Author's Note: This was originally intended to form the final chapter of my series, 'Shards'. Unfortunately, however, that is still suspended in time somewhere around 1951, and is unlikely to ever be finnished. Therefore, I've decided to post this as a stand-alone fic, merely because I like it, and would welcome the feedback. It's an idea that's been used before, but I figure it's still worth a bit of exploring. The poetry, obviously, is Bret Harte's, and many of the ideas Richard Hooker's. Thanks for reading.. :-)
There is a River...
There is a river, brown like weak tea, thin and choked with weeds, dead and dying. There is a field, red earth, and blasted sky, and mines the only thing that grow in the shattered Korean wasteland. There, trees rise, bleached bones gutted by fire. Charred earth, and scrub, and straggling grass, even the tangled gorse now shorn of gold. There is a mountain range, and he remembers a frost-sharded day in Korea long ago, when Trapper named the tallest peak Winter Carnival Mountain.
He remembers telling Radar that he knew nothing of horses, but that was a lie. Once, long ago, he and Trapper found the face of a president hidden beneath an upturned hay cart, and rode a grey pony bareback around a sun-drenched compound, the pony's heartbeat slow beneath him, and Trapper's heartbeat, faster, against his back. He remembers how the pony splashed, defiant, belly-high through the brown speckled river, and that Trapper yelped and clung to him as the water sprayed up and he shook the droplets, laughing, from a tangle of dusty curls. And before that it was Tommy, in a Maine summer long ago, when they galloped together over the wide green, and the world belonged to them alone.
There is a river, where the sun sinks through leagues of arid sky, and Hawkeye remembers a verse that Trapper once read out of a slender volume, leather-bound in black, the unmistakeable poetry of Bret Harte:
"Where the sun dies o'er leagues of arid plain,
Where the dead bones of wasted rivers lie,
Trailed from their channels in yon mountain chain"
The river is silent, almost without motion. Just time slipping, imperceptible, irrevocable, towards an unknowable end. Here, surrounded by the rearing impasse of mountains, there is no sunset, only night, as the flaming chariot is swallowed up by the horizon. And that, too, is a memory. In the shallow dusk the river is dark, silent on the borders of this world. And almost, he can see through the twisted scrub, Charon's ferry sliping from the elusive shadows to claim him.
There is a Greek soldier, pale in the waxy light of a hurricane lantern, and Hawkeye watches, entranced, as a brother slides closed the cold lids with heavy fingertips, and weighs the hollow sockets with metal, the coins glinting in the candle's flame, a toll of passing to a long dead god.
There is a river, and a mountain, and a dead god, and Trapper John, bearded, half naked, and stoned, lashed to a crucifix suspended from a chopper. He hears the words in his mind, a mantra growing louder and louder still, desperate, disbelieving. "It was a joke, Red. Just a joke." "It was only a joke Henry." "We were only joking." "I was joking." "Can't you take a joke, Ferret face?" Louder, and louder still, drowning out the whispering voice of the river, "It was a joke. A bloody, fucking, jesus-to-jesus joke."
In winters, the river used to flood its banks, drowning the valley and the camp in muddy water. And the snow used to land on the surface of the water, tiny shards of ice that floated briefly and were disolved into the freezing torrent. The river used to swell, joining with the cesspool to become a tide, while all the time the moonsoon rains sluiced down, huge, fat drops hitting the dusty earth with a force like bullets, pooling on the stretched canvas until invariably it burst beneath the onslaught drenching the huddled soldiers. Trapper would shake his curly head like a dog, and Hawkeye, maudlin, would make references to Moses, and the Egyptians drowned forever beneath the sea, while Trapper would drawl that if only Hawkeye would learn how to part the waves half their troubles would be solved.
There was a bus, and a Korean mother with a baby. A baby. She smothered her own baby. And Sidney's voice, compassionate, and at the same time emotionless, the psychaiatrist's blank voice that he only used when he was afraid. Afraid that he was wrong. Afraid of Hawkeye. Afraid that this time, the wounds would be too deep for his healing. (Wounds. Shards of glass, and red slashes in the wrists of a Chinese soldier, who had wanted... what? Hawkeye can't recall.) Sidney's voice. Denial, acceptance, anger, guilt. Except that Hawkeye can no longer remember in which order they are supposed to go.