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Commentary - Chemistry
the director's cut
In April 2003, Leigh and Meredith asked me to write a M*A*S*H
story about the characters building their still. This was the result.
Firstly, the epigram, or maybe I’ll just call it a mood-setter. Yes, the mood-setter for this fic was supposed to be a departure from normal. Instead of lyrics from a song, I wanted to use the chemical equation for the breakdown of glucose into carbon dioxide and ethanol. Sadly, this refused to display properly no matter what I did with the formatting, so it was eventually scrapped.
[...gaps in his words...]
This square-bracket device was simply there to break up the fic, but it had more of an effect that I expected, so I ran with it. :)
Sunlight was streaming in through the canvas sides of the Swamp. It had been a quiet morning for its mismatched inhabitants. Trapper was still asleep, Frank was off somewhere doing something worthy of his powers of ineptitude, and Hawkeye was enjoying a moment of solitude.
Hawk extended one hand and inspected it carefully. Long fingers,
dirty nails, the odd scratch from an off-target scalpel, the same as always. He
held it still and it didn’t shake. He brought it closer, close enough for him to
see the loops and whorls of his fingerprints, but it still didn’t shake. He
tried hitting his wrist with his other hand. This time, it did shake for a
moment, swinging limply, then settling into stillness.
The first signs of the extreme tedium that being in Korea will involve. I found it difficult to bring across the time setting of this without stating it, so it all had to be subtle.
Hawkeye decided it was a good sign. Letting his hands drop to his sides, he sighed, a deep, luxurious sigh, and lay back on the cot and stared at the ceiling. His month’s tenure in the Swamp had taught him a few things. When it was hot, it was very very hot, when it was cold, it was very very cold, when it was busy, it was very very busy, and when it was boring…
He had already seriously considered doing a number of things unthinkable to his civilian self, most of them illegal, immoral or involving unobtainable fresh fruit/whipped cream, but debauchery required energy he didn’t have. He glanced over at Trapper; for some reason, thoughts of the other doctor were coming into his mind. He had been lucky, he decided, in getting a tent mate quite so finely attuned to his own sensibilities. He liked Trapper.
It had taken a while for him to pass this simple judgement, especially considering it had taken him less than a minute to ascertain his opinion of Frank Burns. But then there wasn’t much to Frank – he whined, he snivelled, he voted Republican, and he claimed carnal knowledge of Margaret Houlihan. Oh, and he screamed when he found a dead chicken in his drawer. Not much to him.
Ahem. Confession to make. I liked the rhythm it added to the description, but this is a continuity error – Frank’s carnal knowledge of Margaret doesn’t begin until later in the fic.
Trapper was different; he was a friend, a foil, a willing partner-in-crime, someone with whom flirting was second nature, and there was… well, something about him. Something; he wasn’t entirely sure what.
Constant repetition of “something” will shortly become apparent! Seriously, I never wanted this fic to be anything other than gentle, building slowly, brick-by-brick, on what came before. To some extent, it was a protest against slashfic where the main characters fall into each other’s arms at the start. That could never happen, particularly in 1950. So this “something” – strange, indefinable something, is slowly arising out of nothing. We, the educated, liberal twenty-first-century readers, know exactly what the something is, but the characters don’t.
He wasn’t entirely sure of anything in this country.
Hawkeye held his breath for a moment, listening to Trapper doing the same thing; then he exhaled and let his eyelids succumb to gravity. He wasn’t bored; he didn’t have the energy. Energy was sapped by the heat and with it went any motivation to do anything.
Lazily, he reached out for a pad and pencil. The pad fell open on his knees, and he aimed the pencil at the page knowing no words would pour forth. There was already a finished letter on the pad, which would be sent as soon as he had mustered up the courage to write his own address with steady hands.
I think Hawkeye is afraid to admit that he’s going to be here for a long time. Writing home will crystallise it, somehow.
The pencil came to rest on a blank page. It moved, making a light mark on the paper. Hawkeye never abused a pencil; his writing matched his personality and sometimes refused to register convincingly on paper. There were gaps in his words where the graphite had simply become too faint.
This was an image that arrived fully-formed in my mind. I can’t explain the thinking behind it, because there wasn’t any. I just thought it was interesting enough to leave in.
The single line on the page seemed to be somehow lacking. It needed something more. It needed a sense of community, Hawkeye decided. He had never experienced life as a newly born pencil line, but he had convictions, and those convictions dictated no man, or line, could live by bread, or graphite, alone, and this line deserved to be part of something else, something more.
A drawing, perhaps?
Hawkeye considered showing Trapper something he’d never seen in his twenty-seven years of life and sketching the back of his friend’s head, but decided against it. Instead, his hand began to move without him consciously willing it to, in the way a medical student’s hands will – fingers run across lines of text, hands are flung up in despair at yet another textbook, and the moment a needle is held between two fingers, suddenly the whole hand shakes, spewing saline everywhere, including the patient’s eye.
More of the time setting exposition here; Hawkeye is purposely described as a medical student rather than a doctor, because he’s barely a doctor. He’s only a year or two out of residency when the fic begins.
