Mozdok steppe. There is a war with fascist Germany. I’m a fighter, mortar. I’m a Muscovite, I’m eighteen years old, the second day at the front line, a month in the army, and I’m bringing the regimental commander “a very responsible package.” Where this commander is unknown. And for the failure to complete the assignment – the shooting. Someone pulls me into the trench. Explain that another hundred meters, and I would have run into the Germans. I am led to the regiment commander. He reads the report and asks to tell my commander that he will not send such reports any more. I dream about how I’ll come back, I’ll report, I’ll get drunk hot tea, I’ll sleep – now I have the right. In our battery, Sashka Zolotarev, Kolya Grinchenko, Shongin, Gurgenidze, the platoon commander – junior lieutenant Karpov. Kolya Grinchenko, whatever he says, always “charmingly smiles.” Shongin is an “old soldier”.
He served in all armies during all wars, but never shot, never was wounded. Gurgenidze is a small Georgian, he always has a droplet on his nose.
Yesterday came Nina, a “beautiful woman”, she is married. “And you’re still a miser, are not you?” she asked. Will Nina come today or not?
Here she goes, next to her is a stranger. Suddenly a break in the distance. Someone yells: “Lie down!” I see Nina slowly rising from the dirty snow, and that, the other, lies motionless. This is our first mine.
I lost a spoon. There is nothing. I eat porridge with a pinch. We are going on the offensive. “What do you have with your hands?” asks the foreman. My hands are covered in blood. “It’s from the mine boxes,” says Shongin.
Sashka Zolotarev makes a notch on the stick in memory of the dead. There was no room left for the stick.
I come to the headquarters of the regiment. “And your eyes are good,” says Nina. From these words behind me grow wings. “Tomorrow I will come to you, I like you,” I say. “I like
many people, because there’s no one else besides me,” she replies. We are changing positions. We go by car. It’s snowing in two with the rain. Night. We stop and knock on a hut. The hostess lets us in. All fit into bed. “Climb to me,” says a soft voice from the stove. “And who are you?” – I ask. “Maria Andreevna”. She was sixteen years. “Go closer,” she says. “Let go,” I say. “Well, and fell on your bench, since you are crowded with people.” The next day he wounded Gurgenidze. “Caught up,” he smiles sadly. He is sent to a hospital.
Sashka Zolotarev learns that there are cars with groats nearby, and drivers are asleep. “It would be nice to pour us a pot,” says Sashka and leaves for the cars. The next day the battalion commander scolds Sashka for theft. I say that Sasha distributed everything to everyone, and I think where he was, this battalion commander, when we were taking the first battle at the state farm No. 3. In the school I was fed by regime. I remember how at the last Komsomol meeting, when the boys vowed to die for their Motherland one by one, Zhenya, whom I loved then, said: “I feel sorry for you, boys.” The war needs silent, gloomy soldiers. – “And you?” someone shouted. “I’ll go too, but I will not shout and crucify.”
We – Karpov, foreman, Sashka Zolotarev and I – go to the army base for mortars. We are traveling in a lorry. On the way we meet a girl in the uniform of the sergeant-major. Her name is Masha. She asks me to drive her to the rear. We stop for the night in the village. The mistress of our house is very similar to my mother. She feeds us with pie from our rusks, pours alcohol, so that we are warmed. We go to bed. In the morning we sit in the car.
We return to the division headquarters. I meet Nina. “Did you come to visit?” she asks. “I’ve been looking for you,” I reply. “Oh, you are my dear… That’s my real friend.” “I did not forget, then?” she says. We have dinner with Nina in the staff cafeteria. We are talking about what happened before the war, that we had a meeting in the middle of the war, that I would wait for her letters. We leave the dining room. I touch her shoulder. She gently takes my hand away. “Do not,” she says, “it’s better.” She kisses me on the forehead and runs into the snowstorm that has begun.
We get an American armored personnel carrier. We go on it and drive a barrel of wine – for the whole battery. We decide to try wine. It pours into the kettle through the hose for gasoline and smells of petrol. Having drunk, Sashka Zolotarev begins to cry and remember his Klava. The car goes forward. A figure is running towards us. It’s a soldier. He says that “the guys hit with bullets,” seven. There are two left to live. We help them to bury the dead.
There is a fight. Suddenly I hit in the side, but I’m alive, only the earth’s mouth. It was not me who was killed, they killed Shongin. Sasha brings a bunch of German aluminum spoons, but for some reason I can not eat them.
“Rama is indulging,” says Kolya. I feel a pain in my leg, a left thigh in the blood. I was wounded! How is it – no fight, nothing. I am taken to the medical battalion. My sister asks for my documents. I take them out of my pocket. After them drops a spoon. On it is scratched “Shongin”. And when did I pick it up? That’s the memory of Shongin. In the hut they bring in new wounded men. One of them is evil, mortar. He says that all of us have been killed: Kolya, Sashka, and the battalion commander. He was left alone. “You’re all lying,” I shout. “He’s lying,” someone says. “Do not listen,” says the sister, “he’s not himself.” “Our people are on their way,” I say. I want to cry and not from grief. Cry. You have a dangerous wound, a schoolboy. You still will live.