The plane from Honolulu leaves late, which puts her on a late troop transport to Tokyo, a rattly twin-engine job with bench seats and a wrist strap. Well past midnight it's too bouncy to read or to sleep, so she just sits there with her eyes closed, fighting nausea, and night comes and when she opens her eyes she's in Korea.
They put her up in base housing in Seoul for the night, and she shares a room with another Army nurse, a big girl named Becky with a broad, laughing mouth and a flask of Johnnie Walker brought all the way from Chicago.
"Carlye Bres- Walton," Carlye says. "Carlye Walton."
"I'm so glad they put me with someone nice," Becky says, digging in her bag for an apple, which she takes a loud bite from. "Is this your first time?"
First time, Carlye wonders. First time in Korea, first time in a war, first time travelling on her own since she and Doug Walton tied the knot at City Hall in Boston? "Yeah," she says. "First time."
"I was at the Army hospital in Pearl Harbor," Becky says.
"Was it hard?" Carlye asks, but she knows it's a dumb question and Big Becky just rolls her eyes and takes another knock off the flask.
It turns out they're both headed for the same MASH, a front-line unit in Ouijongbu that feeds into the 121st evac hospital. The commander, a Colonel named Potter, is regular Army and a doctor besides, and Carlye, perhaps foolishly, figures that might be a good sign, that having a doc as commander might protect her, that it might not really count as going to war.
"Look what my father gave me," Becky grins, and from out of her pack she pulls a pearl-handled revolver.
"Lovely," says Carlye, because she doesn't know what else to say.
"Better get some Zs," Becky says. "The bus is coming at 5 am and I know I need some time to blow dry my hair before I meet all those gorgeous doctors."
Carlye chuckles. "The shower's yours, in the morning," she says. "Take your time."
At 5 am they're both sitting outside on their duffels, and a teenaged corporal with a massive sidearm stands between them and the curb, shooing away rickshaws and clusters of fleabitten kids who shout back curses as they run away.
They climb into a bus, which takes them to a jeep outside the city, and twice they show their papers and twice they're patted down and stamped, and once along the way the driver pulls over at the sound of distant artillery and makes the girls crawl into the ditch by the roadside while he scans the horizon with his rifle safety clicked off.
"Is this what you expected?" Becky whispers, hunched next to Carlye in the dirt.
Carlye thinks a minute. She was terrified when she got her orders, almost as terrified as she'd been when Doug got his and shipped out to the sea of Japan to board his destroyer. War is hell, she read somewhere, once. "Yeah," she whispers back. "I guess so."
"Go! Go! Go!" the driver shouts, and he waves, and they all pile back into the jeep and set off in a cloud of dust as the sound of ricocheting shells grows hollow in the distance.
Carlye figures they're nearing the MASH when the first roadside sign goes up, white text on red. "THESE SIGNS" the first one reads, and then every quarter mile as they snake up the road to the camp: "WE GLADLY" "DEDICATE" "TO MEN WHO'VE HAD" and finally "NO DATE OF LATE." They stop at the checkpoint, just outside the camp. "BURMA SHAVE."
Actually, the more impressive sign, which they drive under after showing their passes one more time, getting stamped, and being waved through, reads in Army green scrawl, "4077th MASH. Best care anywhere." Out front, some noncoms play basketball in a half-court marked off by rocks, and near the front door of the hospital a man in a dress sunbathes under a paisley parasol.
Becky leans her head out, taking it all in. "Seems like a good place!" she says to Carlye. "Maybe we'll get lucky?"
"Maybe," says Carlye, and the jeep pulls up to the ambulance bay and stops, and the girls climb out and stand there in the dirt, just looking.
"'Scuse me?" A four-eyed corporal shimmies up and unburdens them of their duffels. "New nurses?" he asks.
"That's us," Big Becky grins.
"I'll take you to your tents and then you can wash up or, whatever you like to do. Officers showers are back there, latrine's to the right. Dinner's at seven so the latrine rush usually comes after; I'd try and get a seat early, if you know what I mean."
