I will say this. Getting back to normal – or back to terrible – in the Army is easy. Everything's almost back to the way it was at the 4077th, from the OR to the Mess Tent to the still. The spirit of goodwill and camaraderie after the tornado is gone, as evidenced by the screaming match in OR between Margaret and Charles over a bum set of rubber gloves.
Still no thaw from her. I guess I'm not expecting one now. We work together a lot. Potter says we make the best surgical team but all we've said lately is about sponges, sutures and suction.
Hawkeye stopped writing for a minute and glanced around. His bunkmates were both asleep after a long siege. For hours, there was nothing but patients stacked like cordwood around the triage and OR. He sawed off arms and legs and in one case watched an aorta burst in a soldier too gone to even attempt saving. His hands shook now. They shook a lot lately, even as he did delicate cardiac stitching.
In the glare of the headlights, flashlights and sodium lamps during triage, Margaret seemed to glow. His shaking hands ached to touch her.
Hawkeye picked up his pen.
I hope she knows how terrible I feel about hurting her. You said it wasn't my fault and I understand that. What is it about us that makes normally strong human beings weak around some people? I don't even know if this is a weakness. My head and my heart are really battling it out. I'm hoping I can get some R&R soon so I can think this over without all the added distractions.
"Hey Shakespeare, mind turning out the light?" BJ said weakly. He was still wearing his blood-spattered boots in bed.
"Right," Hawkeye said sourly. He stuffed the letter in his barely-read copy of Nudist Times and snapped off his reading lamp.
Colonel Potter came calling early the next morning. Charles was already out and about, BJ was still snoozing and Hawkeye was just beginning to stir when the colonel's face came into view. "Morning sunshine," Potter smiled. Hawkeye groaned and lifted the scratchy green blanket over his head.
"Today's a big day. You can make some amends today, easy ," Potter said. Hawkeye was confused and pulled the blanket back down.
"For that big welt on the chief nurse's head. Son, I know she's …moody… but I think she's going through a low time. You're nominated to treat her to a nice birthday."
"That's well and good, Colonel, but I don't think she's speaking to me right now," said Hawkeye, sitting up and feeling for his clothes. Potter stopped him.
"You need a shower and shave. Clean everything. I'll even let you use my shaving brush."
Hawkeye frowned. "Do I look and smell that bad?"
"A little ripe. I'm sure Charles would let you use some of that dishwater he calls aftershave too."
"Why? There's plenty of other…"
Potter gave Hawkeye a tight smile. He knew about them. Underneath all that anger and sadness the two of them carried was a … something. He watched Margaret's eyes when they leveled on Hawkeye. To Potter, there was longing.
Hawkeye slapped his hands on his bony knees. "OK, OK. I'll get cleaned up. The things I don't DO for this Army!" he moaned. Potter slapped him on the back.
"Atta boy. We'll get some things together and show her a hell of a day."
In the shower, though he sang, Hawkeye turned Potter's conversation over in his mind. Birthdays in Korea were the worst. The best you could hope for was something sweet, a little booze and a letter from home. He spent his last birthday deflowering one of Margaret's nurses. The appeal of mindless sex slipped in the recent months. His last encounter was Margaret in the hut and that was something different. Any desire to sleep with anyone other than her flew right out the door. Hell, even Charles was getting more than he was.
He was still humming nervously on the way back to the Swamp. BJ was up, shining his shoes. "Wow, look what the Fuller Brush man dragged in. I haven't seen you so clean since…uhhh, I haven't seen you so clean. What's the occasion?"
"Margaret's birthday. Potter's on me to do something for her."
BJ raised his eyebrows. "I see."
"Yeah, I don't either. "
Hawkeye put on his cleanest uniform and brushed, gargled and spat. From top to toe he felt pretty good save for the butterflies. He bade BJ goodbye and headed for Col. Potter's office.
Radar was playing with the radio when Hawkeye walked in. Potter was nowhere in sight. "Hey Radar, Potter was on me about doing something for Major Houlihan today. Where the hell is he?" asked Hawkeye, impatiently.
"Hawkeye, he's with a patient…but wait…"
Radar dove under a desk and came back up with a wicker picnic basket. "He had the Mess Tent pack this up for you this morning."
