M A S H Fan Fiction ❯ Theatre of War ❯ Innocence Lost ( Chapter 4 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The next few days kept Lena fairly busy, pulling ten hour shifts with the rest of the medical personnel. Our much needed order of penicillin finally came in with the help of Radar and his bartering skills, just in time for a thick wave of wounded. As luck would have it not one of those innocent boys were lost, for which I thanked the Lord profusely.
Since that night Lena and I parted on odd terms I really hadn't spoken to her at all. She tried to make conversation on several occasions, but each time I was pulled away by other matters. It was frustrating to say the least, but I didn't exactly go out of my way to make up for lost time. I was afraid. I wanted badly to speak with her, to exchange stories about home, to maybe sit down and play the piano together. She was a very nice girl after all, and we had much in common.
But I was afraid.
Afraid that she would see me only as another faceless chaplain as many enlisted men did, a military padre, this camp's resident `Holy Man' as Hawkeye had put it. Maybe she didn't want to hang around with an old priest, who hung boxing gloves in his tent and played goofy ragtime to fool himself into thinking he was more than the Cloth. Rejection seemed such a cruel fate.
But mostly I was afraid of myself, of overstepping my boundaries. Getting too close and forgetting my place was something that scared me to death. I had already proven there was something about Lena that got the best of me. I couldn't fathom to guess what God thought of my behavior.
And yet I wanted nothing more than to walk with Lena as we did at Sister Teresa's orphanage, smiling and talking, the two of us enjoying each other's company.
Fear can be a powerful and irrational master sometimes. It was all very confusing.
I caught Lena one day when a break in her work permitted food. She was as lovely as ever, even after swapping her pressed uniform for army fatigues, walking through the snow-encrusted camp. I thought I might initiate a conversation but Hawkeye got there first.
“Splendid to see you again, dear Lady Iris,” his voice enunciated each syllable with dramatic intonation, “may I escort you to the festivities? I hear Chief Igor has a lovely platter of gruel with our name on it.” He held out an elbow and waited for Lena to accept.
With a smile, she reciprocated the enthusiasm. “Ah, Lord Dudley, how long it has been. `Tis an honor.” Feigning a respectful curtsey, Lena thanked him for the offer and wriggled her arm around his. My heart skipped a beat, plummeting into my stomach.
“The honor's all mine.”
Before I could even get a word in, they had sauntered off arm-in-arm toward lunch, Hawkeye walking dignifiedly with an invisible cane. She was touching him. Lena was touching Hawkeye. Though just with an arm, I felt rotten on the inside.
They hadn't even seen me.
Not that I had made myself too prominent, I suppose. Had not the shadow of my tent prevented it, perhaps Lena would be walking with me instead. Well, not in such a manner of course.
With a sigh, I followed loosely behind, drooping from their happy banter.
I noticed with sudden lurching disapproval Hawkeye and Lena sat next to each other in the mess tent as well. This may not have been so odd, as doctors often sat together, but the smile she gave him was almost too much for me to bear.
It was the same exact smile she had given me that night outside Sister Teresa's orphanage, bathed in the healthy glow of sunset.
It was the same smile she had treated me to that night I consoled her, though far too tired to appreciate its impact at the time.
Part of me wondered if I was making too much out of nothing, as I dolefully crept through the threshold far behind them. Lena might just smile that way. That warm, inviting way both sweet and amusingly mischievous at the same time; like hot cocoa tinged with hazelnut on a crisp winter's morning, right after a good long run in the snow. What an inviting smile.
“Oh, my...” I felt my face flush at the thought and hastily broke for the food table. Filling a tray with unrecognizable goop, I discreetly sat down next to BJ, the three of them thick in conversation.
“- Honestly Hawke, I had never seen anything like it. The thing was huge. Must have been forty pounds at least.” Captain Hunnicutt was busy chewing, gesturing with his hands to describe whatever he was talking about. “Probably three feet long, the fish was incredible.”
Hawkeye, taking his eyes off of Lena just long enough to respond to his friend across the table, was obviously not impressed. “Impossible. No trout in the history of God - oh, pardon me Father - was ever three feet long.
“Three pounds, sure. Three inches? Kinda small, but you bet. Fish and guests stink after three days? Goes without saying, though Frank stunk after only an hour.
“But three feet? I'm not buying it.”
He exchanged a grin with Lena and shoveled another forkful of grey mash into his mouth.
“I'm telling you, Hawke. The fish was almost as tall as Peggy.”
“I once caught a perch off the bank of Pennypack Creek. It...wasn't very big I'll admit, but it tasted wonderful. Katherine sprinkled a bit of lemon salt on it and fried it up in butter. Since it was so small, we only got a few bites a piece, but mmm, it was quite delicious.” Before I could stop myself, the words snuck out. Immediately I wished I could crawl under the table and be forgotten.
Had I really just said `Mmm'?
BJ looked amused, Hawkeye looked confused, but Lena - oh, Lena. Her blue eyes brightened as she leaned over the table to get closer to me.
“Pennypack Creek?” There was the smile I missed. “I used to spend hours fishing there with my brother. Never caught a darn thing of course -” she broke off to laugh casually, “- but Andy loved it. How could I complain? It made him so happy.
“I had no idea you fished there as well - oh, but I guess it wouldn't be the same section we used.” She shook her head as if disappointed, caught reminiscing for no reason at all. “It's nice to be reminded of home though, even if it wasn't the intention.”
That warm smile made me dizzy. I took my eyes off of her just in time to hear Hawkeye's enthusiastic reply.
“Why, Lena, you never told me you were a fisherman - fisherwoman, excuse me.” Something in his gaze made my insides wither. He was looking at her as intensely as I'd seen him look at the nurses before. How appropriate that his name was Hawkeye Pierce.
And I suddenly remembered them walking along the snowy row of tents, arm-in-arm, their laughter echoing along the camp. I felt lost.
“What do ya say you and I get together after this war and go fishing? Crabapple Cove is famous for it, you know. Well, that and lobster.” Hawkeye's blue eyes danced over Lena's. “Beautiful place, I'd think you'd love it.”
“Alright,” Lena agreed pleasantly, “when the war is over, we'll go fishing.”
“Then it's a deal,” and the two of them sealed their pact with a handshake. “Beej, you up for a little fishing too? Maybe you'll catch another three foot trout and prove me wrong.” Hawkeye smirked when his friend approved the idea and then turned back to Lena, a dangerous excitement brewing beneath his features. “Then it's a date.”
I stood up, no longer hungry. Not that the food had ever been particularly appetizing. “I - I think I'd better be going.” I refused all opposition with a hand. “No no, I...I have some work I should be doing. I'll never finish in time for Sunday otherwise.
“Good day to you all.”
After another day or so, I retreated to my tent for all meals. I just couldn't bear to witness.
They were a handsome couple, Hawkeye and Lena, laughing and exchanging smiles with one another like school children. I envied them. I envied him actually. But a chaplain couldn't entertain such ideas - I reminded myself painfully.
I admit that it was wonderful to see Lena so happy, so vibrant. If nothing else I was glad she found a friend in these desperate times, although I felt even more miserable than ever. As for myself, I adopted studying the good book and remembering why priesthood was my calling. It took a bit to get that old feeling back I'm afraid, but the reading did help. So did all the Hail Mary's.
However, despite all off this effort, in the back of my mind I still felt rotten.
It was during one such afternoon I heard a knock on my door and just about had an ecstatic fit.
“Oh, come in!” I was halfway through when I had to stop and tab my place. Like a fool I immediately hoped it to be Lena, wishing to talk, quick to leave the handsome Hawkeye for this old priest. How my mind forgot itself.
Imagine my surprise when another woman barreled through. “Oh - Major Houlihan! How good to see you. Come in, come in.” I did the best to cover my disappointment.
I stood to usher her inside but she put a hand out to stop me. “Father Mulcahy, could I have a word?”
“Of course my child, come in.”
She closed the door and paced back and forth in front of my desk. I sat waiting on my cot, bible slipping from my hand to the bunk beneath. Margaret looked absolutely horrible, her makeup smeared from crying.
“Will you keep this to yourself, Father?”