The little guy is almost collapses under the weight of the duffel bags, and Carlye reaches up and takes her own. Becky does the same. "I'm Corporal Walter O'Reilly," the kid says, shaking their hands outside the nurses' tent. "Everybody calls me Radar."
"Thanks, Radar," Carlye says.
"This place is great!" Becky says, and Radar smiles.
"It's not bad if you don't eat the fish," Radar says. "Oh, and don't stand downwind of the latrine when it rains. And don't worry about Major Burns, he's always like that."
"Good to know," says Carlye, and Radar salutes, and then they're on their own again.
"So," says Becky, squeezing Carlye's hand. "Ready?"
The tent's empty so they unpack into the two free bunks, sorting through their luggage for hair brushes and dressing robes and photos in frames. Carlye finds her wedding photo, flips out the kickstand and sets it on a narrow shelf above her bed. Carlye and Doug Walton, he in his Lieutenant's uniform, she in a green dress, smiling. Two days later he shipped out to the Sea of Japan, and three lonely months after that, Carlye got her orders to report to Korea.
There's a knock on the door.
"Avon calling!" In a deep, friendly male voice. And then -
"A dollar'll get you all the legs you can wax."
Carlye's heart thuds, a literal, low, squishy sound. It can't be Ben Pierce, absolutely can't be, but she knows it is. Hawkeye. The man she lived with for over a year, the man who never asked her to marry him, the man she finally had to leave, and in doing so left part of her heart behind. She doesn't even need to look up when the door opens; she just pulls herself, rubbery, to her feet.
He's with a tall, fresh-faced blond guy with bright blue eyes and an ear-to-ear smile, who introduces himself as BJ. Hawkeye's hand brushes against BJ's back.
"What does BJ stand for?" Big Becky asks, positively drooling.
"Just about anything," interrupts Hawkeye, like it's an old routine.
"And Captain Hawkeye Pierce," BJ introduces him with a flourish.
Carlye exhales through her nose and fixes a smile. "That's from, ah, Last of the Mohicans, right?"
Their eyes skim across one another's face, all bristling tension and heart-swelling recognition, but not long enough for eye contact, not long enough to hurt.
"My friend and I come prepared with extra table leaves --" Hawk says, as the other guy presents a bucket like it's the crown jewels.
" -- so that we can extend ourselves for you," Carlye finishes, doing her best Groucho. Hawk nods, several times, his face reading the same thing Carlye's feeling. Terror. Love. Astonishment. He waggles an eyebrow at her.
BJ's still chatting with Becky, who's leaning against the door jamb as if simply being in the presence of two reasonably attractive doctors is enough to drop her like a stone.
"Of all the MASH units in all of Korea..." Carlye whispers, shaking her head.
"That's what I was going to say," Hawkeye grins, and then turns back to Becky and his buddy, not missing a beat. He reaches into the bucket.
"Shampoo," he presents, tossing the bottle to Becky.
"Because we couldn't find any real poo," BJ adds, the twinkle in his eye mirrored in Hawkeye's, and Carlye can't tell if she's glad he's found a friend or if she's envious he's got a shorthand she's not part of anymore.
It goes on like that a little longer, playful, welcoming, an altogether decent welcome to a grubby little outpost in the corner of hell. Becky closes the door when they leave, then turns and swoons, fanning her face.
"I love him," she exhales.
"I don't care," Becky laughs. If she knew, Carlye thinks. Pick the other one, Carlye thinks, and then wonders why she should care at all.
They've been invited to the boys' tent -- the Swamp, Hawkeye calls it -- after supper, but Carlye convinces Becky to ask the other one, BJ, for a personal tour of the camp, quote-unquote. She loans Becky a spritz of Chanel, they blow dry each other's hair, and Becky leaves for the mine field, leaving Carlye to walk alone to Hawkeye's Swamp.
"I'd just gotten used to the idea of never seeing you again," she says.
"I never got used to that," Hawkeye says.
