Keeping a wary eye on Louise Burns, Margaret hugged her daughter. "Hi, sweetie."
"Is that your daughter? She's very sweet. I have kids too, you know." Louise was an expert at sarcasm. "Three girls in fact. The youngest just graduated from high school, but they were closer to her age when you knew their father."
Hawkeye caught the last bit as he arrived at the table with his son, Charlie, still clinging to his hand. Meeting Margaret's eyes he quickly realized that something wasn't quite right. "Hello. And who might you be?"
"Louise Burns. I have some business with your wife."
"Uh-huh. Louise Burns. Why do I feel like I've stepped into the Twilight Zone?"
Margaret glanced nervously at the two six year olds and intervened. "Kids, why don't you run over and see if you can get Tony to give you some ice-cream."
"Ice-cream before dinner?" Charlie's eyes brightened at the idea. It wasn't often that his mother not only allowed him to have, but offered, dessert before he ate all his vegetables.
"Yeah, sure. Just try to leave room for a hamburger or something." Hawkeye distractedly assured him it was alright.
B-Jane didn't wait for the offer to be rescinded and scampered off. Not to be outdone, her twin brother followed closely behind.
"Now that we've removed the little ears, would you mind telling me what's going on, Margaret?"
"I'll tell you what's going on." Louise spoke before Margaret could. "Your darling little wife here has done an excellent job of destroying my life. Were you aware that she..." Louise jabbed her finger in Margaret's direction. "...had an affair for over a year with my husband? That she caused the end of my marriage?"
"Look lady, normally I don't like to insult lower life-forms, but Frank was a weasel and a toad. If your marriage fell apart, blame it on him, not on Margaret! Or maybe you should look in the mirror if you want a someone to blame. You seem to be enough of a shrew to drive anyone away!" Hawkeye knew even as he spoke that he was overreacting, but Frank Burns had never ceased to be a sensitive subject with either of the Pierces. Besides, no one said things like that about his wife and got away with it.
"Just because you're a colonel doesn't mean you have any right to talk to me like that!"
"A colonel? You're as loony as Frank!"
"Hawkeye." Margaret grasped her husband's arm firmly to silence him. "If I could talk to you for a minute..." She slid out of the booth. "Louise, please don't go anywhere."
Hawkeye let himself be guided over to an empty corner. "Margaret, what is going on here? I walk in and find you talking with Ferret Face's wife? Where the hell did that witch appear from anyway?"
"I was trying to find out that information before you decided to take her head off!" She hissed at him, impatient. "She just showed up a couple minutes before you came in."
"And it doesn't bother you that she's deranged?"
"She's not deranged, Hawkeye! Just upset, and quite frankly I'd like a chance to talk with her!"
"For god's sake, why?"
She sighed and her tone softened. "There was a time when I thought I was in love with Frank, and I'd like to know what happened to him. Besides, what if she's right? Don't you think I owe her at least a few minutes of my time?"
"No! I don't think you owe her anything! You can't possibly think you were responsible for ending Frank's marriage?" He was incredulous. "Margaret, if Frank wouldn't leave that vindictive harpy when he had some chance of getting you, he sure as hell wasn't going to do it later!"
"Hawkeye, just take the twins and go get them dinner somewhere." She gave up trying to explain herself to him. "I'm going to talk with Louise Burns, and I'll see you at home later."
"Fine, you do what you want. But don't blame me if she tries to slit your throat."
"Darling, I'll explain to you later what an ass you're being. Now go find the kids before they have the kitchen in shambles." She smiled tightly and determinedly, but she was more exasperated than truly angry.
Hawkeye held up his hands in surrender, saying nothing else, and went to locate his children.
Margaret returned to the table. "I apologize for my husband. Sometimes I think I should get a muzzle for him."
The pleasant words caught Louise off guard. She had spent years hating Margaret Houlihan, years of falling asleep every night imagining over and over what it would be like when she finally got to confront the homewrecker who had seduced her husband. In her fantasies the other woman had been angry, accusing, triumphant, callous, cowed, afraid, intimidated, indifferent, mocking, but never, not once had she been nice. Louise wasn't sure what to do. "You don't agree with him?"
"Louise, right now I don't know what to think. But you should know that my husband is not a colonel." Margaret tried to explain. "I was married to a Lt. Col. Penobscott for a few months during the war, which is probably what you're thinking of. Frank left Korea right after my wedding, but Donald – that was his name – and I divorced very quickly."
"Then how did your husband know Frank? I don't understand." Louise faltered, recognizing that she was losing control of the situation. She wondered if the blonde could be lying. But why would she?
"My husband's name is Hawkeye Pierce. He was a surgeon at the same field hospital and shared a tent with Frank for over a year. They didn't get along very well." That was the understatement of the year, Margaret thought wryly to herself. She watched Louise closely for a reaction. For a moment the woman looked shell-shocked and then her bitter face twisted suspiciously and her shoulders began to shake. For a moment she sounded as if she was choking and, to her surprise, Margaret realized it was laughter.
"You? You're married to Captain Pierce?"
"Yes. Eight years and counting."
Louise couldn't help it. She put her head in her hands and let the waves of almost-hysterical laughter wash over her. It was just so ridiculous. Years, years dreaming about this confrontation and then Frank's woman was friendly and wanted to talk with her! Tears ran down her cheeks and she had to remove her thick glasses to futilely wipe her eyes. The woman who Frank had spent forever idealizing and pining over was happily married to his arch-nemesis! What poetic justice. She had heard her call him ‘Hawkeye' a moment before but hadn't connected it to the Pierce that poor Frank had been so paranoid about. It had been longer than Louise could remember since she had laughed this hard, and it wasn't until she started to hiccup that she was finally able to stop. She gasped out, "I wish Frank were here to hear you say that! The man's head would probably explode."
