"Colonel Houlihan!" Corporal Johnson ran quickly to try and catch up with the outfit's CO. "Colonel!"
He turned around and glared at the soldier. "What do you want?" He demanded roughly.
"The soldier looked at the ground trying his hardest not to look the colonel in the eye. "You're wanted on the phone sir." The poor soldier appeared very nervous and most likely wished to be out at the front lines fighting than where he was currently.
"Well don't just stand there!" Colonel Houlihan shouted. "There's a war on, and I'm sure you're here for a reason!" The corporal scurried off as quickly as possible.
Colonel Houlihan, also know as "Howitzer" Al Houlihan, was famous for his strict regulations and iron rule of his men. No man in his outfit dared to cross his path.
He burst into his office. "Who is it?" He demanded of the company clerk holding the receiver.
"Uh, it's a Colonel Potter sir. He's from a MASH unit not far from here." Houlihan swiftly walked over to the young man and jerked the receiver out of his hand. "Are you waiting for something?" He challenged. "Uh, no sir!" The frightened clerk walked quickly into the adjoining room.
"Hello? This is Colonel Houlihan."
"Colonel Houlihan, this is Colonel Potter from the 4077th MASH. You daughter, Margaret, works here."
"Ah yes, Colonel Potter, I believe we met before. What do you need?"
"Well..." Colonel Potter paused and sighed. He wasn't looking forward to what he had to tell the man on the line.
"Margaret volunteered to go to another MASH unit for a few days, as sort of a fill-in for their head nurse who was sent home."
"I don't understand." Colonel Houlihan interrupted. "What does this have to do with me? My daughter is well over eighteen, she doesn't have to check in with me anymore."
"I'm getting to that sir." Potter replied patiently. "Margaret never arrived at the 8063rd. She's been missing for eleven days now, along with the corporal who was driving the jeep. She's been listed as MIA."
Colonel Houlihan wasn't sure how to react. He had never been very close to his daughters; Margaret especially. He used to think she purposely avoided him. "Well, um...I appreciate you telling me."
"Of course Colonel. Is there anyone you would like me to contact back in the states? Anyone close to Margaret?"
"No, Colonel. That won't be necessary." He said curtly. "I'll speak to you later." He sharply hung up the phone and reached for a bottle of whisky inside his drawer. As he started drinking he began to think back about the few moments he shared with his daughter. Most of all he began thinking about the day Margaret enlisted.
"Katie? Are you home?" Margaret called into the darkened house. She couldn't find her younger sister, Katie, anywhere.
"Margaret keep your voice down!!!" Alvin Houlihan hissed sharply. "You're not a child anymore and I don't want you acting like one!"
"Yes sir." She muttered. She headed outside looking for her sister.
"Katie! I've been looking all over for you!"
"Sorry Maggie, Dad was in a bad mood so I came out here to kind of hide out."
Margaret laughed and joined her sister in sitting on the wooden bench underneath the shady tree. The girls sat there for a while talking. They looked very similar. They were both petite and blonde. Almost the same height although Margaret was five years her sister's senior.
"What's wrong Maggie?" Katie looked up at her sister and tried to look her in the eye.
Margaret turned her head toward the house and leaned forward, letting her elbows rest on her knees.
"Come on Margaret, out with it." Katie looked at her knowingly. "We've been together too long for you to hide anything from me."
Margaret sighed and looked back at her sister. "I enlisted today."
"Margaret! How could you do something like that? You just graduated! You could have had a job anywhere you wanted! You could have gotten out of the place!"
Margaret started sniffling and put her head in hands. "You know why I did it. It's the only way I can ever make him happy."
Katie put an arm around her sister. She knew there was no use in rebuking her. For some reason she couldn't understand; more than anything Margaret needed to feel accepted, especially by their father. "It's okay Margaret. It's going to be okay." She whispered, trying to soothe her sister. "Who knows maybe you'll meet a dashing young doctor somewhere.
Margaret looked up and smiled. "Come with me. I need to tell Dad." The girls stood up and walked toward the house hand-in-hand.
Colonel Houlihan stood up and walked outside. He ignored the activity going on around him. He remembered the day she told him the she enlisted. She had walked into the house looking for Katie. He yelled at her to act more mature as she quickly walked into the backyard. He had slowly gotten up from his chair and walked over to the back window and watched Margaret join her sister under the oak tree. He saw her lean over as if her stomach hurt, allowing her sister to comfortingly rub her back. He sighed and walked back over to the chair and tried to forget about it. Thinking back now He realized what she was crying about. He had always known neither of his daughters wished to be a part of the army, but he had always pushed the idea onto Margaret. He supposed he was wrong in doing so but if Margaret had been a son...well things would have been very different. A few times he had made the mistake of telling her so. He remembered one instance very well.
