Whiteout

“You guys have a great weekend, see you later.”  I said.

“You do the same, drive safe.”  Wayne said.  A couple other employees within earshot murmured similar farewells.

I clocked out and zipped up my coat.  Another workweek down the drain.  Forty more hours of my life that I would never see again.  I walked out to the parking lot and saw that Charlotte was already waiting there for me.  The car was running and she was sitting behind the steering wheel with her window down a crack, a lit cigarette clutched loosely between her fingers.  I opened the passenger side door and climbed in.

“Hey, baby.”

She leaned over and kissed me.

“How was work?”

I shrugged.  “About the same as usual.  You?”

“We were pretty slow.  I think everyone was out yesterday and this morning stocking up for the storm.  They’re all hunkered down already.”  She backed out of the parking space and exited the lot.

“Yeah.  They’re calling for three feet by tomorrow night.”

“Glad we both have the day off.”  She said.  She turned left onto the next road and continued driving.

“No kidding.  I’m not planning on going anywhere.  Going to get a big fire going and make a nice dinner.  Then we can snuggle up next to the fire with some wine and I can take all of your clothes off and–”

“Alright, alright.  That’s enough of that.”  She smiled rolled her eyes.

We were stopped at a red light.  Snow flurries were already falling, but not enough to accumulate-  Yet.  The light switched to green and she turned the car onto the highway.  It was a two lane blacktop that weaved in and out of the mountains with steep grades, switchbacks, the works.  We had to travel forty-five miles to reach our Victorian house in Leadville.  It was a very dangerous road with sheer drop-offs that go down for thousands of feet, blind curves, falling rock, deer and elk crossings, snow and ice half the year plus avalanches.  There was a story in the paper about someone dying on the highway every couple of months.

The two of us smoked cigarettes, listened to music and talked about various things as the car climbed up the first twenty miles or so of the journey.  The snow was falling the whole while, coming down faster and faster, the flakes growing in size.  It was really accumulating and the driving conditions were starting to get bad.

“I haven’t seen another car for quite a while.”  I said.

Charlotte nodded.  “We’re some of the only people out here.  Everyone else knew better and is already at home or in a hotel.”

“Ray offered to let us crash at his place, but I didn’t think it was supposed to get this nasty until later.”  I said.

“Well, it’s starting to get nasty right now.”  She said.  Right on cue the car started to slide sideways.  She cursed under her breath, twisted the wheel, and somehow regained control.

“Got it?”

She let out a long, audible breath.  “Whew, thought I was going to lose it for a second there.”

“Me too!”

The car was equipped with thick and meaty snow tires, but they were having difficulty.

“Where in the hell are the plows at?”  I said.

“I don’t know.  Never around when you need them.”  She said.  She turned the wheel and handled the next switchback like a pro.

The car continued to climb in elevation and the blizzard only intensified.  We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a full-fledged whiteout.

 “Um, I can’t see anything…”  She was straining to see through the windshield.  She had slowed the speed of the car down considerably, but it had to remain at a certain speed to find traction upon the grade of the road.  We were suddenly trapped inside of a car that was in a vast, white void.

My heart skipped a beat.  “Turn around, turn around!”

“I can’t!”

“Turn around and go back to Minturn!”

“I can’t turn around!  Where am I supposed to turn around?”  She said.

I tried to light a cigarette and realized that my hands were shaking uncontrollably.  Every time I looked out of a car window it was just more of the same–  Unknown, vague, white and impossible to imagine.

 “Oh my God!  This is really, really not good!”  She said.  She was hunched over the steering wheel and squinting out through the windshield.  “For a while I could see the tracks from the last car that went this way but now they’re gone!”

“How do you know they stayed on the road and didn’t go off!”

“I don’t know!”  She said.  Then, “Shit!”  As the car started to veer sideways.  Once again control was regained but there was no way to discern if the car was even on the highway anymore.  If the car traveled too far to the left it would strike into the side of the mountain.  If it went too far to the right we would plunge thousands of feet to certain death.  There was no way to see any oncoming traffic and no place to pull over.

“I don’t know what to do!”  She said.

I rolled down the passenger side window and stuck my head out to see if it improved visibility.  Nothing.

The car continued moving headlong into nihility.

“Jesus, please help to guide us through this.”  She said.  Her hands were locked onto the steering wheel and her eyes were frantic with fear.

I hadn’t prayed in years but I found myself suddenly placing my hands together.  Reality on earth had been erased all around me.  Faith was the only thing left with the power to return our sight.

[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

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