Ричмонд, штат Вирджиния
Бартл возвращается домой.
Глава 6: сентябрь 2004
После очередного боя один из раненых солдат умирает.
[Spoiler (click to open)]The medics had a private from third platoon on the ground, his blouse removed, his teeth chattering, mewling like a lamb. He was gut-shot and dying. We tried to help as much we could, but the medics shoved us back, so we watched and softly said, “Come on, Doc,” as they tried to put his insides back in his body. He was a pale shape. The medics were covered in his blood and he shook in his delirium. We stepped away and formed a circle under the light falling through the leaves. His lips turned dark purple in the light and quivered. Snot ran onto his upper lip and the shaking of his body threw small flecks of spittle over his chin. I realized he had been still for a while and he was dead. No one spoke.
“I thought he was going to say something,” I finally said.
The rest of the company fanned out. A couple of guys from the other squads in second platoon moved out of the circle. Murph sat with his feet swinging in one of the shallow ditches, cleaning his rifle. A few acknowledged that they’d been waiting for him to say something, too. When he only died, their faces became downcast and surprised. They moved aimlessly away.
Sterling stubbed out a cigarette near the boy’s body with his toe and a thin rail of smoke rose toward the tattered leaves and dissipated. “They usually don’t,” he said. “I only heard it once.”
An embedded photographer snapped pictures of it all: a private snaking his barrel in a ditch, the dead boy, as yet uncovered, gazing thinly toward the blue sky that had cleared itself of clouds high above the orchard. I thought that he had no regard for the significance of what he saw. But now I think maybe he did. Maybe his regard was absolute.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Who?” Sterling said.
“The KIA. What did he say?”
“Nothing really. I was holding his hand. Freaked the fuck out, you know? Fire was still coming in. I was the only one there. Doesn’t matter.” He paused. “I didn’t even know the guy.” Sterling grabbed at the collar of his vest and closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. He nodded to the photographer and they began to pick their way through the debris; the branches and torn rinds, the dead and the living.
“What did he say?” I asked again.
He turned back. “Bart, you’re just gonna make it into something bigger than it was. You ought to go check your boy and quit worrying about that shit.”
I turned and saw Murph kneeling next to the body. His hands were on his thighs. I could have gone to Murph, but I did not. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be responsible for him. I had enough to worry about. I was disintegrating, too. How was I supposed to keep us both intact?
It is possible that I broke my promise in that very moment, that if I’d gone to comfort him a second earlier, he might not have broken himself. I don’t know. He didn’t look distraught, he looked curious. He touched the body, straightened the collar, put the boy’s head in his lap.
I had to know. “C’mon, Sarge. Just tell me.” He looked at me. I could see that he was as tired as I was. That surprised me.
“Well, he was crying,” said Sterling. “And he was all like, ‘I’m fucking dying, right?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, probably.’ And he kept crying harder and then he stopped and I was just waiting for him to keep talking, or whatever. You know, like in the movies or some shit.”
“He goes, ‘Hey, man, check if I shat my pants.’ Then he was dead.” Sterling clapped his hands together as if to signal that he was done with it, had struck it from his mind.
Внезапный взрыв и нападение у моста через Тигр
[Spoiler (click to open)]An interminable silence passed. As a group we were on a knee, looking out at the body, wondering what should be done. The lieutenant stood and turned to us, but before he could utter a word we were overtaken by blindness, as if the sun had fallen out of the sky. We were covered in dust and deafened before any sound could reach us. I lay groggy on the ground and my ears rang and buzzed loudly and as I looked up I saw the rest of the platoon moving on the ground, trying to get their bearings. Sterling was covered in black dust. His mouth moved and he gestured to his rifle, pointed out what he saw and began to fire at it. In alleys beneath us, closer to the riverbank, and in windows above us, we saw the tips of rifles and hands. The buzz in my head was oppressive, and I couldn’t hear the bullets as they passed, but I felt a few as they cut the air. The fight was hazy and without sound, as if it was happening underwater.
I moved to the edge of the bridge and began firing at anything moving. I saw one man fall in a heap near the bank of the river among the bulrushes and green fields on its edges.
... Sterling and Murph came over and sat next to me and we took out more magazines and fired those into his body and his clothes were awash in blood and it ran down the low bank and flowed into the river until it all had been exhausted.
“Now you’ve got it, Privates. Thorough, thorough is the way home.”
I stopped firing and put my head in my hands. My rifle slung in my lap. I had taken it as far as I could. I looked over at Sterling. His face was serene. I wondered what he could do beyond this. No, what could I do beyond this? Where would he take us?
Глава 7: август 2005
Ричмонд, штат Вирджиния
Бартл после возвращения домой не может перестать думать о Мерфи.