What is it, Really?

by Kathryn Taylor

The receptionist picked up the mike. "Nurse Houlihan, please report to the front desk immediately. You have a very important phone call." The P.A. system wasn't the greatest in the Penn Memorial Hospital, but Margaret heard the page from the nurses' lounge where she was sitting. It wasn't a particularly busy Friday afternoon. She got up and went to the desk.

"Who is it?" Margaret asked. Very important? What did that mean?

The receptionist shrugged. "All he said was that it's important." She handed Margaret the phone.


"Margaret?" The voice on the other end sounded familiar. It awakened a strange feeling she hadn't had in a while, but she couldn't place the voice.

"Who is this?"

"It's-it's Hawkeye."

Margaret gave a little gasp. "Hawkeye Pierce? We haven't spoken in six years!"

"I know, and I take no credit for that. I've called, I've written, I've left you messages . . . for a while there I thought you had dropped off the face of the earth! I've kept in touch with everyone else but you. And apparently none of them have been able to get through to you, either."

"I didn't even know you tried." Margaret paused for a moment, thinking. "Wait a minute. You said this is important?"

"I take it from your tone that you haven't heard."

"Oh, great. Heard what?"

"I was hoping you'd heard. I hate being the one to deliver news like this. Um . . . I guess you just have to say it. Frank Burns, uh, died on Monday. I've been trying to reach you since Tuesday. I'm sorry, Margaret. The rest of us didn't care much for him, I guess, but I know he meant something to you."

Margaret was silent for a moment. Frank might not have been the absolute greatest man ever, but she'd been very close to him in the war. Well, it was more than that. Hawkeye had it just about right. He'd meant something to her. Eventually Margaret found her voice. "What . . . what did he d . . . what was the cause of death?"

"Pneumonia. Complicated by an unknown problem in the lungs. Anyway that's what his doctors told me. But I probably could have told them what it was."

"Is there a . . . a memorial service? Or anything like that?"

"They're having a service in North Carolina. At the hospital where he worked. In fact, all the members of the 4077th are coming, and afterwards we're having a reunion sort of thing. I, uh, was hoping you'd come for that as well as the memorial. It wouldn't feel right without you there."

"Oh, I'll come. Who else will be there?"

"BJ is bringing Peg and Erin. Klinger is coming with Soon Li and their son. Do you know Radar is married now?"

"Wow, Radar?"

"Yeah. I was his best man for the wedding. He's coming from Iowa with his wife. And then Trapper's coming with his wife and kids. BJ can't wait to meet him. Colonel Potter and Mildred are coming, Father Mulcahy is bringing his sister, and Charles is coming with his sister, Honoria. Frank's wife and kids are going to be at the memorial service, but I don't think they're staying for the reunion. Umm . . . Henry, uh . . . his wife and kids are coming because he can't. We're going to have a drink in his honor. I can't think of anything more fitting." Hawkeye chuckled slightly. "I really miss him, you know that?"

"Yeah. He was a wonderful man. I would probably never have told him that, but I miss him too. Um, Hawkeye, I have to get back to work. I wish I could talk longer. When is the service?"

"Next Wednesday. You'll be there?"

"I'll fly out on Tuesday."

"And I'll be waiting for you at the airport." Margaret could almost hear Hawkeye's sad smile over the phone.

"Hey, Hawkeye, promise me you won't act all depressed the whole time. You kept us all sane during the war with the sanest kind of insanity. Promise me you'll still . . . I don't know, still be Hawkeye for me, okay?"

"I will, Margaret. I promise."

"Bye, Hawkeye." Margaret replaced the phone on the receptionist's desk. That strange feeling hung around her still, and she couldn't help but wonder what it was. All she could think about was Frank's death and how she'd missed everyone from the 4077th. Margaret had met Death by spitting in his face so often in her life that she'd never taken the time to look at him. Now he stared her in the face and her mouth was too dry to spit.

"Nurse Houlihan, you have to be in surgery in fifteen minutes." The receptionist's voice broke into her thoughts. "Are you all right, ma'am?"

"Yeah. I just realized how ugly death is. What is it?"

"Death?" The receptionist looked a little surprised.

"No." Margaret touched her face and discovered it was moist. "Write down that I'm leaving on Tuesday and I'm not sure when I'll be back. I'd better get to O.R. I wonder if Hawkeye knows."


"What it is."

