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       Boredom, p.12

           Alberto Moravia
 

  Cecilia, in the meantime, had gone to the window and drawn the curtains and was now coming back to the divan again. Upon her face, which for a moment had worn the diligent expression of a young maidservant (even though she was naked) carrying out an order from her master, there was now, again, that primitive, ritual look, the apologetic, expectant prelude to love. Still walking on tiptoe, she circled around the easel, crossed the room, reached the divan and was on the point of climbing onto it. But I stopped her, saying: “I’m sorry, but I can’t bear to make love in front of an open door. Please go and shut the bathroom door.”

  “How difficult you are!” she murmured. Nevertheless, docile as ever, off she went again across the studio. I saw her disappear into the shadow, a graceful ghost with her spreading, curly brown hair, her slender, bony back, and below her slim waist the two pale, oblong mounds of her buttocks. She closed the door carefully and turned back, ghostly again in the half-darkness which made her eyes look larger and darker, her breasts heavier and browner, her groin deeper and blacker. This time I did not stop her when she placed her knee on the divan, but at the moment when she was laying herself down, a little out of breath, beside me. “Forgive me once more,” I said, “but do be kind enough to take the receiver off the telephone. Yesterday it rang just at the best moment. It’s true I didn’t answer it, but all the same ringing got on my nerves.”

  She looked at me for an instant, saying: “That’s the third time,” in a quiet but not reproachful voice, then she got up and went to the table in the middle of the room to take off the receiver, standing there for a moment in profile against the light. Then she came back again toward the divan, her face assuming, for the third time, its apologetic, expectant expression. I waited until she was close to me and exclaimed with pretended innocence: “How absent-minded I am! Cecilia, my love, do me one more favor: go and fetch my cigarette case from the window sill.... You know I like to smoke afterwards. Please!”

  She said nothing, but threw me a long, astonished glance. She obeyed, however, for the fourth time; she went again to the window, fetched the cigarettes and came back to me, still ready and willing to give herself to me.

  “There are your cigarettes,” she said in a cheerfully impatient manner, throwing them in my face and at the same time making a movement to hurl herself upon me. But I stopped her in the act. “What about the matches?” I asked.

  “Ugh!” Another walk across the studio, still on tiptoe; as she came back, however, her ritual expression seemed slightly falsified by a shadow of doubt and mortification. She threw the matches in my face as she had done with the cigarettes, but, instead of climbing on to the divan, she stopped at a little distance from it and asked: “Tell me quickly whether there’s anything else you want, while I’m standing up.”

  “Yes,” I lied, “I would like you to go into the kitchen and turn off the gas burner. I have an impression I may have left it on.”

  “And then what?”

  “And then, yes, there is one other thing I wanted to ask you to do: go to the entrance door and disconnect the bell. Someone might come and disturb us.”

  I expected her to obey; instead she sat down deliberately on a chair, hugging one leg in her arms; and curled up like that, in an attitude of distress and doubt, she gazed at me in silence. Surprised, I asked her: “What’s the matter, why don’t you go and do what I asked you?”

  She did not immediately answer. Finally she asked cautiously: “Just those two things, or others as well?”

  “Only those two things.”

  She shook herself, with what seemed like a faint sigh, and then once more made her way across the studio, going first into the kitchen and then to the front door. When she came back I noticed that her face still retained its look of expectancy and desire, and I wondered whether I should ever see her again if I went on with my cruel game. This was love, I said to myself, the only love of which she was capable, and I was on the point of killing it. But when she had lain down beside me, I could not refrain from saying: “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to get up again. I want an ash tray; I don’t like throwing cigarette ashes on the floor.”

  This time she did the exact contrary of what the cat had done, in those far-off days of my childhood. The cat had spoken, in a human, reasonable, and I might almost say Christian, way; the pain I had inflicted upon it had raised it to human status. Cecilia, faced with the same cruelty, made a gesture of animal-like humility, at the same time both mute and touching. Instead of getting up as I had commanded, she nestled still more closely against me, hiding her face between my shoulder and ear, entwining her arms and legs about me and as it were imploring me, in silence, like an animal that cannot speak, not to go on tormenting her, whatever the reason for it might be or the satisfaction I might derive from it. This sad, humiliated, suppliant embrace, just as instinctively animal-like as the cat’s mewing had been human and reasonable, produced the same effect. Suddenly I was ashamed of my cruelty, which was seeking an evidence of reality in the suffering of another person, and without persisting any longer in my ridiculous requests I returned her embrace. Immediately I felt her body, which seemed to have been waiting only for this signal, clasp itself to mine in a different manner, no longer imploring now, but eager; and she dealt me the usual strong, impatient push with her groin, as if to notify me that she was ready. And thus, I thought to myself with more amusement than boredom, her meal was beginning.