Margaret winced as she heard the door bang open. She knew her father had been at the bar. He was expecting a promotion, to Colonel. If he was promoted he would have gone to the bar. If he did not receive it he would still be at the bar. From the way he was yelling he most likely did not.
"Jean! Margaret! Katie! Where is everyone?" Alvin shouted boisterously. Margaret remained seated by her bed. She didn't move. Her mother had gone to the store. Her mother believed that at nine years old, Margaret was old enough to care for herself after school. At least that's where she thought she was. When she came home from school her mother was gone. Probably trying to avoid a confrontation with her father. She heard her father's footsteps approaching her bedroom. She prayed he wouldn't come into her room. She heard the door to her sister's nursery bang open, then the door to her parent's bedroom. Next came the bathroom door. She closed her eyes and drew her knees up to her chest. The door opened quickly, hitting the dresser behind it. Light flooded into the dark room.
"Margaret, get up! I've been looking all over for you!" He walked over to her and glared at her until she stood up. "What are you doing here you lazy brat? I'm starving!" She started walking as quickly as possible toward the kitchen. She was panicking. She wasn't scarred of the yelling. She was used to that. She wasn't even afraid that he would hurt her, he never had. He barley even touched her at all, in fact he avoided it. She just didn't want to give him another reason to be mad at her. She couldn't cook at all. At nine years old not many children could. Still she tried. She managed to make some runny eggs, burned toast, and lopsided pancakes. She put the food on a plate and walked into the living room. She approached her father tentatively with the food, and shyly offered it to him. He grunted as he took the plate and Margaret watched in nervous anticipation as he took a bite. He spit the eggs out quickly onto the plate and glared at her. He dropped the plate onto a side table as he stood up.
"Can't you do anything right?" He shouted. She didn't move, her eyes were glued to the floor and quickly filling with tears. She had disappointed him again.
"Now if you would have been a boy, well maybe then you might have been good for something!"
"I can make something else Daddy." She whispered meekly.
"It's no use! You can't do anything! I'm going back into town for some decent, edible food!" He pulled his coat on and marched out the door, slamming it on his way out.
"Colonel! Colonel the new Lieutenant is here!" Corporal Johnson called after the CO. "Colonel? You said you wanted to speak to him the minute he arrived."
Colonel Houlihan whipped around sharply. "Johnson! I'll speak to the Lieutenant when I'm good and ready and not a moment before! Do you understand?"
Startled, Johnson muttered a quiet "yes sir." and hurriedly walked back toward the office. Colonel walked over to the officers club, sat down at the back corner table and ordered a martini. He quickly drank it and ordered another. He knew he wasn't half the farther he should have been. He had felt bad about it at times too. But normally he would get caught up in work and push those feelings aside. Well they were here again and they hurt...bad. He ordered another martini. As he began drinking it he thought about all the times in Margaret's life he had missed out on. Those times when, as a father, he ought to have been there for her.
"Where is he?" Margaret looked around anxiously. "He promised he would be here!"
"Why do you want him here?" Katie asked her. "We can have a much better time without him!" She said indignantly.
"Katie! It's my graduation! I want him here!" Margaret moaned. "I've worked for four years to become a nurse. It's important to me that he's here!" Margaret stifled a sob and tried to compose herself.
"Hey, hey, it's okay Maggie. I'm sorry. He'll be here." Katie offered reassuringly.
"No, he won't!" She wailed. He's never been there for me! He just doesn't care!"
"No! Katie he's the most selfish man I have ever met! He doesn't care about anyone or anything but himself and his stupid army career!" Margaret broke down and leaned onto her sister as she sobbed. Katie stroked her back reassuringly as she cried.
"Why? Why do I love him so much Katie? He's never been there when I needed a father. I doubt he's ever even loved me. I tried so hard. But he just doesn't care!"
Katie, unsure of how to comfort her sister just stroked her hair and let her cry."
A half hour later Margaret had stopped crying and was feeling considerably better. She walked down the aisle to receive her diploma. Her father wasn't there, but he never really had been.
