Crabapple Cove Ch. 02byNigel Debonnaire©
The late afternoon sun slanted through the windows of the house she grew up in. Maggie McIntyre woke up after a nap: her day had been longer than any shift she'd pulled during her Residency, and she still felt tired. The room still looked the same as it did when she moved away from home to college: a girl's room with lace lampshades and curtains, a ruffle around the bottom of the bed, fluffy pillows and a stuffed bear, and a handmade quilt over the comforter.
She lay naked on top of her bed. Looking down, she noted ruefully she was chubbier than she wished, someday she would lose those ten pounds. Her body was still in prime shape, having just turned 28, her skin was clear and her belly relatively flat. The breeze wafted through the curtains, making her nipples rock hard and giving her goosebumps. Someday, someday, someday.
A knock shook her out of her reverie. "Who is it?" she asked, dreading it would be her seven year old son. She started wriggling to get under the quilt before he could enter.
Her grandmother, Margaret Houlihan Pierce came in through the door with a steaming cup of coffee and a smile on her face. "Here you go, little soldier, something to wake you up. Have a good nap? You really needed it."
Maggie sat up and accepted the mug, unconcerned of her nudity. Her grandmother was barefoot in a halter top and shorts, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her skin showing the signs of her age, but her body still fit. Despite being in casual clothes, it seemed like she still wore a uniform. "The boys are at the Hospital; Alvin took Bennie with him and they're keeping watch. Bennie's telling Hawkeye about his week at school, that'll be good for Hawk. Patients in his condition can still be aware of their surroundings. Mark Larsen won't be there until 1900, so we've got a couple of hours. We can sit a while, meet the boys for dinner at the Bay View, and make the meeting with Mark on time."
"Good. If you have confidence in Dr. Mark Larsen, he must be pretty good." They sat quietly for a moment, waiting, before the younger woman spoke: "Can't stop thinking of Hawkeye. All those days out on the boat fishing, those mornings in the deer stand upstate. That magic night in '04 when the Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino. Studying for Boards with him."
"You're not the only doctor we've trained. All the way back to Lt. Gail Harris at the 4077, all our students got a passing grade the first try."
The younger woman chuckled. "I guess you have. You've been training me since I was 2."
"And we're not done yet!" Margaret said with a twinkle of pride in her eye, then she looked down, lost in a sudden wash of sorrow.
Maggie put a hand on her shoulder. "You've always loved him, haven't you Major?"
A tear crept down the aged cheek. "Yes, ever since I that night at the hut, during the artillery barrage. Before that I could have killed him a dozen times."
Maggie shifted, drawing one leg underneath herself as she sat up. "I bet. He told me once you were his favorite target for mischief in the early days, when you all first got to Korea."
"Don't I know it?" she snorted. "I was out for him a few times as well, I mean, he was in my cross hairs a lot when we first met. Frank and I were itching to find a way to Court Martial him. But he was so good, too good a surgeon for the Army to throw him away."
"But not after you fell in love."
"I wouldn't say that," Margaret said with some irritation. "We didn't really go ape over each other until we got back, after that convention in Kansas City, and there were a few times after that I could have slugged him, he was such an arrogant bastard."
They sat for a moment, before Maggie resumed. "Major, I remember you saying something about having trouble and needing Father Mulcahy's help."
"Oh yes. Things were pretty hectic about ten years after we married, around 1964, and I was ready to deck him about every other day. He was ready to deck me a few times as well. We'd heard Francis was back in the country, and went down the New York to meet him. He managed to get us tickets to the Yankees and afterward we went to the Jesuit residence in Manhattan. . .
The Jesuit residence had several comfortable sitting rooms, with wood paneling, leather chairs and couches, walnut tables and sideboards. Fr. Francis John Patrick Mulcahy, S. J. led his old Army buddies Hawkeye and Margaret into the room, fresh from their sojourn at Yankee Stadium. Spreading his hands, he beckoned them: "Have a seat anywhere, anywhere you want. Can I get you something to eat, drink?"
"I'd like a Club Soda with a touch of Grenadine and a twist of lime," Margaret said primly.
Hawkeye snorted. "Scotch and Soda, as usual, Father."
"Coming right up, and since we're not in the Service anymore, I give you permission to call me Francis. Please. Scotch and Soda, and a Club Soda with Grenadine and a twist. Coming up. Make yourselves comfortable." The couple took chairs a distance from each other and settled in uneasily; Mulcahy busied himself at the bar and quickly produced the beverages they requested. He noticed the unease even after a pleasant afternoon in the sun, and set his mind to counseling mode. "Margaret, I'm surprised. You liked your Scotch as much as anyone at the 4077."
She took a sip on receiving her drink. "I got this sense a few years ago, after coming home, that I might have a problem. Looked at my family tree and noticed a lot of them have drinking problems. So I've been on the wagon since I came back from Korea. Once in a while, on a special occasion, I'll have a drop of the creature, as my grandmother used to say."
"A drop of the Creature," Hawkeye mimicked in a high, bad Irish brogue.
"I DON'T deny anyone else their right to have a drink or two in moderation. I know what it's like to live with an alcoholic, and I don't want anybody I love to live with one."
Hawkeye sneered at his wife. "And what does THAT mean?"
"Peace, friends, peace. I'm sure there's no problem here we can't work out. Margaret, please tell me how your children are doing."
Margaret bristled at her husband, then turned to face the chaplain: "They're doing wonderfully. Alvin is one of the smartest boys in his class, he'll be in third grade this fall. He already knows his multiplication tables."
"You won't let him go hunting with Dad and I. . ."
". . .and Elizabeth is just a doll. . ."
Hawkeye pointed an accusatory finger at his wife. ". . .And you always dress her like one. You never let her play in the mud."
Margaret sniffed. "No, her father plays in the mud enough as it is."
"We live in Maine, we're different, I'm a outdoorsman. The kids are stronger than you think."
"Friends, friends, friends," Mulcahy cut in. "Let's keep things calm, please. Please, for me. Wasn't it a great day for a ball game this afternoon?"
"It was pleasant," she said carefully. "I think the fans had a good time watching their team win. The game was never in doubt."
"No, it wasn't," her husband added. "You folks down here must find it pretty boring, Francis."
"Boring, Hawkeye? How come?"
"Well, your boys win almost every day. Granted, this was the Senators, but up in Boston it's always an adventure. Almost like Christmas when the Sox win, except when the Senators or Kansas City's in town."
"Oh, Hawk, be fair. We're in a tough pennant race this year, we're not taking anything for granted, and if we want to see a hopeless team, we can always head out to Flushing to see the Mets. You've got some fine young players up in Boston, Yazstremski in particular."
"Oh Yaz, has a lot of promise. Isn't the same since Williams retired, even though he was a jackass."
"Someday the Red Sox will win, the Yankees will lose and things will be different. The Curse of the Bambino will run out someday."
The couple gave their old friend a short chuckle in common, and settled down in silence. The 4077th chaplain looked back and forth between them, his mind racing, wondering which topic to broach. They'd seemed relaxed enough at the Stadium, but it seemed to him they were used to putting on a brave front in public. At last, after a long pause, he turned to the surgeon: "How's your practice going, Hawkeye?"
Hawkeye took a big slug of his Scotch. "We're doing well. Dad finally retired completely last year, so I've got enough patients to make a comfortable living. I love taking care of my friends, the people I grew up with. They trust me."
Francis looked at Margaret, who shrugged her shoulders. "He's a fantastic talent, we knew that in Korea. Of course he's the best and everyone loves him. He's wasted in a small town, and we all know it. I wish he'd take some time for his family. When he does grant himself a little time off, he's either at the golf course or out after bluefin tuna or off to the woods hunting deer."
Hawkeye lowered his drink and looked at his wife in disbelief. "We see each other all the time, Margaret, all the time. At the office, in the operating room, at home. When do I not see you? Why shouldn't I take a little time for myself?"
The priest finished his drink and poured himself another. In the back of his mind, he thought it was easier keeping them off each other's backs when they were enemies at the 4077. At least then, they and their friends would engage in some foolishness to let off steam from time to time. It was different raising a family, pursuing a career. They needed a way to stay sane.
"Let's take another approach. Take a few minutes to calm down, you're both still wound too tight, and we can't get anywhere as long as you're tense. Hawkeye, finish your drink and I'll pour you another one. Can I get you something else, Margaret?"
"No." Her body language was still hostile; she was refusing to sink into the comfortable chair, sitting on it like it was a folding chair. Hawkeye was sprawled all over his, but his foot was tapping constantly in mid-air, threatening to throw off his black loafer.