With a wistful smile I remembered Lena saying that exact same thing the night I consoled her. “Oh, oh yes...as confessor...I'm always very confidential.” I repeated hollowly, dwelling on the memory. How much longer could I keep up this charade?
“Right.” She stopped pacing and dropped into my chair.
“It's Frank - Major Burns. As you may or may not know, Father, the Major and I...we....well, we've become somewhat fond of each other over this last year or so. Quite fond of each other in fact.”
I smiled humbly, feeling embarrassed. “O-oh, yes. I may have picked up a hint here or there.”
She nodded lost in her thoughts. Major Houlihan was no longer looking at me, sad and watery eyed, so I stood to comfort her -
With a great shriek, Margaret let loose her frustration and caused me to reclaim my seat with a thud. “I just can't take it anymore! He tells me I'm the only one for him, yet retreats back to his wife like some lost puppy looking for handouts.
“Do you know she sent him a letter the other day? Told him she wanted a divorce! A divorce! I thought that would have meant we were in the clear, that he would finally take leave of that shriveled old woman to be with me. As he claimed he wanted. But, no!
“Do you know what Frank did instead? Wrote her back like some sniveling baby begging her to reconsider, claiming I was...well -” she broke off to shake her head dangerously, “- an old WAR HORSE, among other things!
”Well! I'll tell you what, Father. Dear Baby Frankie never complained I was an old war horse during -”
“I-I see,” I hastily cut her off, hoping she'd take the hint. I could very well guess what she was going to say, my cheeks flushing pink with the thought.
The woman resumed pacing in my quarters, balling her fists every few seconds and cursing. I treaded carefully, slowly, feeling the tips of my ears burning from the subject matter. “Well, Major Burns does have...children with his wife. Perhaps he was thinking of them -”
“HA,” Margaret stopped and collapsed back into my chair. I wondered if it would still stand upright after that last attack. “It isn't the kids he's thinking of! It's the money.”
The Major made a disparaged sob and laid her head in her hand. “She owns the house, she owns the stocks...she owns him. He'll never divorce her. Ever. To him, she's his meal ticket.
“I'm just the old war horse.”
I could see Major Houlihan was truly upset by this. After all, she spent the better part of two years with Frank Burns. It appeared like she might have even loved him. None of us knew why exactly, but I respected her devotion despite the ever-present obstacles. She was a strong person, much stronger than I was. At least she didn't hide in fear.
I edged over to Margaret and placed a hand on her shoulder. “If you truly feel this way, perhaps -” I made a face, trying to think of how best to phrase my advice, “- perhaps you should let him go.”
“Let him go?” She repeated incredulously. “How? How could anyone let Frank Burns go?” I was about to answer but thought it wise to remain silent. “How can I go around the compound knowing the one person I want, I can't have? How can I go around lying to myself?”
A pang of familiarity struck me. “Well...sometimes the best path...is the hardest one to take.” Part of me wondered if I wasn't preaching more to myself. “Major Houlihan - Margaret, believe me. I know this may be a difficult for you, but -”
“Oh, how would you know?” She spat bitterly through her tears. “How would you know anything about how difficult this is for me?
“You've never been in love.” Her simple defeated statement hit me like a ton of bricks.
I knew Margaret was just lashing out at anyone who would listen so I held my tongue, patting her back reassuringly. We sat in silence for a minute or two, her crying into her palms. At one point she even buried her face into my sleeve and made a few noises I care not to repeat. Poor thing, I don't think I've ever seen the Major cry before.
Not over Frank Burns, at least.
Her words may have cut deeply, but as a chaplain it was my duty to remain strong. In truth I knew exactly how she felt. Despite what others believed, I had once been in love myself. Linda had been everything before she tore my world out from underneath me; I knew what true despair was.
Margaret eventually calmed down enough to apologize for her behavior and thank me. She knew I was right all along; she just needed some time to come to terms with the truth. We parted ways and I went back to reading, reflecting over how unusual the day had been.
