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       Boredom, p.15

           Alberto Moravia

  When she reached the Piazza di Spagna, Cecilia walked with decision toward the great flight of steps. I stopped for a moment and, my eye leaping from her to the place that she appeared to be making for, I caught sight of the figure of a man who seemed to be waiting for somebody, standing beside a flower seller’s big umbrella. He was a young man, tall and vigorous-looking, with two features that I noticed at once: very broad shoulders which seemed to indicate an athletic build, and hair of a false-looking, golden blond that appeared to be bleached with peroxide. Cecilia, meanwhile, had crossed the whole space of the Piazza di Spagna, her head bent, and was now approaching the young man, without quickening her step but with a movement of the hips that was full of irresistible, provoking urgency. She reached him and stopped, and it looked to me as if they shook hands; and then, hastily, I also moved. They were talking now and Cecilia had climbed onto the first step of the stairs, and even so looked shorter than he.

  Soon I was quite close to them. I realized that Cecilia had not seen me, so I went almost up to her, at a distance of a pace or so, and even then I was sure that she continued not to see me. I moved up onto the step and walked around her, almost touching her this time: she was talking and laughing gaily with the man with the peroxide hair, and all of a sudden her big dark eyes rested upon me, but even now, although it seemed to me impossible, I had to admit that she had not seen me. I was aware that I was registering these things without thinking at all, and I knew I was not thinking because I was suffering. In the end I went and hid behind the flower seller’s umbrella, a few steps farther on.

  Now the young man with the peroxide hair had taken Cecilia by the arm, with an eloquent tenderness, and was gently pushing her toward the umbrella behind which I was hiding. They stopped, and then the young man, without letting go of Cecilia’s arm, selected a bunch of violets from a jar and handed them to her. Cecilia raised the flowers to her nostrils; the young man paid the flower seller, and then, still holding Cecilia by the arm, went off with her up the steps toward Trinità dei Monti. For the first time I noticed that the young man was wearing a short green overcoat; until then I had not seen it.

  For a short time after they had disappeared I remained where I was, looking up the flight of steps. I felt an acute pain which gave me no peace and at the same time an impotent rage at the fact that I felt this pain. I understood, indeed, that until I had suffered I should not be able to part from Cecilia, as I still wished to do. And I also understood that with Cecilia I could only be bored, or suffer: hitherto I had been bored and consequently had wished to leave her; now I was suffering and I felt I would not be able to leave her until I was bored once again.

  These reflections and others of a similar kind must have been very intense and very absorbing, for I suddenly found myself, to my surprise, back again in my studio. Wrapped in a cloud of thought I had gone back, without being conscious of it, to Via Margutta, had gone in and thrown myself on the divan. The clock on the central table showed half past four. Only half an hour to go before Cecilia’s arrival, but there was nothing more I could do except wait for her. And this half-hour seemed to me to be impassable, as though time itself had stopped and were awaiting a push from me to make it resume its course. Actually it was I who had stopped, arrested by a thought which refused to be displaced, whatever efforts I might make.

  What most infuriated me was that, although I did not love Cecilia, circumstances were forcing me to have the feelings and to behave in the ways which are appropriate to love. I wanted to free myself from these circumstances as an ox wants to free itself from the yoke that weighs upon its neck, but I felt that with every movement they oppressed me more and constrained me to behave like the lover which I was now convinced I was not.

  I said to myself, for instance: “Now Cecilia and her friend are in some retired corner of the Borghese Gardens and Cecilia is doing with him what she has done so many times with me: she is kissing him awkwardly and coldly, with her childish lips, and at the same time is giving him her customary hard, eager push in the belly with her groin.” And immediately afterward I thought: Why do I think all these things and why do I suffer? Obviously because I saw them together. And am I then forced, in spite of myself, by the sole fact of having seen them together, to be jealous on her account and to suffer?

  I sat thinking with my head bent and my eyes on the floor. Finally I looked at the clock and discovered that there was only a short time left before Cecilia’s arrival. Rising from the divan and stretching my cramped limbs, I reflected that after all I was not altogether sure that she had betrayed me. What, in actual fact, had I seen? An innocent meeting in a place that was far from secret, the gallant but not highly significant gift of a bunch of violets, a walk to the Pincio. Such things happen every hour and every day, without the people who do them being, on that account, bound together by the ties of love. There was, it is true, the fact of the missed appointment of the previous day. But I had to beware of the kind of mental disposition that tends to establish arbitrary relations between separate and dissimilar things. Cecilia had not come to our appointment the day before: that was a fact. I had seen her that afternoon with a young man with peroxide hair: that was another fact. But that did not mean that the two facts were connected; above all, it did not mean that they were connected by a common factor of betrayal.

  Strange to say, no sooner had I give shape to these reflections than the figure of Cecilia, which, as long as I had suspected her of betraying me, had been living and real to me, although mysterious (in fact, precisely because mysterious)—now that I was doubtful about her betrayal, became unreal and boring again as in the past. And, as in the days past, I felt I must get rid of her at all costs; and I was afraid lest I might not be capable of it; and I strengthened myself in my determination by recalling the cruelty which I had resorted to during one of our last meetings in order to avoid a relapse into boredom.

  Cecilia was punctual. At five o’clock I heard the familiar ring at the bell that was so characteristic of her, so brief, so reticent, and at the same time so intimate. I went and opened the door, saying to myself: “The moment I see her I shall tell her I’m leaving for the mountains, and thus, even if I have cause to regret it later, I shall have created an established fact which it will be difficult for me to nullify afterward.” I foresaw that the moment she came in Cecilia would as usual throw her arms around my neck, with her customary, mechanically passionate gesture, but this time I would take hold of her hands and pull them down, disengaging myself from her embrace and saying: “First of all I’ve got to talk to you.”

  What happened, however, was something I had not foreseen but which I really ought to have foreseen. When I threw the door open, Cecilia did not fling her arms around my neck; on the contrary, she drew back, making a sort of gesture to keep me at a distance and saying: “First of all there’s something I must say to you.”

  I could not help thinking that these were more or less the words I had in mind to say to her; and it immediately flashed across my mind that Cecilia wanted to announce a decision similar to my own, that is, that she wanted to leave me. In the meantime she had gone and sat down on the divan. I went over and sat down beside her, saying in a loud, angry voice: “No, first of all you’ve got to give me a kiss.”

  Obediently she bent forward and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. Then, drawing back, she said: “The thing I must tell you is that from now on we can’t go on meeting every day, but only twice a week.”

  “Why is that?”

  “Keep calm, don’t get angry,” she said, before answering my question. My voice had indeed been loud and harsh, but I became seriously angry as I heard myself say: “I am calm and I am not angry. I merely want to know the reason for all this.”

  “They’re beginning to grumble at home because I see you every day.”

  “But didn’t you tell them you were taking drawing lessons?”

  “Yes, but only twice a week. On the other days I always have to invent some excuse, and now
they’ve found out.”

  “It’s not true, your people don’t grumble. They didn’t grumble, for instance, when you saw Balestrieri every day.”

  “Balestrieri was sixty-five, not thirty-five like you: they weren’t suspicious of him. Besides, they knew him.”

  “Well, introduce me to them, then.”

  “All right, I will. But meanwhile we must meet only twice a week.”

  For a short time we sat silent. I was discovering now that not merely did I no longer want to part from Cecilia, but also that I could not bear to see her only twice in seven days. Then, all of a sudden, I understood. I was even prepared to reduce the number of our meetings; but I had to be mathematically certain that she was not lying to me and that her parents had really made trouble. Since, however, I was not certain, the idea that she was lying to me gave me a feeling of deep distress, as though she had escaped me at the very moment when, thanks to her untruthfulness, she was becoming real and desirable in my eyes. I took hold of her hand. “Tell me the truth,” I said. “You don’t want to see me any more.”

  She answered at once: “That’s not the point. I said that from now on we must meet only twice a week, that’s all there is to it.”

  I noticed that her tone of voice was completely neutral, equally distant from truthfulness and from falsehood. This was an observation that I had already made on other occasions; but only in order to note a trait in Cecilia’s character without attaching any significance to it. In general, she appeared always to be saying simply the things that she was saying, neither more nor less, without the slightest undertone of feeling. The latter, as I knew, was perceptible during sexual intercourse, and only then. But it was absolutely necessary for me to know whether she was lying to me, because I still wished to break off relations with her and her lying to me would prevent this. So I insisted. “What you really want is for us to part. But you haven’t the courage to tell me and so you’re trying to prepare me. Today you say twice a week, tomorrow you’ll say twice a month, and then in the end you’ll tell me the truth.”

  “What truth?”

  I had it on the tip of my tongue to say: “That you have another man.” But I restrained myself: the connection between her decision to reduce the number of our meetings and the encounter in the Piazza di Spagna was too obvious, and it humiliated me to accept it. Instead, I said brusquely: “Very well then. Let it be as you wish; from now on we’ll meet only twice a week. And now let’s change the subject.”

  “What’s the matter? Why are you so gloomy?”

  “Let’s change the subject. Do you know that I passed right under your nose today and you didn’t see me?”

  “Why, where?”

  “In the Piazza di Spagna, near the steps.”

  “At what time?”

  “It must have been about four.”

  I looked at her closely: her face had its usual uncertain, childish expression and she did not even start. “Oh yes,” she said, “I was with an actor called Luciani.”

  Even her voice revealed nothing in particular: it was expressionless, neutral, unrelated to innocence or guilt. I asked casually: “Why has he put peroxide on his hair?”

  “Because he had to play the part of fair-haired man.”

  “You seemed very intimate, judging, at least, from the way you walked.”

  “What way?” she inquired, with genuine curiosity.

  I felt that words were not adequate to depict the tenderness with which the actor had taken her by the arm. “Get up!” I said.

  “But why?”

  “Get up!”

  She obeyed. Then I took her by the arm and made her walk about the studio for a little, exactly as I had seen the actor do. “There,” I said finally, letting her go again, “that’s the way.”

  She went back and sat down on the divan and looked at me for a moment, then she said: “He always does that”—a remark, I felt, that did not at all signify that she and the actor were not in love. “Have you known this Luciani for long?” I asked.

  “For a couple of months.”

  “D’you see him often?”

  “We see each other now and again.”

  She got up again and started pulling off her sweater over her head. “You had an appointment with him today?” I asked.

  “He wants me to work in the films, and we had to talk about that.”

  I looked up at her: she had pulled up her sweater over her head, showing her white armpits with their few long, soft, brown hairs, but her breasts were still hidden, and only the thin, adolescent torso could be seen. Then, with a violent movement, she gave an upward pull and her breasts burst forth: all at once the torso was that of a grown woman, though it still retained a certain slenderness and immaturity. It crossed my mind that she was undressing in order to interrupt an embarrassing interrogation. “Are you going to work in the films?” I asked her.

  “I don’t know yet.”

  “And afterward where did you go?”

  “We went to the Pincio and had some coffee.”

  She had seated herself on the divan again now, bare to the waist, as though to answer me better. Meanwhile she was carefully turning back the sleeves of her sweater. “Yes,” I said, “I saw you go up toward the Trinità dei Monti. Perhaps this actor lives close by in Via Sistina, does he?”

  “No, he lives in the Parioli district, in Via Archimede.”

  “And after your coffee what did you do?”

  “We walked about in the Borghese gardens until a short time ago, when I left him to come here.”

  I became conscious that I was looking at her with desire; and I realized that I desired her, not so much because she was naked, as because she was lying to me. She appeared to notice my look, and added, quite simply: “Do you want to make love?”

  The idea that she was proposing we should make love in order to conceal the fact that she was lying to me made me suddenly furious. I was certain that only a lover could press a woman’s arm in the way Luciani had pressed hers. But now again I avoided mentioning the actor’s name. “No,” I shouted, “I don’t want to make love, I want to know the truth.”

  “But what d’you mean, the truth?”

  “The truth, whatever it is.”

  “I don’t understand you.”

  “Yesterday you didn’t come to our appointment and you didn’t even let me know that you couldn’t come. Today you want to reduce the number of your visits. I want to know the truth; I want to know what there is behind all this.”

  “I’ve already told you: my parents are making trouble.”

  Again I felt it on the tip of my tongue to say: “It’s not true, the truth is that you go to bed with Luciani,” but at the same time I felt I would not be capable of saying it. So I remained silent and glum, staring at the floor. Then I felt her hand on my cheek and heard her say: “Are you very sorry not to see me every day?”


  “Well then, forget what I said. We’ll go on as before. Only we shall have to be more careful. We’ll meet at different times, according to which day it is. In any case I’ll telephone you in the morning to let you know, each day, what time we can meet. Are you content now?”

  And so, in a mysterious, unexpected way, Cecilia gave up the idea of reducing her visits to me. I was so surprised that I couldn’t go on thinking unkind things about her. It was clear now: Cecilia, in spite of her precocious experience, was a very young girl and afraid of her parents; this fear had prompted her to reduce the frequency of our meetings; in face of my sadness and suspicion, she had changed her mind again and was doing as I asked. So she was not being unfaithful to me, she was not lying to me; she was just a simple, unmysterious girl, torn between her subjection to her parents and her attachment to her lover. It seemed odd that I had not thought of this before; and all at once the way in which the actor had taken her by the arm became an unimportant detail. Perhaps he really did that with all women, whatever his relations with them might be. These reflections lasted only a
moment. Then I became aware of a new fact: not merely was I not pleased that Cecilia had given up the idea of reducing her visits; but also I could see the old boredom reappearing on our horizon, like a tiny but decidedly dark cloud in an otherwise empty sky. “Thank you,” I said. “But, if you like, we could perhaps see each other, say four times a week instead of seven.”

  “No, it doesn’t matter, I’ll find some excuse.”

  She had gone back to the chair upon which she had placed her sweater and had started undressing again. I watched her as she put her two hands to the zipper at the side of her skirt and lowered it; I wondered whether the quick, graceful gestures that brought about the gradual fall of her clothes and the gradual unveiling of her body appeared to me, now that I was sure of not being betrayed, as boring and ridiculous as they had in the past; and, after a moment’s consideration, I was compelled to admit that it was so. As if, in fact, by a miracle in reverse—a miracle, that is, which instead of introducing something magical into reality had withdrawn it—Cecilia, who had seemed so desirable as long as I had suspected that she was betraying me, now that I was convinced of the contrary had gone back to being an insignificant object, present to the most superficial perception of my senses but not for that reason truly real. I reflected that the whole of her personality was in that action of lowering the zipper fastening, the whole of her, with no margin of independence or mystery, and that she was for that very reason non-existent; that she had been already possessed beforehand, even before sexual intercourse had given a superfluous confirmation to this possession by feeling; possessed and therefore boring. While I was thinking these things I was myself undressing, and that I could not help casting a glance at my sexual organ, almost afraid that it was not in a state of erection, as I might well have feared, judging from my reflections. But it was, and never so much as at that moment had I admired the force of nature which made me desire without any real desire. By this time I was naked. I lay down on my back on the divan, rather as a sick man lies on the doctor’s couch, and with the same sense of submitting to an unpleasant ordeal which anyhow was very far removed from love.

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