Oct. 20th: 1730 hours
Alone in the Swamp, Major Winchester was reading at his desk. He had his feet propped on a stool. His brandy was mellowing in a crystal snifter. A Mozart piano concerto was playing softly on his record player. He was enjoying the solitude.
A door slammed. An explosive torrent of words followed. He recognized the voice but not the language. Winchester opened the door to his tent. He saw Lieutenant MacAllister storming towards her quarters.
"Lieutenant, " he called to her, "is everything all right?"
She paused. "Fine and dandy, sir." Her response was polite. He could see the anger in her stance, however.
"Won't you come inside? I have a marvelous Mozart playing. And a 17-year old Cognac that is begging to be experienced."
MacAllister hesitated. "I'm really not very good company, right now, Major."
"Please reconsider." He urged. "The barbarians are gone for the evening. We may be able to hold a civilized conversation for a change."
Sarabeth was still upset but she managed to grin at him. "How can I possibly refuse such an offer?"
Inside his quarters, Winchester poured the woman a drink as she settled in a chair. "Here you go, my dear."
"Thank you, Charles." After elevating her feet, Sarabeth tasted her brandy, shut her eyes and exhaled deeply. "What a day!"
Quietly, the surgeon returned to his seat. He watched MacAllister from behind the pages of his book. She was listening to the music and trying to relax. With a sigh, she set her glass aside.
"I reckon I'm too mad for Mozart." The Texan explained as she paced in the limited walk area with in the Swamp.
"What language were you speaking earlier?" The man asked, curiously.
"Spanish. Do you understand it?"
"Good." She replied. "Because what I was saying shouldn't have been said in polite company." With relentless energy, Sarabeth continued to stalk through the tent.
"Pierce and Hunnicutt are hosting their sock swap at Rosie's." He tried a different tactic. "It sounds as if the entire camp is participating. Would you care to go?"
"I'm not in the mood for a party. You can go, if you like."
"I prefer to wear my own socks, thank you." Winchester told her pointedly. He was rewarded with a small grin.
"Charles." Sarabeth spoke to him. She was staring at the compound through the door screen. "When I first arrived here, you told me that...if I felt the need to talk...you would be willing to listen. Is that offer still good?"
"Absolutely." He walked over to her and guided her back to a chair.
"I'm not intending this to be a complaint between nurse and doctor or from Lieutenant to Major. It's just ranting between friends."
"OK. Here goes. Margaret Houlihan is driving me crazy!!" Sarabeth smiled at his amused expression. "I know: that's no big secret. But, this isn't just in the OR. In there, she has a quasi-legitimate right to ride my back. She likes her nurses meek and mild. I don't fit into that mold. I try hard not to say anything...I don't often succeed." She added ruefully.
"But it is outside the operating room where she really bothers me! My hair ribbons are a good example. She says they have to go. That they aren't military. I know that. But they make me feel better. The rest of my uniform follows the military dress regulations. Every button is buttoned. My insignia is set at exactly the right angle on my collar. The one boot I can wear is always shined. Why isn't that good enough for her?"
"My ranch house is another example. I came in, as a new nurse, and I have my own tent. At the same time, there are nurses who have been here for over a year, and they're still four to a tent. I asked the major if one of them could move in with me. That would give her, and the other nurses in that tent, more room, But Houlihan refused, saying that my tent was designated for the second-in-command nurse only."
Sarabeth continued before Winchester had a chance to reply. "And speaking of second-in-command...my three week grace period is nearly up. My ankle isn't healing like I want it to. I'm not getting enough rest because of these double shifts. But even that would all right, if I were actually being trained for the position as I am supposed to be. Instead, I'm having to do every inane thing that she can dream up. Every time I finish one of the moronic tasks, she finds something else equally idiotic. Or else she has me redoing the first one again!"
MacAllister resumed her pacing.
"Now, I have been known to give extra scut work to a troublesome nurse. But I didn't constantly treat her like a first semester student nurse. And I eased up on her after a while. But not Margaret Houlihan! No, sir!"
She whirled to face the man who was listening to her. "Do you know how I've spent the last six hour shift?"
He shook his head in response.
"Taking inventory in the medical storeroom. For six hours! And every time I'd get every thing counted, she would come in and say count it all over again. Charles, I've been a head surgical nurse for four years! I know how to count thrice-damned thermometers, for crying out loud!! I will be so glad when she finally leaves for Tokyo in a few minutes! I tell you, that woman...."
"How many thermometers are there?" Winchester interrupted her tirade. She was not expecting his question and was momentarily distracted. Sarabeth forced herself to relax and smile at him. "127. Care to know how many of them are oral? And how many are rectal?"
He caught her by the arm and led her back to her chair. He handed her the brandy glass. "Not particularly." The man replied, raising his glass to her.
MacAllister raised hers in return. Calmer, taking another sip, she spoke, "I've tried every way I know to make friends with her. I've even asked her...if we can't be friends...can we at least be non-enemies. We are supposed to be working for the same side. But no such luck."
MacAllister sighed unhappily. "This isn't really working. You know what I do when I'm this mad and frustrated back home?"
"Go out and punch cows?" He asked with a grin.
She laughed. "Charles, you're wonderful! No, what I do is, saddle up and ride out to the original MacAllister homestead. Sometimes, I just scream and shout and generally pitch a wall-eyed fit. No one can hear me except my horse, my dogs, the cattle and a few rattlesnakes."
"Or, most of the time, I'll pick up a handful of rocks and throw them as hard as I can at a target. I keep chunking them until I can't raise my arm anymore or I'm over being mad."
"Then, I sit underneath the branches of one of my oak trees. I've shown you a picture of my favorite one. Four people, holding hands, can't reach around it. Charles, that tree was big when the MacAllisters first settled in Texas! It's seen countless births and deaths, fires and snows, droughts and floods...year after year after year."
"It has branches coming off the trunk that are thicker around than I am. The tree's so old and so big that those branches actually touch the ground---35 to 50 feet from the main trunk---like arms reaching for you."
Her expression softened as she reminisced. "Whenever I walk underneath those arms to the base of the tree, I can feel the warmth and serenity of that live oak tree surrounding me. I start thinking about my problems. And I realize that they're not that bad. Nothing's that bad when you have an ancient oak tree that welcomes you."
Suddenly embarrassed, she dropped her gaze, not looking at him.
Winchester spoke to her gently. "Somehow, I do not find it surprising that a tree welcomes you, Sarabeth."
She smiled at him, grateful for his understanding. "Anyway, here in Hell's Playground, I reckon I could ride Sophie. But where? Through the minefields? Or through Sniper's Alley?"
"People know if you sneeze twice around here, so I can't say the things I want to say."
"My oak trees can't be transplanted. And the things that Koreans call trees are what we would chop down and use for fence posts...when we didn't care what the fence looked like."
"So, what can I do? Deafening you and ruining my throat doesn't work." MacAllister got to her feet. Winchester stood with her. "Thank you for listening to me, Charles. I'm sorry I bothered you."
"You forgot about the rocks." The major informed her.
"Rocks?" She asked.
"Sarabeth, Korea has a multitude of rocks."
She thought about his suggestion. Her smile grew larger and her eyes began to sparkle again. "You are so right!" She reached for her coat.
He helped her into it. "Where are you going?"
"To chunk some rocks. Care to join me?"
"I wouldn't miss this for all the sock swaps in Korea!" The man declared as he pulled on his jacket.