Chapter 10 - In Anticipation of Sand and Sun
"What's the best time you ever had at a beach for you, Beej?" asked Hawkeye as he threw another bloody piece of shrapnel in the metal pan.
"Watching Peg in that green swimsuit she wears," said BJ with faraway look in his eyes. "The last time I was at the beach was the first time we took Erin to the beach. She was barely a month old. Peg and I decided that if she was going to be a California girl we needed to introduce her to the water. I held that tiny little piece of humanity in my arms and we went into the water. She had been fussing but as soon as we got in the water she quieted down. Just like that! It made me feel like a conquering hero. There's nothing to compare to that feeling. How 'bout you, Hawk?"
"Kellye, more sponges," Margaret called out.
"I think the best time I had at the beach was the summer before I came over here. It was the annual Crabapple Cove Lobster Fest. It was two days of gorging on the juiciest lobsters....yum yum!" Hawkeye's voice was almost a growl. "And there's nothing like swimming in the ocean. People who only swim in pools have no idea what they're missing."
BJ found it a bit odd that Hawkeye's description didn't include a story of some sexy bathing beauty, but said nothing about it.
"I have to agree with that one, Hawk. There's nothing like it. How about you, Margaret? What was your favorite time at a beach?"
Margaret thought for moment, "I think it was when I was a little girl...I was about six, I think. Daddy had a 2 week leave and we went as a family to the Pebble Beach in Monterey CA. That's when we were living at Fort Ord. We splashed in the water. I can't remember any other time my dad actually playing with my sister and me. He and Mom were so happy during those two weeks."
As Hawkeye listened he tried to imagine "Howitzer Al" Houlihan actually loosening up enough to have fun on the beach with a little girl. He decided it was beyond his imagination.
"How about you, Colonel? It's you're turn to share," said Hawkeye.
Colonel Potter looked up from his patient, "Ah that's an easy one. That would have to have been on my honeymoon with Mrs. Potter. She was quite a looker in those days....long legs...full...um....never mind...we went to Hawaii. Mildred's parents gave us the money to have a real honeymoon. What a girl...her hair was so golden in the sun. I do miss that gal of mine. Winchester we haven't heard from you."
"I can't say that I had any good times at the beach. I don't care much for water and I don't like to get sand in my shoes."
"Does this mean that you're not going to the beach at Inchon with us, Charles?" asked BJ. "It won't be the same without you."
"I appreciate the sentiment, Hunnicuttt but I think we'll all be happier if I don't go," said Charles.
"Surely you don't want to miss the sun and sand, Major," questioned Father Mulcahy.
"'Surely' I do, Father," said Charles. "Each of us finds pleasure in our own ways. While you are all away playing at the beach I shall be enjoying Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Bach and Mozart without interruptions. I look forward to that as much as all of you are looking forward to the picnic on the beach."
"Swimming is one of the most relaxing activities I know. I must say that I'm looking forward to time of fun in the sun. My sister and I used to love to build sand castles on the beach when we were children. I didn't like it though when she kicked sand in my face." Father Mulcahy rolled his eyes at the memory.
Hawkeye laughed at the mental image. "I guess you weren't born wearing a white collar, huh Father. So what did you do when she kicked the sand in your face?"
"Why do you think I took up boxing?" the priest replied with a sly smile.
They all laughed.
Margaret looked over at Hawkeye who was digging the last piece of shrapnel out of his patient. Over the past few weeks there had been a subtle change in him. He still joked and laughed but seemed quieter, more thoughtful. He didn't drink nearly as much as he had before. He didn't seem to have the same arrogance about surgery. He was even more careful with his surgery. It wasn't that he had slowed down, he just seemed more...cautious, that was the word she was groping for. The most noticeable change was that he'd quit chasing her nurses. BJ said he'd even thrown away his nudist magazines.
"A short session," mused BJ, "only 8 hours."
"Practically banker's hours," said Hawkeye. " I don't know too many bankers who specialize in meatball surgery though." He yawned.
"Ha! I don't know of many doctors that do, either," Charles sneered. He'd gotten a letter from home that had upset him and all he wanted was to be left alone. A position had opened at Boston Mercy but he was over here in this Korean hell hole so the position would go to someone else. "Gentleman, and lady," he acknowledged Margaret with a nod. "If you'll excuse me, I'm not in the mood for inane chit chat...good night."
The doctors and Margaret sat in the scrub room, tired from the last shift.
"There's talk that this butchery is coming to an end soon," said Colonel Potter. "I'm looking forward to barbecuing steaks on my grill in Hannibal MO. A steak sure sounds good."
"Maybe we could get Klinger to scrounge some steaks up for the picnic on the beach," said Hawkeye. "The thought of a good steak makes my taste buds sit up and beg."
"I don't know Pierce, that's a pretty tall order. You're liable to end up with horse chops," said Potter. "That would break my heart. I think you boys should know that I won't be joining you at the beach."
"Ah, Colonel," whined BJ. "How can we have a 4077 picnic without our CO?"
