"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
Cannot bear very much reality
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present." T. S. Elliot
Disclaimer: I don't own any part of MASH, apart from some mass-produced series Box sets from HMV. Sorry.
It's been exactly own year since Henry Blake died on that fateful chopper ride back home, and barely anyone remembers it. They all remember his death, and it still hurts even though they've all mourned and grieved in their own ways, but life has moved on, and somehow amid the hustle and bustle of the Mobile Surgical Hospital, they've just managed to forget the significance of the day they're living. Days blur and collide here, shifts often can start near the end of one day and properly end the beginning of the day after tomorrow, the doctors and nurses taking catnaps when ordered, and working flat out the rest of the time. Time is disparate, constantly in flux around them, hours lengthening and shortening according to the activity, and within this bubble they've forgotten about Henry. There are no subdued silences, no differences in the unpredictable norm. Even Hawkeye, who misses the Colonel like one of his dotty old uncles from Crabapple Cove, fails to remember the anniversary, and at the 4077th, it's as usual as a day can get at a South Korean based MASH.
Hawkeye spends twelve hours in the sweltering heat of surgery, patching up soldiers from an ill fated Canadian Battalion sent back from the front line; many just kids who should be back at home learning to shave through trial and error and chasing girls instead of lying on an operating table with their chests full of shrapnel. After the doctors have managed to go through them all, fixing them up as best as they could, Hawkeye goes back to the swamp with BJ, planning on staying there for the rest of the war, but happy with just a martini and an unbroken night's sleep. Soon, after a couple of martini's, it's getting close to dark, the sun going down slowly and spreading dark shadows like blood stains across the camp.
It's a picturesque moment, ruined by the sharp knock on the door. In walks Klinger, an apologetic look on his Lebanese face, and Hawkeye notes that his fashion sense has improved dramatically since he started vying for a Section Eight. A fake fox stole wraps around the corporals' neck and he stands straight at the doorway of the Swamp, sling back purple heels matching the lilac flower patterned cocktail dress. It would look great except for the giveaway hairs on Klingers chest and torso.
"Sorry Captains" he says apologetically, "but Captain Hunnicut is requested in post-op. One of his kid's temperature has shot up"
BJ sighs, but they both know he'll go, and sure enough, the doctor stands up swaying for a moment with tiredness. It's about the patient now, as he slips his army regulation boots on, standing on the backs with his heels and leaving the laces undone.
"I'll see you later Hawk" he says with a weary smile on his face, and Hawkeye raises he glass in an informal salute, as Beej tramps out of the tent, following Klinger.
Hawk sighs, draining the last of his martini and standing up, leaning backwards in a stretch, far enough to hear his back pop with an unhealthy noise. It's a bad habit, but it has less chance of killing him then this war. It's lonely in the swamp and he even wonders about Frank before shaking the thought out of his head. He's probably round at Hot Lips, and Hawkeye is too tired and too fed up to start another petty fight by playing Knock and Run on the door of her tent.
He turns his head to look over to the side of his bed, where a half written reply to his dad is waiting to be finished so Radar can post it when the next batch of letters gets sent off. It's about then that Hawkeye realises that he hasn't seen Radar O'Reilly all day. In fact, he's seen very little of the camps resident psychic all week. Sure, Hawkeye has seen him handing out letters, and doing the million and one other jobs that the kid is relied on to do, but he hadn't actually talked to him. It has been a busy week, but it confuses Hawkeye that the kid has barely even said hello.
It takes about five seconds for Hawkeye to decide to go visit Radar. It's not as though he has any other pressing obligations, and any opportunity to break the noise of his own bad humming in the silence of the swamp is welcomed.
He walks over to Radars' office. It is really dark outside now, the air crisp and cold as he breathes in. For a moment, he's a child again at winter in Crab-apple Cove, pretending to smoke cigars using the fog where his warm breath had met the cold air. The moment disappears, but Hawkeye smiles anyway, placing two loose fingers to his lips and moving them away as he blows out, miming a smoke.
