Freezing coldwe call it cold enough for foxes up here, ice-cube cold, the nose is frozen and the extremities neutralized. The feet have been numb for ages. Fingers, too. Thats Beaufort. You have cold burns all over but your belly is burning hot, dripping sweat even. At these times everyone starts thinking about some asshole drinking coffee on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv. And heres fucking me, smelling like diesel oil, sweating from fear, lying in the middle of nowhere and nobodys going to help me if I die. Not the guy in that café on Sheinkin Street, thats for sure. When Im blown to pieces a few minutes from now hell keep drinking from his mug, probably at the very moment it happens hell tell some joke and everyone will fake a laugh and then hell go screw his girlfriend, he wont even turn on the news, and as far as he is concerned, nothing will have happened this evening. Because its business as usual for him. He drives to his desk job at army headquarters every morning in the car that Daddy bought him, finishes the army every afternoon at four oclock, and drinks coffee with whipped cream all the time. Blond hair, five oclock shadow, sort of ugly. Hate him? You bet, it helps sometimes. Hatred is an excellent solution to boredom.
Beaufort is Oshri. He rolls over in my direction, lies next to me, chews my ear off in whispers. Every time. Tell me, Erez, please, man: how did I wind up here? he asks. What am I doing here dressed up like a bush? Why do I paint my face? What am I, a kid? What am I, in some Crusader fortress, you fucking little prick? What is this, are we living in the Bible? Am I some sort of retard, pissing in bottles? What am I doing here in subzero weather, in the snow, waiting to take down some Arab who decides to climb out of bed at three oclock in the morning? Does this make sense to you? And then going back to that stinking trash can I sleep in up at the outpost? Does that seem logical? Tell me, have you seen where I sleep? It isnt good for me here, really not good. Grown-ups shouldnt have to live like this, sinking in black mud mixed with snow at night. Its a bad fucking trip is what it is. Open your eyes. People have been dying on this mountain for a thousand years, isnt it about time to close shop? I swear, it doesnt make sense that theres such a place as Beaufort. Im telling you, theres no such place and were all stuck in this nightmare for no good reason. Its a mistake.
He goads me, tries every time to shoot the matter to new heights on the scale of absurdity, astonishing himself, while I bust up laughing, out of control, but its all inside so they wont see. I take care to hold it in. I know in a minute or two the guy will sober up. I know him. Everything will look normal again, logical. He chose to be here, and he has a good reason for it, the best, and hell remember it. He loves the mountain, its good for him. And Im good for him, too. Hes my soul mate, my good luck charm, my best friend since the first cigarette at the induction center. Friend? No way: brother! My brother, who knows whats best for me better than I ever will. He says, Erez, draw a black sheep for me, and I draw him a whole flock. He says, Erez, give me a hug, you pussy, and I climb into bed with him, squash his little body into the wall, fall asleep holding him. He says, Erez, and I know its for life.
And sometimes Beaufort is a one-night ambush. Even then we bring the beef jerky. Of course we do! One night, simple, like the one in December 97. Im the squad sergeant, lying in a thorny bush just as dawn is breaking, lost in thought. Calm. Like Im drugged. That calm. And my whole being is dying to run down that steep, rocky slope covered with undergrowth, run to the edge of the cliff and leap off. An incredible dive from the peak of the mountain to the sweetwater runoff in the deep valley below, a long, whistling plunge that thunders in my ears. I am dying to dip into those waters, to float on my back, get swept away by the current into the blue streams, lie in the shade of the soft, bold, wild vegetation that crowds around the water and snakes after it like a dream jungle. To warm up lying like barefoot nature children on rocks: naked, horny, carefree. Dying to smoke a joint, get high, laze around, snuggle. Oshri says you can hear the splash of the water from below if you really try, but the closer you are the more forbidden and dangerous it is. Beaufort is a cage of ugliness right at the center of heaven. You hardly move one hesitant camouflaged foot to the outskirts of our iron gate, groping, sniffing, then you come back and close yourself inside our little enclave again. If only I could fly along the rivers and by way of the mountains I would be home already.
Excerpted from Beaufort by Ron Leshem, translated by Evan Fallenberg. Copyright © 2007 by Ron Leshem. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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