He pours her some paint solvent bathtub gin. He looks the same, all limbs and sarcasm, but there's grey in his hair and she notices his bed is pushed a little too close to the one next to it, blankets and pillows tangled in a heap on the floor.
They sit on wooden crates, each trying to calm their breathing, talking too fast, smiling nervously, burning their throats on his still-grown poison. She tells him about Doug, and waits for him to tell her about BJ, about whatever it is he's gotten himself into here that keeps him alive, and drunk, knitting bloody kids back together again. Instead he just stares at her, licking his lips like he's hungry, his eyes burning ice blue daggers that slowly grow ruddy and weepy from the booze. She doesn't really remember what they talk about, but she remembers he falls asleep before she leaves, and she folds a blanket over him on his friend BJ's cot.
Of course, she doesn't intend to get involved with him again. Just like she never intended to stay, back in Boston, in their little railroad flat they painted hunter green themselves, with gerberas in the window box and Hawkeye's medical books, most still stamped DR. DANIEL PIERCE in peeling gilt, stacked against the walls and on the chairs and in teetery piles on both bedside tables. She never even had a place to put a glass of water down, and once she found a stethoscope in the kitchen sink.
They scrub in for surgery together. The hospital's a hollowed-out tin can, rusty and dim with scratchy isinglass windows. Bodies bump and bustle; the scrub room is too small, the gowns spattered with brown and permanent bloodstains.
"You ready for this?" Hawkeye asks, shaking down his sleeves so a medic can glove him.
"As I'll ever be," she says, taking a breath. "Is it hard in there?"
"It's hard everywhere," he says, and then pushes his way through the swinging doors into OR and she's still standing there, all soapy.
And he's right, it is. All fresh-faced kids with their guts strewn around, bad equipment, short supply. Carlye holds her finger on a bleeding aorta for fifteen minutes before a table opens, and even then they slide kids in and out, quick patches and fixes, fighting to save limbs, eyes, kidneys, and slapping bandages on the ones too bad off to fix here, the ones they ship to the 121st hospital. The others they numb with morphine, stitch up tight, and put to bed in the curtained-off post-op facility. The cold comes in through the tent flaps and the holes in the windows, and Carlye gets a charley horse by the fifth hour and her hands cramp up in the sixth, and the kids and body parts just keep coming. But a million hours later, they've saved every kid that's come through, and Carlye sees, with a kind of incredulous awe, why this MASH has the best survival rate in the Army.
She's not at all surprised when they find each other in the scrub room again on the way out, the last two taking off their gloves and tossing their smocks in the laundry bin.
"Is it always like that?" she asks, taking the sink next to Hawkeye's. What she means to say is that he was amazing, that she knew back in Boston he was a brilliant doctor but that this is something else, something totally different, saving lives under these conditions and keeping his sense of humor besides. She's filled with pride for him -- pride, and a sense of ownership that, she's sad to realize, she doesn't really deserve.
"Nah," he says. "Sometimes we're in there all day."
"You're very good," she says, like that's anywhere near what she wants to say.
"You're not bad yourself," he says. "For a civilian."
He goes behind the curtains to change, and she stands there, scrubbing and scrubbing at her raw, freezing hands under chilled water. Her face in the mirror has aged ten years since she brushed out her uniform in that room in Seoul, and she wonders if Doug will even recognize her after this. Or if she wants him to.
She sees the tears streaming down her face in the mirror like they belong to someone else.
"So!" Hawkeye hollers from the change room. "I was thinking some Army surplus liver followed by a moonlit walk to the motor pool, maybe catch the tail end of the post-dinner synchronized vomit. Sound tempting?"
She swipes at her eyes. "I see you're still a cheap date," she calls back. He pushes through the curtains in his olive drab tee and boxers.
"Are you crying?" he asks, or, demands.
"No, no," she says. She turns the sink off. "I should change," she says, pointing an elbow at the curtain.
He's reading her face, blue eyes everywhere. "You have changed," he says.
She looks at the floor for a long moment, and when she looks back up he's still scrutinizing her. "Ah, Hawk," she says.
"So," he says.