There. He saw it again. Just for a moment, his hand had trembled, and left concrete evidence behind – the crazily undulating line on the page. Not a good sign. The pad and pencil fell from suddenly listless hands and made dull thumps on the floor. With a practised groan, he leaned over the side of his cot to pick them up, and his fingers brushed something else, something smooth and cold. He grabbed it and pulled it up, lying back to inspect his find. Those gentle, sculptured contours – what could it be but a gin bottle?
He shook it, and the last drop fell out of the neck of the bottle and landed in his mouth. He licked his lips, and then lifted the bottle up to the light. There was something oddly fascinating about it, the way the glass had been fused together to form the definite shape, the way the light shone and refracted through the clear sides, making rainbows if he knew exactly where to look.
This description is purposely slowed down to show what a child Hawkeye is being, with this sudden interest in something so simple. It’s something about the way his mind works, to see so much in so little.
Carelessly, he let his fingers drift over the words engraved in the glass, suddenly becoming aware of the fact he had spent the last couple of minutes entranced by a shiny object, like any child or jackdaw. Although, to be fair, he told himself, it was the last civilian bottle. Any more alcohol would have to be purchased, and drunk, at Rosie’s. This thought was disquieting and comforting in equal proportions, and he didn’t put down the bottle for a minute, until it dropped abruptly from his hands, hitting to the ground in less than a second. It didn’t break, but it bounced and rolled into rattling stillness with a series of ringing sounds. Clink, clink, clink.
Onamatopoeia! Lovely word. Also, the first actual sound there has been in the fic, and it’s a gin bottle. How utterly appropriate.
“People a-tryin’ to sleep over here!” Trapper was belligerent, half asleep, and in the process of putting a pillow over his head.
Hawkeye ignored him. Suddenly, the pen and paper were back in his hands, and inspiration lent him clear draftsmanship. Rapidly, he drew in the body of it, the plastic tubes leading to and from the condenser, the coil, glassware for the corn, half remembered chemistry running through his head as the pencil flew lightly over the paper. When he had finished, the pad held the beginning of something that would keep him occupied for a long time. He sat back, something of a pleased smile lingering about his lips.
And then the pencil hit the ground with a noisy clatter. There was a groan from Trapper’s direction as Hawkeye watched his hands shake like leaves in a storm.
The style changes slightly here. I didn’t do it purposely, but upon looking back, there were two styles used – the lighter, more-like-the-show one, and the serious one.
Colonel Henry Blake was a great believer in pacing. Up and down, up and down, it was sometimes the only thing that let him think in this world of olive-drab organised lunacy.
“Let me get this straight. You think you’re in withdrawal.”
Hawkeye nodded, which was a difficult feat considering his new and horizontal world view. Henry continued to pace, but Hawkeye remained where he was. Life was easier when faced side-on like this.
Side-on in more ways than one.
“Withdrawal,” Henry repeated. “Oh, lord. The paperwork.”
Hawkeye sighed. “You’re a natural at this, Henry.”
“That’s all very well, Pierce, but what do I do about it?”
“Discharge me?” Hawkeye said hopefully.
“Oh, no, no, no.” Henry wagged a finger. “I’ve already got Klinger. I don’t need you too.”
“Corporal, sentry, sometimes acts as porter in triage, knows more about ladies’ fashions than my wife?”
“He’s not crazy, you know,” Hawkeye said seriously. “Bucking for a section eight so he can get out of here – what could be more logical?”
“Don’t ask me, Pierce, you’re the one lying on the floor.”
My favourite part of writing fic – capturing speech. I can hear the characters in my head; the challenge is making them sound real without the benefit of their actual voices.
Hawkeye blinked as the sun came out from behind the clouds, and put his hands behind his head. “I always say, you’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.”
Someone said this to me once. I always wanted to use it in a fic.
It was Henry’s turn to sigh. Altering his pacing so he walked around the surgeon instead of over him, he wondered for a moment how on earth he’d ended up here. “Look, Pierce…”
“Did you drink in the States?”
“Don’t ‘yes, Colonel’ me,” Henry said irrationally. “I mean, did you *drink* drink?”
Hawkeye considered this from ground level. “No,” he said honestly. “I was a medical student,” – Henry nodded, understanding immediately – “but I didn’t drink like that.”
Henry stopped pacing, and suddenly dropped down beside where Hawkeye was lying, picking up one of the younger doctor’s hands. He took his time inspecting it, but it remained obstinately still, even when the colonel did the obligatory check to see if there were any breaks in the wrist.
“Teacher teaches Cunningham…” Hawkeye sang, melodically and distractingly.
It’s a mnemonic used to remember the eight bones in the wrist. I don’t know the names of the bones, but the full mnemonic is “Teacher teaches Cunningham, students like to play”, with the first letter of each word matching the first letter of a bone.
“Shut up and let me think, Pierce,” the colonel replied tetchily. Getting to his feet, he paced with renewed intensity. Up and down, up and down, until inspiration struck.
“You know what this is?”
“If I did, would I be the one on the floor?”