Hawkeye winced and said, "Great. Now Margaret can take me out in the woods and or barter me to the enemy for three Spam sandwiches and two bottles of lemonade."
Radar didn't say anything. He simply thrust the basket at Hawkeye and went back to work on the radio. Hawkeye rolled his eyes and tottered back out the door.
Something amazing happened after the storm. Father Mulcahy's garden actually grew. While they looked a little small and withered, actual vegetables were growing in the Korean clay. "If that's not a miracle, I don't know what is," said the Father, standing back , spade in hand. Hawkeye admired the small patch, clapping Mulcahy on the back. "Oh, I have something else for your basket. Hang on," Mulcahy said, dashing toward his tent.
The Father emerged with a bottle of wine and a little bag of cherry tomatoes he picked that morning. "I thought these would cheer up the Major. When Potter told me what you were doing for her, I washed these off to donate to the cause. Maybe we'll see more miracles soon."
Although a don't bet on it came to mind, Hawkeye graciously accepted the bottle and the bag and packed them into the already-heavy hamper. Father Mulcahy turned back to his watering can and Hawkeye trudged the 20 steps to Margaret's door. He knocked lightly. No answer.
So he figured she was in the latrine and put the basket down, whistling through his teeth. Klinger sauntered by in a lovely summer dress and wicker hat, waving a handkerchief. Something loud crashed in the Mess Tent, probably a coffee carafe falling over. You had to hit that table just right, but oh boy…
"Pierce? What do you want?"
Hawkeye nearly jumped out of his skin. Margaret was in the doorway, dressed but looking pale. He could see a slight glint of sunlight bounce off a bottle of scotch sitting on her desk.
For a moment he forgot why he was there. And then he got a little angry. Margaret was sizing him up and he was in no mood to argue.
"Ah, happy birthday. I was going to ask if you wanted to have a picnic but I guess you don't. I'll have to eat these tomatoes all by myself," he said, picking up the basket and turning around.
"No! Wait! Tomatoes? And did you shave?" she asked incredulously.
He turned and looked at her. She still had a bandage over her eye, but it was a smaller one now. She looked at him, the basket and then at him again. "I was…I think…I think I'd like a picnic. I think I would," Margaret said softly. Hawkeye's heart just melted. She shut the door and stepped out, squinting at the sunlight.
They walked down a short country road to the open field where Klinger once went hang gliding. Neither said much. Margaret opened the basket and carefully took out the tomatoes and the wine. Hawkeye dug further in and found two mugs, two bottles of lemonade, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two chicken legs and some cookies that couldn't have come from anyone but Mrs. Potter. At the bottom was a green blanket, so he spread it on the ground and laid out their little feast.
Margaret sat stiffly across from him against a tree and accepted everything he offered. "Oh God, I haven't had a fresh tomato in God-Knows-when," said Margaret as she ate her fifth. But otherwise they ate in silence, watching the wind blow across the top of the grass.
They got down to the cookies and the wine. Hawkeye opened the bottle and passed it to Margaret. He didn't pour it into a mug. He wanted to see what she'd do. She took a swig and passed it back to him. He moved closer to her against the tree and they passed the bottle back and forth until nothing was left.
Now, this particular tree was Hawkeye's premiere nooky sight for a long time, before he got lazy and just used the supply room. He knew Margaret and Frank liked to come out here too. "If trees could talk…" he started.
"Yeah. If it could type you'd have the makings of a good dime store novel," she agreed.
"Well. It would get its twigs stuck in the space between the letters."
He caught the ghost of a smile on her face.
"Margaret, how else can I tell you I'm sorry? I thought I was saving your life and instead I almost ended it. We were just finding common ground and I miss talking to you about it."
"I shouldn't have been so mad. You really were pretty brave. Rescue me, then murder me. I should have seen it coming."
Now Hawkeye smiled. Margaret smiled back and leaned against him. "Thanks for the picnic. No Spam either," she said. Hawkeye knew she couldn't stand that canned meat.
Then …in the distance…an explosion. Both of them jumped up, looking around wildly. The noise came from the direction of the 4077th. They looked at each other and took off running.