Only a week into my fellowship at the Cite Internationale des Arts and we’re in lockdown. Just my luck. Who would’ve thought this mean virus could attack Paris, of all places? The City of Love, where people entwined in the streets, or in the Metro, are common sights? Now the streets are almost empty, and hardly anyone dares board the Metro. From my tiny balcony I can just see the Place Pont Marie, usually swarming with commuters, is deserted.
It is said this new virus acts a little like Puck’s magic potion in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: those infected will feel the pangs of love for whoever they lock eyes with. There are strict boundaries drawn on every promenade. Cafes and bars along the boulevards are closed, and cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge are memories.
I’ve been given the Nancy Keesing Studio to write in, as befitting a woman author from Australia. Across the courtyard is another writer’s studio. He’s the well-known Portuguese poet I’ve long admired. I was so looking forward to meeting him, discussing our work together. But it’s not to be. I must content myself with a glimpse through his window of his black curly head bent over his desk. He glances up and returns my gaze. I feel like a voyeur and quickly look away.
Next door to his studio is another with a tiny balcony just like mine. A woman steps on to it, dressed only in a negligee. Even from this distance I can see she’s wearing nothing underneath it. I recognise her with a jolt of excitement and some embarrassment: it’s our own great poet and essayist, the controversial Emily Von Grun. Wait! She’s leaning over her balcony towards the Portuguese poet’s window. She throws a small pebble, expertly aimed , so that it hits the edge of the pane. He looks up and smiles. A moment later his window is empty.
The virus, named Eros 20, impels the victim to make love to any man or woman, youth or elder, who they set eyes on, indiscriminate of race or creed. The inevitable outcome of this overwhelming passion is death.
Through the window opposite I can see Emily, apparently naked, lying limply over her desk. Her greying auburn hair flows over the keys of her computer. I reach for my phone, horror creeping up my spine. As I do so there’s a knock on my door.
It’s the Portuguese poet. His beautiful green eyes are alight with lust. I back away as he advances. He is too strong for me, and in spite of, or perhaps because of, my terror, my body responds. In the midst of overwhelming passion my only thought is: what a wonderful way to die.
Paris is still the City of Love, especially in the time of Eros20.
For more fiction by Dina Davis, see her recent novel: