aneitis (aneitis) wrote,

Жёлтые птицы

Жёлтая птица
С жёлтым клювом
На моем подоконнике.

Я заманил ее внутрь
Кусочком хлеба,
А потом размозжил
Ее чёртову голову...

Традиционная речёвка американской армии

Не ведать о зле грядущем, забывать о зле прошедшем - милосердное установление природы, с помощью которого мы переносим мешанину наших недолгих и злосчастных дней. Наш рассудок избавлен от ранящих воспоминаний, острые края которых без конца сдирали бы кожу с наших печалей, заставляя их кровоточить.
Сэр Томас Браун

Красноречивые эпиграфы.

Просто буду делать заметки о сержанте Стерлинге, герое Бенедикта Камбербэтча, по мере того как читаю книгу. В основном цитаты.

Глава 1: сентябрь 2004
Аль-Тафар, провинция Ниневия, Ирак. Здесь происходят основные события книги, написанной от лица рядового Бартла - старшего из двух молодых солдат, главных героев романа.

Первое появление сержанта Стерлинга.

[Spoiler (click to open)]He turned back toward our sector, and his muscles visibly bucked and tensed beneath his gear. Звучит хорошо.

Его первые слова в книге:
Sterling cut him off. “Shut the fuck up. LT’s done when he says he’s fucking done.”
Ну вот примерно так он, вероятно, и будет разговаривать всю дорогу.

I didn’t realize it then, but Sterling seemed to know exactly how hard to push the LT so that discipline remained. He didn’t care if we hated him. He knew what was necessary. He smiled at me and his straight, white teeth reflected the early morning sun. “You were saying, sir, that hopefully they’ll be too scared to shoot before…” The LT opened his mouth to finish his thought, but Sterling continued, “Before we fucking kill the hajji fucks.”

Sterling ran to the opening in the floor and yelled down to the LT, “Up, sir.” He moved to each one of us on the roof, smacking the back of our helmets. “Get ready, motherfuckers,” he said.

I hated him. I hated the way he excelled in death and brutality and domination. But more than that, I hated the way he was necessary, how I needed him to jar me into action even when they were trying to kill me, how I felt like a coward until he screamed into my ear, “Shoot these hajji fucks!” I hated the way I loved him when I inched up out of the terror and returned fire, seeing him shooting too, smiling the whole time, screaming, the whole rage and hate of these few acres, alive and spreading, in and through him.

Sterling laughed. “Come on, motherfuckers.”

Sterling sat down behind the wall next to the machine gun. He waved us to him and took a piece of pound cake from the cargo pocket on his trousers as we listened to the final bursts of nervous firing peter out. He broke the dry cake into three pieces. “Take this,” he said. “Eat.”

We looked to Sterling. He waved us off. “Someone get on the net and tell those fuckers it’s a just a kid,” he said.

Глава 2: декабрь 2003
Форт Дикс, Нью-Джерси

Не знаю, как будет разворачиваться повествование в фильме, но в книге оно построено в виде флешбэков. Причём сразу в начале книги Бартл говорит о судьбе двух остальных героев - Мерфи и Стерлинга.

[СПОЙЛЕР]Всё плохо.

В этой главе Бартл рассказывает о том, как он встретил Мерфи и как получилось, что он помимо своего желания дал его матери опрометчивое обещание позаботиться о том, чтобы тот вернулся домой.

О Стерлинге из первых двух глав известно следующее:

[Spoiler (click to open)]Высокий, подтянутый, мускулистый, с голубыми глазами и коротко подстриженными светлыми волосами. Ровные белые зубы, рот, не созданный для улыбки. Линия подбородка как из учебника геометрии. (Понятия не имею, что это значит.) Незаурядный. Идеальный военный, словно сошедший с рекламного плаката для набора в армию (его раздражает, когда кто-то указывает на это). Он уже участвовал в боевых действиях в Ираке и был награждён. Пользуется всеобщим уважением как среди командования, так и среди подчинённых. Высокопрофессионален, суров, но справедлив. Изъясняется преимущественно матом. Искренне заботится о солдатах, которые ненавидят и одновременно любят его и готовы идти за ним куда угодно.

[Spoiler (click to open)]...when Sergeant Sterling, our newly assigned team leader, heard the muffled whisper Murph had made, he didn’t see him. Instead, he saw me. He glared and clenched his teeth and barked, “At ease the fucking noise, Bartle.”

