There’s a short story I read years ago in German. The partial title was “Nebelliebe” (Fog Love) and it was actually a story told within a story. A man wakes up to find his small town completely absorbed by a dense fog. He’s a single guy who hasn’t experienced much excitement in his life, so this remarkable fog raises his hopes for new adventures. And these quickly arrive in the form of short visits in the homes of “fog widows” who welcome this lost stranger into their midst for a time until they find a reason to change their minds. The fog lasts for quite some time. (The full title of the story is “Bei Gnacke und Nebelliebe” in Loewe in Aspik by Gerhard Mensching.)
What has stuck with me about this story is the idea of families adapting to the circumstances by simply exchanging members – accepting the temporary loss of a father or partner and compensating by taking in a different male stranger and making the most of the situation. The premise is absurd and silly, but told in a way that makes the situation oddly intriguing. My mental pictures of people creating webs of string to help them navigate their immediate surroundings, of the adults taking the children’s whistles to signal to each other through the fog – these images have never fully left me. That’s the mark of strong fiction.
I suppose I was reminded of this story because we’re facing restricted movement regulations in Austria beginning tomorrow. Our family will be required to stay at home most of every day unless we are shopping or going to work. We may go out for walks but only alone or with family members. We have no idea how long this will last. There’s no fog, but we will face different challenges of living separately in community. I wonder how we might get to know our neighbors differently under the circumstances. I wonder which habits we will cultivate as a family to fend off cabin fever. I hope to have a bit more time to read. Rediscovering old stories while creating new ones seems a real possibility.