The sun shone down from the western sky, beating fiercely on the defiantly green lawn of the cemetery. Large trees offered shade for the few persons making their way through the long rows of headstones. One such group consisted of a fortyish woman with three children in tow. The two girls walked sedately by their mother's side, but the boy dashed ahead. "Betcha can't catch me, Molly!" He taunted his sister.
"I can so!" Always competitive, the girl broke away and raced after him.
"Molly! Andy! Get back here!" Lorraine Blake scolded her errant children. "You can't do things like that in a graveyard! What would your father think?"
Although they continued to make faces at each other behind Lorraine's back, the mention of their father made the two obey. Janie, the oldest girl, sneered at her younger siblings in disdain.
On the far side of the expanse, away from the main parking lot, the party arrived at a modest headstone. The inscription was simple and read: "Henry Braymore Blake Beloved Husband and Father" and gave the dates of his birth and death. A small American flag was planted in the grass directly next to it, signaling that the deceased had been a member of the armed forces. Of course, it was only a memorial as there had been no remains to bury. Henry Blake's plane had been shot down as he was coming home, not even leaving any personal effects to be returned to the widow.
Lorraine handed each child a blossom out of the armful she carried. "Put this on your father's grave." Janie, as the oldest went first, then Molly, and then Andrew. Their mother then stepped forward, carefully arranging the remainder of the flowers. "Kids, you can wait over by that tree." She pointed to a maple about twenty feet away.
"Okay, Mom." Janie grasped her younger brother's hand and pulled him in the direction their mother had indicated. Molly followed.
Turning her attention to the gravestone, Lorraine spoke softly. "I thought this might be a good day to come visit, Henry. I know I'm not here so often anymore – only on our anniversary, your birthday, and the day you died, it seems like. It's been a little over seven years since I got that awful telegram, so I guess it's normal that I wouldn't come as much, but I wanted the kids to be more familiar with honoring your memory." She laughed lightly to herself. "That does sound strange, doesn't it? You're supposed to honor old men's memory's, not those of impish, irresponsible ones. I've always made sure the kids, especially Andrew since he never met you, know about what a great guy you were, and how much you loved them, but they've been to the cemetery so rarely." She glanced over her shoulder at the three children. Janie sat calmly in the shade, old enough to have developed a respect for graveyards. Molly and Andy were engaged in a game of tag, running in wild circles about their sister and the tree. Lorraine sighed, realizing that she was probably here on a futile errand. "Andy certainly is your son, Henry – only seven years old and already a little jokester. Sometimes I'm just not sure what to do with him, but you would have known exactly how to handle him." She fell silent, letting several minutes go by before hesitantly beginning to speak again. "I know it's crazy to be nervous about saying this. I mean, even if you can hear me somewhere, you've been dead for a lot of years." She shook her head, exasperated with herself. "The last time I was here I told you that I was seeing Dan Newman. Well, I've agreed to marry him next month. He isn't you, Henry, but he's a good man, and I'm tired of being alone. Dan's been after me for a couple years now, but I didn't think it was fair to marry again while the kids were so young. Well they're still young, but they like Dan, even Janie, and he's good with them. I don't know what else to tell you...I hope I'm doing the right thing. I never dreamed when we got married that life would turn out this way, but I guess you take what comes." For some reason, making the announcement removed a weight from her chest. Henry was long gone, but she wouldn't ever shake him completely and simply telling him what she intended to do made her feel better about it. Bending over, she wiped away a little dust from the stone. "I shouldn't stay much longer. Maybe this was kind of an arbitrary day to pick to come – that's what my mother said when I told her I was driving out here this afternoon. I know you never saw the end of the war, so this date might not mean so much to you. But it was the Korean War that killed you, darling, and I can't help feeling that somewhere up there today you're having a big smash of a party to celebrate this anniversary of peace." Lorraine smiled at the thought. "I miss you, Henry. That'll never change." She stood quietly for half a moment before turning away. "Kids! Ready to go?"
Janie, Molly, and Andrew came running up to join her, and together the four made their way back to the car.
"Here's your coffee, Doctor."
"Thanks, Tasha. Just set it on my desk." After his secretary left the office, Trapper John McIntyre tossed down the files he'd been looking through. "Time for a coffee break, I think." He took a sip from his mug, wincing as the brown liquid burnt his tongue. Picking up the day's Boston Globe, he leaned back in his chair to read.
"Not much going on in the world today." He mused out loud, having picked up the habit over the past few years. Flipping through the front page news discussing the latest reasons to be afraid of nuclear war, he spied a short blurb under the segment listing the celebrity birthdays for the date. Seeing the words "Korean War" in the headline caught his attention, and he read the article with interest.
"Well, how about that? I never would've guessed it had been five whole years since that shooting match finally stopped. Thank God I didn't have to last out the full three years of it." Not thinking much of it, he turned to the sports section and continued reading.
