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Title: Between You, Me, and the Stove
Rating: PG
Fandom: M*A*S*H
Characters: Father Francis Mulcahy, Hawkeye Pierce
Historian's Note: Takes place about a year after 'Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen'
Summary: Father Mulcahy hears eight confessions and tries to remember that God moves in mysterious ways. Father Pierce hears one and concludes that God might be drunk.

Chapter 9a: There but for the Grace of Someone

“Yes,” he said, “yes, it is.”


“My glib answer, which you should know is also my first answer, is that I’m a selfish bastard, but that doesn’t track if we’re both feeling it.”


“Oh, I’m quite selfish as well.”

“Father, the difference between your selfishness and mine is on the scale of farm league versus the World Series.”

“I’m afraid you overestimate me,” he said and went back to fiddling with the mug.

I took it from him before he managed cold fusion.  “Someone should,” I said.

“Hawkeye,” he started, but I wouldn’t let him finish.

“You were the best of us, you know?  When I saw you with that hearing aid, all I could think was how unfair it was that you were the one to get your eardrums blasted while the rest of us came home in one piece.  Where’s the justice in that?”

His voice wobbled when he said, “God never gives us a challenge we can’t overcome.”

“Yeah, well maybe God should pick on someone his own size.”


I was on a roll, Dad.  A brick wall couldn’t stop me.  “I admired you so much, you know?  You just sailed above all that pain and misery.  You were cheerful.  You were calm.  You were everything we wished we could be, but were too busy wetting ourselves in fear to manage.  But you never believed it.  You never thought you were as good, or as brave, or as all-around incredible as we knew you were.”

“You were the ones saving lives!”

“Did you forget about the time you volunteered to fly counterweight on the helicopter going to the front line for casualties?  Or how about that field tracheotomy you did?  Believe me, Father, that’s a procedure that’s still scary after four years of medical school, but you did it with a pocket knife and an eye-dropper!”

“I just did what I had to do,” he whispered.

“We all did.  It’s just that you’re the only one who never saw how what you did inspired us to do what we did.”

Mulcahy didn’t have the decency to look comforted.  Instead, he looked haunted.  “I failed so many times, Hawkeye, with such dire consequences.”

“I still remember the faces of all the kids I couldn’t save.”

“How can we possibly miss that?” he asked. 

Now, I’m smart enough to know a dodge when I see one.  He changed the subject so he wouldn’t have to accept something as terrible as a compliment, but I was determined to shower him in them until he had no choice but to believe he was as amazing as I was convinced he was.  I completely forgot that I lived in Maine and he lived in Philly.  I’d just march over to his tent and bother him until he threw me out or believed me, and if he threw me out I’d come back.  I’ve been thrown out by more blondes than he’ll ever meet, but I’m good at winning myself back into their good graces.

But that sort of project takes time, and the realization of where I was hit me again.  Feeding Mulcahy’s undernourished ego was a long-term project, and he was a guy with only a short-term availability to me. 

He asked again, “How could we possibly miss such a dreadful time in our lives?”

“Why did you come here?” I asked him.  “Pretty sure the answer is the same to both questions.”

“Oh,” he said, and I realized that answer had never occurred to him.  Boiling down your entire sense of uselessness and existential upheaval down to ‘I’m lonely’ is always something of a let-down.

“BJ has Peg and Erin,” I said.  “Colonel Potter has Mildred.  Klinger has Soon-Lee; Margaret has a huge new nursing staff to intimidate; Charles has that sister he’s crazy about, and last I heard, he was engaged.”

“Good Lord,” Mulcahy said. 

We took a moment to try to imagine our bald, blue-blooded boob engaged to anyone.  Then I said, “The point is, they all had people to go home to.”

“You have your father, Hawkeye.”

“And you’ve got your sister the sister.  And if you love her half as much as I love my dad, it should be enough, but there’s still something missing, right?”


“All those people?  They need one another.  My dad’s a great guy, but he doesn’t need me, and your sister’s an independent nun.  She doesn’t need you.”

“We miss being needed,” Mulcahy said.

“Got it in one.”

He looked a little blown away.  Which meant that he looked like I felt.  “Put it like that, and it all sounds so …”

“If you say ‘selfish’ again, I might take offense.  Besides, it’s not selfish, it’s normal.”

“I was going to say ‘simple’.”

“Oh, well, most big revelations are when you boil them down.”  I caught his eye and offered him up one of my most deadly smiles.  “And there’s a simple solution to our simple problem.”


“You need to be needed; I need to be needed, so why don’t we just need each other?”

I might have leered, Dad.  I might have even given him a little eyebrow-waggle.  It’s habit, more than anything.  Being suggestive never meant anything in Korea—it was just me being me—and I forgot how flustered Mulcahy used to get whenever I did it to him.  Every once in a while he’d field my teasing with a zinger of his own, but more often than not he’d just blush and stammer.  And he’d already used up his sly joke of the day.  So it was no surprise when he turned bright red and spluttered, “Hawkeye, really!”

“Whoa!  You got me all wrong,” I said, ready to save our tentative post-war relationship before my big mouth could sink it.  “I respect you too much, admire you too much, and your jealous husband is the scariest jealous husband of all.”