"Someone has to stay here and mind the fort," replied the tired colonel. "Winchester and I will be here in case there are wounded. Maybe we'll all get together next year in the states for a big wingding."
"You really think this holocaust is going to end? You think there's something to all the rumors," asked Hawkeye.
"It's gotta end sometime, Pierce...." Potter sighed. "It will for me in a few months anyway."
"That's right," said Margaret, "Your retirement is coming up soon."
"Well, I suggest that we all retire to the swamp for a sip of 'Uncle Ben's Perverted Rice Juice.'" Hawkeye smiled at the colonel who had coined the name for his wicked homemade brew. "It ain't tasty, but it's free."
"Count me out," said Father Mulcahy "Tomorrow is Sunday and I have a sermon to prepare. Someone might decide to come to the service and I want to be prepared. Good night all."
"Good night, Padre," said the CO
BJ, Hawkeye, Colonel Potter, and Margaret headed for the Swamp.
"Anyone seen Klinger?" asked BJ
"I suspect he's somewhere with his little Korean filly. She's a sweet one...hey, you don't suppose...after all he did to try and get out of this place...? Nah, that's too much of a stretch, but love can do some crazy things to a man," said Potter.
The four of them had reached the Swamp, laughing at the possibility of Maxwell Q. Klinger, former Section Eight wannabe staying in Korea for any reason.
Charles sat listening to a record, sipping a glass of brandy and was noticeable irritated to see that he was going to have company.
"Hi, honey, we're home," said Hawkeye with an ingratiating grin.
"Huh! I think this is a wonderful time to take a walk," said Charles. "Gentlemen...Margaret."
"What's eating Dr. Hoity Toity?" asked Margaret.
"He does seem to have his skivvies in a knot," observed Colonel Potter.
BJ and Hawkeye filled four glasses from the still and passed them around. Hawkeye raised his glass. "Here's to fun in the sun on the beach at In-chun." And he giggled. "I'm a poet."
"Here here," said BJ in agreement.
"I think I'd rather read Elizabeth Barret Browning," said Margaret.
Hawkeye took a sip and gasped, "Good batch."
"This morning, a vintage hour," smiled BJ, "filtered through the finest of army socks."
"Accchhh! If they've been on your gunboats that's a heavy filter," said Hawkeye. "I hope you at least washed them first."
"Ugh," sputtered Margaret. "I think I've had enough of this rat poison. I need to get to bed, I've got the morning shift in Post-Op. Good night, all."
"Good night Margaret," said Potter.
"Sweet dreams," said BJ.
"Madame, may I walk you home?" asked Hawkeye. "You never know what beasts may be lurking out in the wilds of Uijongbu"
"Please," she smiled taking his arm.
"If you'll excuse us, gentlemen. If I'm not back in ten minutes..."
"Oh come on, Captain," said Margaret giving his arm a yank.
Hawkeye and Margaret walked slowly arm in arm. Neither were in a hurry to end the evening.
"The moon and you are dear to meeee...." Crooned Hawkeye as they walked. "So near and yet so far from meee."
"How are you doing, Hawkeye... really?"
Hawkeye stopped singing to answer, "I'm in fine fettle, Margaret. The fettle-ist. Why do you ask?"
"You just seem...quieter lately."
He didn't reply right away. He thought at first to make a wise crack but it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. Since the death of Millie Carpenter and the dramatic death of Corporal Owens, he'd stopped to take stock of his life. Dr. Freedman had recommended some R& R for him so he'd spent a few days in Tokyo. Instead of going on a drinking binge and chasing women as he would have done in the past he'd spent time seeing the sites, the Japanese gardens and beautiful buildings. He felt like he was seeing some things for the first time.
"Hawkeye...?" She searched his face. His eyes were faraway and she desperately wanted to know where he'd gone.
"Oh, yeah...quieter...I suppose I have been." He said slowly coming back to the present. "I've just needed some time to...think."
Margaret decided that this probably wasn't a good time to push him. She said, "This 4th of July picnic has already done a lot for the morale around here, hasn't it?"
"Yeah it has. I hope we don't have an influx of wounded to spoil the party. Margaret, um...I know I'm a lowly captain and you're a major...but would you consider...I mean...at the picnic...."
She smiled. The lothario of the 4077 stood before her stammering like a shy school boy asking if he could carry her books home.
"I'd love to be your 'date,' Hawkeye."
He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. She returned the embrace, feeling safe in his arms as she had the last time they'd danced in officer's club.
He was on the beach in Crabapple Cove. The moon was a gleaming white ball above the water in the night sky. He walked along the shore, enjoying the sea breeze. He saw her standing a few feet away from him, her golden hair reflecting the moonlight. He held out his arms to her and she ran to him, laughing. He enfolded his arms around her, feeling her warmth and smelling her sweet perfume. He pulled back to look into her ice blue eyes, but instead he found himself looking into the frightened eyes of a red haired boy with blue lips. "Dr. Pierce, I-I can't b-breathe..."
"Hawkeye! Hawkeye, wake up, it's only a dream!"