Over the next week I must have read my bible in its entirety twelve times, picking up the good book whenever my mind drifted to Lena. Funny how thoughts can get the best of you, even when bittersweet. I watched from afar as she and Hawkeye strolled around the snowy compound, laughing and joking, bumping shoulders discreetly. My heart sank every time she smiled. How long had it been since she last smiled at me?
Every now and then Hawkeye would mess with her bun or tap her nose, and she'd laugh so happily, sending puffs of smoke into the winter air. Even in the OR Hawkeye would keep close tabs on Lena, asking her how she was fairing, giving her help as time allowed. He was Chief Surgeon after all, it was his job.
That was the mantra I repeated to myself every time those two ended up at shoulder's length from each other. It was his job. It was his job. The words slowly lost their meaning.
Lena seemed more at ease with Hawkeye around, taking the wounded in stride. She still worked slower than the rest and every so often looked nauseous, but there was a newfound confidence in her eyes. All due to Hawkeye, I was sure. He truly was a brilliant surgeon, and an even better friend.
And I was shamefully jealous of him. Would I ever find the courage to be Lena's friend?
It was just a day before Christmas when Radar came knocking upon my door, looking rather put out. Mail call. The man was completely inundated by letters and packages, carrying most in a sack around his shoulder and a couple loose pieces in hand. When I greeted him he dropped a few envelops and parcels into the snow.
“Aww, man!” Radar scrambled to stoop down but ended up losing even more. I politely volunteered to collect them for him. “Thanks Father. Boy, that would have been awful! Imagine not getting a letter from your family on Christmas. I know I sure would be upset.”
He took what I had gathered and began stuffing the pile back into his sack. Briefly, I caught Lena's name on one and my heart skipped a beat. Miss Galena Marie Trepp, First Lieutenant. I smiled as Radar finished up, curiously wondering what the package contained.
“Oh, here you go, sir.” He handed me a single letter, from my sister Katherine no doubt. “Hey, I forgot to tell you! Fluffy is doing a lot better. She ate two whole carrots yesterday and everything. All because of you, Father.” Radar gave me a little squinty smile then quickly remembered his duties.
“Oh, well, thanks again Father. I have plenty more to pass around. Shame they had to fall out, I had them organized.”
With a shake of the head he wandered off, missing my wave.
Without delay I opened my letter, enjoying the slanted scrawl. Katherine always did have nice handwriting.
First Lieutenant Father Mulcahy, Chaplain
M*A*S*H unit 4077
Uijeongbu, South Korea
Dear Francis, December 17, 1951
Merry Christmas! I hope my letter arrives in time. Always did have a problem procrastinating. How are you enjoying your holiday? Keeping busy?
I'm happy to report Saint Cecilia's has been very good to me these last few weeks - I know how concerned you were when I put in for transfer. Actually, the Reverend Mother has taken quite well to my presence, allowing me to head the church choir among other things. How I love it! I haven't dabbled in my musical side since...I can't even remember. Have I gotten that old?
She has also allowed me to start a Sunday school program for the local children. The Reverend Mother told me that as long as it did not interfere with my duties, interacting with the children would be most rewarding. After all, Fox Chase has little in the way of activities for the small ones and everyday we worry about bad influences reaching their ears.
I'm relieved to hear you are doing well. How are the children, is Sister Teresa holding up? What a horrible thing, war. Although I know you are doing much good over there, I pray everyday that you return to us soon. Oh, Francis, I wish you could be here for Christmas. We will be putting on a play, my Sunday school and I, featuring a nativity scene and everything. I'm truly blessed to have these children in my life, each and every one of them.
I've also been privileged enough to get acquainted with Father Maurice, a visiting priest from Saint Joachim's in Frankfort. What a nice man, and young too. Hard to believe he's accomplished so much already. The children just love him. Father Maurice is actually assisting me with my play, seeing as many from his church attend my Sunday school. Being so close to one another, naturally the two churches get along well.
He's told me up until recently a young woman had organized such a program at Saint Joachim's, but no longer could offer her services. Father Maurice says she was a great girl, a doctor even. They were all sad to see her go. And with no one to take up the reigns, their program died away - much to the children's disappointment.
We are glad to have them though.
Well, I wish you a very wonderful holiday again. Take good care of yourself. I hope to hear from you soon, Francis!
