The water’s cold enough to sting as it hits his face, which is a goddamn miracle considering it’s summer in the city, maybe almost as incredible as the fact that he’s lived to see this birthday at all. Hawkeye opens his eyes and scrutinizes himself: hair completely silver at the temples and graying throughout, eyes slightly bloodshot from taking call and a difficult case last night, the beginnings of a permanent furrow between his eyebrows, water dripping down his nose, the faint scar on his upper lip where it’s always been.
Someone knocks on the door. “Yeah,” Hawkeye sighs, not wanting to leave the moment. Two years out from Korea and he still clings to every moment of privacy like he’s going to blink and wake up back there again. He gives himself another second of analyzing his own crows’ feet before turning the sink off.
The door’s handle is made from the butt of a pearl-handled revolver that had belonged to Margaret’s father in World War Two; the story went that its muzzle had been crushed by a French tank but the colonel had kept it for sentimental value and continued to polish it twice a year (more frequently than he called Margaret). Helen had taken it as revenge for an unpleasant dinner and made it into something more useful. Hawkeye hates it passionately.
It takes him close to five minutes to make it to the kitchen with so many people to greet, a blur of hi hello hey baby happy birthday thanks for coming good to see you looking fine as ever how’ve you been got a light? It’s a far cry from his life before Korea, but then everything is, and it’s nice to be wanted– but not needed– in somebody else’s apartment.
He can hear Dizzy Gillespie’s “I Can’t Get Started” coming from the record player in the corner; it gets louder as he rounds the corner and finds Margaret fussing over her massive dinner spread, apron draped over her white shirt and flared pants, hair arranged in an updo to keep it out of the way, because Margaret Houlihan takes safety and hygiene as personally in the kitchen as she does in the OR. She’s been learning how to cook from Helen after a lifetime of army food and insisted on personally catering the party. So here she is with a pile of cold cuts and turkey and salad and plates of small snackable items, looking so far away from the woman Hawkeye met five years ago that his heart aches with happiness.
“Birthday boy!” Margaret cries with a grin as she looks up from a massive plate of green beans. “Just in time, I made you a drink.” She slides a martini across the table, already garnished with two olives. “I used that fancy stuff Klinger bought– he says it has a splash of arak like the Lebanese do it.”
“New ways of scorching my brain? Don’t mind if I do.” They clink their glasses and take a sip. It’s smooth but it tingles a little going down; Hawkeye thinks Lebanon might be onto something with this new form of martini.
“Are you having fun?”
Hawkeye answers honestly, because he always does: “Fun? What kind of a question is that to ask to a man who just two minutes ago turned thirty-six? I’m staring down the barrel of my own mortality and wondering how the hell I made it this far when last year I was contemplating shuffling off this mortal coil, and the year before that I was in the Korean funny farm– and you’re asking me if I’m having fun?”
Margaret rolls her eyes. “Pierce, quit being so morbid. You’re alive, I’m alive, we’re all alive, therefore we’re all going to die. Big deal. Focus on what’s really important: you’re having a birthday party, your patient from yesterday is still alive, the humidity’s gone down, and I’m making you a fucking birthday turkey.”
Hawkeye laughs a little. “You sure know how to make a guy feel special, Margaret.”
There’s a flash of dark green satin as someone else hops onto the stool next to Hawkeye, clapping his shoulder as he sits. “Hey, Hawkeye, how’s it going? Major, that bathroom door of yours is a real piece of work.”
She glows with pride. “Isn’t it wonderful? Helen made it.”
Klinger raises his eyebrows and sucks his teeth. “It’s… really something.” He pulls a face as soon as Margaret turns her back and Hawkeye laughs. “How’s the party, oh esteemed guest of honor?”
“Not too shabby. Hey, have you ever had a midlife crisis?”
Klinger frowns and adjusts his skirts. “Well, I mean, there was the whole running around Korea for a whole extra year to find my wife’s family after spending three years doing everything short of killing myself to get out of there. And the leaving Toledo with my in-laws after spending three years trying to get home. And the wearing dresses even after the birth of my first child thing. But I think that depends on who you ask. Anyway, I don’t really count those– I’m too young for a midlife crisis, and most of them were due to the war.”
