M*A*S*H Slash Awards 2004, Second place:
Outstanding Characterization of Trapper John McIntyre
Very much unbetaed; in fact, no one's read this but me. I started it this morning and kinda kept writing up until now. Had to, the muse was whipping me with a towel. Just one question: Should I be troubled by the recent increase in deathfics on this list? And moreso by the fact that this is one as well?
Category: Angst, deathfic (recent death), therefore WARNING!
Archive: mash-slash and at http://tostwins.slashcity.net/jimaine.htm
Disclaimer: I don't own M*A*S*H or the characters and I don't get paid for their unauthorized use. Oh, and I leave the bill for the funeral to 20th Century Fox.
The coffee is cold, the slice of apple pie untouched. Why I ordered it, why I even stopped at this diner on the edge of town instead of heading straight home, I don't know. My business here is over and done with in the most final and permanent of ways.
I wrapped it up with a handful of soil and a heartful of words I couldn't say.
The diner is virtually empty, not many customers on this beautiful October day except for a few solitary travelers such as myself and a handful of locals grabbing a bite and catching up on the latest gossip.
Well, I'm not hungry, neither for food nor gossip, and the last thing I need is caffeine. So why am I sitting here?
Maybe I was looking for company, maybe trying to avoid it…whatever the reason, here I am.
There's four of them in the booth across from me, talking animatedly over coffee and blueberry pie and looking rather out of place in their ties and dark suits. They are discussing the rumor of a twenty-something lad moving up from Portland to take over the practice. It's going to be quite an adjustment since it's only been a year since the practice last changed hands from father to son. And now this… They sure will miss the good doctor, oh yes, they will. Decent man, he was. Still fairly young, just turned forty this year, which definitely is too young to die. Quite a shock to everybody, quite a shock. And there's this unusual number of rumors surrounding his death. Nobody knows anything specific and the coroner from out of town won't tell.
They don't notice that I'm watching and listening.
Even if they did, I doubt they'd remember me; I was keeping to the far back of the chapel during the service, trying to remain unnoticed and unrecognized by people whose questions and blame I cannot deal with right now.
Don't think I'll ever be able to, considering that I can't even deal with the blame I'm putting on myself.
Not that these guys here have any idea who I am…or who I used to be. That's quite all right with me.
To them, I was a face in the crowd when Margaret Donnelly, née Houlihan, and that doctor from California, who obviously did time at the 4077th, too, delivered the eulogy.
In the graveyard I was a stranger all the same, another human being mourning the passing of a friend.
Here and now, I am merely somebody passing through.
"Your coffee's cold, sir." Startled, I look up at the waitress. Nice girl, slim, dark hair, quick blue eyes. Not the right shade, though. I doubt that there's another person out there with eyes quite like – "Sir, do you want a fresh one?"
I accept. As I drag myself out of memories of the past, the present swims back into focus, including the voices of the four diners. "Yes. Thanks, love."
"It's not like he's done much", one of the men casually comments between bites, and another nods and signals the waitress to bring more coffee.
"Hasn't done anything, the good Dr. Pierce has. Aside from that bit in the Army, that is. All these years. Nothing. He'd just live. Do his job, tend to everybody's aches and pains and go for a drink with his friends. Or go fishing. All quite ordinary things. A good, simple life." He shrugs. "Some say even a tad too simple. Well, what do I know? My life ain't much different."
"Must be the reason why he never married", the third one throws in, loosening his tie.
"Come on, we are. So that can't be it. After all, he wasn't exactly shy around women, just…quietly disinterested", he ends. "Sorry. Can't describe it, really."
"Women these days, they want a fair share of excitement spicin' up their life. Our Crabapple Cove here's a small and tidy world filled with all kinds of cheap thrills compared to, say, Boston." He drags out the syllables to the maximum, stretches them into a derisive 'Baahs-ten'. "As for Ben Pierce living in that world…nothing damn impressive about it, not much to tell."