“Bartle. Murphy. Get your stupid asses over here,” called Sergeant Sterling.

Sterling had been assigned to our company when our deployment orders came through. He had been to Iraq already, on the first push north out of Kuwait, and had been decorated, so even the higher-ups looked at him with admiration. And it wasn’t just the fact of his having been there that caused us to respect him. He was harsh, but fair, and there was a kind of evolutionary beauty in his competence. His carriage seemed different only by a matter of degree from the way our other sergeants and officers acted. I noticed the way his whole upper body moved in concert with his rifle on field exercises, pivoting against the backdrop of the snow in the branches of the hardwoods, his legs propelling him purposefully forward, where he’d stop in a clearing and kneel. The way he’d remove his helmet slowly, showing his cropped blond hair, his blue eyes scanning the brush at the wood line. And he’d listen and I’d watch and we’d wait, the whole platoon, for him to make some determination. We would trust him when he pointed and told us to move on. It was easy to follow him wherever he was going.

Murph and I walked to Sterling and stood at parade rest. “All right, little man,” he said, “I want you to get in Bartle’s back pocket and I want you to stay there. Do you understand?”

Murph looked at me before he answered. I tried to make a face that would clearly communicate the need for his answer to come quickly, and for it to be directed toward Sergeant Sterling. But he didn’t answer, and Sterling smacked him on the side of the head, knocking his cover to the ground, where little drifts of snow sketched the December wind.

“Roger, Sergeant,” I said. I pulled Murph toward the awning of the barracks door, where a cluster of guys from second platoon were smoking. As we walked, Sterling called behind us, “You guys seriously need to unfuck yourselves. None of you people get it.”

Murph came back into the room with a kind of waddle under the weight of his gear. He looked a lot like Sterling in some ways, the blond hair and blue eyes. But it was as if Murph was the ordinary version. Where Sterling was tall and trimly muscled, Murph was not. He wasn’t fat, it was just that he seemed almost incorrectly short and squat by comparison. Whereas Sterling’s jawline could have been transferred directly from a geometry textbook, Murph’s features were nearly imperceptibly askew. Whereas Murph’s mouth fell comfortably into a smile, Sterling’s did not. Maybe all I noticed was a condition of reality, applicable everywhere on earth: some people are extraordinary and some are not. Sterling was, though I could see at times that he bristled at the consequences of this condition. When he first came to our company, the captain introduced him to us by saying, “Sergeant Sterling will be put on the fucking recruiting posters, men. Mark my words.” When the formation broke, I walked past them and overheard Sterling say, “I will never ask anyone to do this, sir. Never.” And I noticed as he walked away that he wasn’t wearing any of the awards on his Class A’s that the captain had rattled off with such poorly hidden envy. But wars need ordinary boys, too.

The last week we were in New Jersey, Sterling came to see us in our room. We were packing up all of our gear that we knew we wouldn’t need. The higher-ups had told us we’d have a pass soon and that our families would be able to see us for a last visit before our battalion’s movement. The only thing left was a final range day, put in place as the result of a suggestion Sergeant Sterling had passed up the chain of command. When Sterling stepped through our door, he waved off our somewhat lazy effort to rise to parade rest.

“Sit down, guys,” he said.

Murph and I sat down on my bunk, and Sterling sat down on the bunk across from us, rubbing his temples.

“How old are you two?”

“Eighteen,” Murph answered quickly. “My birthday was last week,” he said, smiling.

And so we looked at Sterling, distraught, and he said, “Fuck,” and I knew that when he told us his age it would not be much more than ours. “All right, look,” he said. “You guys are my guys.”

“Roger, Sarge,” we said.

“Our AO just came down from higher. It’s gonna be a goat fuck. You guys have to promise to do what I say.”

“OK. Sure thing, Sarge.”

“Don’t give me that shit, Privates. No ‘sure thing’ this time. Tell me you’ll do what I say. Every. Fucking. Time.” He beat the notes with his fist into the palm of his left hand.

“We’ll do what you say. We promise,” I said.

He took a deep breath and smiled. His shoulders sagged slightly.

“So, where is it, Sarge?” Murph asked.

“Al Tafar. Up north, near Syria. Like a hajji proving ground up there. Gets real fucking heated sometimes. I wasn’t supposed to tell you yet, but I need you to understand something.” He was slouched beneath the bunk above him. It caused him to lean slightly forward toward us and across the white space of the buffed tile floor.

