M*A*S*H Slash Awards 2004, Third place (tie):
Outstanding Letter Fic
A/N: Yeah, I'm back. More or less a reply to the challenge of Friday,
A couple of months too late, *wry smile* I've been out of touch with MASH
lately, sailing other seas under quite another captain's command.
Pairing: none, really, nothing specific
Disclaimer: All belongs to 20th Century Fox, I can't lay claim to anything
and certainly don't make any money of this.
Feedback to sbrzezinski@a...
Quite unbeta'ed, but that's the way I want it. Raw and pure.
Dedication: To the list...in case something should happen
"Oh, what men dare do! What men may do!
What men daily do, not knowing what they do."
Much Ado About Nothing
"Things without all remedy should be without regard;
What's done is done."
Dear readers. Dear editor
The journalists covering the war (*Police Action*) for the papers of the
world give it its appearance, the shape and form visible to the nations, but
it's the letters that instill it with essence. They are the true chronicles
of three years of bloodshed not the headlines, not the cheerful tones of
the "Washington Post" opening another Movietone reel. These creased sheets
of paper are filled with tight, frantic script that will fade with the
years. Quite unlike the memories; those will remain fresh forever.
The letters aren't very stylish, but much is expressed by the simple words
that hide the ugliness of reality behind a veil of innocence. He tells of
the lives of the people that matter to him, people he admires. Through his
letters, he involves them in his life, gives back something he's afraid they
may have lost. It's why his letters are important, not just to him. They
help preserve a shred of innocence taken from each of those who know and
care, those who call him Radar and treat him like the brother they never
Letters full of hope and other things they fear they have lost.
In his simple words, the writer captures what everybody is too afraid to
express, not because he believes that the recipient has a particular
interest in the affairs of perfect strangers, but because he feels that he
has to. So he just does it. He writes. Late at night, when his work is done
and his superiors and the rest of the camp have gone to sleep, he sits on
his cot and writes, slowly, diligently, not leaving out a single thing.
Nothing is *too trivial*. One might say that taking care of other people's
feelings is sentimental, just another kind of administrative duty. Other
people ship home vehicles, furniture and other luxury items, and he's
mailing home sheets full of second-hand emotions, just in case somebody
needs them in the years to come.
By the time he returns to the place he's sending them to, back to peaceful
farm-life under a sky that has never seen the phosphorescent glare of
artillery fire, the innocence that allowed him to write the letters is worn
to a frazzle, transparent like a pane of stained glass. The dominant color
is always some shade of red.
Nobody calls on him to reclaim his lost property, though. They don't know
where to look, who to turn to. So the feelings, trapped on paper and hidden
in a cardboard box under a hard-working (innocent no more!) farmer's bed,
are lost to them. They are aware that they're missing *something*but they
can't say what it is exactly that causes the nightmares, the phobias, the
behavior that drives people away and makes relationships difficult or
All they know is that it started in that Hell Beyond the Sea. Korea.
Eventually, some accept it, and others don't. Some can live with the pain,
others can't. Won't.
His letters are their epitaphs.
There are times when he lives in the moment and times when he prefers the
distant past. Quiet, sun-soaked days between the fields and the barn,
entropy dictated by the rhythm of the horse beneath him. Pace, trot, gallop.
Here, he is in control, reins in his hands, and he throws back his head and
laughs wildly at the sky.
In the present, he feels everything slipping from his grasp; fingers have
become too old, too brittle, and he has relinquish his hold on the past and
crash back into the moment.
Memories tinged with blood become intertwinedmemories of nine million dead,
an entire generation, disillusioned and sobered after their initial
enthusiasm, dying on the battlefield called Europe in a war (the Great War,
first in a row) that nobody (as they will say later on) really wanted. The
images merge with sleepless nights in the Pacific, the heat and anxiety
keeping him awake. And then, almost as a post-scriptKorea.
P.S past sobriety past sanity. past saving
At least, here he doesn't have to see torn bodies hurled up into trees by
the force of the grenades, doesn't have to anticipate even greater cruelty
once the artillery has finished and the infantry moves in; here, grenades
and shells are at a not-really-safe distance, supplying only the many bodies
on the table in front of him.
But slaughter still is an everyday thing, death still a habit. And habits,
be they old or new, die hard.
For every letter he sends, he gets three in return. The elegant lines of the
pen are a magical thread she spins with love, prayer and bell, book and
candle by the light of new moon. Though it is fragile as spider-silk and
only can be seen by starlight when eyes and emotions are dulled with gin, he
works it into a solid rope, a lifeline connecting him to another reality
that is but a dim fantasy here in this unreality.
Hands need to touch, to connect, and his are never free. The scalpel is
exchanged for the pen when the deluge subsides and disgorges four people in
In spite of the company, he stands alone, drenched and exhausted and
feelinglost. The survivor of an international shipwreck.
No day at the beach, Beej.