Hawkeye was there to greet her with a grin on Tuesday. He looks so great, she thought. Maybe Frank had died, but everyone else had plenty of life left. Enough, she hoped. Suddenly Hawkeye was spinning her around in a hug. "Margaret, do you have any idea how great it is to see you?"

"Unless it's anything like how great it is to see you, no."

"Let's not miss out on any more of our lives, okay?" Hawkeye asked her as he set her down.

"I was just thinking the same thing."

"How are you doing after the news got to you?"

"I've been all right except for the one dream. You know my dad died two years ago?"

"Yeah, I'd heard."

"The night after you called I dreamed that I saw him punching Frank in the nose. That's all I saw. And I woke up and sat up straight as Dad's fist was hitting. It was so frightening, seeing two people I cared about like that, especially when they were dead . . ." Margaret was shaking by this time. Hawkeye took her in his arms gently. "I heard the impact, that's what woke me up."

"It's all right now, Margaret. I'm here. I'll take care of you. It's all right." Hawkeye whispered into her hair. She just rested there and cried silently.

Finally Margaret straightened up. Hawkeye left his hand on her shoulder. "Hey, listen, I promised I'd be Hawkeye, but right now Hawkeye's sort of sad because he sees how much you miss your dad. You're with a friend now. I'll help you."

Margaret smiled a little. "Thanks, Hawkeye," she told him.

"Hey, want to have dinner? There's a great little restaurant not too far from here." He smiled at her. "Very private."

Margaret looked at him. She saw that his eyes held that old gleam that used to show when he would, in her own words, ‘proposition a nurse' over the O.R. table. "Benjamin Franklin Pierce, you can't be serious!"

"Well, you asked me to be Hawkeye," he replied with a laugh. "Should I tone it down a little?" Margaret nodded. She was beaming, though. This was the Hawkeye she knew--no silent sad smiles now. "All right. Well, will you go out for dinner with me anyway? It's only five and no one else gets here until nine."

Margaret assented. Hawkeye put his arm around her shoulders and together they walked out of the airport and down the street.

"Radar, it's so great to see you!" BJ greeted the young man in a black suit and tie.

"Oh, hey, BJ! Have you met my wife, Joy?" Radar turned slightly red, embarrassed as usual around girls. That had never changed, even when he got married.

"No. Have you met my wife, Peg?"

"Just once. Is this Erin? Wow, she's grown."

"Radar, it's been years since you saw her. She's eight years old now." BJ blinked as he realized that since the word ‘been' he and Radar had been talking at the same time, saying the same words. "You still do that?"

"Always. Yes, Joy, everyone calls me Radar. It's pretty much my name." Joy O'Reilly blushed and smiled. Her husband, Walter O'Reilly, had gotten his nickname from his uncanny ability to sense things before they happened. Even she called him Radar most of the time.

Now Radar looked down at the little blond girl pulling at his sleeve. "Hi, Erin," he said. He'd always loved kids.

"Hi, Radar." The child grinned. She could remember meeting him when she was littler, but only a little bit. "Radar is my friend," she told her daddy.

"Radar, why don't you and Joy take Erin for a walk?" BJ asked.

"Sure. Come on, Erin." Erin took Radar's left hand and Joy's right hand and they went off together. Erin felt pretty special. Radar did too--he was rather short, and Erin was smaller than him.

BJ smiled at them. Then he turned to Peg. "Let's go find Hawkeye. I still haven't met the famous Trapper John McIntyre." The two made their way through the reunion full of doctors and nurses to where Hawkeye and Margaret stood.

"Beej, hey! How long has it been?"

"Beats me. Gosh, it's great to see you." The two best friends embraced happily. "And Margaret, you look great!" BJ cried. "I know it's been longer--years, even."

"I know," Margaret said. "Apparently no-one gives messages in Pennsylvania, and mail gets lost, too. I didn't even know anyone else tried to keep in touch."

BJ nodded. "I understand. I don't think you've met Peg, have you?" She hadn't. "I'd introduce you to Erin, too, but she's with Radar and Joy."

"Joy is Radar's wife, right?" asked Margaret. "I'll have to meet her later."

Peg spoke cheerfully to Hawkeye. "BJ has been going on all night about ‘the famous Trapper John McIntyre.' You'll have to introduce us or I'll never get a moment's peace."

Hawkeye must have laughed for a full minute. Margaret and Peg laughed with him. BJ smiled. "Boy, I love you, Peg." He began laughing too. Shortly after collapsing on the floor because of laughing, Hawkeye managed to contain himself. When he could breathe properly again, he stood up.

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