The lights is on in Radar's office as it always is- dependable to the last, Radar O'Reilly, Hawkeye thinks fondly- as he lets himself through the door. The sight of the very person he came to see greets him, sitting on a makeshift bed that the clerk had had to move in here over the last few days. It had been every five minutes people were coming to him about supplies and orders, and so Radar had moved into his office-temporally of course-just until the casualties have died down a bit, or the front line has eased it's recent defensive push on Korean forces.
Radar looks up as Hawkeye walks in. He looks very young for a moment- not even old enough to shave, Hawkeye thinks grimly-, teddy bear clutched in the crook of one elbow and his green hat askew on his head.
"Hello, sir" Radar says, making to stand, but Hawkeye waves the motion away
"I'm not here for anything Radar. I just came to see how you are"
Radar looks surprised, but hides it well, his brown eyes widening slightly in scepticism "Oh…well, I'm fine sir"
"What did I tell you about the whole 'sir' thing? We're only in the army, it's not needed"
"Sorry Hawk" the apology seems to lack its usually density and as Hawkeye studies the young man, he sees that is not all that seems off about the young man. Radar looks tired, and his eyes are dull and sad. It'd be easy to pass it off as the usual fatigue, after all, they've all been working their asses off over the last week, but this is something else. Something deeper then that.
"What's up Radar?"
"Sir?" the kid understands what Hawkeye is after. The innocence is a defence mechanism at the moment; a feeble act and they both know it.
"Don't 'sir' me. C'mon. I've known you long enough to be fooled when you pull out your doe eyes" Hawkeye pauses "you know you can tell me anything" The honesty is genuine in his voice. Hawkeye Pierce loves Radar like the brother he never had, and it's the same way for the young clerk. BJ and Hawkeye are best friends, Trapper and Hawkeye were as close as two peas in a metaphorical pod, and there's even some sort of warped liking towards Frank Burns, but Radar... Radar is like a little brother, the baby of the group. Hawkeye calls him names like 'Shorty' and 'kid', gives Radar advice on girls and life in general and Radar looks up to Hawkeye like an elder brother. He trusts him to fix any problem, although in reality he knows it is not as easy as that. Radar always delivers Hawks mail first, because he knows how much he likes hearing from his dad, and Hawkeye knows Radar O'Reilly would bend the rulebook over backwards to get supplies for the doctors if they need them bad enough.
Radar paused, adjusting his glasses while continuing to look at the floor.
"Do you know what day it is Hawkeye?"
Hawkeye is momentarily at a loss, and is ready to reply with a sarcastic 'Thursday', but he knows that's not the answer Radar needs. He thinks hard and racks his brains, taking in the sadness in the Iowans' eyes and wondering what could cause it. Then it clicks like a crazy cartoon light bulb above Hawkeye's head, and he understands.
"Oh God, Radar…It's not…?"
"A year" Radar replies in a matter of fact way, as if he's commenting on the age of a child or how long it is till Potter's birthday. "About a year ago, I was telling you about…" he breathe shakily, but he isn't crying "…the crash. And no-one remembered"
"I'm sorry" Hawkeye says, because it's the only thing he can say, but Radar shakes his head,
"No, it's not that. It's just…" he fixes his baleful hazel eyes onto Hawkeye's brown ones, the sadness clear and Hawkeye's suddenly thinks that it isn't fair that nineteen year old Radar O'Reilly from Iowa should have to go through losing someone like that. "…It's just that I …I still miss him"
He says it quietly, but that statement tells Hawkeye a lot, most of it what he's already figured out. Radar was like a son to Colonel Henry Blake, and the young clerk reciprocated the feeling. Henry was like the father Radar should have had, a man he could ask anything of. Henry was the man who knew every fear Radar had and who calmed them simply with a word of encouragement, the man who had sent him a present for his birthday when no one else had remembered. Someone like that is hard to lose, and the loss is even harder to get over.