“See, I think I might be having one right now. I mean, I’m old enough to have one– or at least my organs are with the way I’ve been drinking. If you wrung my liver out, you’d get booze instead of bile. I’ll be amazed if I live to see the bicentennial.”
“What on earth’s gotten into you?”
Klinger removes his hat. “Dear lord.”
“Not that kind of gone, Jesus. But she hasn’t been back in three days. Usually if she goes out, she’s back at home or at the deli within 48 hours.”
“Look, she’s a street cat, she can take care of herself–” Margaret abruptly stops and shouts into the living room, “Helen! Quit gabbing and come help!” She storms off in pursuit instead of waiting for an answer.
Klinger sighs. “You know, maybe you should consider making Marlene a strictly indoor cat to be safe. There’s always the risk that she could fall into the Charles River, or get hit by a cannoli truck.” He tugs gently at Hawkeye’s arm in a transparent effort to move him away from the booze. For once, Hawkeye lets it happen, and they rise and wander over to the fishtank.
“And cage her in like that? Never. I don’t believe that one sentient being should have so much control over another sentient being’s existence. It’s inhumane.”
“You know, you sound pretty normal to me. A little reminiscent of yourself in 1950, but hey, maybe that means you’re not so old after all.”
“Thank you, Klinger. It's my bad attitude that keeps me young– and of course a healthy dollop of Pond’s Cold Cream every night before bed.”
“–fantastic dress,” Helen is saying to Soon Lee as Hawkeye and Klinger walk into the hallway near the front door.
“Thank you! Max made it for me.”
“You coordinate perfectly, too. Love the bodice, Max.” Klinger curtsies. “Happy birthday, Hawkeye.” She leans in and kisses his cheek, then does the same to Klinger.
“Thank you very much. Hey, if you want to make sure it’s a good one, you could tell me who in this room is single.”
“Oh, that woman in the corner,” says Soon Lee, pointing to a tall redhead across the room. “And her friend. Also the one near them in the dress with the ruffle on the collar.”
“So last season,” Klinger mumbles.
“My friend Tabitha’s single!” Helen adds. “You remember her, from New Year’s, the one who’s at Beth Israel now. She must be somewhere around here, I saw her just fifteen minutes ago… Unless she came with Ron. But probably not, in which case Ron is single too. He’s at Massachusetts’ Gift to Humanity, in case you were wondering.”
“How do you know all that and where are all these people coming from respectively?”
“I’m very observant,” says Soon Lee, and takes a sip of her beer.
“Margaret invited them,” says Helen.
“Excellent,” says Hawkeye. “Let’s make some choices.”
An hour and a half later, after striking out in a truly grandiose fashion becoming of a Pierce, the air of his apartment settles on Hawkeye’s shoulders like a blanket, warm and still enough that he could wear the heat instead of skin.
It’s always stifling here no matter how much he runs the box fans pilfered from the hospital, and the air never changes. When he’d found the apartment last year with the help of a sharp young real estate agent named Peg, he had frowned at the smell, like stale snow in March. She had assured him that it was just because the air hadn’t been disturbed for a few years, and it would fade with time and consistent occupancy. At first it was fine, a reminder that his life here was new, that he had lived long enough to have a fresh start. But as time wore on and his life stayed small and routine, it had become what he thought of as the smell of being alone, going through the motions without meaning it, forgetting your own appearance.
He takes off his Hawaiian shirt and tosses it on a chair as he moves to the kitchen to get a drink. Even in the dark, he knows that Marlene isn’t back, though he’d cracked the bathroom window optimistically before leaving; the air feels too thick and silent.
He finds a glass and navigates around a pile of journals he’s been meaning to throw out without turning the light on. It's a habit he picked up during the war, when he knew the camp like the back of his hand and lights were an air-raid hazard anyway, and he never bothered to break upon returning to the States, where his childhood home was the same as it had always been and his new apartment was the size of a shoebox. He told his one-night stands that he was saving on electricity, and told himself that it was because he didn’t need to see to walk around his own home. But really it was that sometimes it felt like too much to see what was really in front of him, to know how his life had cracked open and changed. It was safer to stay in the dark, where it felt like an adventure to be alone rather than a burden.