Murph and I looked at each other and waited for him to continue.

“People are going to die,” he said flatly. “It’s statistics.” Then he got up and left the room.

Sterling and Murph had taken their places in line to be rodded onto the range. Sterling glared at me, then cupped his rifle into the crook of his elbow and pointed at his watch. “Waiting on you, Private,” he said.

Sterling was attentive in his marksmanship instruction. Murph and I both had our highest qualification scores ever. Sterling was pleased with us and seemed to be in a good mood. “Anything less than forty out of forty is operator error,” he said. We moved to a small hill that sloped down from the firing line. We relaxed and sat at his feet as he reclined on the hill, oblivious to the snow. “I think y’all might be all right.” For a while we didn’t speak. It was enough to be satisfied with his approval. The sun was still high over the berm at the end of the range when Murph started talking.

“What’s it like over there, Sarge?” Murph asked sheepishly. He was sitting cross-legged in the snow, his rifle over his lap like he was cradling a doll.

Sterling laughed. “God, that fucking question.” He had begun gathering rocks and tossing them into my upturned Kevlar.

Murph looked away from him.

He spoke firmly. “They aren’t gonna pop up and wait for you to shoot them. Remember your fundamentals and you’ll be able to do what needs to be done. It’s hard at first, but it’s simple. Anybody can do it. Get a steady position and a good sight picture, control your breathing and squeeze. For some people, it’s tough after. But most people want to do it when the time comes.”

“Hard to imagine,” I said. “You know, whether we’ll be one or the other?”

He paused. “Better get to fucking imagining.” He started to chuckle again. “Just gotta dig deep. Find that nasty streak.”

I listened to the crack of rifles on the line. Saw branches lift and shake off snow when birds took flight, startled at the sound. The sun was small and bright in the sky. The rain had let up to a noisy drizzle.

“How do we do that?” I asked.

Sterling feigned frustration, but I could tell our solid performance on the range had given us some latitude. “Don’t worry. I’ll help.” He seemed to catch something spilling out of himself and corrected his bearing. My Kevlar was full of rocks.

“Shit,” said Murph.

“We just gotta train it up. Practice, practice, practice,” Sterling said. He laid his head down on the ground and put his feet on my upturned helmet.

Murph started to say something, but I put my hand on his shoulder. “Yeah, we get it, Sarge,” I said.

He stood up and stretched. The whole back of his uniform was wet, but it didn’t seem to bother him. “It was their idea,” he said. “Don’t forget that. It’s their idea every time. They ought to kill themselves instead of us.”

I wasn’t sure who “they” were.

Murph was looking at the ground. “So…so what are we doing?”

“Don’t worry so much, ladies. You two just hold the tail. Everything’ll be cool.”

“The tail?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he responded. “Let me fuck the dog.”

The reports of rifles disappeared. Our last task was over. We loaded back on the trucks, anxious for a pass and time with our families. I thought about what Sterling had said. I wasn’t sure he wasn’t crazy, but I trusted that he was brave. And I now know the extent of Sterling’s bravery. It was narrowly focused, but it was pure and unadulterated. It was a kind of elemental self-sacrifice, free of ideology, free of logic. He would put himself on the gallows in another boy’s place for no other reason than that he thought the noose was better suited to his neck.


[Spoiler (click to open)]Sterling caught me later as I was walking back from the gym to our barracks. He was sitting on the front stoop and I stopped to smoke a cigarette. “It’s kind of nice out tonight, huh, Sarge?”

He stood up and started pacing back and forth. “I overheard you talking to Private Murphy’s mother.”

“Oh, right. That.”

“You shouldn’t have done that, Private.”


He stopped and put his hands on his hips. “C’mon. Promises? Really? You’re making fucking promises now?”

I was annoyed. “I was just trying to make her feel better, Sarge,” I said. “It’s not a big deal.”

He knocked me to the ground quickly and hit me twice in the face, once below the eye and once directly in the mouth. I felt his knuckles fold my lips under my teeth. I felt my front teeth cut into my top lip, the blood running hot and metallic into my mouth. My lips swelled immediately. My cheek had been cut by a ring he wore on his right hand, and that blood gathered into runnels and ran down my face and into the corner of my eye and onto the snow. He stood over me with his feet on either side of my body, just looking at me. He shook the sting out of his hand in the cold air. “Report me if you want. I don’t even fucking care anymore.”
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