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       Boredom, p.10

           Alberto Moravia
 

  She answered stubbornly: “But it doesn’t matter whether you paint a portrait of me.”

  I could not help laughing. “I understand,” I said; “you don’t see the connection between the fact that I’ve given up painting and the thing that you seem to have so much at heart. But there is a connection. Now listen: I said you were nothing to me, but, I repeat, you must not attribute any sentimental significance to that remark. In other words, you are offering yourself to me in the same way as any object, of any kind. Let’s take a concrete example. That glass on the table there has not got beautiful eyes like yours, nor that magnificent bosom nor those rounded hips; if I accepted its offer of itself it would not kiss me or embrace me, and yet it offers itself no more and no less than you do. It offers itself without shame, without reserve, without guile, without calculation, just as you do. And I have to refuse it, as I refuse you, because, like you, that glass is nothing to me. I’ve given the glass as an example, but I could equally well give any other object, even one that isn’t noticeable to the senses.”

  “But why is it nothing?” She said this in a low, timid voice, as though more in recommendation of the glass than of herself.

  I answered briefly: “To explain this thing fully would take me a long way off the point, and in any case it would be useless. Let’s say then that the glass is nothing to me because I have no relationship with it, of any kind.”

  She objected, speaking this time in recommendation of herself. “But these relationships do come into existence, don’t you think? It happens constantly that one forms a relationship with people one didn’t even know before.”

  “Do you see that canvas on the easel?” I asked her.

  “Yes.”

  “It’s an empty canvas, a canvas on which I haven’t painted anything. Well, that’s the only canvas I can sign. Look.” I rose and went to the easel, took a pencil and signed my name in one corner of the canvas. She followed me with her eyes as I went over to the easel and again as I came back, but she said nothing. Sitting down again, I continued: “So the only relationship there can be between myself and a woman is nothing, that is, exactly the same relationship that there has been so far between you and me, or rather, that there has not been. I am not impotent, understand that; but in practice it’s as if I were, and anyhow you must imagine that I am.”

  I had spoken in a sharp, determined fashion, in order to make her understand that there was nothing more to be said. But when I saw her still sitting there, silent and impassive, as though she still expected something, I added rather irritably: “If I feel nothing for you, that is, have no relationship with you, how could I make love? It would be a mechanical, impersonal act, utterly useless and utterly boring. And so...”

  I did not finish, but looked at her meaningly, as much as to say: And so there’s nothing left for you but to go away. This time, at last, she appeared to understand, and very slowly, with regret, with hesitation, with reluctance, and almost, I think, with a lingering hope that I would stop her by taking her in my arms, she started to rise from the divan, though still appearing to remain seated—that is by gradually raising her hips and keeping her legs bent and the upper part of her body erect. But I did not take her in my arms, and finally she was on her feet in front of me. Humbly she said: “I’m sorry. But if at any time you want me as a model, you can telephone me. I’ll write down my telephone number.”

  She went across to the table and, holding the towel to her chest with one hand, with the other wrote on a piece of paper. “I haven’t yet told you my name,” she said. “It’s Cecilia Rinaldi. I’ve written it down here, with my address and telephone number.”

  She stood up again and walked over on tiptoe to the bathroom. She looked as if she were in evening dress, with the towel leaving her arms and shoulders bare, swathing her hips and forming a kind of train behind her. She disappeared, closing the door after her, and as she made this movement the towel slipped from her and I saw again for a moment the body which Balestrieri had painted so often and which it was impossible to divine underneath her clothes.

  As soon as she disappeared I started thinking of Balestrieri. I recalled how the old painter had repulsed and avoided her for months, with a kind of animal-like fear or presentiment of what she was destined to be to him, and I wondered what would have happened if he had resisted her instead of yielding the day she presented herself in place of Elisa. Very probably Balestrieri would still be alive, since it was beyond doubt that the not-so-indirect cause of his death had been his love for the girl. But why then had he not rejected her, seeing that he had felt from the very beginning that he ought to do so? In other words, what was it that had brought Balestrieri to accept a destiny he seemed to have been conscious of, even if only in an obscure way? Was it possible for a man to escape his own destiny? And if not, what was the point of knowing what one was doing? Was it possible that there was not some difference between a destiny accepted in a state of unconsciousness and one which was lived out in a state of lucid consciousness?

