We spoke often about “the book”, how we could turn the doctorate paper into an interesting story for a wider public. Inga thought I should keep to the main theme, the reality of people in the land, their hopes and changing destinies. I was tempted to seek some fictional inspiration from our lives, from my encounter with the Lady of the Forest, from what I had already learnt with Inga. Indeed my interest, as I was working on the thesis, had been maintained because of our discussions, my discoveries, the magic of the owl, Inga’s mystery. Ursula had suggested something much more commercial, some sort of rewrite of the paper with fictional characters, something I totally dismissed. I wanted 17th century Brandenburg to be the stage, the background to something real, a tragedy. I was also aware that Inga was not so keen on Ursula’s influence, or obvious interest in the project. We did not speak about it at first, then gradually she shared her unease about Ursula’s smooth way of making herself indispensable. I understood very well. Ursula was American through and through, pragmatic, and ultimately interested only in what she saw as a profitable outcome: another potential best-seller. Of course she was very experienced and knowledgeable about all things publishing, and I wanted, needed that expertise too.
I started working on what we quickly dubbed as “the inspired version”, with Inga reading, commenting, criticising and being my public. It was now late February, B** was grey on most days, with sometime bright sunshine that did not last very long. We visited the owl, took long walks at night in the woods, slept till late in the morning. Our own relationship deepened, together with the length of our love-making. We went back to the lake, swimming in what felt merely like cool water. The air around us smelled of pine and fresh rain. I continued with my jobs at the Uni, with an increased number of students. My mentor wanted me to apply for a more permanent post, but I was in no hurry: the book came first. Ursula wrote with more advice, and an offer of a writers’ sabbatical in Colorado that she would attend in the late summer.
I did not rush to reply but Inga and I were clear I would not go. Then, the world collapsed around us. One morning, which for us was around 11am, we heard the first official warning about the infection. I knew enough biology and chemistry to understand it was serious. We spoke, and decided we’d stay home for now, and limit our outings to the woods, which was not very different from what we usually did. Inga was worried for her aunt and grand parents. She spoke with Ewa and Marco. We would take our share of work at the farm.
Soon the Uni was closed down, as well as most of the schools and public places. I had no longer any reason to go to the city. B** was quiet, with even less traffic than usual. Our next door neighbour asked us to do his shopping for him when we did ours, which was no problem. We worked on the novel, listened to recorded concerts, read many books. We visited the owl, and Inga talked with her for several hours. As we were back home and going to bed she said the owl had told her there would be many dead humans soon. We read early academic reports on the disease. We wore disposable gloves when we went out although not in the woods. We kept to ourselves.
We had hints of Spring, some days the sun was really warm, but the nights stayed fresh. Inga wanted to speak with the bats, but the little friends remained elusive. She said she thought we were immune, without adventuring to say why. I was bemused by the speed of the infection spread. Still we continued with the novel, which was now developing well. I wrote most days over two thousand words, mostly at night, while Inga continued with her editing and still more research from books and online. We shopped once a week, for ourselves and our neighbour. The town, or at least the streets, were almost deserted. One morning Inga told me about her strange dream, how she’d woken up in a foreign room, and I started asking myself questions about how the total isolation we lived in affected us. The weirdest stories circulated about the virus, its origins, a sinister plan of world-wide domination, and worse. I had no longer any contact with my university colleagues nor students, everything was closed.