Readers Blog

The Jukebox

Posted on: April 21, 2008

"Isabel and I went to the market today. I bought her a lovely new handbag.”

"Really?" I replied.

"Oh yes. She works so hard and earns so little. I think she’s been feeling down lately. She won’t even meet us for drinks anymore. Have you noticed?"

"I’ve not.” I lied.

Carolyn’s father was a bank manager in Courmayeur. We lived in one of his flats, one with enormous windows and views of Mont Blanc. The walls were trimmed with velvet valances, handpicked by Carolyn’s mother. In the corner sat an antique Victor jukebox, a gift her parents gave when she graduated Georgetown University.

That’s where we met. She was exotic, with an Italian accent, long blonde hair and chiseled arms. Her ass looked great in lycra, something she clearly knew. She was different from other climbers I’d met. She had no interest in camping in The Valley. She detested my VW Westfalia. She didn’t read magazines, smoke pot or let people sleep on her couch. She liked poetry, going out to eat and getting dressed up. At Georgtown I studied communications. She studied statistics. I climbed 5.9. She climbed 5.13. I was proud of having climbed Rainier. She’d soloed Mount Blanc at age 15.

In the beginning, my life felt perfect. We had lots of money and she acted like it. I secured a job guiding on the Chamonix side of the Mt Blanc massif while she spent each day, sometimes more, climbing. When I’d get home each night I’d find her pack wet, but already repacked for her next day’s climb.

"I haven’t seen you in two days. What’d you end up doing?" I’d ask, as I unpacked from a day of guiding tourists on the Mer de Glace.

"A new variation on the Brenva Spur. The top was dicey." She’d reply. She wasn’t just a rock climber; she was an alpinist, something I didn’t even know until we moved to Courmayeur from D.C. If I had known how intimidating I’d one day find my wife I’d never have asked her out that day at Carderock Cliff.

Most nights I would retire before her. She would sit in her rocking chair, sipping vermouth, as the scratchy remains of Louie Armstrong’s "What a Wonderful World" would play, repeatedly. She would follow, hours later and drunk, to sleep off her routine. And when I woke up, she’d be gone. .


I stared at Isabel’s naked body as I stood up and slipped on my pants. "I hate to bring up a sore subject," she said, "but have you thought about""

I raised my voice. "I told you already. I’m taking care of it this summer."

"But it’s already July. How long do you think I’m going to wait? Are you ever going to leave her?"

"I’ll take care of it soon. I promise. It’s going to take time. I’m broke. Guiding illegally. I don’t even live on this side of the mountain. How could things work right now? I need more time.”


"How was work today? Did you see Daddy? He said he never sees you. He said he calls you to go to lunch but you never call back." You should go to lunch with him. He always goes to the nicest restaurants. They have the most wonderful food and the loveliest people.” I daydreamed of Isabel as Carolyn talked. The chatter paused, catching my attention. She looked at me. "Where are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Where is your mind right now? Did you get caught guiding? Don’t embarrass me by doing something stupid…”

"I’m not in the mood for this.” I got up, tossed my napkin and grabbed my jacket. Five paces down the sidewalk I heard Carolyn from our table in front of the trattoria.

"Dear." Carolyn called out. "I want you to stop seeing her."

I slowly walked away.


When I got to the Piazza Isabel was already there. She stood in a white linen dress, the silhouette of her figure outlined by the sun that pierced the thin fabric. She wasn’t wearing underwear. Her dark hair was up, held in place with a red silk scarf secured with an ivory clip. With tears in her eyes, she rocked in place.

“What’s wrong?" I asked ignorantly.

“I’m pregnant.”

“Is it mine?” I retorted.

She angrily wiped her tears. “Of course. I love you. I want to raise a family with you. If I can’t do that I don’t want to live."

She was a dramatic woman. Two years earlier, after an argument, she rode the tram to the top of the Aguille du Midi to confront me as I finished a day of rogue guiding. As the fight deteriorated in front of tourists she teetered out, in leather shoes, onto the knife-edge arete that drops off into the valley and threatened to jump. I knew she was passionate. But not crazy.

"I’m so sorry, but I can’t talk. I have to go. Can we talk next week?" I asked. Isabel stood with her mouth open. My words trailed off into the playful screams of children splashing in the fountain.


Drunk, I fell across the threshold of my flat, tripping over a climbing rope and sending a crampon scratching across the polished oak floor. In the corner sat Carolyn, in her chair, drinking Vermouth. She was looking out the open window into the piazza. Her eyes were wide and bright. Tears on her cheeks reflected the yellow streetlights below. At her feet was an open newspaper. The headline read: “Missing woman’s body found by climbers on Frendo Spur.” I walked to the bedroom and closed the door.

As I lay in bed, watching the ceiling spin above me, I heard the jukebox quietly play "What a Wonderful World" as the tails of the rocking chair in the great room slapped the floor for the last time.