Henry ignored him. “It’s like the enlisted men who come and tell me to stop putting saltpetre in their coffee. Like I’d even know how to go about it without killing them. Like I care about... that.”
“Hey, I trust you. But I also trusted Harry Truman, so…”
Henry continued ignoring him, clearly thinking out loud. “They all think it can’t be their fault. They’re in a strange country, thousands of miles from home, their wives and girlfriends and receptionists are all thousands of miles away too, there’s a goddamn war going on, but they still have to believe I’m putting saltpetre in the coffee. Or if I’m not, the army are. Someone has to be, ‘cause it can’t be their fault, oh, no.” He finished on a decidedly aggrieved note.
“I see what you’re talking about, Henry, I do,” said Hawkeye placatingly. “But just what does that have to do with my... problem?”
Irrelevant, but this has bothered me for years. Word refuses to accept “placatingly” as a real word, and I’ve always had doubts as to whether or not it is one.
“It’s the same thing,” said the colonel abstractedly.
Hawkeye raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me, Henry, but I never said anything about that. And if you really want to have that conversation, can we please have it when I’m not lying in the compound?”
“You want something to blame it on.” Having reached the climax of his deliberations, Henry had a somewhat triumphant air to him. “You’ve found something strange is happening to you, so you think back to all your book-learning, you find something that fits, and suddenly you’re in withdrawal. It couldn’t be anything to do with you being in a war zone. You’re not at all scared, you’re not feeling at all homesick, so there’s no way anxiety could be manifesting in hand tremors, no way in hell.”
There was a pause as Hawkeye digested this, and then he looked up and smiled. “You’re not just a pretty face, Colonel.”
“Neither are you, Pierce. Now will you get up off the floor, for crying out loud?”
Channelling Jack O’Neill. :)
Hawkeye was about to do so, when someone cried out, “What the hell?!” and came within inches of falling on top of Hawkeye’s sprawled form.
Trapper was still half-asleep, and had not expected to have to
watch for low-flying surgeons on the way to the mess tent. Collecting himself,
he took a step back and stared at Hawkeye in frank bewilderment.
Hawkeye grinned and complied with the last order, scrambling to his feet and pulling a crumpled piece of notebook paper from his left pocket. “Take a look, Henry. Do you know what that is?”
Henry took it and scrutinised the rough drawing, made more incomprehensible by Hawkeye’s scribbled annotations. “Yes,” he said finally. “Except that no, I don’t, and if anyone asks, I’ll deny I ever saw it.” This said, he gave the paper back to Hawkeye and turned, trudging off in the direction of the liquor cabinet in his office. If there was anything being drafted was doing for him, it was giving him a grasp of doublethink that now approached Orwellian proportions and an appreciation of alcohol that matched that of most of the people under his command.
I love attempting to recreate Henry’s doublethink. Being a doctor and a commanding officer was bound to introduce an element of duality.
Trapper blinked and watched him go. “What was that about?” he asked plaintively. Hawkeye draped an easy arm around his shoulders and steered him back towards the Swamp. “Come, my friend,” he said, gazing at Trapper with innocent blue eyes, “we have work to do.”
[...not a shopping list...]
Hawkeye produced his shopping list while sitting on Frank’s cot, purposely crushing a certain leather-bound volume with his weight. Frank would return to find Genesis and Revelations crushed into one entity, but all that came later.
I originally meant to write about what happened when Frank discovered this, but decided this was enough. I only realised later that a certain genesis does take place in this fic; as do a few revelations!
Trapper was leaning on Hawkeye’s shoulder, with one arm draped round his friend’s neck. Hawkeye found this oddly comfortable, and evocative of something.
“That’s it,” he said. Trapper was in the perfect position to read aloud, which he duly did. “Tripod. Gauze. Buffet. Buffet?”
“Not buffet, bucket,” Hawkeye said patiently. Off Trapper’s look, he added, “I’m a doctor.”
“Ah, yeah. Bucket. Bottle... what kind?”
“Oh, of course. Um... glue. Plastic tube. Glass… um… thing.”
Hawkeye nodded. “Thing,” he repeated. “Anything will do. We also need something else, but I forgot to write it down.”
“Gimme the pencil,” Trapper said, and Hawkeye did so. After adding the words ‘something else’ to the list, Trapper disentangled himself from
Hawkeye. He stood up, dropped a kiss on Hawkeye’s neck, and was gone.
He’d been gone for two minutes before Hawkeye realised. Pushing his hair out of his eyes, his fingers carried on until they touched where Trapper’s lips had been. If that was the something…and it certainly seemed like it… then he might have found something. Something that was something.
More with the something! It’s becoming more defined now, though.
In the long warm evening, during which Hawkeye had been daydreaming and Trapper had not returned, a small lone figure drifted past the Swamp. When he saw who it was, Hawkeye’s eyes lit up.
“My name’s Hawkeye, Radar. How many times I gotta tell you that?”
“Gee, I’m sorry, sir, just with you being an officer an’ all…”
“That was done against my will and my better judgement. Now, they tell me you’re a guy who knows how to get things.”
Straight from the Shawshank Redemption. I’m so unoriginal.
