Crabapple Cove Ch. 03byNigel Debonnaire©
A full moon hung over the Maine coast, turning the landscape electric blue and adding an eerie quality to the whitecaps of the incoming tide. Maggie McIntyre, perfect in her green suit and light blue blouse, leaned against the ICU window, gazing at the night. Her grandmother, Margaret Houlihan Pierce sat next to the bed where Hawkeye lay motionless. Occasionally one of the women would glance at the monitors: nothing was happening quickly in this midnight hour, and both of them knew what was coming at the end of the night. "He looks peaceful after they took the tube out," Margaret said after a long silence. "I don't think he wanted it."
"No, I don't think so, either," her granddaughter replied. "You ready for a break?"
A shake of the head was the answer. "I've been on longer vigils than this one. One of us should go out in a few minutes and call the house so Alvin's crew knows what's going on. He would have stayed as well, but he's needed for chest surgery in the morning, so he needs some rest."
"Hawkeye would have understood. He was so proud of Uncle Alvin becoming a surgeon."
"Don't talk like that, he's not gone yet. He does understand what we're saying; he'd give us the same courtesy."
Maggie went and turned the television off. No one had watched it all evening; it was on like an electronic hearth to keep the family company and fill the awkward, silent spaces in the vigil. All was quiet in the ICU, even the nurses glided from door to door as they surveyed their charges. The floor nurse stuck her head in: "Do you want any coffee, Margaret?"
"Sure. Bring a pot."
"Thanks, Susie." A few minutes later a pot of coffee appeared, with two fresh cups. "Susie's a good one, been here for twenty years."
"I remember, Major. She was my girl scout leader."
"That's right, she was." The women sipped their coffee, and time rolled by. "Heard from Justine lately?"
"Oh yes, she's up to speed with the situation here. Coming up tomorrow afternoon; she was in Montana and had a tough time getting here."
"Yeah. We turned her into an outdoor girl."
"My goodness, that's right. I forget how many times she went up to the woods with us. Gosh it doesn't seem like that long ago. . ."
It was a warm, summer July 1984 evening as Hawkeye and Margaret made their way to Beacon Hill in Boston. Parking was difficult, but they found a place after a long search, and hiked to the residence of Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester III. She held a precious cargo in her arms, two year old Maggie McIntyre, her granddaughter, who'd just come into their daily lives. He rang the doorbell, and they were instantly admitted to an elegant entryway. "Every time I come here I feel like I'm entering the Queen of England's palace," she said.
"I always look for a ticket booth and a concession stand," he replied. "And the movie posters."
She smacked him on the arm. "Oh, Hawk! Do you always have to needle Charles?"
"Of course, force of habit. You didn't have to share a tent with him."
"Oh, come on. He had to be a lot more fun that Frank Burns."
"Depends on how you look at it. . ."
"And you were always jealous of him."
"Oh, come on. . ."
Charles Emerson Winchester III emerged from the hallway and came forward, offering his hand. "Margaret, so wonderful to see you after all these years. How long has it been? Five, six, seven? Welcome. And welcome, Hawkeye, it is truly good to see you again. And whom do have we here?"
Margaret turned so the child could face their host and said: "Her name is Margaret Elizabeth McIntyre and she's our granddaughter."
Winchester touched the girl's head tenderly. "Welcome, dear little one. You bring a special beam of light to this humble residence." Her grandfather snorted softly, but his host ignored it. "As it so happens, my grandchildren are visiting and my three year old granddaughter Justine is enjoying a bowl of ice cream in the kitchen right now. Would you like a bowl of ice cream, Margaret?"
"Maggie," the little one said defiantly from the crook of her grandmother's arm.
"Of course, my mistake," he deferred. "Would you like a bowl of ice cream, Maggie?"
The girl looked at him dubiously for a few moments until her grandmother murmured: "You can have a bowl of ice cream with Justine if you want to, Maggie. It's all right."
"OK, Major." She squirmed down to the floor and ran down the hallway on her flip flops, her tresses streaming behind her and his dress bouncing with every step. They watched her push her way through the door, and shortly afterward they heard her asking nicely for vanilla.
"What a trusting young lady," Charles observed. "How did she know that was the way to the kitchen?"
"She didn't," her grandfather said. "That's her, rushing off half knowing where she's going and trusting she's on the right track."
"Like almost every child," his host remarked. "Well, now the children are occupied, let's repair to the study and enjoy some brandy."