Some time later he walked out of a patient's room after checking on him. The man had just had heart surgery for blocked arteries and was now recovering. As he deposited the chart back in the bin on the door, he thought, ‘I sure like these straightforward surgeries better than digging shrapnel out of kids.' Trapper was halfway down the hall before he realized what an odd thought that had been. It had been years since he'd escaped from the army. Why would thoughts of his time there pop up now? Pondering this, he headed back for his office, having finished his rounds for the time being. "Any messages for me, Tasha?"
"One from a Bob Welchowski – he's scheduled for surgery tomorrow afternoon, and then one from your wife." She held out the two pieces of paper for him.
McIntyre took them. "What'd the ol' ball and chain want?"
"Your wife said to remind you that you promised this morning to pick up milk and bread at the store before coming home, which you'd know if you read the paper I just gave you." Tasha had been with Dr. McIntyre long enough to not put up with any of his crap.
"Oh." That wasn't what he'd been hoping to hear. Trapper missed the days when Louise would show up at his office for a lunchtime quickie, and when "milk and bread" was only a code for something that had to be purchased at a store not for those under eighteen. But those were days long past, when they were newly married, and before the mundane details of life and kids had set in. "I don't suppose you'd want to run to the grocery store for me?" He looked at his secretary hopefully, doing his best to look pitiful.
"No, I wouldn't. I'm here to keep your office running, not to run your errands."
"Then if you won't do that, what do you say we slip into my private office for a little lunch hour consultation?" He'd tried with her before and been turned down, but she was a good-looking woman, and it never hurt to try again.
"I don't think so, doctor."
"You sure? There's a lock on the door..."
"I'm a married woman, doctor." Tasha rolled her eyes at her boss's inept attempts at flirtation. He was kind of cute, but this sort of thing got really old, really fast.
"Well, so's my wife, but how many times does an opportunity like this come along?"
"In my case, every day."
He shook his head in mock sorrow. "You don't know what you're missing, but if you ever change your mind..." McIntyre gestured over his shoulder at his office door.
"I'll keep that in mind." She attempted to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, but didn't quite succeed.
Not really having expected anything more than what he'd gotten, Trapper retreated, only mildly disappointed. What good was a secretary that wanted to be faithful to her husband anyway? At least some of the nurses were receptive, not to mention that one lady doc over in Oncology, so his workplace wasn't a total loss. Glancing at the message he'd just received – the one from the patient – as well as a few others from earlier in the day, he made several phone calls and got some details straightened out.
McIntyre's thoughts began to drift again, and he found himself thinking of the day he'd come home from the war. The absolute joy of landing in the Boston airport and seeing his family again after so long. Becky and Kathy had done so much growing in the time he'd been away, but Louise had been just like in his dreams. For a few weeks there, it had been like they were on their honeymoon again, and he'd remembered just why he'd been so crazy about the woman that he'd willingly given up his bachelorhood to marry her. Unfortunately, just what that reason was was no longer quite so apparent, but back then it had been so easy to slip into his old life and forget that he'd ever been away from Boston. And so he had done his best to do just that: forget.
Every once in a long while he allowed himself to think about his time in Korea, in order to tell the girls a story about the "crazy" corporal who wore dresses, or the company clerk who could read minds. And then he would wonder if he'd done the right thing, shutting out all memory of the 4077 the way he had. Most of those people didn't mean so much, but Hawkeye Pierce had been his best friend. Hell, he was the one who'd gotten Trapper through that agonizing time. And yet, for all he knew, although he refused to believe it, Hawkeye could have met with the same fate that Henry had.
Sometimes, Trapper felt just a little hurt that Hawkeye had never looked him up after he'd gotten back to the States, just as he sometimes felt a little guilty for never calling or writing after he'd returned from Korea. These days, of course, they were probably living in the same city again. Boston was where they had met, originally. But even as he felt slighted, he was also relieved that Pierce had never contacted him. If he had to see him, McIntyre would also have to face too many memories that were buried far too deeply for that to ever be done with any ease. No, things were better the way they had worked out. Those nine or ten months of his life were better simply written off as lost time and left as a blank spot in his memory. He certainly had no need to retain them.
Shaking his head to clear it and return to the present, Trapper stood up. That damned article in the Globe was what had prompted this pointless bout of introspection. So what if this was the anniversary of the day the peace treaty had been signed? He'd been out of Uncle Sam's little police action long before that had happened. It didn't, it couldn't, mean anything to him.
The intercom buzzed, signaling that his next appointment had arrived. He got up from his chair, snatching the morning's newspaper off the floor as he went out the door. Walking by Tasha, he dropped it on her desk. "Here, get rid of this for me, would you? I'm done with it."