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       Boredom, p.16

           Alberto Moravia
 

  Then an unexpected thing happened. Cecilia, who had also finished undressing, went over on tiptoe, as usual, to draw the curtains across the big window, and then, with the joyous movement of one who gains his freedom and runs toward the sea, she rushed to the divan and threw herself on top of me, heavily, violently, and with an inarticulate cry of triumph. Then she raised herself up and sat astride me as I lay flat, and leaning heavily with her two hands on my shoulders, exclaimed: “Tell me the truth, you must confess that you believed just now that I was being unfaithful to you with Luciani?”

  I looked at the excited face, red with pleasure, framed in the light, curly hair that had never seemed to me so alive, and I was suddenly convinced of the opposite of what I had hitherto been thinking: yes, Cecilia had lied to me; yes, she had been unfaithful to me with the actor. There was proof of this, if nowhere else, in her triumphant voice, which in its irresistible artlessness resembled that of a little girl who, after a successful joke, calls out to her companion: “Now admit it, you were caught!”

  At the same time I saw her afresh, more real than ever and therefore desirable, with her full, brown, womanly breasts hanging forward from her thin, white adolescent body; with her slim waist; with her compact, powerful hips; and it seemed to me that she appeared real and desirable precisely because she was evading me through her lying and treachery. This thought filled me with anxious, vindictive rage; I seized her by the hair with such force that I heard her groan, threw her off me and hurled myself upon her. Physical possession, usually, was no more than the repetition of a preceding mental possession, that is, it merely confirmed the boredom which made Cecilia unreal and absurd to me. But this time I felt that possession appeared to confirm my inability truly to possess her. However roughly I treated her, however much I squeezed her and bit her and penetrated her, I failed to possess Cecilia and she was elsewhere, God knows where. Finally I fell back exhausted but still angry, withdrawing from her sex as from a useless wound; and it seemed to me that Cecilia, who was now lying beside me with closed eyes, had an expression of irony on her face even in the midst of the composed serenity that follows the satisfaction of carnal appetite. The expression, I said to myself, of reality itself, the reality that evaded me and receded at the very moment when I imagined I had seized hold of it.

  I looked at her intently. She must have felt my eyes upon her, for she opened hers and gazed back at me. Then she said: “Do you know, it was wonderful today?”

  “Isn’t it always wonderful in the same way?”

  “Oh no, it’s always different. There are days when it’s not so good, but today it was very good.”

  “Why was it so good?”

  “It’s a thing one can’t explain. A woman feels it, you know, when it’s good and when it isn’t so good. D’you know how many times, today?”

  “How many?”

  She lifted her hand with three fingers pointing up and said: “Three,” then she closed her eyes again, pressing herself lightly against me, and as she made this movement the ironical expression I had already noticed appeared again on her face with its lowered eyelids. And so, I thought, it might even be that I had really possessed her, possessed her totally, possessed her with no margin of independence or mystery. But I was unable to have full consciousness of it, or, therefore, to enjoy it; it seemed that only the one who was possessed could be conscious of possession, not the possessor. Again, and more strongly than ever, I experienced the feeling that I was incapable of achieving true possession, in spite of the fullness of the physical relation. I should have liked to ask: “Was it better with me or with Luciani?”, but once again I felt myself unable to utter the actor’s name. I asked her instead, for some inexplicable reason: “Is it true that Balestrieri died in your arms, while you were making love?”

  I noticed that she wrinkled up her face for an instant, without opening her eyes, as though a gnat had brushed against it in flight. Then she murmured: “Why d’you want to know that?”

  “Tell me if it’s true.”

  She was still lying with her eyes closed, and I seemed to be questioning a sleepwalker. “Not exactly,” she replied. “He felt sick while we were making love, but he died later, after we had stopped.”

  “You’re not telling the truth.”

  “Why shouldn’t I be telling the truth? I was so frightened. I thought he was really dead; but luckily he managed to get to the bed.”

  “Then you weren’t on the bed?”

  “No.”

  “Where were you, then?”

  “What a lot of things you want to know.”

  “Where were you?”

  “On the stairs.”

  “On the stairs?”

  “Yes, he used to want to make love at any moment, so to speak. We’d already done it once in the little room upstairs, and we were going down to the studio because he wanted to paint. I was in front of him. Suddenly he wanted to make love again, and he did it right there on the stairs. But—d’you know what?”

  “What?”

  “After he felt sick, and I’d helped him to get upstairs to the bedroom again and onto the bed, he lay there for a little, with his eyes shut, quite still. Then, gradually, he recovered and—just imagine—he wanted to make love yet again, for the third time. It was I who refused. He looked like death already, and I was frightened. He gave up the idea, but very unwillingly, and he was angry. Sometimes I think he died because he got so angry.”

  So Balestrieri had really wished to kill himself, I thought. I seemed to see those two, separating at the critical moment of their intercourse; and the old painter clinging with both hands to the banister and climbing up painfully, step by step, to the gallery and then going and falling on the bed; and then the corpse-like figure sitting up suddenly and holding out its arms to Cecilia. Following the thread of my thoughts, I asked another question: “Did you use to deceive Balestrieri?”