  But there remained with me, from that day on, not merely a distaste for cruelty, as a significant symptom of my lack of contact with Cecilia, but also a fear of relapsing in the future into greater and more irreparable and more shameful cruelties. This had been but a preliminary skirmish; I realized that, if boredom and its effects persisted in my relationship with Cecilia, I might really slip into the habit of sadism, for it was precisely toward that that I was being pushed by my need to establish any kind of contact with her. I ought not to be deceived by the fact that Cecilia’s touching, animal-like embrace had made me break off my cruel game. In reality I had ceased tormenting her, not so much because I had felt pity for her and shame at my own behavior, as because with that embrace she had admitted that she was suffering, and it was precisely that admission that I had wished to force from her, thus driving away my boredom through the spectacle of her suffering. But along that road, with my own sensibility steadily hardening, I might reach the point of true sadism, of the transformation of my boredom into a vicious mechanism. Boredom inspired me with fear but not with disgust, because it had something frank and essential about it. Sadism, on the contrary, was repugnant to me, especially on account of its hypocrisy (the sadist always claims that he is punishing his victim whereas actually he is seeking enjoyment through the suffering he inflicts under the pretext of punishment), and also on account of the excitement it brought me, all the more impure because it was chaste, or at least pretended to be, until the moment when, putting aside all hypocrisy, it vented itself in sexual intercourse, thus revealing itself as nothing more than a kind of drug.

  Luckily, however, I am not cruel; that first episode was also the last. I thought, on the other hand, that I ought to part from Cecilia before it was too late. I was sorry to do so, not so much on my own account, because I deceived myself into thinking I did not love her, as on hers, for I imagined that, in her own silent and inarticulate way, she was in love. Why I was so certain that I did not love Cecilia and that I was loved by her, it would be hard to say. As far as I was concerned, the fact that I could make use of her—that is, of her body—as much as I wished, every time that I wished, and in every way that I wished, gave me the illusion that I possessed her absolutely, that I had so complete a relationship with her as to make any further continuation of it useless; and this had convinced me that I did not love her. Similarly I was convinced that Cecilia loved me because I always found her so complaisant, so yielding, so docile. Owing to a very common form of male vanity, I attributed this complaisance to love; whereas I ought to have been put on my
guard, to say the least, by the inarticulate and almost automatic quality of this love. Thus I felt that while it would be a relief to me to part from her, Cecilia on the other hand would suffer; and for that reason I postponed the separation from day to day, as I wanted to find an excuse that would make it as little galling and painful to her as possible.

  4

  I MADE UP my mind to break with Cecilia on the day when the cruel episode occurred which I have related. I made this decision abruptly, as soon as Cecilia had gone away; then, as I have said, I allowed a couple of weeks to pass in order to find a decent excuse for the separation. Never, in spite of this, have I suffered so much from boredom as I did during that time; it seemed now to have become incarnate to my eyes in the person of my little mistress. I recall that when I heard the bell ring in that familiar, brief, reticent manner, I would heave a deep sigh of impatient forbearance; and then everything that occurred after Cecilia had come into the studio seemed to be plunged in a dull, heavy inertness that nothing could shake, neither the usual operation of undressing, nor the kisses nor the caresses nor the other erotic incitements of which Cecilia was never niggardly, nor even, at the conclusion of the sort of monotonous rite that our lovemaking had become, the usual epileptic contortion of the final orgasm. Cecilia, whether naked or clothed, whether lying beneath me during our embrace or resting beside me when intercourse was over, whether in the dark or in the full light of day, seemed actually each day to lose, in my eyes, a little more of her substance as a person, in fact as a recognizable object. And since I did not wish to revert to cruelty, which without doubt would have restored, temporarily, a fleeting reality to our relationship, I saw the day approaching when I should behave toward Cecilia as though she were some kind of object of which one no longer has any need, and should break with her without producing any plausible reason either to her or to myself. It was therefore necessary for me to find an excuse before it was too late.

  One morning I went to visit my mother, whom I had not seen since the day I ran away. I headed for the Via Appia in my dilapidated old car and drove out along that ancient road of pagan and Christian times, so much in fashion now with rich people, past walls tumbling with greenery, past iron gates and villas hidden amongst trees; between long straight rows of cypresses and solitary pines, and grassy banks and red brick ruins adorned with fragments of white marble; then I turned between the two pillars and went up the drive of well-raked gravel to the open space surrounded with laurels and holmoaks and the low, red villa. This time the door was opened to me not by Rita, the maid with the sly, bespectacled face, but by a thickset, bald butler with a plump face like a sacristan, in a striped working coat; and he, after addressing me as “Signor Marchese,” informed me that the “Signora Marchesa” was at home. I was startled at this noble title, which was quite new to me, and went into my mother’s study. She was sitting at her table, absorbed in the examination of a ledger, her eyeglasses on her nose and a long cigarette holder between her teeth. After the usual ritual kiss on her thin, dry cheek I said to her: “Whatever is this title of ‘Marchese’ that your butler conferred upon me? And anyhow, where does this butler come from? What’s happened to Rita?”

  My mother took off her spectacles and fixed her glassy blue eyes upon me for a moment, without speaking. Then, in her most disagreeable voice, she said: “I gave Rita the sack, because she was a bad lot.”

  “Why, what did she do?”

  “All the men,” said my mother, “without one exception, both inside the house and out, for miles around. A nymphomaniac.”

  “My goodness me!” I said. “Who would have thought it? She looked so serious.”

  My mother was silent again, as if she intended to wait until my mind had recovered the serenity required to receive the news she was going to give me. “With regard to the title,” she then said, “a specialist in heraldry came to see me some time ago and explained that we come of a noble house and that we are marquesses. It seems that the title was dropped by your father’s family a century ago, no one knows why. I am now going to have the necessary researches made and so quite soon we shall have the right to use it. It seemed to me a pity not to make use of it, seeing that it belongs to us by right.”

  I said nothing: my mother’s snobbishness was well known to me and had long ceased to surprise me. After a moment she went on, in a reproachful tone: “I don’t know if you realize that this is the first time you’ve come to see your mother since your—shall we call it your disappearance?—on your birthday.”

  “Yes, you’re right,” I said in an adequately contrite tone of voice. “But I’ve had a great deal to do.”

  “Have you started painting again?” she asked.

  “Don’t worry about that,” I replied, “I’ve been busy for other reasons.”

  “I don’t worry about anything. Personally, in fact, I should prefer it if you were painting.”

  “Why?”

  “Then you’d be thinking less about women,” said my mother in an unexpected and exceedingly unpleasant way. Then, looking me in the face, she went on: “What do you think? That one doesn’t see?”

  “See what?”

  My mother did not give a direct answer. “Do you know,” she asked, “that you’re looking quite completely worn out?”

  I did indeed know it. During the last two months I had been overdoing it, sexually; and, above all, I had done nothing else, I had become besotted. “That may be so,” I said, “but I feel perfectly well.”

  “In my opinion you ought to have a rest, get out in the open, take some exercise, breathe some good air. Why don’t you go to the mountains for a month or two?”

  “Going to the mountains needs money and I haven’t any.”

  Each time I pointed out my poverty, which was voluntary and essentially fictitious, my mother was indignant, as though it were an incomprehensible and fundamentally immoral quibble on my part. It was the same this time. “Dino,” she said, “you really ought not to say that.”

  “Why not? It’s the fifteenth of the month and I think I have barely forty thousand lire left of my monthly allowance.”

  “But, Dino, you haven’t any money because you don’t want to have any. You’re rich, Dino, you’re very rich, and it’s no good your pretending to be a poor man. You’re rich, and whatever you do you remain rich.”

  It was exactly what I was thinking myself. I replied, stressing each syllable: “If you want me to come and see you, please stop reminding me that I’m rich, do you see?”

  “But why? It’s only the truth.”

  “Yes, but it’s a truth that depresses me.”

  “Why does it depress you? Think how many people would be happy to be in your place. My dear son, why must you be depressed by a thing that would make anyone else happy?”

  My mother’s voice was truly distressed; and I could not help a sudden feeling of irritation and weariness. “There are some people,” I said, “who have an idiosyncrasy about strawberries; if they eat them, they break out all over in red spots. Well, I have one about money. And I blush at the idea of having it.”

  There was a moment’s silence. Then my mother resumed, in a tone of good will: “All right, then: you’re a poor man. But you’re a poor man with a rich mother, at least you’ll admit that.”

  “And what then?”

  “Then your mother will lend you the money to go to the mountains—to Cortina d’Ampezzo, for instance.”

  I was on the point of letting forth the howl of indignation to which my mother’s highly foreseeable and conventional advice usually prompted me—winter at Cortina d’Ampezzo, summer at the Lido and spring on the Riviera—when I suddenly realized that she had provided me with the excuse I was seeking for a final break with Cecilia. I would get her to give me the amount needed for a stay at Cortina; with this money I would buy a present for Cecilia; at the same time I would announce to her that I had to accompany my mother to the mountains. The present would soften the parting which, in any case, I would p
ropose as temporary; later on I would write Cecilia a farewell letter. “All right,” I said in a submissive tone. “Cortina. Then you must give me the money.”

  My mother evidently had not expected so rapid a surrender. She peered at me disconcertedly, and then asked: “Why, when do you want to leave?”

  “At once. Today is the fifteenth; the eighteenth, for instance.”

  “But you must reserve a room at a hotel.”

  “I’ll telegraph.”

  “And how long would you stay?”

  “Two or three weeks.”

  My mother appeared now to be positively regretting her offer; or rather—so it seemed to me—not so much regretting she had made it as that she had failed to make sure she was getting a bargain: the habit of business caution was so strong in her that it did not cease even in her dealings with me. In an irresolute, uncharitable tone of voice, she said: “Of course I’ll give you the money you need. I promised it and I shan’t go back on my word.”

  “All right; then give it to me.”

  “What a hurry you’re in! Besides, how much do you need?”

  “Say twenty thousand lire a day. Let me have two hundred thousand lire, in the meantime.”

  “Twenty thousand lire a day!”

  “Am I or am I not rich, according to what you said? I won’t go to a first-class hotel. Twenty thousand lire a day is only just enough for an unpretentious place.”

  “I haven’t got it here,” said my mother, making up her mind at last to oppose my request with a disguised refusal; “I never keep money here.”

  “All right,” I said, rising to my feet, “then let’s go upstairs to your room.”

  “I haven’t got it in my room either. I had to pay out money only this morning.”

 
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