Hands hold (touch, explore, caress, comfort, cradle), desperate to be full
(of some body or thing), and while the object in his right may vary, he
never lets go of the lifeline in his left. Captain Truman and his helmsman
MacArthur failed to miss the Korean iceberg. Adrift on the ocean of his
nightmares, he has his eyes on the fading shore; with each letter he writes,
every red-tinted lie he tells (yes, he has become quite the expert at lying
by omission), the distance grows.
In the middle of the night he emerges from those icy depths, gasping for
air, awake but still only an inch away from drowning.
When he writes to her, he is both author and editor, censoring the truth
with every desperate stroke of his pen. Filtering out the dirt, the blood,
the mindless, numbing fear, the individual tragedies and faces the clear
liquid he pours into her glass is perfectly transparent. Distilled emotions,
Sometimes he doesn't have the time to write.
Sometimes he doesn't know how to write because if he started, he would keep
on writing and inadvertently tell the truth.
Her letters keep coming, as do the cookies and photographs, tangible pieces
of something he's desperate not to lose touch with, and from the magical
thread he spins a cocoon for himself. A shell neither bullets nor shells can
penetrate; it will protect him from other people's feelings as well as keep
his own safely locked inside.
With every day, as he watches the people around him deteriorate, his
determination to make it out of here alive and relatively sane grows. It
grows in direct proportion to his helplessness at the sight of his best
friend turning into one of the ghosts haunting him.
He cannot help it, melancholy and despair creep into his letters in spite of
his best efforts to sound optimistic.
In a way, he reflects, they are a series of confessions, the feelings he
leaves out of the private conversations with his God. Maybe it's because he
feels that even He cannot quite understand the disillusionment permeating
his every day.
Faith, whatever shape it may take, is still a tooland life is the ultimate
Bottled up frustration. Responsibility for the souls entrusted to him.
How to give the very thing one does not have?
How to provide what oneself craves more than anything?
He lets her know that Emily Dickinson put it best: 'Because I could not stop
for Death/ He kindly stopped for me.'
He isn't talking about himself, of course. It's always the others for whom
Death stops. For all he knows, the Grim Reaper has taken up permanent
residence at the 4077. Maybe, he reflects, that's why the fourth bed in the
Swamp remains empty. The symbolic extra setting at the dinner table for a
deceased family member, the unsent invitation for the witch at the feast in
honor of Briar Rose's birth.
He tells her of the music he misses. Tells her in terms of concertos and
poetry how much he suffers, for as much as he prides himself on his
eloquence, he cannot find words of his own to describe how the loss of lives
(he's never lost patients before Korea) affects him. Notes, harmonies and
rhymes have to be his substitutes language.
Smetana's "Moldau" from source to stream, from a trickle to a flood,
that's how it's in the O.Rfirst it's just a broken arm and suddenly
Ravel's "Bolero" same tune, over and over again, and with each repetition,
the horror intensifies, gaining momentum until the crescendo sweeps him
Mozart's "Requiem" for those who died in spite of his *acclaimed* superior
Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake", Act II, no. 10, scène moderato for the
description of the first glimmer of dawn behind the hills when stepping out
of the O.R. after seventeen hours of surgery.
Vivaldi's "Four Seasons", 'The Spring' to describe the roller-coaster mood
in the camp, especially his chameleon-like tent-mates, who at the most
unlikely of occasions strike a chord of sympathy, and even empathy, within
him, not that he'd openly admit to that, not even under torture.
Only to his sister does he confess that they kindle a longing, a
long-forgotten impish streak in his soul that craves this kind of kinship,
wants to connectbut he's too afraid to lose what little is left of the boy
he was never allowed to be to the man he has become.
The spaces between the words are open wounds of silence. Not clean cuts like
from a scalpel, no, the scalpel is something he uses to preserve life. These
wounds are ugly and deep and dirty, wounds made by lives lost, and the blood
gushing out of them is the blood of others. Slowly but steadily, he's
bleeding out into the growing hollowness within, working with a furious
energy that is either entrancing or appalling to those around him.
He has to admit that the despair and mindless fury burning him out cannot be
remedied by any words he knows, and even the dictionary isn't any help at
all. That's when he gets desperate, some may even say manic.
He notices it, of course, but it is beyond his control. After fighting,
resisting, *enduring* for as long as he has done, the red current sweeps him
away. Where it will take him, he doesn't know. Maybe he'll wash up on
another foreign shore though he cannot imagine any place more foreign than
where he is now alone and alive after the tempest (O brave new world that
hath such casualties in it!), or maybe he'll drown. There's that
possibility. He doesn't have a lifeline, after all; his has snapped/ was
severed/ ripped/ sent home/ re-drafted/ killed, and maybe it should worry
him that he no longer cares. The formerly sharp edge of his tongue has
dulled. He is going up against dragons armed with a wooden toy sword.
Language cannot defend him anymore, he realizes, and that moment of suicidal
clarity is the knockout punch that sends him onto the boards. That's when he
stops writing, too afraid that the lines would turn out to be red.
And towards the end, when their stay in purgatory has been extended again,
the edges of the wounds (never enough time or material to treat them, never
enough time for anything) have turned necrotic, the blackened flesh
poisoning his entire body.
Letters of that particular kind are returned to sender.