Life could be worse, he reminds himself. You could be in Korea, reliving the same casualties, the same violence, the same suffering, the same exhaustion. Or you could be suicidal in your childhood bedroom after a stint in the funny farm like last year, reliving the same memories, the same dreams, the same hopelessness. You’re practically lucky. A cat, a Margaret, a phone to call your father– and all in the same city.
He closes his eyes and listens to the cars and the wind and the distant sound of people walking by the Charles. Life could be worse. With that reassuring thought, he turns on his desk light, cracks a bottle of gin, and starts in on the charts he carted home from the hospital this afternoon.
At some point between eleven and midnight (the clock in his apartment is broken), he runs out of alcohol. He sighs, rebuttons his shirt, and schleps down Chambers Street. The heat is no longer oppressive, but he pauses at every street crossing to blot the back of his neck.
O’Reilly’s 24-Hour Everything Drugstore would be completely unremarkable if it weren’t for the fact that A) it really does sell everything and B) Radar O’Reilly, by virtue of having been at the 8063rd for two years, was the first new person Hawkeye became friendly with in Boston. They’d talked for hours about the city, how big it was for Hawkeye after coming back from Maine, how strange it was for an Iowa farmboy recently transplanted after the closure of his family farm. At the end of their conversation, Hawkeye had gone home with two bottles of gin and a free banana, because Radar had somehow known that Hawkeye didn’t have fruit at home, and immediately called Margaret to discuss this new development in his life, almost happy for the first time since coming to Boston.
Sidney says that Hawkeye developed an attachment to the kid because he reminds him of some of the people he knew in Korea, young boys who were crushed into dust and made into different people with the same clay. That time in your life was terrible, but it was familiar, unlike your new life in the city. He might not be a familiar face, but he’s seen familiar things. Personally, Hawkeye thinks this is a lot of psychological mumbo-jumbo, and the real reason he’s friends with Radar is that Radar introduced him to Marlene and never charges him tax on his alcohol. But sure, maybe that has something to do with it.
The door jingles as Radar walks in with a much larger man half-draped over his shoulder. “Okay, easy does it. Careful now. How about you wait for me in the back, okay?” The man groans something that must be assent, because Radar pats him on the back and gives him a grape Nehi straight from the rack before the guy stumbles away.
“Hi, Hawkeye, hope you haven’t been waiting too long,” Radar says in a rush as he runs behind the counter and yanks his apron on.
“Don’t worry about it, Radar. How’s it going? Busy night?”
“Oh, not really. I was just doing the books and reading about rabbit breeding, but–” he points over his shoulder at the drunk guy, who is now inspecting the labels of every single jar of pickles in the store while morosely swigging his grape Nehi. “–duty calls.”
“Your friend’s having a rough night, huh?” Without his permission, Hawkeye’s feet inch him closer to the pickle shelf. Something about the strange guy and his Nehi is tugging at his gut, like his body is trying to get him to pay attention.
“Yeah. I’m hoping the Grape Nehi will sober him up.” There’s an infinitesimal pause before he adds, “We met in the war.”
Hawkeye nearly drops the cash he’s passing over. “Jesus, how do you do that? I hadn’t even decided if it was appropriate to ask that question.”
“Like I said, sir, it’s a gift. You want a bag?”
“Sure.” As Radar ducks below the counter, Hawkeye takes another step closer to the guy. Up close, he’s tall, blond, wearing a dove-gray suit but no tie. He’s saying something to himself under his breath that Hawkeye can’t hear. His spine tingles like something’s going to happen, or like it’s already happened, the man lifts his head and turns towards Hawkeye–
“Here you go. I double-bagged it in case it rips,” Radar says cheerfully. If he saw Hawkeye staring, he’s nice enough to not mention it.
“Uh, thanks, Radar. Hey, while I’m here, have you seen Marlene lately?” He glances back to where he’d been looking, but the guy is gone.
Radar frowns. “Not in a few days. I put out a can of tuna for her, but she hasn’t been by. Not even when I crumbled a Ritz cracker on top how she likes it. I’ll call you if I see– hey!” He snaps his head around to shout at the drunk guy, who is currently poking at a neatly arranged pyramid of fruit crates. “Be careful with that! I spent two hours getting it into shape–”
Hawkeye laughs. “Have a good night, Radar,” he calls as he saunters out the door.