The priest looked at the nurse carefully. "You seem frightened about something, Margaret. I remember from Korea, your lips always trembles like that when you think things are running out of control."
She took a deep breath. "I'm scared, Francis, I'm scared."
"Yes, I'm sacred out of my wits. I've failed one marriage already, my parents' marriage failed too. I don't cope with failure well, I need to succeed, especially for the children's sake."
"Who said. . .?" Hawkeye blurted out.
"Peace, Hawkeye, peace, let her talk." Mulcahy said calmly. "Margaret, are you worried you'll lose Hawkeye?"
She looked aside, her upper lip trembling, and her voice quivered as she spoke. "Yes. I worry I've lost him already. I work so hard for him, trying to make him happy, both at home and at work. I'm not sure it's possible to make him happy. . .."
"And why do you think he'll leave you?" he added after a brief pause.
She sniffled. "He's done it before. He dated almost every nurse at the 4077, slept with most of them, and tossed them aside, one after the other. When we thought there'd be an armistice, he told all the girls he was dating he was married just so he wouldn't have to worry about one of them following him home. He's still a handsome man, and there's any number of divorced women in Crabapple Cove who'd love to snap him up. There's lots of young girls that would run away with him in a heartbeat. I hear them talking."
Hawkeye's eyebrows lifted halfway up his forehead. He downed his fresh drink in one gulp and held his glass out wanting another. "Margaret, I never knew. Sure, I used to date a lot of girls, everyone in Crabapple Cove knows that. There was a pool about who I'd settle down with, and the leading contender was 'nobody'. Even Dad used to prod me about it, before I left for Korea, telling me I needed to settle down." He put his head down, looking at the floor between his knees. "You're still the center of my universe. I went to that stupid convention in Kansas City ten years ago hoping to find you. I even considered re-enlisting if it'd bring me closer to you. Half the time I was pulling tricks on you back at the 4077, I was envious of Frank Burns, angry you'd prefer that phony pipsqueak over me. I was jealous you went for every passing general, everyone who could take you places, knowing I. . .I. . .I was nothing. Once I made that vow to you, there's been no other: never has been and never will be. Good grief, I worry that you'll get tired of Crabapple Cove and run off somewhere with one of those generals you used to date. I need a break every now and then, but it's always you."
Mulcahy nodded and made a sigh of relief. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn't an oncoming train. "Hawkeye, Margaret, I'm glad you asked to see me. Now we can get somewhere. Let me share a few things with you, let you think about them, and you can recalibrate your relationship a bit. What was it about the 4077 that was so special, better than any other MASH in Korea?"
They thought for a moment. A bell rung for prayers, but their friend made no move to leave. At last, they looked at him quizzically, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Why did Sid Freeman come for a poker game and stay a couple of weeks?" he continued.
"That was crazy," Hawkeye said. "Why he took a vacation in Hell is beyond me. He said we had an extraordinary gift for life in the midst of death and destruction. Our little ways of making fun of each other, doing stupid, harmless things, kept us sane in the midst of that great insanity."
"We were good at that," Margaret said, smiling. "Almost every officer that came through didn't understand us, the way we talked to each other, played pranks on each other. I wouldn't admit it, but the tension never really had a chance to grow to the dangerous levels. Just once or twice, it got too much: the first time we build a ridiculous bonfire, and the second, we went home."
Mulcahy pointed and them and shook his finger at them in triumph. "Yes, friends, that was it. That's one of the lessons. You need to let that tension out. Hawkeye needs to let out his wisecracks, and Margaret needs to let that loopy sense of humor loose when she can. Do you still make jokes during surgery?"
"No, not since Korea," Hawkeye said. "It seems irreverent when I'm operating on my Sunday school teacher, or my best friend's kids."
"How are they to know?" Mulcahy replied. "They're sedated and can't hear you. It's good medicine, good life skills, and keeping yourself relaxed serves them better than being too sanctimonious, which you have a tendency to do, Hawk." He nodded, and the priest turned to his other friend. "And you, Margaret; in some ways you get as serious and driven as he is. You're too protective of your family. You were the same way with your nurses, and it took you a while to learn how to loosen up, didn't you?"
"Yes, it did. Mickey Baker and those girls taught me that. Gail Harris taught me that."