  Thinking over Balestrieri’s first, attempted, suicide, an attempt caused by Cecilia’s decision to leave him, I seemed to see that the old painter, in carrying on his relationship with Cecilia to its final end, had committed with complete lucidity a second and successful suicide. And so, in a way, he had attempted the first suicide because for a moment it had seemed to him that Cecilia, by leaving him, would not allow him to commit the second.

  Even while I was thinking these things, I was surprised at thinking them; or rather, at being driven to think them not so much by idle curiosity as by a disconcerting sense of fascinated attraction, as though Balestrieri’s story concerned me directly and the old painter’s destiny were linked with my own. If it had not been thus, I should not have put so many questions to Cecilia. No doubt I should have made love with her, just that once, but I should not have questioned her. Instead, I had not made love but had questioned her at considerable length, with an insatiable curiosity which, in effect, had remained unsatisfied. As I had told her, I had questioned her mainly in order to find out why I was questioning her: it seemed like a play upon words but actually was not so. In this way I had learned many things, but my lack of satisfaction made it clear that the thing which really mattered to me had escaped me.

  I was so deeply absorbed in these reflections that I did not notice Cecilia, who had come out of the bathroom and was standing near the divan. I started when I heard her voice saying: “Well then, I’ll say good-bye.”

  I rose to my feet with an effort, and shook her hand, stammering automatically: “Good-bye.” “Don’t bother to come with me,” she murmured; and for the last time I had the sensation of her large, dark eyes motionlessly contemplating me. I watched her as she took up her bundle from the table and walked to the door. She moved with a slowness that did not appear calculated; it was as though she felt she was attached to me by a strong, tenacious bond and it was a great effort to her to move her steps in the opposite direction. I was struck particularly by the slight swing of her wide, short skirt and the consequent graceful swaying of the upper part of her body, which rose above her skirt like a rider on his horse. In these two movements, the rotating movement of her skirt and the quivering movement of her body, there was the allurement of a coquetry that was quite unconscious and for that reason all the more potent and irresistible. I followed her with my eyes until she had opened the door and vanished. Then I lit a cigarette and went over to the window.

  The courtyard lay deserted in the bleak, subdued twilight of a sultry day. I could see the other big windows opposite; a couple of them were already lit up; also the acanthus bushes, blackish green, all around the flower beds and the dull, chalky whiteness of the pavement. As usual, there were many cats on the pavement, dispersed here and there in a mysterious order that did not seem merely casual: some squatting with their legs folded beneath their bodies, others sitting with their tails wrapped around their feet, others slowly and cautiously prowling, noses to the ground and ta
ils erect; piebald black and white cats, gray cats, cats completely white or completely black, striped cats and tawny cats. I started looking attentively at the cats, as I often did, for it was as good a way as any of beguiling the time. Then Cecilia appeared, carrying her big bundle under her arm. She walked slowly, her head bent, among the cats which did not move as she passed. As she came below my window, I saw her raise her eyes in my direction, but this time without smiling. I lifted my hand to take the cigarette from my mouth, but instead of doing so I gave her a clear signal to turn back, pointing in the direction of the door that gave access to the corridor. Her eyes showed her assent and, without modifying her slow, dragging step, without hurrying, like a person who has forgotten something but knows he will find it again without fail, she turned and came back. I pulled the curtains across the window and went and sat down on the divan.