"And not much to love, apparently", the fourth remarks, almost wistfully, and the others nod (//yeah, yeah, what a shame, the poor man, such an empty life, no one to share it with//). "Most of the young folk, they're eager to abandon a place where the week's most exciting event is Stanley Danvers getting tweaked in the butt by a lobster. Spread their wings, that's what they wanna do, leave the nest! Ben, on the other hand, had the chance to be a surgeon at a big city hospital. Fine job with good pay. But what does he do? The day he gets home from Korea in early August of '53, he goes right back to livin' with his old man. He was always a bit…odd…" Murmurs of agreement around the table, "yeah, true, yeah"'s muffled by bites of pie. "Back in school, everybody called him Hawkeye, even his own parents, as far as I know."
"I remember that, yes. My Dad and old Daniel Pierce used to play cards every second weekend…an' he once told me that Dr. Pierce told him that after Korea, his son asked to call him by his given name. Was very serious about it. Only Ben, no more Hawkeye."
No more Hawkeye. Hawkeye died years before Ben. Like tens of thousands of others, Hawkeye died back there in Korea.
And whose fault is that…?
"Must have been tough on him, the war, I mean."
"Never talked about it, as far as I know, not to anybody, not even his father, bless his soul. Molly here", he jerks a nod in the direction of the waitress, "says her sister kinda fancied young Ben, and when he got back, the girl did her best to get his attention."
"He turned her away. Very politely, mind you, Daniel sure didn't raise no tactless idiot for a son. But facts are facts", he states with a meaningful glance at his friends. "Poor girl."
Stirring his coffee, the man whose father had played cards with Daniel Pierce, continues, "Her explanation, which she freely gives to everyone, regardless of whether they want to listen or not, is that he left a girl in Korea. Couldn't forget her. Broken heart and all that 'love of his life' crap, et cetera, et cetera. There's even talk of him having been in a psychiatric clinic for a while." When the others express doubts, he shrugs apologetically. "That's what Molly's sister says and most people believe. Women and their so-called female intuition. Personally, I don't buy into that, but don't tell my wife."
They chuckle and dig into their pie. Four buddies, each of them thinking about his reasonably normal life and how different it is from the one that ended last week.
Minutes pass before they resume their conversation, not that I'm eager to hear more. In fact, I regret having listened at all.
"It's probably true, then. That rumor about suicide. Pills and slit wrists." He pauses as they shudder as a collective. "Imagine bein' that age –"
The passing waitress shakes her head in disapproval. "Sheesh, don't go flattering yourself, Lance, you *are* that age!"
"Who's askin' you, Molly? Anyway, as I was sayin', put yourself in his shoes and then look at your life. I mean, you would've asked yourself the same question: what's so damn impressive about it? Nothing. So why not just end it?"
That's it. I can't bear it anymore!
Leaving a fiver on the table, I get up and step outside, the voices fading, fortunately, before mine returns. I might have said something I'd regret later on.
Wouldn't have been the first mistake for me, though. I'm forty-one, and in those years there have been many things I said and now regret. Also a good deal of things I didn't say.
My breath is clearly visible in the crisp, October air, but I can't touch and hang on to it even if I wanted it. Like I couldn't hold on to him. Twice more, I exhale, very slowly, and watch the vapor rise. A cool breeze, and it (*he*) is gone from this life.
They are right, in parts. His life after Korea was a simple, uneventful life. It's what he wanted, the only thing he still could manage after…well…
With the sun on my face, I walk to my car, dragging my feet at each step. I go through the motions automatically (keys, door, belt, ignition), so distant from myself that I'm hardly aware of doing anything.
It's only when I'm on the road, heading west towards the interstate, that I start crying.
A simple life, yes. Pleasantly simple compared to hectic Boston and my own, sorry existence, two-and-a-half hours away. A simple life. They are right about that. Not about him, though.
Nothing impressive about Ben Pierce, not much to tell. Nothing that anyone found lovable enough to be compelled to stay and share it with him.
Or so they say.
It would have been good enough for me.