I couldn't help but grin as I replaced the letter back into its envelope. At least now I knew Katherine was doing well. I had been quite worried when I first received notice of her transfer. I was afraid that being so close to home would do more damage than good, keep her mind occupied with other matters. She was a great nun, the best. I was glad being in Fox Chase hadn't distracted her too much from her duties.
Something itched its way back into my mind and I hastily unfolded her letter again. I had skimmed over the last few paragraphs without much thought; it took a second to register.
I've also been privileged enough to get acquainted with Father Maurice, a visiting priest from Saint Joachim's in Frankfort.
Frankfort? Why did that sound familiar? What an odd feeling to have, like déjà vu.
He's told me up until recently a young woman had organized such a program at Saint Joachim's, but no longer could offer her services.
I almost collapsed in my doorway. ...a young woman... Saint Joachim's... Frankfort... Surely it couldn't be. Father Maurice says she was a great girl, a doctor even ...a doctor...
My mind was swimming backwards, trying to recreate that conversation two weeks or so ago when I had first met Lena. Where had she told me she was from? I remembered her excitement to learn I lived nearby. Had she said Frankfort? My heart leapt into my throat as I gripped the parchment determinedly. Frankfort did sound familiar, and the Pennypack Creek wasn't that far away from there, I was almost certain. A few miles at best.
I knew I should show Lena Katherine's letter. What a wonderful opportunity to regain our friendship!
My feet found themselves rapidly closing the distance to Major Houlihan's quarters, not even stopping when Radar crossed their path. He had said hello and I hastily waved back, never missing a beat. There was a new spring in my step, my heart pounding viciously beneath my turtleneck. In a few moments I would see Lena, talk to her again. Perhaps even get rewarded with a smile. I wanted to pick our friendship back up where it had ended.
Or had it ever truly begun?
No one answered when I knocked on Margaret's tent.
Trying not to feel discouraged, I trotted toward the mess tent, remembering it was almost dinner time. Perhaps she had gone early. A few enlisted men greeted my frown at the door, but Lena wasn't there. Igor hunched behind his long bench as usual, setting out pots of unrecognizable slush in preparation. Vaguely he nodded a hello and scattered utensils into their appropriate places.
Where was Lena?
Hesitantly I made my way over to the women's shower, swaying a few yards away. The wind had picked and I struggled to stay warm, wrapping my flannelette shirt tighter around me. I waited uncomfortably to see if anyone entered or exited, hoping to ask about Lena's whereabouts. I made sure to pick a decent angle to avoid any - ah - improper views inside, but I still felt very out of place. Like a naughty child caught with a cookie before dinnertime.
After about five minutes I turned on my heel and retreated. What was I even doing?
By the time I had found the Officer's Club, thick dejection had dampened my mood considerably. Fear had also crept back in, but it was a different kind of fear than before. I was afraid for Lena. For all I knew, she could be out here in the cold lost somewhere.
Katherine's note had crumpled under the weight of my sweaty hand, worn thin in places and smudged along the edge. I was in such a haste to show Lena its content I didn't even bother to safely tuck the letter away inside its envelope first. Nor did I wear a jacket. What a fool I was turning out to be.
Nurse Kellye sat at the bar with Colonel Potter, discussing something I couldn't quite make out from my perch at the door. They didn't notice me of course, speaking animatedly through the warm glow of alcohol. Klinger teetered near the jukebox in what looked like a yellow sundress and heels, displaying his furry legs proudly. Across his open décolleté a string of pearls set off his chest hair nicely.
Oh, what in Lord's name was I saying?
Shaking my gaze away stupidly, I quitted the Club. My head was aching, each step taking its toll. I felt like I was walking through quicksand. Where was Lena?
We hadn't had wounded for a few hours, so she wouldn't be in the OR. And it was Major Burn's turn for Post OP duty - or so confirmed the bulletin board. Hawkeye would be up next, and then BJ, seeing as Major Houlihan was in Tokyo for a conference. Lena wasn't scheduled until nine the following day.
I was more than worried now, feeling dizzy and tired amongst the icy tents.
