By Golda Wolfe
This is an excerpt from an unpublished novel, Phantom Pitch. This is a work of pure fiction. All Rights Reserved. No use without permission.
In the January after the war ended, a young couple went to the little town of Aspen for the somber occasion of their honeymoon. Leonard Davidoff had mustered out of the 10th Mountain Division with the rank of lieutenant, a deaf ear and the consequences of a disease he caught while being treated for battle injuries. Davidoff married his war bride Charlotte Blum in an impromptu ceremony held in the London hospital ward where he and other casualties from his unit were recuperating. By then, the new Mrs. Davidoff had learned that she would never see her parents or younger brother again. She did not yet know how they died, when, or where. She wore a borrowed wedding dress in ivory satin that pooled extravagantly on the floor. The nurses who had befriended her gave her a bouquet of tiny white roses, a lifeline she gripped tightly.
Charlotte’s nationality was an issue. Fraternizing with any civilian from the enemy side was prohibited by the Army months after the hostilities ended. Leonard married Charlotte nonetheless, but when he sought permission to bring her to the United States as his wife, the request was refused. He was ordered to return without her and wait to see if she would receive clearance. For five months the newlyweds were apart. Leonard Davidoff lived with his family in Brooklyn. His parents complained incessantly about his reckless marriage, which they opposed more strenuously than the Army had. They disapproved of more than her Austrian passport; by their standard, their son’s wife was of a different religion. Charlotte, an athletic, blond beauty, arrived at LaGuardia and silently endured the Davidoff family’s enmity. After three days of it, she and Leonard boarded the train for their long journey into the Colorado Rockies, where they intended to remain until they figured out where to go next.
One week into the start of their American life, an avalanche calved onto the train tracks in Glenwood Canyon, missing their train but burying the tracks under a few tons of snow that solidified like concrete. It took a team of 20 men to clear the way, adding yet another delay. While the passengers waited, the conductors handed out thick blankets and the kitchen served up a bottomless, steaming vat of vegetable soup. Leonard and Charlotte spent the night and much of the next day in the club car with the other passengers, huddled by the wood burning stove. The day was fading into a gauzy dusk when they reached Aspen’s only hotel, a ramshackle structure that faced the ski slope. Charlotte looked around her and was struck by the familiarity of the mountainside’s barren, phantasmal whiteness, rising directly from where the town’s few streets ended. The slope almost glowed, and the slack skeins of the rope tow swayed. She may have stared for many seconds.
“Hey, come on, let’s get inside and make sure we still have a room,” Leonard said loudly. The hotel was almost full. But the promise of a room for three dollars a night to any 10th Mountaineer on his honeymoon, was kept.
This was the second time that Randall Johnson, a tall, angular youth of about 20, with eyes too bright for his cinnamon-colored skin, saw her lingering, as if in a trance. He had been on the crew that cleared the train tracks. She had been one of the few women aboard the train. She was the only one who had climbed down from the car, strapped on bearpaws and plodded a short distance in the unbroken snow to get a closer look at the removal work. Shoveling, which was one of Randall’s three jobs, was an around the clock profession. When he noticed Charlotte at the hotel entrance he was, once again, moving snow out of her way, broadening the passage through the narrow canyon between mountains of snow that stood as high as the roofline on Main Street. Though another storm was hanging in the air, shoveling in the town could not be put off. Within minutes the temperature had dropped like a stone. The first flurries coming unbound from the mist settling in, were widely spaced and reluctant in their falling. The woman — Randall Johnson guessed she was older than he was —turned to follow the man who had spoken to her. Only on the radio had Randall heard the man’s knowing manner of speaking. It had an edge of arrogance to it, which irritated him. Charlotte’s eyes rested on the shoveler in a gaze that was curious, perhaps bemused. Randall Johnson was accustomed to being invisible, even when his proximity was of the utmost necessity.