"Children are a gift, but only a temporary one. Already, they're making their own unique characteristics felt, I'm sure."
"Oh yes," they said in unison, looking at each other in surprise afterward.
"Accept them as they are as you protect them and challenge them to grow. They'll get dirty, they'll make mistakes. Margaret, do you think Hawkeye can take care of Alvin or Elizabeth in the Maine woods? Is there any emergency your husband can't handle?"
She thought for a moment. "No, no, of course not. I've never been much of an outdoor person, other than the Army I've never gone camping. . ."
"But you lived with bedbugs, lice, rats and other vermin in Korea."
"Yes, but. . ."
"But what? Your kids won't find worse than that here. You're stronger than you think you are. You love each other more than you realize right now. There's one other thing I'd recommend: take some time to visit each other's worlds. Margaret, what do you love to do best for recreation?"
"Knit, sew, cook. . ."
"No, not that."
"I don't like the party scene anymore. It was like I was a teenager too long."
"Try again. How many different souvenirs did you come back with when you went on leave?"
She thought a minute. "I love to see new places, meet new people. Growing up an Army brat, anywhere could be home, anywhere was home. I loved traveling the world."
"Wouldn't you love to travel again?"
"That's one part. Take a cross country family vacation next summer. I know you've wanted to visit B. J. and Peg Hunnicut in San Francisco, and I think Trapper John and his wife live out there, too. You could see Potter and Klinger in Missouri, Radar in Iowa, any number of people between here and there. There's also the traditional stopping places, they're everywhere."
Hawkeye thought for a few moments. "I wouldn't mind that. After the war, I never wanted to leave Crabapple Cove, but exploring the country with Margaret and the kids sounds like fun, now that you mention it. " He slapped his hand on the end table next to his chair. "Damn, why didn't I think of that sooner? We could start that tomorrow: I've never seen the Statue of Liberty or been in the Empire State Building."
The Chaplain turned to the Head Nurse: "Now Margaret, you could visit Hawkeye's worlds are well. Do you play golf?"
"No, but I did caddy a few times. For the Generals, especially General Hamilton, why one time I wore a white bikini. . ."
"I think we need to veer away from that idea, that image is a bit too. . .inspiring and I think your husband is more than a little interested as well." Hawkeye's eyes were getting a little glazed, and Mulcahy felt an odd reminder of what he'd given up for life.
She blushed. "Why, Francis, I never knew. . ."
"To put it on clinical terms, I was only ordained, I wasn't castrated." The Pierces laughed out loud: a heathy laugh that dispelled gloom and dissolved tension. "You could also go fishing or hunting with him once in a while."
"Well, I don't know. . ."
"It can't be worse than Korea. If it gets too bad, you can always go back home."
She nodded and spread her hand. "That's right. OK, I can do that once in a while. If he's up to it," she said, jerking her thumb at him over her shoulder.
Her husband gave a non-commital look, raising his eyebrows. "Sure, I'll give it a try."
"Excellent," Mulcahy gushed. "I think we've made some progress here. Try to take life easier, loosen up a bit, and find some shared pleasure in your lives."
"Well, Father, we still have one means of pleasure that's working pretty well. . ." Hawkeye started.
"I don't need to hear about that," he said with hands raised, cutting his friend off. "By the way, who won that pool on who you were going to marry back in Crabapple Cove? I'm sure nobody knew Margaret was in the running."
She chuckled and he smiled. "I did." he said. "I got my cousin Ernie to put a little bet down just in time, cut him in on the proceeds. We made out like bandits."
Father Francis John Patrick Mulcahy laughed long, hard and freely. "Some things never change. That sounds just like you." He clapped his hands together as a bell rang. "Now, are you ready for dinner?"
"Sure," Margaret said. "It smells wonderful. Who does your cooking?"
"Our brothers do all the cooking, and they share recipes with other Jesuit houses around the world, honing their techniques. We did all the labor on this house as well, some of us are rather good carpenters."
Hawkeye looked around. "One would hardly think this wasn't a corporate boardroom, or a luxury hotel."
"Funny you should say that. There's an old joke about a young man inquiring into our community. He toured one of our universities, shared dinner with us, and at the end of the evening they asked if he was interested. 'Sure', he said, 'if this is how you guys do poverty, I can hardly wait to see what you do with obedience and chastity.' "