He’s passing the Elizabeth Peabody House when he sees her sitting next to the schoolyard gate, a flash of white eyebrows in the night. “Marlene!” he shouts. She looks up to glare at him when he calls her name, but quickly loses interest and returns to licking her butt. “You little rat, if you don’t come here I’ll– I’ll leave you for the kindergarteners to play with tomorrow morning.” No response. “Christ,” he mumbles. “I really know how to pick ‘em.”
Hawkeye makes it exactly two steps into the street before the car hits him. It’s a duller sound than he’d imagined; for some reason he had thought it would sound like the wet crack of a bullet or the hiss of a shell. His body flies up into the air, rolls off the hood of the car, thumps down onto the street. He feels like a stone cracked into a hundred million pieces– the doctor in him is just present enough to know that he’s probably broken his spine– but at least it’s starting to get fuzzy now. He hears voices, sees the outlines of people around him and the glitter of broken gin bottles, smells the sharp tang of blood and alcohol. Someone says oh my god. Someone says is he alive? Everything is cold. He cranes his neck to look across the street: Marlene is gone.
“Goddammit,” he whispers as everything goes dark and
Someone’s knocking at the door. Water drips down Hawkeye’s face. He blinks at himself. The knock comes again. “Yeah,” he calls as he wipes his face off.
Something’s wrong, but he can’t figure out what it is. He grimaces as he pulls the gun-door open and heads into the living room, murmuring thankyouforcoming and nicetoseeyou as he goes and finds–
“Birthday boy!” Margaret says, looking up from her massive plate of green beans, hair still somehow in its updo. “Just in time, I made you a drink.” She slides a martini across the table, already garnished with two olives. “I used that fancy stuff Klinger bought– he says it has a splash of arak like the Lebanese do it.”
He must look pretty bad, because her face suddenly falls. “Oh, no, do you hate your party? I told Helen we might have invited too many people–”
“No, the people are fine, but what was I doing before?”
“Before? You were in the bathroom, is that what you mean?”
“Uh… not really. Have we done this before?” Hawkeye asks as he hops onto a stool at the counter.
“Your birthday? I would hope so.”
“No, I mean–” he scans the room, the guests, the table. Everything looks pretty normal. No places for shadowy characters or homicidal soldiers to be hiding. He doesn’t feel like anybody is going to jump out and kill him at this particular moment, so the chances of him actually cracking up right now are low. Maybe he just had too much to drink before taking a nap and had strange dreams. That’s probably it. “Never mind. I think I’m just feeling a little off. You know this building used to be a yeshiva school? Hundreds of little Orthodox boys came in here and read scripture every day for years. And before that it was owned by the federal government.”
“So?” Margaret asks from where she’s now poking a small turkey with an implement unknown to Hawkeye.
“So the atmosphere is no good for partying. This used to be a sacred place, you know? And before that owned by the same great bunch of evil morons who have ruined the lives of millions of people all over the globe. I’m telling you, there’s something fundamentally off about this building.”
She rolls her eyes. “Hawkeye, your place is too small to host. We established this ages ago. Now what’s really going on with you?”
“Marlene will come back, she always does…” She pauses. “Hawkeye? Are you listening to me?” He leans in and scrutinizes her face. Nothing out of the ordinary, no seams showing, too good to be a fake or an actor.
“Do I look okay to you? Actually, don’t answer that. I’m going to find Helen to consult on the beans.”
“How did you know I was looking for–” He doesn’t wait for the rest of the sentence.
Hawkeye makes it all of ten steps before colliding with someone in the living room. He reaches out to steady the other person and is met with a familiarly amused expression.
“I know it’s been a while, but you didn’t have to physically flatten me.”
“Sidney! When’d you get in?”
“About three hours ago. I went to see my cousin Charlotte in West Roxbury before I had to check in at the conference– I told you about her, the one who just broke her leg.”
“Hang on, you bunked the very important psychiatric conference to come to my birthday party?”