Radar nodded and blinked. “Well, I got stuff before… spark plugs ‘n’ dirty magazines ‘n’ stuff...” He swallowed. “Sir.”
Radar has the easiest voice for me to capture. Also, we know that Hawkeye will eventually avail himself of the “dirty magazines” offer.
Hawkeye sighed inwardly. “I need a few things, Radar. If I tell you what they are, can you get them?”
Radar nodded. “I can try.”
“Good. And... Radar?”
Radar looked at him. Hawkeye was smiling in a way that would become very familiar to the company clerk in the months to come. “You won’t regret this.”
I wanted to set up the beginning of this relationship with a degree of subtlety. In the show, Radar seems utterly under Hawkeye’s spell. No matter how outlandish the demand, he seems to find a way to comply, and I wanted to get this across.
It was easy enough for Radar to get the gauze. He simply presented himself in post-op and asked for it. The nurse might’ve looked at him a little oddly, but it seemed people were getting used to the company clerk and his precognition, and once they had accepted and trusted the boy had the strange power, it was easy for them to accept everything else about him, including the teddy-bear. That, his gentle demeanour and coke-bottle glasses seemed to make people think he was an innocent soul, but there were always whispers… after all, he spent a lot of time in the Swamp. Hawkeye Pierce had a liking for him, and as most people had a liking for Hawkeye, Radar had no enemies. When he asked for gauze, he was given it.
Now I look back, I would have taken out this paragraph. It seems a little too much of a digression.
Hawkeye had only asked him specifically to get the gauze and the bucket. But he’d seen the entire list, and he was on the look out for the other items. He knew what the equipment was going to be used for, and some part of him admired Hawkeye’s determination to get what he wanted, but another part of him wondered why on earth he, Radar O’Reilly, company clerk, had to be involved. When he thought about it, there wasn’t an easy answer. Hawkeye had asked… and that seemed to be that.
Again, under Hawkeye’s spell.
There was something about him. Just… something. Radar often had cause to curse his lack of eloquence, but his Ma had always said that what he lacked in words he made up for in other ways, and she was always right. He wished, just for a moment, that she was here. She could tell him what was the right thing to do. She’d know what the something was, all right…
We know what the “something” is. Radar has a simple crush, that’s all! But he hasn’t recognised it for what it is.
It wasn’t as if he’d been planning to do anything, just read the newest comics he’d got from Sparky, maybe check up on his rabbits, and the earthworm farm he was trying to establish…
But he’d had to go past the Swamp to get there, and that had proved his downfall.
Hawkeye will be Radar’s downfall. Well, maybe not, but he could be. If Radar ever gets beyond a crush, for example, or if one of Hawkeye’s jokes backfires, or, as did happen, Radar takes some of his advice and ends up getting shot at. Just a bit of red-herring foreshadowing, but I maintain that Hawkeye’s power over Radar was a dangerous thing.
Hawkeye had seen him, jumped out into the compound, wearing a red robe that seemed a part of him, and said, “Radar...”
Radar. The name referred to a little power he had, just a little something… that was it. It was the same kind of something. Something hard to explain, that small something that shimmered below his thoughts, something that was always with him.
He was here, in the supply tent, eyes peeled for anything that was around him that was also on the scrawled list in Hawkeye’s hands, and somehow he was thinking harder than he’d ever thought before he came to this country and everything changed. He’d been here such a short time, but a month was long when you spent it in a place like this. He missed his Ma, and his Uncle Ed, and his animals, and he missed not having to think about… something.
He wondered if this was what they said growing up was about. Maybe that was all it was. Just lots and lots of thinking. Maybe that was why he was sent here in the first place. He knew why he’d been sent, it was because the army wanted him to go, but there had to be another reason. Maybe when he was out here he’d grow up and then he could go back home.
Back home, that was a nice thought. He was kinda engaged to a girl back home…
But there was still something. And somehow it was all tied in with the strangely crazy New England doctor. Something, somehow, Hawkeye.
And those last three words just sum up the whole fic, don’t they?
Testing the waters, testing the still, testing the “something” – there’s a lot in these words.
Eventually, Hawkeye visited the supply tent himself. There was no-one else in there. He wondered if there ought to be some sort of a Do-Not-Disturb sign for it, as the denizens of the Double Natural seemed to migrate towards it like teenagers. He resolved to ask Colonel Blake about it, or rather ask him to ask Radar about it. He didn’t think the suggestion would be gracefully received, as no doubt it would provide more recruits for the Saltpetre Conspiracy Theory, but he could but try.
I was always rather proud of the Saltpetre Conspiracy Theory. Poor Henry.
With the sharp eyes of a man who had to be able to spot shrapnel in hidden places, Hawkeye skimmed the shelves. The plastic tubing was easy to acquire, as was the glue, and he couldn’t help but wonder why the army had provided one M*A*S*H unit with so much liquid adhesive. The cynical part of his brain insisted on telling him it was how the army thought they operated on people, but he shelved the thought and stole the glue.
Hawkeye’s cynicism is only going to grow and grow.
The large glass thing was a problem. When he couldn’t find anything that fitted the description, he decided to move on, and come back to it. He was thinking about what he could use to make the condenser when the door opened silently. Hawkeye swung around at the intrusion of light, and saw Trapper’s silhouette in the doorway.
His friend entered quietly, and came to a standstill beside him. “What’re you doing here?” he asked softly.
Hawkeye noticed his voice was lower in pitch than usual. He held up his list, and answered, “Grocery shopping.”
“Need some help from an honest man?”
“Yeah, do you know any?”
The steady, easy banter is already established.
Trapper smiled briefly. “Look who’s talking. Hawkeye Pierce, finest kind!”
Hawkeye couldn’t choose to be offended. His reputation clung to him like a faint scent, and there were times he was glad of its comforting, familiar presence.
Like now, for instance. Hawkeye knew what Trapper’s glances meant; being himself, he had to know. Those glances - appraising, appreciative, sweeping in their focus and single-minded in their objectives. Only… Hawkeye was never on the receiving end. There was one other time in recent memory...
He doesn’t look up. Somehow, he knows what he will see, so he doesn’t look up, and he knows his contrariness will irritate this personification of army directives, and so suddenly he finds his own hands very interesting.
“Do you have a name?!”
Still without looking up, he says dully, “I have lots of them.”
A grab for his dogtags, which he refuses to give up. The rustle of officialdom.
“Look at me when you say that, Captain Pierce!” A pause, and then: “Benjamin Franklin Pierce!”
“Most people call me Hawkeye.”
“I am not most people, Captain!”
“No, Major,” - still looking down – “you’re not people. You’re not even a person.”
And then he looks up, and there’s that look]
This is, of course, Frank. The idea of Frank appraising Hawkeye will only recur once, and it really wasn’t an important theme, but it does something to emphasise Frank’s sheer hypocrisy.
...but that was a whole different thing. Hawkeye never felt himself under that kind of scrutiny as a general thing, and it unsettled him. Which wasn’t a bad thing, necessarily. He felt that with time, he might get used to this. Like it, in fact. It was just that now it was all new, like the unopened tube of glue he had in one hand and the unused IV tubing he had in the other, and the whole godamn country was new to him, but presently something happened to make him drop them both, and he knew some things never changed.
Hawkeye held Trapper off with both hands, gently but with purpose, and again something new for him. “Are you sure?” he asked, in a low voice that betrayed more of his own emotions than he’d wanted.
For the first time, it was Trapper who was unsure. “Hawkeye,” he began, “I don’t want... I don’t... if you don’t...”
Hawkeye let one of his hands drift over his friend’s mouth, silencing him. “I don’t do this much. But if you want this, too…”
He moved his hand, but Trapper didn’t use his mouth to speak. In the strange half-light of the supply tent, they moved in on each other slowly, afraid to let the moment come crashing down around them. The kiss lasted longer than either had thought it would, hands were wandering, they were pulling at each other’s clothing…
Hawkeye stopped it. Gently, he pulled himself free, whispering, “Never on a first date.”
Trapper accepted this; he smiled and licked his lips. “How are you not married?”
Hawkeye laughed, and they emerged into the compound together, leaning heavily on each other in the intense sunlight.
They were still arm-in-arm as they passed Klinger in a floral print sundress, Henry Blake with golf clubs over his shoulder, and Father Mulcahy, who was holding onto his crucifix with his left hand and gesturing at the sky with his right. They smiled and nodded at friends and acquaintances, and yet they were still holding each other when they reached the doorway to the Swamp.
The point of this doesn’t really come across the way I wanted it to. Their friends and acquaintances can see what they’re doing to some extent – they can see the way they’re hanging off each other, and no-one really notices because it seems so natural.
Hawkeye entered first and saw something he hadn’t expected. On the floor by his cot were a bucket, a large boiling tube, and what looked like a bell jar, albeit somewhat chipped and battered on closer inspection. Perched on the jar was a requisition form. Hawkeye picked it up to see it was blank. Turning it over, he read, “Hope you like. Radar.”
Radar had to be mentioned. He’s never going to have Trapper’s place in Hawkeye’s affections, but he’s always there, steady and reliable and getting Hawkeye what he wants.
Trapper deposited the glue and tubing on the pile of apparatus, and Hawkeye added his own crumpled list to the assorted items.
“Is this everything?” Trapper asked.
Hawkeye counted up and snapped his fingers. “And so it begins…”
It was Frank’s elder brother who first noticed his sibling’s remarkable resemblance to a member of the family Rodentiae. Coincidentally, it was also Frank’s elder brother who introduced him to his future wife. One might say his brother had been responsible for both his defining characteristics.
But things were changing, and he enjoyed the thought as he made his way back to the Swamp. Just tonight, he’d had a very interesting encounter with the head nurse. He had known who she was, of course… rather, he’d known who her father was… but what did it matter, when the lady herself had been so charming. He’d only stopped by her tent for a moment, but they’d started talking, and how the time had flown. He was quite captivated by her. And her opinions echoed his own, on every subject, including Pierce and MacIntyre, which pleased him even more, because of how everyone else, including their terminally indecisive commanding officer, seemed to think quite the opposite. The opposite, that is, to what Major Houlihan… no, what Margaret thought about them. Which was not to say, of course, that he thought differently. That is, from her. Differently from Margaret. They didn’t think differently. They thought the same way.