"Yeah," she agrees, with a sigh.
"You and me, huh?"
And when he reaches out and folds his long, sinewy arms around her and pulls her close, and he still smells like gin and bactine, it could be ten years ago.
She left him the day after the stock market crashed, October, 1929. At the time she told herself she coudn't do it, that she was threatened by his work and by the other women she suspected he saw, the late nights out and brusque kisses before he fell asleep in her bed. She told herself that, so she could tell him. And nobody would have to tell anybody that she was so desperately in love with him she was afraid it would destroy her.
But then here she is, a nurse again, and there's Doug, out at sea, and it's not insecurity she's feeling anymore. It's something more like wanderlust, which is something more like Hawkeye Pierce.
"Let's go somewhere," he whispers, and she wants to hop a freight for Europe with him right then and there, war and marriage be damned.
"Okay," she says, her heart thumping.
"How about the supply tent?"
And that's that, it's them again. Hawkeye who loves her hungrily and well, unlike Doug's conservative groping. Hawkeye, who delights in sex, who revels in tangled bodies the way athletes face their games.
Every time they part, sneaking out of the VIP tent at dawn or fleeing the motor pool before Rizzo comes rolling in at the crack of noon, it's like an elastic snapping, Carlye's fingers uncurling reluctantly from Hawkeye's, straightening her uniform, patting down her hair until she feels like herself again, and every single time her guilt comes back in crushing waves. She's written four letters to Doug since she's been at MASH; the first one she sent, before. The rest feel like lies. "I miss you darling," she writes, though she doesn't. "It's awful here," she writes, though it isn't. "I'm lonely," she writes.
In the hospital, even the old battleaxe of the chief nurse, Houlihan, has complimented Carlye on her technique. "I'm proud of you, Lieutenant," she said, once, straight faced and clipped. "You fit right in here."
One day, Becky comes home crying.
"She made me stand there behind the hospital doors, just listening to that awful Dr. Burns complain on the phone about me. Nurse Anderson's a clumsy fool, Nurse Anderson..." Becky swipes at her nose. "I hate him. I hate her."
"Don't worry about it," Carlye says. "Smart money says the major's just eavesdropping to make sure Burns doesn't have any more women on the side. You know, aside from his wife."
The hospital, for reasons of economics or mobility, shares a swinging door with the company clerk's office, and even in surgery, if they're talking loudly enough, Carlye can hear halves of phone conversations overseas coming through from the office. "Of course you're the only one!" she hears men say, men she's seen dozens of times in the mine field, picnicking with nurses, men who've woken Carlye up with their bumbling in the dark, leaving the nurse's tent in the middle of the night with their pants half done up. "I would never be unfaithful!" they insist.
She's fixing a clogged IV when she hears Hawkeye and BJ in the office.
"I haven't been home much the past few weeks," Hawkeye is saying.
"Good," BJ says. "That way you don't have to hear me sobbing into my pillow."
Not that she's surprised. Not that she knew there was something going on the minute she saw the two of them, all bathrobes and inside jokes, two of them against the world. And late at night in the Officer's Club, lounging in the booths, she's seen Hawkeye slide a hand under the table to grab BJ's knee, or seen BJ oh-so-casually flop an arm around Hawk's shoulders, briefly, so briefly stroking him on the back of the head before resting his hand on the booth.
"You ever?" Hawkeye is asking BJ.
"Been unfaithful?" Hawkeye asks, and for a minute she can't tell if he means her and Doug, or himself and BJ. Maybe something of both, but then it doesn't matter, because she's never known Doctor Ben Pierce to be monogamous, not now, not ever. Faithfulness, on the other hand -- the kind where he'd throw his body between a friend and a bullet -- he's got in spades.
"What am I doing?" she exhales, shaking her head at the unconscious patient beside her. "Stupid ten years ago, stupider now, Corporal." The corporal doesn't even snore.
Now Hawkeye's whining, the way he does when he can't get off the hook.
"See you at the Swamp?" Hawkeye says, full of hope.
