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The Sanest Person Here

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“The 8063rd needs a few more hands,” announces Colonel Blake.

Klinger clutches at his ivory-handled handbag. “Are you expecting me to volunteer?” he asks. “Surely our wise leader knows better than that?”

Blake is unmoved. “I already drew lots. You're going with Igor.”

“Igor will clash with my outfit,” he protests.

“Then put on another damn dress,” says Henry, tired. He lights a cigar. “How about that red one? It brings out your bloodshot eyes.”

“I'm offended, sir,” says Klinger, but he thinks, sure, the red dress with the fox stole. No heels, though, those are a bad idea when you're working. Maybe his new earrings?

“If you were really crazy,” says Henry, raising his eyebrows, “you'd have been the first to volunteer.”

Alas, it's true.

 

-

 

They're being shelled again, which has been happening a lot recently. The Chinese have a big push on and the United States and her allies are meeting it with enthusiastic violence. Klinger figures it's a 50/50 chance whether the bomb that's going to kill him is American-made.

He crouches under a table in the mess tent and reaches into his blouse, pulls out an ornate old rosary and looks at Father Mulcahy, who is kneeling at his side, ears covered against the explosions outside.

“I don't suppose you have an instruction booklet for this?” he asks. To the Jesuit's confused expression he adds, “Right now I'm willing to believe in anyone who believes in me.”

The Father blesses him, wearing that serene expression that he somehow manages to keep in Korea.

Klinger crosses himself, possibly even in the correct order. “Thanks, Padre. If I do get killed I'll put a good word in for you with the Boss. Not that you need it,” he adds.

The shelling continues for another ten minutes, each of which lasts at least an hour.

 

-

 

Klinger's job is to ferry the wounded to people who can fix them, like a chauffeur for the dying. Today there are too many of them, as usual, and triage in the compound is chaotic.

“Klinger, give me your hand!”

Before he can answer his palm is on an open wound. It's very warm, almost pleasantly so on a day like this.

“Keep the pressure on,” says Hawkeye, and Klinger does what he's told. He doesn't ask why, or whether it's really going to help save this guys life. Why ask questions if you don't want to know the answers?

“This guy goes in first,” Hawkeye tells the nearest nurse, “and whatever you do don't let Frank operate on him.”

Klinger goes along with the patient, blood seeping through his fingers. A nurse nudges him aside and replaces him with a bandage. He doesn't bother to wash his hands before going back to work.

 

-

 

At midnight he finds himself staring through the sights of his rifle, finger shaking over the trigger. All he has to do is squeeze and it's all over. The Korean youth at the other end of the gun doesn't look a day over 15.

He must have shouted out, because there's a crowd growing around them.

“It's okay, Klinger,” says Radar, softly, “you can put the gun down, I know him.”

He lowers the gun, thankful. He watches Radar talking to the kid. He wishes he spoke Korean.

“His sister's having her baby, he came to get Major Houlihan.”

“Tell him to call ahead next time so we can tidy the place up first” he says, aware of the tremble in his own voice.

 

-

 

“If I die at least it's over, and maybe I even go to Heaven. But if I kill someone else I have to go on living afterwards, and what if I can't?”

There is no reply, because he's talking to himself and he doesn't know the answer. He can't share this with anybody else, it's too real.

He pulls off his clip-on earrings. “If they'd just give me that damn Section 8...”

If he was insane he'd be out there with a grenade in his hand storming the Chinese lines. The really crazy thing is that the army counts this as sanity, though in Klinger's experience they'll call anyone sane as long as they're fit enough to point a gun at the right uniform.

The dresses may not be getting him sent home, but they're at least a token of civilian life. Planning an outfit is a way to avoid thinking about anything else. If you stab yourself with a sewing needle at least the blood is your own.

He flops onto his cot face-down. “If I don't get out of here soon I really will go crazy.”