This is of course written in the style of Frank’s own thought processes, complete with bizarre self-contradiction and self-justification.
Having reached this point in his musings, Frank stopped in the compound and hugged himself with glee. His thoughts were continuing down the meandering road…
After they realised they shared the same views on just about everything, they just…. connected. Clicked. Just like that. Click! He wasn’t sure if their behaviour had been befitting to senior officers… but no. He shook his head. There couldn’t possibly be any moral objection to such a holy union. Not with such a woman involved. Not with such a woman as Margaret. They were following the spirit of the rules. No, they were following the rules in spirit. That was it.
He’d been a month in Korea now, and he’d enjoyed himself so far. He was an officer, a major… that was only right, and part of the natural order of things, but it was strange that others didn’t see that. Those enlisted rats, always in the Swamp playing poker. Poker. A game for rats, indeed. And what made it worse? Those two. Pierce and McIntyre, the other two officers, who seemed to be friends. At least Frank thought they were. He wasn’t entirely sure about that concept. But anyway... together, they were a disgrace to the military tradition. Particularly Pierce, with red robe and bleeding heart, but then McIntyre was almost as bad, and when they were together they were worse than they were on their own together, which made sense to him. And he had to share a tent with them, because they were officers. Neither of them had any respect, either. No respect for him, or for the army, or for the generals, or anyone. They did seem to respect each other, but that was it.
This last sentence is there to remind us for a moment that even Frank isn’t completely stupid/blind. He knows their regard for each other is something genuine and enduring.
But what had he been thinking about? Yes, he had enjoyed himself so far. Of course he had. He was in the service of his country, fighting the red threat! There wasn’t a day that went by when the knowledge of where he was and what he was doing didn’t thrill him to his very fingertips. And now it seemed things were getting even better, what with this new development.
Margaret. Oh, Margaret. She was something else that thrilled him to his very fingertips.
Frank barged into the Swamp with all the gay abandon of one returning from a secret tryst.
He didn’t realise what he had walked in on.
A little wordplay to save me from stating exactly what he walked in on. That’s a recurrent theme in everything I write, actually; I hate stating anything outright.
I don’t do sex. I don’t do anything higher than a light R. I can’t; my writing loses all of its flow and becomes helplessly ridiculous and self-conscious. I prefer to let innuendo do all the work for me.
Without a second’s hesitation, Hawkeye plunged his hands into a bucket of ice-water. “Hello, Frank,” he said pleasantly.
I’d like to think the symbolism of the ice-water is clear. It’s needed!
“Hmmm.” Frank wasn’t listening. He sat down on his cot, pulled out his Bible and began to read. He hadn’t looked at the other two doctors and their motley paraphernalia, not with visions of Margaret dancing through his head. Lost in a happy dream, he allowed the gospel text to blur before his eyes.
This is the Frank I see. Happily daydreaming about all kinds of things, but still very self-righteous, reading the Bible, unlike those two and their nasty habits.
With a splash and shiver, Hawkeye removed his hands from the water and shook lightly, but then Frank twitched, and he thrust them back in. Wordlessly, Trapper stared at him until they both began to smile. With a glance at Frank, now humming The Star-Spangled Banner to himself, Trapper let his hands slip into the water. The numbness heightened the sensation as their hands touched. Invisible sparks ran through the clear liquid and Hawkeye knew he couldn’t speak.
More innuendo. I don’t need to spell out what’s happening here; the readers are intelligent enough to get it.
Trapper let his hands leave Hawkeye’s grip and pulled them out of the bucket. The electric light shone through the water that clung to them, creating gleaming highlights that captured Hawkeye’s attention for one fateful moment, then cold fingers were lightly applied to his temples. Icy water dripped down, and Trapper shot him a mischievous glance.
Hawkeye bit down on his tongue to stay silent. The moment lasted until they were both shivering, from cold and from… something. Suddenly, Hawkeye splashed Trapper lightly, and then they both stared at Frank for a while.
The moment is slowed down, because it is intended to be dreamlike – and again, Hawkeye is childishly fascinated by small things. Here, it’s the “gleaming highlights” that hold his attention.
Frank took a while to notice. “What?”
“Nothing,” they chorused.
Frank looked at them suspiciously, and noticed several things for the first time. “What’s the water for?”
“The condenser,” Hawkeye explained faintly.
A minute passed. Hawkeye let his errant thoughts be for a moment; what he was doing now required concentration.
“What are you doing?” Frank asked, seemingly curious and nothing more.
“Making a still,” Trapper said, and suddenly wanting to be informative, added, “The water’s got to be cold otherwise the alcohol won’t condense, it’ll just evaporate.”
“Oh,” said Frank.