"Who knows," BJ says, and Carlye hears the office door slam shut behind him.
Carlye's feet take her to the supply tent after her shift, just like every night when she knows she'll find him there.
He's sitting in the corner, in the dark, with a half-dead bottle of pink booze in his hand and another empty on the floor beside him. His fingers are shoved up in his hair, his knobby knees pulled close to his chest. He looks up.
"Get outta here," he says. "I'm contagious."
She settles down beside him and he rests his head on her shoulder. "Ah, Hawk," she says. "What are we doing?"
He looks up at her. "What are we doing?"
"Yes," she says. "You and me. Is it any different this time, really?"
"Yes!" he insists. "I -- I love you, okay? The real deal. I wish to god I didn't but I do, and here you are, and it's killing me."
She laughs, more to fill the silence while she thinks. "And how do you think I feel? Being here, with you, like we are again, and knowing that somewhere out there Doug..."
"Is probably having his way with some geisha right now," Hawk spits.
"That's not fair."
He looks down again. "It's not. I'm sorry."
"Doug's faithful," she says. "He's loyal to me."
"Ahh," Hawkeye nods. "So you married him because you were allergic to your cocker spaniel."
"Because I wanted to be married," she says. "I'm not like you. I don't want to be a nurse forever."
"Why not?" his eyes widen. "You're a great nurse. The best nurse!"
"Yeah," she says. "But I'd rather be a mother, someday. A wife, and a homemaker. That's the kind of work I can be proud of."
There's another pause. "I guess I just don't get it," Hawkeye says. "So, what, you want me to marry you now?"
This time she laughs for real. "Hawkeye!" she says. "You haven't even managed to be faithful to me these last three weeks! You really think I'd marry you?"
But maybe that's too much, because he just drinks some more, and stares into the darkness. "So I like nurses," he says. "Court-martial me."
"It's not just the nurses," she whispers. "It's not even like it was back in residency, when you'd come home smelling of aftershave and go straight to the shower. Then..."
"You left me," he says. "Then you left me."
"But not because of the women, Hawkeye. Or anyone else, for that matter. I didn't fool myself that you were ever going to be monogamous, and I think I'd even let myself accept that. It was the fact that beyond all of us, all your dalliances, your work was your one true love and the only thing you wouldn't leave, ever."
"I wouldn't leave you," he says, weakly.
She takes a breath. "So," she says. "Tell me about BJ."
"What about BJ?" he asks, hostility creeping into his voice. "He's my best friend, he's my partner, he's a top-notch doctor, what else is there?"
"You tell me."
Hawkeye looks at her. "You mean, you think -- no, no no no no, Carlye, come on, nurses is one thing but you can't seriously think that --"
"Don't do that," she cuts him off. "Don't cheapen him like that. Or me, for that matter."
There's a skinny shaft of light that cuts in above the door, from the single bare bulb hanging outside the supply tent, and in it's light she sees his eyes, wet and shining.
"I'm not," Hawkeye says. "I'm not like that."
She reaches up to stroke his hair, but he shrugs her off. "Hawkeye," she says. "You never could lie to me."
He chuckles now, a sad, choky little sound. "Yeah, you always saw right through my song and dance routines."
They sit a little more in silence, and he lets her wrap an arm around him now. "BJ's my best friend," he says again. "Before him there was this guy, Trapper John his name was, and he left, left me here without even saying goodbye. It broke my heart, maybe even as much as it broke my heart when you left me. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I was wrecked, for a good long while there."
"And then," Hawkeye says, standing up. He starts to pace, cutting in and out of the dark. "And then, and then, and then."
"That's very similar to what I just said," Carlye smiles, picking up his discarded bottle and drinking down the last few drops. "And then?"
"And then, what? What do you want me to say? BJ showed up. We became friends. We got pretty close. And then one day, I remember, because I'd been in the OR going back into this kid to find a sponge Frank Burns left in there; he'd gotten septic in the middle of the night and Radar came and woke me up. Anyway, I got back to the swamp -- it's gotta be four in the morning at this point -- and there's BJ, lying there on my cot with his knees bent, reading the Crabapple Cove Courier."
