The Healer's War

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Authors: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Tags: Fiction, Historical, Fantasy, Contemporary, War & Military, Occult & Supernatural
towers illuminated the compound, sandbags, concertina wire, plywood barracks, and administrative shacks. The hospital's white humps shone from within, the three long windows at the top of each ward glowing faintly with the light over the nurses' station. The hospital building was actually two sets of Quonset huts connected by a long, enclosed corridor. It resembled eight enormous oil drums that someone had split open and spread apart so that half of each drum lay directly across from the other. Each entire oil drum was a whole ward, with space enough for maybe another Quonset hut on each side of the ones already in place. You could almost see the cloud of pot smoke swirling above the visitors'
    tent, defining the atmosphere between wards five and six.

    Smelling it, I forgot about Tony and jake and Tommy Dean and could sec the inside of ward six again as clearly as if I'd never left Tran's bedside. Shame and grief not only for the harm I might have caused Tran but for the nurse I was not and was never going to be welled up in me again, returning in a massive sodden lump. The closer I got to the hospital, the bigger the lump swelled, until it filled my chest and throat and brought the taste of sirloin and stomach acid to my tongue. I should stop and check on Tran, just so everyone would know that I really did give a damn about her. But what if something had gone wrong? I took a shortcut through the hospital, my boots loud on the concrete hallway. No one else was out there, just the mingled smells of antiseptic, pot, and Nam, and the collective sound of deep breathing, restless sleep, shifting feet, and the occasional clank of metal trays or bedpans. The light glowed softly over the desk on ward six. Ginger was pouring meds. George was behind his comic. Tran's bed was still occupied. I crept just a little closer, not wanting to greet anyone.
    The body in the bed was Tran's, and she was breathing.

    I passed through the hospital, out onto the boardwalk, and up the stairs to my quarters, gratefully closing the door behind me. My side of the building had been out of the sun for several hours, so the temperature in the tiny room was more or less bearable. I turned on the fan and let it blow through my hair, evaporate the last moisture from my skin as I pulled off my fatigues.

    My laundry was lying freshly pressed on my shelves-well, most of it was my laundry. Looked as if mamasan had left me somebody else's rice-starched and ironed lace panties.

    I grabbed a clean set of underwear, slipped on a shift, and headed for the shower. It was cold, as always, but washed off the sand and the stink. No one seemed to be home in the barracks that night, but the light at the 83rd officers' club across the road still twinkled and
    "Proud Mary" warred with the sounds of Aretha Franklin coming from the barracks in back of ours.

    Returning to my cot, I slouched back against the wall with my stationery box on my knees and tried to write a long, philosophical letter to Duncan. Duncan was-well, it's hard to explain about Duncan now. He was-is-a former professor of mine, a great storyteller, and in my own heart then my own true love. Only he didn't seem to know it, or value it, and tended to treat me like a kid brother. Of all the men I could have had, he was the one I wanted, though I wasn't damn fool enough not to have my spirits lifted by the proximity of men like Tony Devlin.
    Still, it was always to Duncan, rather than my mother, that I wrote the letters that really explained, more or less, how I felt about Nam. I'd been composing in my head, in my sleep, in between snatches of conversation, what I would tell him about the situation with Tran, but halfway through I tore it up. If he found out what a fuck-up I was, he'd never love me. Instead, I wrote a short, funny letter about the beach and meeting Tommy Dean and jake. I'd save writing about Tony for when and if there was something to write about that would make Duncan realize what an

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