"You haven't been sleeping" Hawkeye says, and Radar doesn't even try to deny it "C'mon, we'll go back to the swamp. We can talk there"
They walk back together in silence. The stars are out now in there thousands, and it would take forever and a day to count them all. Hawkeye sits Radar down on his bunk; neither BJ nor Frank are back yet, so they're free to talk as Hawk hands Radar a martini. The kid takes it nervously; taking a sip more out of habit then want, still clutching that ragtag teddy bear. Hawkeye doesn't comment on the teddy or the tiredness. He doesn't mention Henry or that day or the war. He doesn't say anything, just gives Radar the chance to talk in his own time. It's what the kid needs, and even if Hawk wasn't a doctor, he'd have figured that one out.
"It doesn't seem like a year" Radar says suddenly, in a small voice that seemed engulfed by the silence of the camp "sometimes I wake up and I swear I can hear him humming or polishing his clubs" he pauses, before speaking again, like a robot on autopilot, speaking out his jumbled thoughts in a clutter of feeling and hurt "…but it's never him, Hawk and it always so…disappointing and it always hurts" Hawkeye nods, but says nothing. It is the time to listen now, not to speak. Advice can come later, but not yet, not right now.
"I still remember that day" Radar continues, looking about at the swamp with sad eyes "...and I remember getting the news…and thinking…. knowing…. it was somehow my fault. I'd had one of my moments, a dream, about a helicopter and the sea and gunfire…and it just didn't click. I had this feeling all day that something was going to go wrong, but I didn't realise what it was Hawk. I didn't see! When he said goodbye, I knew…I just knew, that it was the last time I was going to see him, but I didn't think!" Radars voice has gotten louder now, full of anger and self hate " I should have figured, should have stopped it. If only I'd…"
"You didn't know Radar" Hawkeye says gently, silencing the clerk "there are some things that just happen and even with the best cards in your hand, you can't win. You couldn't have known, even with your dreams and moments, and it isn't your fault"
"I could have stopped it" Radar whispers, his voice quiet and sad
"No, you couldn't" Hawkeye replies, looking down at the young man, so full of turmoil and pain. "Henry wanted to go home, and nothing was going to stop him. Life's a bitch Radar and I'm sorry it hurts, but it wasn't you, understand? Don't blame yourself because Henry wouldn't want you to"
Radar is silent for a while before saying in a small voice: "Thanks Hawk"
Hawkeye waves it off with an unspoken 'don't mention it' in his eyes. He fills his glass up again from the still, looking at the clear liquid thoughtfully as though looking into a crystal orb through which he could see the future.
"To Henry Blake" Hawkeye raises his glass "May he be playing golf up there to his hearts content" Hawkeye has never really been religious, and even Father Mulcahy knows it, but Radar is to an extent, still full of a youthful amazement of the world God has made. If anyone were filed with the pureness of the Holy Spirit, Hawkeye thinks to himself, it'd be Radar. Untainted with the horrors of life, naïve and sitting with a replying smile on his face as he too raises his glass.
"To Henry" he repeats and there are shimmering pearly ghosts of unshed tears in his big hazel eyes, the light catching them and making the tears glimmer like wax-candle flames.
It's two hours later that Beej comes back, and he doesn't say anything when he sees a tired Radar asleep on Hawkeye's bunk, the man in question sitting quietly to the side, finishing off his letter. Hawk only needs to mention Henry's name and BJ Hunnicut understands perfectly, looking over at the sleeping young man, with his teddy bear clutched tightly. He looks very vulnerable as he sleeps; too young for the life he's living. The innocence will go one day, BJ knows, and maybe the process has already started with Henry's death, but at the moment he's glad Radar's just Radar. That's all he needs to be.
He looks over at Hawk and sits down near him, taking the proffered drink his friend passes to him. They raise glasses before drinking, memories flicking in their eyes and in what left of their worn-out hearts as they toast silently to a log lost friend and the one's that are left behind.