  3

  AFTER THAT DAY Cecilia came to see me a couple of times a week, then every other day, and finally, after we had known one another for a month, almost every day. Cecilia’s visits took place always at the same time of day, lasted always for the same length of time, and were spent always in the same way; so that to describe one of them is to describe them all. Cecilia would announce her arrival with one single ring at the bell, a ring so brief that it often left me uncertain as to whether I had really heard it; but it was just this uncertainty that made me know it was she. I would go and open the door and Cecilia would throw her arms around my neck and we would kiss. I wish to say at this point that Cecilia, so expert in the sexual relationship, did not know how to kiss. It may be that the kiss is a symbolic contact, so to speak, in which the pleasure is more psychological than sensual, and psychology was not Cecilia’s strong point; or it may be, more simply, that Cecilia did not know how to kiss me, that is, that our relationship was not of the kind that can express itself with kisses. Certain it is that Cecilia’s lips were inert, cold and formless, like those of a little girl who has been running with the wind in her face and hastily embraces her father. Moreover Cecilia’s double nature, at the same time that of a child and of a grown woman, was revealed during the moment of the kiss. She offered me a mouth which was lacking both in eagerness and in abandonment, a mouth which failed to open in response to mine or to insinuate itself into mine, but at the same moment I would feel her straining against me with her body in a forward curve, and then, with her groin, dealing me a strong, sharp stroke that seemed to proclaim the urgent, inarticulate quality of her love. This first kiss lasted only a short time, since I found no pleasure in it and broke it off almost immediately. Cecilia would disengage herself from me, put down her bag and gloves on the table, walk over to the window and pull the cords of the curtains, and then undress, always in the same way and in the same place, between the divan and an armchair upon which she placed her clothes as she took them off.

  I had met Cecilia in July, when she was wearing the summer clothes which I have already described—a light, puffy blouse and a wide, short skirt like a ballet skirt; later on, with the autumn, as soon as it began to be less warm, she wore a long, loose, green woolen sweater and a black skirt, very tight, which reached to her knees. Cecilia would slip this sweater over her head, pausing a moment with her arms raised and her head muffled and hidden, and then, with an energetic movement, always the same, she would pull off the sweater and throw it down inside out on the armchair. She was now in her skirt only, naked to the waist, because, indifferent to the rough contact of the wool against her skin, she wore nothing underneath her sweater. She used to say, with little trace of vanity and as though establishing an incontestable fact, that her breasts would stay up without any support; but I always thought she did this out of calculated coquettishness, with the intention that her magnificent bosom should appear, or rather burst forth, the moment she took off her sweater. The sight of her bosom did not in any case dispel the feeling of immaturity that emanated from her: ample and in full beauty, it did not seem to belong to the slender torso from which it rose. This impression was especially remarkable when Cecilia turned around: all I could see then was the thin, white, bony back of an adolescent girl, and the breast that was visible between her arm and her side, beneath her armpit, looked as if it were composed of a warmer, darker, more adult flesh than the rest of her body.

  After taking off her sweater, Cecilia would turn slightly on her hip and, bringing her hands together at her waist, unhook and lower the zipper fastening. The skirt fell to the floor and, with an impatient gesture like the movement with which she had snatched her sweater from over her head, she would stamp her feet on it a couple of times before picking it up and placing it on the armchair. Now she was quite naked, or rather she was only wearing what I may call her most intimate trappings: the garter belt around her hips, the triangular veil of the slip over her belly, the stockings on her legs. These trappings, however, were by this time all crooked and in confusion, as though Cecilia in undressing had deprived them of all functional purpose; the slip appeared to be crumpled and rolled up, the garter belt had two of its four garters undone and was hanging slantwise to one side, one stocking was up and the other was dangling below her knee. The disorder was feminine and warlike, and it was curiously out of harmony with the childish, expressionless innocence of her face. In truth, Cecilia always seemed to have a two-fold character, to be a woman and a child at the same time; and not only in her body but in her expression and her movements.