Sidney snorts. “Well, mostly I bunked it because the keynote speaker is a complete schmuck and the hotel food was verging on inedible. But sure, I guess you turning thirty-six was a convenient excuse to clock out early. How’s your party going?”
“I’ve been feeling sort of… off since I got here.”
“Like– I don’t know, like something’s going on. It’s not plain-vanilla unease with a heaping side of paranoia, either. This is unease with caramel sauce and slivered pecan and anchovies on top– the same, but different, and worse because it’s different. I feel like I’ve been here before, this whole party, done the whole thing already, like very intense deja vu. Am I making sense?”
“I think so. Do you feel like we’ve had this conversation already?”
“No! It feels new. But that’s a good thing, right? So maybe I’m okay.”
“I’d be inclined to agree with your assessment, Doc. Tell me, do you think this is related to the birthday or the setting?”
“Both. Probably the birthday thing, I guess, I’ve been thinking more than usual about death and life– which is saying something for a cardiothoracic surgeon and a war veteran.”
“Are you still afraid of dying?”
Hawkeye gives him a look. “Come on, Sidney. How long have you known me?”
Sidney nods and sips his beer. “Just out of curiosity, how old was your mother when she died?”
Sidney hums like he already knew the answer, though Hawkeye’s pretty sure he didn’t. “At the risk of sounding overly Freudian, might that have something to do with it? You’re as old as she was and subconsciously you’re worrying about dying, but without the immediate danger of war to remind you of that fear all the time, it’s like static. Background noise that you only really recognize when it’s in focus.”
From outside, there’s the screech of burning rubber as a car shoots past the building and down the street, followed by a police car with its lights on. The crackle of the backfire is so loud that half the people in the room duck out of habit. Hawkeye looks around: Klinger, Soon Lee, Helen, Margaret, Sidney, twenty or thirty other people with their backs hunched and their arms over their heads. He stands completely still as the room flashes red, white, red, as Dizzy Gillespie closes out on a high note.
Blood, alcohol, broken glass. The scrape of warm tar under his cheek. Oh my god. Is he alive?
“Christ, I hate those things,” says Sidney. “Whatever happened to a good old-fashioned horse-chase? Sure, the roads were dirtier, but you didn’t have to deal with the goddamn noise.”
Hawkeye blinks. The record player launches into Limehouse Blues. “Sidney, will you excuse me for a second? I need the ladies’ room something desperately.” He doesn’t wait for an answer.
He’s got his hand on the bathroom door when he feels a hand on his shoulder. “Hawk! Happy birthday!” Hawkeye turns to see Trapper, resplendent in a cream-colored button down, an instant before he swoops in for a hug and kisses Hawkeye’s cheek.
Unfortunately for Hawkeye’s decision-making skills, he looks pretty damn good, and smells even better, but he valiantly manages to say, “Hey, Trap, didn’t know you were here, I was just about to run to the–
Trapper pulls back with a slight frown. “You okay? You look like you’re about to ralph.”
“Observant as ever. Actually, I think I just got run over by a car.”
“Uh, it’s a long story, I don’t really have time to explain– Hawkeye pushes the bathroom door open. Two young men jump apart; Hawkeye recognizes one of them as Al Romano, a fellow in cardiology who’s done him a favor a couple of times.
“Jesus, do you mind knocking?” snaps the one who isn’t Al Romano.
“Uh, sorry, but it’s kind of an emer–” Hawkeye doesn’t get to finish his sentence.
“He’s the birthday boy and I’m his erstwhile lover. Get lost before it gets ugly,” Trapper says firmly. Al Romano and not-Al-Romano promptly skedaddle. He waits for the door to click shut before wheeling on Hawkeye: “What the hell do you mean, you got run over by a car?”
“I left the party and went home, but then I ran out of gin while I was doing my charts, so I went to the corner store and on the way back I saw Marlene– she’s been gone for three days– so I crossed the street to get her out of the Peabody playground but then I got hit by a car and it hurt, Trap, it really hurt and I knew that I had a lot of broken bones and probably a major cranial fracture, and then somehow I ended up here again.” As he talks, he opens his shirt and inspects his reflection for bruises or hematomas, twisting back and forth to see every angle. But the skin is the same as it’s always been, and nothing hurts. “And now I’ve been at this party and everything’s already happened and I’m doing it again. I have this feeling like I might be dead.