The sky had darkened quite a bit, blurs of ominous looking green blotted across the grey. It was settling into the beginning of a winter storm I knew, wind picking up loose snow and pummeling it into me. Miserably I staggered back toward my tent, Katherine's letter looking quite ragged in my frigid hand.
That's when I heard it.
Lena's laughter to be precise, though she wasn't alone. Another set of songlike mirth mingled with hers, a man's, coming from the dim corners of the Swamp. With a great shudder, my heart plunged, acid forming inside my throat. Hawkeye.
They sounded muffled, as if strained through a wool blanket. A small lamp was in use but the dark olive drab of the tent choked away its light; I couldn't make out their forms in shadow. I wobbled closer to the tent, my eyes blurring with each new step. I couldn't tell if my feet were actually walking, or just shaking that badly. Either way, somehow I made it to the doorway.
Under a curtain of snow, I paused, lurching forward when Lena's laughter tickled my burning ear once more. What were the two of them doing in there?
Just barely I could make out Hawkeye's voice, cheerful as ever. “- best I've ever had, no question.”
“Certainly not as good as Marianne's?”
“Better. My mouth had never been so happy, I'm telling you Lena - it was like a religious experience, it was so good. Had the Pope himself been in the room with us, he would have fallen on his hands and knees and reestablished his faith right there.” Hawkeye made a few muffled noises that sounded like lips smacking together. “Trust me, I'm a doctor. Incredibly fulfilling.”
There was another round of giggles. My numb hand wavered near the door, fist opening and closing unsure whether to knock or not. Thick pieces of snow had adhered to my hair and shoulders, clumping together and refusing to melt. Tears brimmed in my eyes and my glasses fogged, but I couldn't pull myself away. Certainly they weren't talking about -
“Mmm, well I hate to say this, Hawkeye...but...”
Finding my courage, I finally charged into the tent, looking like the abominable snowman in a turtleneck and cross.
Hawkeye's next few comments went unregistered, as the scene unfurling made me stop breathing. The man had sprawled out belly first over his bunk, missing shoes, a sock, and his shirt. He still had his dog tags on, which he twirled sluggishly from his spot, now fumbling into a sitting position to adhere to Lena's demands. She sat crumpled around several overturned bottles and a glass, clothed in a purple bathrobe and looking suspiciously content.
BJ lay idle in his own bunk, humming a few smashed bars of Camp Town Races into a hat. All three were warming themselves by the lantern's soft glow, clothing hanging on a line above.
Hawkeye didn't notice me paralyzed in the doorway at first, pulling off his dog tags and surrendered them to Lena. “I'm going to win those back, missy.
“Girl's a hustler, I mean it. Watch out for that sweet innocent smile, it's a sham -” Hawkeye took a quick glance towards my direction, “- Ah, Father! You're just in time to see me lose to Lieutenant Trepp for the - what, fifth time?” His laughter abruptly ended as he did a double take and went pale. “Oh my God, Father! You look horrible!
“Father? Are you alright?!”
Betrayal lumped in my throat as I wretched forth my letter and let it fall, muttering something undecipherable as I shivered violently and looked away. With a wobble I fled, ignoring the concerned voices of Hawkeye and Lena, churning my legs forward through the slush.
Past the mess tent I struggled, beyond the Officer's Club and Rosie's Bar, not giving the ambulance pulling into camp a second's glance. I ignored the announcements of more wounded on the way, the sound of choppers whipping against the darkened sky. I fought against the thunderous pounding in my head, lungs stinging with winter's chill, blood boiling in my frozen limbs.
I had to get away.
By the time I was forced to slow it had begun to snow quite heavily, white flakes the size of cotton feeling unusually heavy against my skin. With each breath my chest shuddered painfully, cold air cutting right through my thin clothing. Turning my head skyward I yelled to anyone who would listen, crying into the clouded mess above. My face stung, numbed by the cold, my glasses opaque and unseeing.
I could hear Hawkeye's voice calling me a few yards back, Lena close behind. They sounded so worried; had they followed me all the way out here? They were worried, they were worried...they were -
With a defeated moan, I collapsed into darkness.