  This twofold character found particular expression in the contrast between the upper and the lower parts of her body. There are differences of weight which are apparent to the eye even before they are verified by the hands. An object made of lead, for instance, appears to the eye of an observer to be without any doubt heavier than some other object of equal dimensions, made of a lighter material. Cecilia’s body, from the waist down, did indeed appear to have the consistency of something made of a very dense, very heavy material. How solid, for example, was the attachment of the legs to the groin compared with that of the arms to the armpits; how different from the delicate thinness of the torso was the vigorous curve of the lower back, the superabundant muscularity of the loins, the massive compactness of the thighs. Adolescent from the waist up, grown woman from the waist down, Cecilia gave rather the idea of one of those decorative monsters which are depicted in ancient frescoes: a kind of sphinx or harpy, a boyish torso grafted with grotesque effect onto a powerful belly and legs.

  The manner in which Cecilia conducted herself during lovemaking also reflected the contrast between the two sides of her nature, the childish and the womanly. I have often thought about this; and I have come to the conclusion that Cecilia had no feeling, and possibly, even, no real sensuality, but merely a sexual appetite of which she herself was not entirely conscious although she submitted passively to its urgency. In my arms she would adopt the position of a child obediently opening its mouth to the spoon held out by its mother: only in her case the mouth was her sex and it was her lover who fed her. The poetical, childish fragility of her round, pale face was in continual contrast with the hardness, the exigence, the avidity with which she worked upon herself and upon me, with the object, so it seemed, of bringing me to the point of orgasm and deriving her own pleasure from it to the very last spasm. The movements of her belly which, as the embrace acquired rhythm and force, became more and more frequent, had the strength and regularity of some unharnessed mechanism which neither she nor I had the power to arrest. Languid at first, scarcely perceptible, indolent as it were, in the end these movements seemed truly like those of a piston rising and falling with an automatic, indefatigable force. But all this time her face would remain inert, relaxed, calm, with no curiosity in it and no passion, more childish than ever with the big eyelids lowered and the small mouth half-open; and just a faint redness in the top part of her cheeks served to indicate that Cecilia was not asleep but wide awake and alive to her own sensations.

  This dissociation of Cecilia’s mind during love-making was especially noticeab
le at those moments when she suddenly, and apparently without reason, bestirred herself from the avid, mechanical passivity which I have just described and started to return my caresses. Procreative love, as we may call it, is always chaste; hardly ever chaste, on the other hand, are the amatory techniques by means of which lovers endeavor to excite one another. But the way in which Cecilia applied herself to my body was absolutely chaste just because it was so curiously automatic and unconscious. All of a sudden, in the middle of an embrace, she would sit up and bend forward, with her mouth on my belly as though she were browsing; but this sudden impulse had something somnambulistic about it; it was almost as if she had abandoned herself to it in a dream, that is, in a state of complete unconsciousness. Then, when she had satisfied herself, or rather, after she had scrupulously exhausted all the possibilities of her caress, she would throw herself once more into my arms, her eyes closed, her mouth half-open; and once again I would have the strange sensation of having seen a person asleep perform gestures devoid of sense, and then, still without waking, lie down again.

  After the orgasm, which shook her body several times like a minor epileptic fit but did not disturb the apathetic stillness of her face, Cecilia would lie exhausted beneath me, one arm behind her head and the other lying limp on the divan, her face turned toward her shoulder and her legs apart, as they had remained after the embrace. For a second, almost immediately after I had withdrawn myself from her, she would smile at me, and that, perhaps, was the best moment of our lovemaking. The smile, a very sweet smile, in which the sweetness of appeased desire seemed to ebb and die away, did not however belie the childish ambiguity I have already noted: even while she was smiling, Cecilia did not look at me, or rather she did not appear to see me, so that she seemed to be smiling not so much at me as at herself, as though she were grateful to herself for having experienced pleasure, rather than to me for having caused her to experience it. This smile, although impersonal and solitary, was nevertheless the last phase of our embrace, that is, of the communication, the almost fusion, of our two bodies. Immediately afterward there were two of us on the divan, separate from each other, and it became necessary to speak.

 
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