Margaret's answering chuckle was tentative. "Frank never did like Hawkeye." It was a neutral response to make. No sense in agreeing to his wife that Frank had been in love with her when she didn't know what the reaction would be.
"There aren't very many people Frank likes, period."
"No, I suppose not." Margaret bit her lower lip, weighing her next words carefully. "Louise, before you say anything else let me say something. I don't really understand why you're here, but I'm glad to have the chance to talk with you." She forced eye contact with the woman across the table. "Please know how truly sorry I am for any, for all the pain I know I've caused you. I don't know how much of a part I really played in your divorce, but I know I didn't help matters any."
"No, you didn't." The venom had gone out of her voice, although there was still a flint-like hardness to the tone. "I don't know what you did to him while he was in Korea, but he was never the same after he came home."
"What do you mean?" Margaret pushed gently.
"He just wasn't the docile husband that he'd always been. Even talked back to his mother occasionally." She shook her head ruefully. "Although if he had done that a little more often it might have been reason enough not to leave him. But every time there was a blonde woman anywhere near your build, he wouldn't be able to take his eyes off her." Bitterness oozed out of Louise as she spoke. "He called out your name in his sleep for at least three years after he got home. Past that we were in separate bedrooms, so I wouldn't know."
"That's terrible." The words were ineffectual, but they were all she had. "I don't know if it would help to hear this, but I can understand what it must have been like for you."
"You?" Louise scoffed at the idea. "The famed wrecker of homes? The proverbial other woman? Don't tell me your precious Hawkeye has a girlfriend on the side?"
"No, not Hawkeye. But remember how I said my first marriage didn't last very long? Well, the main reason for that was that the bastard cheated on me left and right with every floozy in Tokyo."
Hearing this, Louise sat up at attention and waited eagerly to hear more. "You got to feel what it's like to be on the receiving end, did you? To know that your man is holding some other woman in his arms, sharing some other woman's bed, telling some other woman that he loves her and that you, the one he vowed to cherish forever, are nothing to him." She pounded the nail in for all it was worth, her eyes shining at the thought of revenge, however vicarious.
Margaret winced, knowing the blow was justified. In the intervening years since her short-lived first marriage most of the pain it had caused had seeped away, replaced by newer and happier memories. But no amount of time could erase the memory of hearing Lt. Gleason talk about the crazy colonel who had liked to lick fingernails or opening that letter, full of excitement, and seeing ‘Darlene' scrawled across the top in black and white. The sensation of having the wind knocked out of her, as if some unseen force had brutally slugged her in the gut with the butt of a rifle. Had it been that way for Louise? Only instead of ‘Dear Darlene,' the line ran ‘Dear Margaret'? What would she do if she could meet Darlene? Challenge her? Accuse her of destroying her marriage? Maybe once she would have. No, once she definitely would have. Not anymore; it was such ancient history that she wouldn't dredge it up just to have the satisfaction of blowing the little hussy away. But there was a time when Darlene wouldn't have even known what hit her.
"Yes, I've had that experience. And I won't deny how much it hurt me."
"Good. You deserved every second of that pain." Louise got a vindictive glee out of seeing that her foe had not let a charmed life.
"And maybe once I would have taken the opportunity to tell off a few of those women." Margaret continued as if Louise had said nothing. "But the one I was really angry with was my husband. Maybe that was because I'd had the shoe on both feet and I knew that no woman, especially in wartime, goes into an affair with a thought about the far away spouse. My first husband was the one who destroyed my marriage, not any of those other women."
"Don't worry. I know all about Frank's faults. You weren't the only woman he ever cheated with. He didn't think I knew about him boinking his secretary at the office, but I did. You were just the only one he ever fell in love with." Her voice broke on the last word, but she jerked the iron mantel of control back on. "Frank is a selfish, small-minded, good-for-nothing bum without a backbone, and I've told him so many a time! But until you came along he was my good-for-nothing bum. I could stand his dalliances, stand the apron strings to his mommy, stand the constant penny-pinching, even stand the thin lips, but I couldn't stand him not being mine anymore."
"But Louise..." Margaret protested, grasping at anything to soothe her. "Frank chose you over me hundreds of times in Korea. Please don't take this the wrong way, but I tried to get him to leave you and marry me. He wouldn't do it."
"Yes, that's Frank alright. Believes in the ‘sanctity of marriage,' he does. More like he believes in the fact that I own real-estate and my family has money!"
"I'm not going to deny that Frank was always very attached to his money, or your money as the case may have been. But it was more than that."
"Oh? Like what?" Louise clearly put little faith in the assertion.
"Well, one time there was a bout of hemorrhagic fever going around camp. Frank caught it, was delirious for several days and managed to convince himself that he was going to die. Of course I told him that was ridiculous, but he was worried, so our priest..."
"A priest! Frank's not Catholic."
"That didn't matter. Father Mulcahy was kind of an all-purpose priest – handled all denominations. Anyway, Frank wanted to make out a will, just in case, and I was in the room while he was dictating it to the Father. So I heard him say that he was leaving everything to, as he termed it, the only woman who ever really understood and cared. You. He only left me his clothes."
"Look, I know you're just trying to be nice – God, I can't believe I just said that about you – but even if that's true it doesn't change anything."