“You look fine to me, Hawk,” Trapper says from where he’s perched on the toilet, seemingly unfazed by both the speed and content of Hawkeye’s monologue.
“You’re just saying that because you want to get in my pants. Look at my back, are you sure there’s nothing there?”
Trapper gives him a strange look but complies. “Nothing at all.” He pauses; Hawkeye can see him chewing his words in the mirror. “Are you– look, don’t take this the wrong way, but are you feeling okay?”
Hawkeye bristles. “Since when do you care?”
“About your well-being and general health? Always.”
Hawkeye barks out a short laugh and starts to put his shirt back on. “Historically? Always? Sure.”
“Hawk, come on,” Trapper sighs. “Don’t be like that– where are you going?”
“I have to get out of here.”
“Wait,” Trapper says as he catches Hawkeye’s elbow. He looks even better up close, even if he is giving Hawkeye one of his patented emotionally-unreadable looks. “I’ll come with you. We can– we can go look for your rat bastard cat.”
“Really?” Hawkeye can feel himself smiling despite himself. He makes himself a promise not to do anything stupid tonight, cologne and smile and crisp shirt and offers to find his cat be damned. Things end for a reason.
“Yeah, really. Besides, it’s your birthday. It would be rude to leave you alone.”
Thirty minutes later, they’re weaving through the crowds around North Station engaged in a spirited debate about the new Haymarket construction, when Hawkeye sees Marlene standing on a trash can across the street, swishing her tail back and forth without a care in the world. He moves without thinking, one step forward, then two–
Suddenly he’s being hauled backwards by the back of his shirt, hair flying in the wind as the car that nearly ran him over lays on the horn. “Jesus, are you nuts? You nearly got hit by that car!” Trapper shouts.
“Trap, that’s Marlene, let’s go–”
Trapper grabs his elbow and pulls him around to face him. “And she’s clearly fine. Look, you need to go home and sleep whatever this is off–”
“Whatever this is? Is that what you call a missing cat? Because the cure for that, Doctor, is to get my damn cat home!”
“No, I mean the whole dying by car accident thing, which is probably because you had too much to drink or worked too much or something, which you can sleep off.”
Something about his incredibly reasonable and calm tone makes Hawkeye want to spit tacks, and before he can stop himself, he’s saying, “Or maybe I’m going crazy. Not that you’d know, of course, because you weren’t there when I went to the nuthouse–”
“Is that what this is? You’re still mad that I left?”
Hawkeye weighs his options. Yes, of course, you fucking moron, that’s not something you get over. No, I’m not, and I’m sorry for acting like a whackjob. Can we go home? None of them seem satisfactory, so he settles for hissing, “Let go, for fuck’s sake! The whole point of coming out here was to find the cat!”
“What? I thought that was an excuse to leave early!”
Hawkeye momentarily forgets his cat to give Trapper his most withering look. “If I wanted to leave early with you, I would have done it in Korea," he snaps, not caring if it makes sense, and stomps off.
He follows the cat all the way to Cambridge Street before he finds her lounging near a trash can and licking her stomach. When he calls her name, Marlene stretches and strolls towards him as though she’d only been gone an hour or two.
“Marlene Dietrich Pierce, you are grounded forever,” he whispers as he lifts her up. She headbutts his face gently and crawls onto his shoulder. “Okay, maybe just for a day or two. But Jesus Christ, you had me worried.” He continues to talk to her as they walk, filling her in on the party and stupid Trapper and Radar’s drunk friend in the deli and his recent death by car or possibly spiked martini. By the time they reach Charles Street, the heat and weight of her is getting tiring, and he stops to perch on the railing over the river. He gathers her up in his arms, listening to her purr unrepentantly as he scratches her ears and watches the breeze blow a few newspapers down the street.
“Ah, Marlene, my leading lady, my little cat who’s lost in the wood. You know, you’re lucky you have me to watch over you. You could have been made into a flapjack. Then where would I be?” He looks down, expecting to see her remorseless little face, but there’s nothing there.