Hawkeye finished inserting the tubing into the top of the funnel, and moved his attention to the base of it. He hit it sharply with one hand and it didn’t budge, thus convincing him they could dispense with the tripod. It might prove useful later if this was a portable contraption. After all, it was a mobile army hospital…
A little irony. It will prove useful – but Trapper won’t be there to see it. It’s BJ who has the job of disassembly.
“A still?” Frank stared at them in utter distaste. “Why, you…”
The penny dropped. As Frank began ranting – immoral, disgraceful, unmilitary, unred, unwhite and unblue – Hawkeye’s eyes met Trapper’s.
The other penny? Never dropped.
More wordplay! The implication is that there is now definitely something for Frank to discover, should he be intelligent enough.
Time passed. Radar wrote to his Ma. Hawkeye lay in the compound until Klinger complained. Frank started disappearing every Tuesday night. Klinger recovered from the Section Eight hijack, and ordered his first black lacy bra. Strange glass things were acquired and slotted together. Radar’s Ma wrote back. Margaret began whistling on Wednesdays. The Saltpetre Conspiracy held momentum, and Henry decided to take up golf to augment his drinking.
I rather like this section. Everyday life for the Double Natural. The last phrase about Henry was originally the other way round, but in a flash of inspiration I flipped it.
[...on a sunny morning...]
On a sunny morning, the inevitable happened.
Radar entered the office warily. Characteristically, he already knew why he had been summoned.
“Radar,” said Henry Blake dangerously, “this bottle’s empty.”
Radar nodded. “Yes sir.”
The colonel sighed and put the bottle on the table. A quick search through his cabinet revealed a twin of the first bottle, identical in its emptiness. A more thorough search merely confirmed what they already knew. There was no more.
Radar took a step back to let his commanding officer pass, then followed at a safe distance.
It was time to visit the Swamp.
Just as Hawkeye has Radar charmed, Radar has an increasing degree of control over Henry.
Hawkeye opened the door for him as if he’d been expected, which of course he had, as the last bottle was always an event in this camp. “Morning, Henry,” Hawkeye murmured in reverent tones.
“A dry run, as it were,” said Hawkeye, still in those hushed tones, and took a step back to reveal Trapper and the last tube of glue. He was carefully filling in the cracks between the component parts, and had just about finished when Henry went for a closer look. It looked like any other still he had ever seen.
“Where’d you get this stuff?” he asked, motioning vaguely towards it in general.
“The coil’s from an ammo truck, the funnel’s from the generator shed… it’s all stuff we found lying around,” Hawkeye explained.
The only canonical information I could find about the still is there in that sentence.
“Hmmm,” said Henry suspciously. Yes, it was like any other still he’d ever seen. The only difference with this one was the fact it was in an army tent, being ministered to by an army doctor. With a rush of feeling, Henry decided triumphantly he didn’t care. Alcohol was alcohol, wherever it came from, and if anyone asked any questions, there was always the we-need-antiseptic route. He looked surprised when Hawkeye reached for the pitcher and three glasses. “Where’d you get those?”
Hawkeye placed a finger over his lips. “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
There are other things not to ask nor tell about.
Trapper swung round and accepted his glass. “What did you say?” he asked Hawkeye, but his friend didn’t answer. With a triumphant air, Hawkeye was pouring clear liquid into the three glasses and tossing in inexplicable olives he had apparently produced from the air. He laid down the pitcher and then paused.
“Something on your mind?” Trapper asked.
“A toast,” Hawkeye said slowly. “Ah, I know. To the US customs and excise!”
“Customs and excise,” they echoed, and drank.
Typical irreverence, as they’d all be done for some sort of smuggling if the customs and excise were really there.
There was a pause, then Colonel Blake laid down his glass. “Congratulations, boys,” he said. “It’s vile.”
Hawkeye licked his lips. “I’m forced to agree.”
“We’ll get used to it,” said Trapper wisely, and took another sip. Already, it didn’t taste as bad.
Hawkeye had opened his mouth to say something when a small figure propelled itself through the door. Wide eyes looked directly at him, spoke directly to him… (why him?)
[...loss of innocence...]
After seven hours in surgery, it tasted even better. It washed the taste of blood out of Hawkeye’s mouth and burned away at his memories. There was silence in the Swamp. Even Frank seemed affected by the midnight hush, as he wasn’t grizzling tonight. He seemed to be writing a letter to his wife, pausing every few minutes as if he simply had nothing to say.
For Hawkeye, the day’s events seemed faint and far removed. If he thought back, he knew there had been sunshine. Then, there had been blood. And now there was clear yellow light, and the glow of liquid in a glass held in fingers that barely had the strength to hold it, and nothing mattered very much any more.
Trapper watched him from afar. “Hawkeye,” he said quietly, and Hawkeye’s eyes flickered and rested on Trapper’s face.
“You’re a beautiful drunk, Hawk.”
Because he is, on so many levels. There’s the literal interpretation – the alcohol makes the scene so dreamlike, so strange, that Hawkeye’s natural canonical grace has become a kind of beauty. And then there’s the undercurrents of for lack of a better word, we are going to call a relationship, that influence Trapper’s view of Hawkeye.