"Another martini!" Colonel Houlihan shouted. He realized it now; he realized how much he loved his daughter. He was never any good at showing it but he really loved her. She was so much like him. Her stubbornness, her determination, her strive to succeed in everything she does, even her will to please everyone and feel accepted. God, he loved her. He just hoped that he had an opportunity to tell her so.
He got up from the table and walked toward his tent. It had gotten late. He would have to speak to the Lieutenant tomorrow. He spent a restless night. He was worried about her. More than anything he just hoped that he would have the opportunity to tell her how sorry he was.
"Colonel Houlihan!" Corporal Johnson whispered hesitantly. "Colonel!"
"What do you want corporal? It's three in the morning!"
"There's a phone call for you sir. From that Colonel who called yesterday morning. He said it was important."
"All right, I'm coming." Colonel Houlihan had already jumped up and he was hurriedly jerking on his pants. He ran out of his tent toward his office without even slipping on his shoes, leaving a befuddled corporal behind him.
"Colonel Potter?" Now that he was about to hear some new news he wasn't too sure he wanted to hear it. He sat down, dreading what this colonel was about to tell him.
"Colonel Houlihan, we found your daughter."
His entire body went weak with relief.
"Is she alright?" Colonel Potter coughed nervously.
"Well one of our surgeons found her near the side of the road an hour ago. She's been badly beaten. She's still unconscious. "
"Is she going to be alright?" Colonel Houlihan demanded harshly.
"We have every reason to believe that she'll recover nicely."
"Is she there? Can I come to see her?" He felt like a blubbering, sentimental fool, but he just had to see her.
"Well I suppose, but like I said, she's still unconscious. She won't know you're here."
"I'll be there in an hour."
A jeep pulled to a screeching halt in front on Colonel Potter's office. Radar looked out the door as Colonel Houlihan burst into the room.
"Where's you CO?" He demanded.
"Hold your horses, I'm right here Colonel." Colonel Potter shuffled into the room, the tie on his bathrobe dragging on the floor.
"Where is she, can I see her?" Colonel Houlihan was a nervous wreck. Was he doing the right thing coming to see her? Would she want to see him? Would she even speak to him after all he had done to her?
"Follow me Colonel; I'll take you over to post-op." He turned to face the clerk. "You can go back to bed Radar."
"Thank-you sir." Radar mumbled as he shuffled back to his cot.
He was interrupted, "Please call me Sherman."
Sherman, you said she was in post-op. She required surgery?"
"Uh yes, she did. One of her broken ribs punctured her lung. But even if she hadn't had surgery we still would have placed her in post-op so we could keep an eye on her. Now Alvin, before you go in keep in mind that Margaret is sick. Don't try to wake her and be very quiet because of the other patients."
"Sick? You told me that she was hurt not sick." Worry began creeping back into his voice.
"Now calm down Alvin. She's going to be fine. She just has a high temperature and that just slows things down a bit."
"But you're sure she's going to be fine?"
Colonel Potter hesitated but then nodded. "Yes, I'm sure." He opened the swinging door and allowed Colonel Houlihan to pass in front of him.
The second I walked through the door I spotted her. I couldn't see her completely, a young man sat beside her cot holding her hand. Colonel Potter walked over to him and touched him on the shoulder. He said something softly to him and he turned around to look at me. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and then stood and walked towards me. It was then I recognized him as one of the surgeons; Hawkeye Pierce I believe was his name. He cautioned me to be quiet and then he sat down at a small desk by the door. I walked over to her, I had never seen her like that, so helpless. She had several bruises on her face and arms. I'm sure she had several more elsewhere on her body. I sat down in the chair positioned by her bed. I reached out to stroke her face and her head suddenly moved and her eyes momentarily opened. I looked up quickly at Hawkeye and he rose and hurried over to the bed and placed a hand on her forehead.
"I think her fever has gone down!" He called one of the nurses over to him and she inserted a thermometer into her mouth. Margaret opened her eyes slightly and moved her head to avoid the thermometer. Her gaze landed on me. Her eyes widened and she tried to reposition her body. She moaned and Hawkeye stroked her face and muttered something reassuring to her. She fell asleep and after about an hour she woke up and looked at me hesitantly as if she wasn't sure to really believe I was there. I picked up her hand and smiled at her.
"Daddy?" She couldn't believe that I was actually sitting there next to her.
"Shhhh, rest Maggie, just rest." I leaned over to kiss her forehead.
"I love you" I whispered.
She looked into my eyes shocked at what I had just told her and then she smiled.
"I love you too Daddy."