"I didn't know the study was broken," Hawkeye said calmly.
His wife punched him hard on the arm, and his host said blithely: "Some things never change, do they?"
They entered the library, its shelves were full of books of varying ages, as well as tables and several comfortable couches and chairs. Charles went to the sideboard and produced a crystal decanter of liquor. He poured the proper amount into three snifters and beckoned them to make themselves comfortable. After serving them, he swirled the liquid in the glass, slowly inhaled the aroma, and took a gentle sip. His guests imitated him, and he said: "At times like this, I still envy our friend Max's proboscis. How is Max these days? I haven't heard from him for a while."
"He's still in St. Louis," Hawkeye said. "Playing the middle class patriarch and developing networks of family and friends. He still puts on a dress once in a while, to freak out his grandchildren. Soon Lee is saint for putting up with him all these years."
"Yes, Max was always out of place in the Army." He took a leisurely sip of his liquor and looked at them. "I've enjoyed working with your son, Alvin. A brilliant and talented young man, obviously takes after his mother."
"Thank you, Charles," she said, beaming.
"Yeah, thanks," his father grumbled.
"He has a chance to be one of the finest surgeons Massachusetts General Hospital has produced. Two months into his Thoracic residency, and it's like he's been here for years. What a fine young man you've produced."
"Yes, we're pretty proud of him, too." Hawkeye said.
"How are your children, Charles?" she inquired.
"Well, they're doing rather well for the most part. Putting Francine through Vassar right now, and Jeremy is doing a tour with the Peace Corps in Bolivia. Charles IV, or Quarto as I call him, is in private practice near Springfield, and Edith is starting her corporate law practice in Manhattan. The grandchildren are here this month, as they always are, and in a couple of days we'll head out for the country home."
Margaret had a puzzled look on her face. "You keep all your grandchildren through the month of July?"
Charles smiled warmly. "Of course, they each are a precious gift and I adore every one of them. I'm trying to change the history of the Winchester family, making us a little more human than the elders my generation grew up with. Even though I lost my dear wife ten years ago, I've always made time for my children and grandchildren, unlike my own parents."
"Even changing diapers?" Hawkeye interjected.
"My dear man, after sharing that rat infested dump you and your nefarious comrade called the Swamp for all those months, there is nothing in my grandchildren's diapers I have ever feared," he said with a smug tone. "Now to express a more serious sentiment: I am sorry to hear about the deaths of your daughter and son in law."
"Thanks," Margaret murmured.
"Thanks, Charles. It's been tough, you know what it's like."
"Indeed, after my son Timothy's accident two years ago, I have a very good idea what you're going through."
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Well, Charles, I'm hoping for a recommendation. John McIntyre Junior was going into practice with me, was only here a month, and his loss means I need help. It was going to be perfect. . ." A sob escaped his lips and he put his face in his hand.
Margaret rallied and picked up the story. "It all started with those road trips we took. The last one we took as a family was all the way across the San Francisco. Bethie was seventeen, Alvin was twenty one, and we spent two weeks with John McIntyre and his family. John Junior was a little older than Alvin, and little did I know Bethie would fall for him so hard. She even conspired to go to college in the Midwest to be near him when he went through medical school, and the next thing we knew, they were asking us if they could get married."
"I wonder how often that's happened," Charles said. "Have you heard of it?"
"No," she continued. "The reunion last month was pretty poorly attended, and I think most of our unit has drifted pretty far apart. It'll probably be the 50th anniversary that we'll have a big gathering again. But no, no other children of the 4077 have settled down with each other."
"John was at the top of his class at Stanford," Hawkeye cut in. "Bright, as good a cutter as his old man, funny, smart. It was almost like Trapper was coming East." He took a sip from his glass. "We named her Elizabeth after my mother, who died when I was a child. Didn't know how prophetic that would be."
"And now they're gone, like a light switched off at night," Margaret finished. "We were babysitting Maggie when it happened, she hasn't left my side until now."
Charles looked curious and asked Margaret: "Did your daughter look like you?"
"Spitting image," Hawkeye said. "People said Elizabeth and Margaret could have been twins."
Charles leaned back and put his hand to his chin in thought. "That would explain a lot. Maggie wants to stay with you because you look like her mother. It will take her a while to process this loss, but you're smart people and can do your research, you'll cope after all is said and done. I can't think of anyone better for her to be with."
"I didn't think we'd have to go back to child rearing," Hawkeye said. "Haven't lived with a 2 year old since, since, since Bethie . .was 2."
"Blood is thicker than water, and the Pierce and Houlihan clans are fiercely loyal to one another," Charles said. "You'll adjust, and it may even be more fun this time. I wish my grandchildren could live with me all the time."
"You're really an old softie after all, aren't you, Charles?" Margaret said.
"Don't tell anyone, especially Alvin," he responded, conspiratorially.
At that moment, two barefoot little girls ran into the room, one brunette with two long pigtails, and a girl with long blonde tresses. Both were slightly red faced, with traces of ice cream around their lips. "Grandpapa, may I ask a favor of you?" the brunette asked elegantly.
Charles put on a haughty air as he replied: "Yes, Justine. What would that favor be?"
"I would like to play with my new friend Maggie, and ask if she could stay overnight."
"Well, I don't know," he said as he leaned back, deep in thought. "Is this what Maggie wants?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," the blond girl said, leaning forward and clapping her hands.
"Hmm. Perhaps you should ask Doctor Pierce is she could stay tonight?"
"Doctor Pierce," Justine said solemnly, turning toward him. "May Maggie spend the night with us tonight? We would have ever so much fun."
Margaret laughed out loud and Hawkeye made a show of thinking about it, while Maggie held her hands in prayer and said: "Please, please, please, please, please, Hawkeye. Can I? Can I?"
"Okay, I guess so, if it's all right with your grandmother," her grandfather said after an appropriate pause. Her grandmother nodded almost immediately with a big smile. He continued: "You behave and do everything they tell you."
"Yippee," the girls said in unison, and ran out the door together.
The adults laughed, slapped their knees and rocked back and forth for several moments. "I'm amazed," Margaret said at last after she caught her breath. "This is the first time she's willingly left my side for two months."
"Sometimes it takes another child to pull a child out of a funk, and children are almost always ready to play, no matter what. Justine has been lonely here since she's the only girl in the family her age: the other five children are boys older than she is. Your timing couldn't have been better for her sake. Now, I sense you want me to help you with something, Hawkeye. Out with it, man."
Hawkeye took another sip from his snifter. "I need another cutter, someone to work for me back home. You know the talent, maybe one of your students wants to get away from it all, at least for a few years."
"We'll take good care of him," Margaret cut in. "The cost of living isn't as high as here, and it's a good place to raise children."
"You should know," Charles replied. "I know just the person for you. Ideal candidate, talented, a young family: a small town boy who misses the rural life."
Hawkeye clapped his hands. "Great. Who?"
Charles paused dramatically with a small smile on his face, his eyes twinkling before he answered: "Dr. Alvin Daniel Pierce."
"What?" his mother said.
"Look, I know who much you need family close as possible nearby at this time, and I know how important Crabapple Cove is to the Pierce clan. Alvin needs to be in contact with home after losing his sister. I propose we let him have the best of both worlds: he can alternate one week here and one week home. The weekends will be his as well, and I know the standards of your hospital are up to the standards here. He can move his wife Jeannie and their three boys. . ."
"Four boys," Margaret cut in. "Number four on the way."
His eyebrow raised in surprise. ". . .four boys back to Maine where you can be close to them as well. I can get Alvin a place to stay when he's here, and it's all set. What do you think?"
The Pierces looked at each other in amazement for several moments before he responded: "It's a brilliant idea, Charles, thank you. I had no idea. Yes, I think Alvin will go for this, hell, it's the best of both worlds."
"Thank you, Charles, thank you," she cut in. "This is amazing. But Charles, whatever can we do for you?"
"Well, perhaps there is one thing. . ."
"Perhaps you can let Maggie spend some time with Justine on occasion. She needs a surrogate cousin."
"Oh, so that's how I met Justine? I never knew."
"No, you wouldn't. Charles really came through for us."
Maggie nodded her head. "Uncle Charles has a very rough reputation as a teacher, like Professor Kingsfield of the old Paper Chase series, but I always though him a sweetheart. Miss him even now, after ten years."
"When you get my age, you miss a lot of people, and wonder how it happened." Margaret took another professional look at the monitors. "It'll be at least another hour, maybe two. Hawkeye always was a tough, old bird, and it'll take some time before his old body gives out. Want a nap, Maggie?"
"No, Major, I'm fine. My biological clock is so screwed up I'm wide awake and gonna stay that way."
"Circadian rhythm? I just said I was awake, not that I could think or talk." They laughed, and settled back into their vigil. The clock read 3:30, and all was still fairly quiet.
The women were comfortable in silence, and from time to time he would stir or make some gesture. At 4:00, Margaret called her son in, and he arrived 15 minutes later, puffing as he came up to the room. "Snap inspection, Major?" he breathed as he came through the door.
"And you passed with flying colors, my son. Your namesake grandfather would be proud of you."
"Howitzer Al. How's Hawkeye?"
"See for yourself." The young man looked at the charts and monitors intensely: he was lean like his father, his dark hair was just turning grey, and his eyes were duplicates of his mother's. "How's everyone at home?"
"Sleeping. Jeannie put the coffee on and is getting organized, but the boys are dead to the world. No lights on at Dan's house, or Charlie's, or Pete's. Bennie wound down after midnight, guess his clock is still on Pacific time."
"What time are you in surgery?" his niece said.
"Curtain goes up at six. A splenectomy. What to join the party, Maggie?"
"No thanks," she said, sipping her coffee. "Little preoccupied and don't want distraction. Hawkeye would want you there and me here."
"Alvin," Margaret said calmly. "I think we need to make our pitch to Maggie."
"Oh Mother, you're way ahead of things, good grief, Hawkeye's still here."
"He would approve."
"You know what I think. Don't agree with the timing, but I'm on board."
"All right, we go ahead."
Maggie put her cup down and looked back and forth between them. "Go ahead with what?"
"Well, Maggie, you know we're shorthanded here. When your grandfather had his first stroke nine months ago, he couldn't operate anymore. He pitched in as much as he could, basically became a diagnostician, but Alvin's been working his fingers to the bone. None of his boys went into medicine: I love my grandchildren dearly and I'm very proud of them, but we've needed help and we don't trust just anybody. You had a great internship in Palo Alto. . ."
"I had to get away, even though I was accepted at Mass General. Needed someplace new."
". . .And we haven't had much luck talking any young surgeons into coming up here in spite of the salary."
The young woman crossed her arms and stared out the window. "I think I know what's coming," she said softly.
"We'd like you to move back and work for us. You know how much Bennie would love it here, and he's got several cousins close to his age; they'll be like brothers."
"Brothers," she repeated.
"You'll have help, you'll have a nice place to live, and all the work you can handle. If you want to take in high culture with Justine, Boston isn't far away."
"And where is this nice place I'm going to live?"
"Isn't it obvious?" the older woman continued calmly. "You can have my house." There was a pause; this was unexpected, and Alvin's jaw dropped. "Close your mouth, Alvin. You've already got controlling interest in this hospital, so you're not hurting. You've got a nice home, so do all your boys, and Maggie has nothing. You'll get a talented young doctor for your staff, the help you've been screaming for, and someone you can trust to boot. Hawkeye and I train good doctors, you know that."
"But where will you live, Major?" her granddaughter asked.
"I need a smaller place, I'm not as young as I used to be. We've got a little cabin on the far end of the bay we've been renting, and it's empty right now. Walter lives up there, so I'll have a grandson to watch over me, three small great grandchildren to mind during the day, and some beachfront for long walks. You'll need a bigger place, Maggie. Bennie needs room to grow."
Maggie tapped her foot and kept looking back and forth between the other two, interrupting to check Hawkeye's condition from time to time. "Well, I'm wide awake now for what it's worth. I'm not easy to work with sometimes."
"You're really a Pierce," he replied. "You're like Hawkeye: you settle for nothing less than your best. We can disagree from time to time, that doesn't matter. We'll work through it, just like Hawkeye and I did when I was starting out."
They held a tableau for several long moments, almost unblinking. The numbers on the monitors crept downward and a faint glow starting crawling over the far edge of Muscongus Bay, silhouetting the fishing boats sailing out. "Hell, why not?" Maggie said at last, "I'm probably running straight into trouble again, but what else can I do? It's what Hawkeye would want." She went over and kissed her grandfather on the cheek. "You win, Hawkeye. I'll come back and take your place. Uncle B. J and Aunt Peg will be heartbroken, but they'll understand. Wish Grandpa Trapper could see this, and Uncle Charles." She brushed tears that suddenly started to stream from her eyes. "Damn, what's come over me?"