"It's okay," she says. "I'm a nurse. I've read about these things. I even know some people, back in Boston."
"Know some people. Sure," Hawkeye says. "Some sexual deviants you check in on out of charity, no doubt."
Carlye exhales through her nose. She'd known this about Hawkeye, even back then she knew, though she was never sure if Hawkeye's lust for men was anything more than a general overblown libido running rampant and bedding everything in its wake, or something more. But BJ's something more. She knows from the way he talks to him, and the way he talks about him. The way he looks at him, and the way he looks when BJ's around.
"You love him?" she asks, carefully. She doesn't know if she expects him to answer.
He comes and sits down beside her again. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, Carlye. I think I do. And I don't know what it means, or if it even means anything, I mean, he's married, for god's sake --"
"Does his wife know?" she asks, but it's more out of curiousity and self-protection than genuine interest. Misery and infidelity both love company, fair or not.
"I don't think so," Hawkeye says. "No. It's not like -- it's not like he does this a lot."
"Just with you."
"Yeah. Just with me."
"And you? Are you still catting around, this time with twice the choice in sexual partners, or is this thing --"
"It's real," Hawkeye says. "At least, I thought it was real. Until you got here. Now I don't know. I mean, if I can love you this much, so much it threatens to kill me, can I really love him too?"
She wraps both arms around him now and pulls him into her lap. "Yeah," she says. "I can love Doug and I can love you, can't I?"
"Do you?" Hawkeye asks. "Love Doug, I mean."
She shakes her head. "No," she says. "I don't think I do. Though I wouldn't have said so until just this moment."
"But you miss him. You miss being his wife."
"Yes. Some," she says. "It was nice there, for a while. Being someone's wife. I'm very good at it."
"I bet you are," he says.
"And you miss BJ," she says, not like a question. "And he misses you. I heard you two, earlier, in the office."
"I don't want to," Hawkeye says. "But I do. There are these nights, you know, and we've been in OR for thirty straight hours, meatball surgery all the way, elbow deep in blood, and when we come home to the Swamp, there's just something there. Something where we understand each other in a way no one else could. And he'll let me climb into his bed, and he'll hold me, and he'll keep me sane."
Carlye screws up her courage. "Um," she coughs. "And the...sex? Is it good?"
"Different," Hawkeye says, almost boldly. "Yes. Good. Like nothing I've ever known."
"Oh, thanks a lot," Carlye rolls her eyes. Hawkeye laughs.
"I didn't realize it was a contest or I'd've been judging you more carefully," he says. "Next time I'll remember to write out the box scores."
And now Caryle stands up. "I don't think there's going to be a next time," she says.
He clambers to his feet. "Wait, Carlye, wait."
She's at the door. "Yeah?"
"Just, gimme a chance, will you? I can change, I really can, I can be who you want me to be. I can be that for you."
She takes his hand, and they push out into the night together. "This is who I want you to be," she says. "This. Hawkeye Pierce, libido and all."
He walks her back to the nurse's tent, and they kiss before he drops her off. "Gimme a chance," he says again. "Just, a week. Let me sort it out. I love you. I can't handle the thought of losing you again, not like this. I don't think I'll survive it. I think it'll break me."
"You're stronger than you think," she says. "But we'll see." She kisses him again and ducks into the nurses tent, where all the girls are already asleep. "We'll see," she whispers back at him.
But she doesn't see him the next night, and when she heads for the showers in the morning she takes a peek through the Swamp window and sure enough Hawkeye's asleep in a hammock chair pushed close to BJ's cot, and though she isn't sure she thinks they're holding hands under the blanket.
She puts in for a transfer that day, and tells Colonel Potter to rush it. Whether she does it for herself or for Hawkeye she doesn't know, and it's many years later before she figures it out, and even more years before she fully gets over him. But in 1954 she gets a Christmas card postmarked Mill Valley, California, and it's signed in unmatched script: "With love, Hawkeye and BJ."