Hawkeye twists around, but Marlene is nowhere to be seen, just benches and dirty river and the cars on Charles Street. He turns, half-standing on the banister, feeling the gaping chasm of panic open up in his gut as he calls her name, scanning the horizon back and forth and not caring if he looks like a basket case– and the next thing he knows he’s falling backwards into the river, fighting to get to the surface as his clothes drag him down into the black as his lungs burn with carbon dioxide. The bubbles look almost beautiful against the orange glow from the streetlights; it reminds him of the insects preserved in amber at the Natural History Museum.
The last thing he thinks before everything goes dark is So much for not doing anything stupid. Well, maybe this time it’ll take. His lungs cough out one last bit of air and
Someone’s knocking at the door and Hawkeye is retching up grayish river water into Margaret’s pristine white sink, surrounded by the same light blue walls and matching blue towel on the shining steel towel rack. He looks up at himself: eyes still bloodshot and hair completely fucking dry.
He tries to scream but only succeeds in throwing up more water.
The person at the door knocks again, more insistently. “One minute!” Hawkeye screams at the door between coughs, eyes watering. He pounds himself on the chest and spits out one more blurt of water before marching to the door. He rips it open without even flinching at the gun-handle, strides through the living room shoving off hands and somehow “I Can’t Get Started” is playing again as he rounds the corner to find Margaret and the green beans, already looking up to smile at him.
“Birthday boy! Just–”
“Margaret, what the fuck is in that drink?” His voice is low and controlled; it sounds terrible to his own ears.
Her face drops in confusion. “It’s a martini, with–”
“–arak like the Lebanese do it, I know that, but what the fuck is in that thing?” He gets louder on every word and people are starting to stare, but the sensation of his body unraveling overpowers any self-consciousness he might have left.
“What– nothing, Hawkeye, what are you talking about?
“Oh-ho. That’s very funny,” he says, backing away. The walls are starting to close in, but Hawkeye’s not stupid, he knows with absolute certainty what’s happening here. Well, no big deal, he knows how to handle a little chronological chicanery. “Very funny!” he yells at the ceiling. “You can’t do this to me anymore, you know, I already put my time in! It was a good try, though– maybe a rookie would have fallen for it, but not me, I’m a certified meshuggener and you cannot–” he snatches the martini and pours it down the sink. “I repeat, you cannot make me go back! I refuse –” he runs to the window and throws the martini glass down into the alley below. “ –to engage with whatever the fuck you think you’re doing.”
Margaret grabs his arm and spins him around to face her. “ Pierce,” she hisses. “What do you think you’re doing? Are you drunk?” Belatedly he remembers that Trapper was the one who could be counted on to be calm when Hawkeye was having a bad time of it; after he left, it was Margaret who had to pick up the pieces when he fell apart, but her natural instinct was still to yell and snap him out of it.
“Doing? What am I doing? Why don’t you ask the fucking universe which is apparently trying to kill me? First it disappeared my cat, then it poisoned my martini, and now I might be in hell–”
“Are you accusing me of trying to murder you?”
“Well, somebody had to do it!”
“I– You– I go to the trouble of arranging a party for you, and Klinger goes out of his way to get you this fancy vermouth as a present, and you think we want to kill you? Of all the things to accuse me of! You’re not going to die–”
“I’m dying all the time!” he shouts back.
She opens her mouth to say something back, but stops herself. Hawkeye hates her for that look, the same pity she’d given him when he’d cracked up in Korea, and then hates himself for hating her. When she speaks, her voice is almost gentle. “Hawkeye, are you–”
He turns and walks away before she can finish the sentence.
On his way out of the apartment, he collides with Al Romano and his paramour at the stop of the stairs. There’s a scrabble of limbs, a few moments of nauseating vertigo, a mad lunge for the railing– and then they’re all upright, straightening their shirts and smoothing their hair.
“Watch it,” says not-Al-Romano testily. “You could have taken all of us down. Be careful.”
Hawkeye debates sitting them down and explaining that he is being personally tyrannized by the universe and that there really isn’t any need to exercise caution when he can keep regenerating in his best friend’s bathroom, but decides that this might get him institutionalized, and his OR schedule is too busy to accommodate a stint in the mental hospital. “Blow it out your ear,” Hawkeye replies, and storms down to the street.