“You too,” replied Hawkeye, knowing all at once that any words had lost their power tonight. He could see it too, the beauty that clung to the scene. The soft light, the silence, the peace, after the hours of blood and suffering. The suffering was quieter here, and he could feel it in himself, the beauty of being numb.
It was like a buffer. That was it. It was something that could protect his heart and soul from the ongoing attack.
The alcohol. And something else.
Alcohol wasn’t good. A doctor knew that if no-one else did. But it was the lesser evil. From a choice of alcohol or war, he picked alcohol, and knew it was the right thing to do.
But the something else, the other buffer... whatever it was... what was that?
It came to him slowly, like he was trying to remember a dream.
It was a moment in the supply tent. It was a kiss dropped on him when he wasn’t expecting it. It was a brief touch, a hand resting on his shoulder when he was up to his elbows in blood.
Something. It’s always something. I was careful not to specify what it was at any point.
Suddenly he knew it didn’t matter about the saltpetre. There was that, and there was love, and he’d always known they were different.
He had a secret. A delicious, dangerous secret.
War threw the world into shades of grey, no black, no white, no good, no evil.
But Hawkeye knew, suddenly, that whatever-it-was had to be good. It had to be. If it wasn’t, it was up to him to change it, because if it wasn’t, he couldn’t be a hawk-shadow, slip outside in early morning silence and disappear. He had to stay and see it through to the end, be it bitter or sweet or something in between.
He had to stay. He was here for good. Maybe not for good, maybe for evil, and maybe he’d get out in the end, but to all intents and purposes…
This piece of free association happened naturally. He’s here for good – ie, he’s here forever, but he’s here for good as in good versus evil. The meaning flows from one to the other.
They shared a tent. It was olive-drab, infested with rats, damp and faintly pungent, and it was called the Swamp for a reason, but he’d got used to it. There were other things in it that made it a home, no matter how temporary, or perhaps permanent, it would be.
Hell, he had a lover, a still, a bête-noir, and all in one tent in Korea. That had to count for something. It wasn’t good, exactly. It was still a South Korean war zone, and Hawkeye had still been born in Crabapple Cove, Maine, on a very quiet night with a little blood but no gunfire at all. So it wasn’t good, exactly… but it was something.
Something to try and hang on to in the midst of madness.
The lights went out. Outside in the compound, the sudden darkness caught a sentry’s attention. He turned, saw everything was as it should be, and hitched up his dress.
A little humour. I never wanted the fic to be depressing. That’s why I’ve tried to include all the chararacters’ little foibles.
The still dripped.
Things began to happen.
Hawkeye sat up violently in the thick darkness, flailing forwards with hands that reached out for nothingness. He could feel himself shaking in the dark. Flinging one arm behind his head, his fingers brushed Trapper’s curls.
Well, what do you think they were doing? It’s not for me to have to get up on a soapbox and shout it out!
He remembered; Trapper did too. Quietly, he left, making for his own side of the Swamp. They could hear Frank’s stertorous breathing as the only definite sound in the tent.
With shaking hands, Hawkeye reached out after his lover, and his fingers collided with a long-stemmed glass, and he tried to catch it, but with the darkness and the shaking, the cool shape slipped through his fingers and landed on the ground. The chime of the smashing glass hung in the air, and in the same moment, Hawkeye whispered, “This was a mistake.”
Hawkeye is afraid of what he’s set in motion. And yet again, love, sex and alcohol are colliding – note the presence of the glass.
The still dripped.
And then Hawkeye fell asleep. And no-one ever asked him what he meant that night, because no-one ever heard.
These snapshots are meant to give a flavour of what’s to come, nothing more. Because this was never meant to be definitive or plotted – it’s only the beginning.
The slight noise made Klinger twitch. But he saw nothing, and the Swamp lurked in the darkness the same as always, so he put it out of his mind.
Radar’s Ma knew exactly what the something was, but she knew she couldn’t write and tell him, he’d figure it out for himself, he was a good kid. And so he did; but that’s another story.
Which I may or may not write. As Radar grows up, he will understand exactly what he was feeling.
Frank and Margaret decided to be as discreet as possible. Shortly afterward, the entire camp knew about it. Hawkeye might have had something to do with it; it’s hard to be sure.
[Frank also had a secret he kept from Margaret, and that also involved Hawkeye in some way, but you don’t want to know about it]
Referred to once before – Frank has been harbouring thoughts about Hawkeye, too! This is the beginning of the story, so the characters are only just realising how important Hawkeye will be in the midst of all this.
Hawkeye and Trapper… they kept their secret, they kept their sanity, they kept drinking… but another story, again.
Drip, drip, drip.
This was only the beginning; but it’s all about the chemistry.
And there’s the essence of the entire thing. The double meaning which arises – the literal chemistry of the still and the chemistry between the characters as they begin to get to know each other – is the main, main theme I was trying to convey. It arose entirely by accident – when Leigh and Meredith proposed I write a people-building-the-still story, I was only too happy to oblige. It was going to be a simple, non-slashy take on their doing so, and somehow it evolved into this monster.
comments, compliments, rotten tomatoes...