His expression cleared to a soft smile.  “What did you mean, then?”

“Well, forgive me if I’m being World Series selfish here, but there are deaf clubs in Portland too.  Even Catholics, from what I hear.  I’d never subject you to Crabapple Cove for the rest of your life, but Portland is an up-and-coming place.  Maybe even a place with a bishop who’s willing to entertain a radical idea or two.”

“Hawkeye, except for three years, I’ve lived in Philadelphia all my life.”

“And I’ve lived in Crabapple Cove all of mine.”  I fell back on satire to cover my disappointment.  “I can’t believe you wouldn’t uproot your entire life on the whim of some crazy doctor who won’t budge from his.  This is a decision I’ll live to regret.”  Then, to make sure he understood I wasn’t really angry with him, I let myself be serious again, if only for a sentence.  “Like I said: World Series.”

His hand on my wrist felt like it weighed a hundred pounds.  “No,” he said, “just farm league.  And very understandable.”

“Yeah, well,” I said, but couldn’t think of any snappy follow-up.

“I like your idea,” he said.

That was a surprise.  “You do?”

Mulcahy nodded.  “It may be a friendship only based in shared experience and needing to be needed, but it’s there.  It would be wrong to turn down something God has so kindly put together for us.”

I kept my mouth shut about my theories on how this had happened, which all pretty much chalked it up to coincidence.  There are some things the Father and I are always going to disagree about.

“I took the Greyhound here,” he said.  “It was only seven hours.”

“It’s a little long for day trips.  Does your place have an extra bed?”

“No, but I have been eyeing a pull-out couch.  And if not that, well, I could probably find some hay.”

“And lay me in a manger?  Don’t compare me to Jesus, Father; my ego can’t take the strain.”

“Then I’d best buy the pull-out couch.”

“So this is it?” I asked.  “We’re really going to visit one another?”

“If you’re willing,” he said. 

“Oh, I’m willing.  I’m also ready and able.  What about you?”

“All of the above,” he said.  He drummed his finger on the table and gave me that coy look he wears when he’s either making a joke or letting me in on a secret.  “And who knows?  Maybe in a year or so, if you get tired of Maine or I get tired of my bishop, we can shorten the commute.”

I breathed out hard.  “Wow, Father, I don’t know what to say.”  Then I needed to say something or let on how deeply touched I really was.  “I never really got the whole priesthood thing, myself, but I have to say, this confession deal is pretty amazing.”

“In my experience, it rarely works out so well,” he said.  “At best, I hope for honest contrition and a few prayers.”

“I could tell you to do a few ‘Our Father’s and ‘Hail Mary’s if you want, but I think it’ll kill the mood.”

“No need,” he said.

I wanted to bounce all around the room, Dad.  I wanted to bang pots and pans together, and maybe climb a tree.  Instead I just asked, “Hey, I was so busy poking at your ears I didn’t ask you how long you can stay.”

“It’s for the best, really.  When you were poking at my ears, the answer was a few hours.”

“And now?” 

“A few days.  My diocese has me on light duties until I get my feet under me, and that includes time off to readjust to civilian life.  That is, if you can put me up for a few days.”

“You’re in luck, Father.  I just came off my four days in trauma surgery, which means three days off.  My guest room is your guest room, and my small town rumors are your small town rumors.”

“Oh, dear.  I hope the gossip doesn’t hurt you or your father.”

“Are you kidding?  It takes me weeks to cook up something as good as this.  Dad’ll love it.  I’ll introduce you two.  He’d love to meet some of the people I wrote him about.”  He was starting to look overwhelmed, so I backpedaled.  “Tomorrow, Father.  Tonight, we have dinner, talk until we’re blue in the face, and counteract the blue with red from booze.”

He relaxed.  “Not as much booze for me, thanks.  I’m trying to lay off some habits I picked up in Korea.”

I figured that would make you happy.  I know you worry about how much I’m drinking too, and there’s no good influence on your son quite like a priest.  “Right,” I said.  “Then we stick to blue.”

I got up to pour us another glass, then switched to iced tea.  Behind me, I heard Mulcahy whisper to himself, “God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”

Now, I don’t know if it was God that did this, or just dumb luck, but I was grateful.  It’s funny, Dad.  I started this letter thinking I could finally tell you what’s been eating at me, and I have.  But I also got to tell you that I just might have a solution.  If Korea taught me anything, it’s that nothing is perfect, but that just means that we take the unexpectedly good where we can get it.  I have a friend, Dad.  Yeah, he’s a Catholic priest and he has all the self-confidence of a pudding, but the first point is something I can accept, and the second point is something I now have the time to try to change.

I didn’t get around to introducing him to you this trip, obviously, but he’ll be coming up two weeks from now during my three days off, and I promise you a whole evening.  Just keep the radio off, okay?  It makes his hearing aid go nuts.

Your loving son,




( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2012 03:16 am (UTC)
I just read the whole thing in one go and OMG! I loved it! Fabulous story!! Great work!
Jan. 16th, 2012 01:19 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was quite a marathon to write, but it was fantastic to finish it and to get a good reaction to it. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )