Thank you, Mr. President, One, two.”
“Much better, Ben. I see you’ve finally learned your lesson from ‘88. But one thank you for each smack, even those that come together.”
It was untoward for Benjamin to have these warmths arouse in him at such a weird time. What’s next, he wondered, double-teams by 22 and 24? Tammany gangbangs? Populist uprisings? Who among the Hoosiers at home would even look at him again in the eye? This new game was so New York-y, so rough, so businesslike, so Buffalo, so, well… so Grover. And he loved it, depraved little brigadier that he was. A people’s servant, and Grover’s.
“Did I say you could play with yourself, Benjamin?”
“Ow!” There were tears coming out of him, not for Caroline but for carefree joy, abashed pleasure in pain. “Thank you Mr. President. That’s ten.” Even in his reverie he had kept counting. Shame seemed to fuel him forward, and he drew in that darkness like it was a miasma coming off the oil lamps. Each time he breathed in to anticipate Grover’s hand he could smell the fumes, the feelings he didn’t want to say what they were, not after Caroline. Not now. There was only now.
“Show me how you used to touch yourself in the light in front of Caroline when you were afraid to turn off the light for the sparks.”
Hell, it was like there were two of him, Grovers surrounding him, hundreds of pieces of silver falling over his rump, each with the face of Grover and hitting him in the back, humiliating him with each flick.
And Grover knew.
“Come for Uncle Jumbo.”
“GROVE!” Ben came with the force of a Populist throng, pant now gilded with, let’s say, pursestrings. At least it didn’t get all up in his beard, he thought, giggling.
“I’ve never come like that in my life,” he admitted, and Grover chuckled, rustling Ben’s hair a little before patting him on the back to get up from the blows. Prez was tenting, something Frances could take care of, he supposed. Right now Benjamin needed a loving hand, needed comfort, needed respite. Grover threw a convivial arm over Benjamin’s shoulder, close to a cuddle, but not too close.
“You’ve had a rough time of it of late, but you done good, Ben.”
“Thank you, Mr. President.” He beamed as he used the title, once his title, but now Grover’s, all Grover’s. Grover had all of him.
“In a couple of years you might be ready for me to teach you a little something I call the Pullman Strike.”
Could Ben wait until 1894? He would do Grover again and again, and as told.