  She made that same grimace of irritation, as if troubled by an importunate gnat; and I realized that what I had really asked her was: “Are you deceiving me?” She too seemed to understand the true meaning of the question, for she merely murmured: “Now you’re beginning again.”

  But I persisted. “Tell me, please, did you deceive him?”

  Finally she replied: “Why d’you want to know? Yes, I did deceive him, now and then; he was so boring.”

  This took my breath away. “Boring—how do you mean, boring?”

  “Boring.”

  “But what does that mean, to you—boring?”

  “Boring means boring.”

  “And that is?”

  “Boring.”

  So Cecilia was deceiving me, I thought again, and she was deceiving me because I was boring—in other words, as she was for me, non-existent. But between us there was this difference: I knew what boredom was, having suffered from it all my life, whereas for her boredom was simply an obscure urge to take the provoking, irresistible movement of her disdainful hips elsewhere. I looked at her again: she was lying flat on her back, her legs spread out, just as our last embrace had left her, with no sign of modesty, but apparently confident that I would consider her attitude of abandonment as a proof of naturalness and intimacy. As I looked at her I could not help succumbing to the masculine illusion which looks upon physical possession as the only true possession. Yes, I thought, Cecilia evaded me, she withdrew herself from me; but if I took her again—who knows?—possibly I might succeed this time in nullifying the feeling of not possessing her, I might succeed in possessing her truly and decisively. I pulled myself up, and bending over her lightly touched her lips with a kiss. Without opening her eyes she murmured: “I think I ought to be going soon.”

  “Wait.”

  And so I took her again without her opening her eyes, although with her body she candidly welcomed and facilitated my embrace in her usual hungry manner—a final proof, if there was need of it, of the fact that she was somewhere else and that what I took possession of had no value for her nor, therefore,
for me either. But this time Cecilia opened her eyes wide immediately afterward, and said: “Now I really must be going.”

  She rose, ran across to the bathroom door and disappeared. Left alone, I fell into a kind of empty reflection. I reflected in the literal sense of the word, that is, I contemplated, in the dark mirror of my consciousness, myself lying naked and inert on the divan, the easel with the blank canvas near the window, the studio and all the things it contained. Then a precise thought insinuated itself into this dead, objective world: namely, that after the second embrace Cecilia had remained more than ever elusive and therefore real, so that, if by some miracle of nature I had been capable of having her, not twice in succession but two hundred times, I should have found myself in the end just as unsatisfied as the first time. In short, the more I had her the less I possessed her, if only because in having her I wasted the energy I should have needed to possess her seriously—in a way, however, that I could not contrive to imagine, at least for the moment.

  At this point I heard Cecilia open the bathroom door, and then, rising on my elbows, I said to her: “Look in that cupboard: there’s a present for you.” I heard her exclaim: “For me?” in a tone of voice which was neither surprised nor really pleased; then, evidently, she opened the cupboard, took out the bag, unwrapped it and looked at it, but I saw nothing because I was now lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling. But after a moment I felt her lips brush lightly against mine in one of those characteristically meager, childish kisses, and I heard her voice murmur: “Thank you.” A little later, I hoisted myself on to my elbows again: Cecilia, now fully dressed, was standing at the table in the middle of the room and carefully transferring her various personal objects from her old bag into the new one. I sank down again, flat on my back.

  6

  CECILIA, AS I think I have made clear, was not talkative, in fact her natural inclination was to keep silence; but even when she spoke she managed to be silent at the same time, thanks to the disconcertingly brief, impersonal quality of her manner. Words, in her mouth, seemed to lose all real significance, and were reduced to abstract sounds as though they were words in a foreign language that I did not know. The lack of any kind of accent or dialect and of any inflection of social class, the complete absence of revealing commonplaces, the reduction of conversation to pure and simple declarations of incontrovertible facts such as “It’s hot today”—all these confirmed this impression of abstractness. I would ask her, for example, what she had done on the evening of the day before; and she would answer: “I had dinner at home and then I went out with Mother and we went to the pictures together.” Now these words, as I immediately noticed—“home,” “dinner,” “mother,” “pictures”—which in another mouth would have meant what they usually mean, and consequently, according to how they were uttered, would have made me see whether she was lying or telling the truth—these same words, in Cecilia’s mouth, seemed to be nothing more than abstract sounds, behind which it was impossible to imagine the reality either of truth or of falsehood. I have often wondered how it was that Cecilia contrived to speak and at the same time give the impression of being silent. And I came to the conclusion that she had only one means of expression, the sexual one, which however was obviously impossible to interpret even though original and powerful; and that with her mouth she said nothing, not even things concerned with sex, because her mouth was, so to speak, a false orifice, without depth or resonance, that did not communicate with anything inside her. So much so that often, looking at her as she lay beside me on the divan after our intercourse, flat on her back with her legs open, I could not help comparing the horizontal cleft of her mouth with the vertical cleft of her sex and remarking, with surprise, how much more expressive the latter was than the former—and with the same purely psychological quality as those features of the face by which a person’s nature is revealed.

  Furthermore, I had to discover what was concealed behind a remark such as: “I had dinner at home and then I went out with Mother and we went to the pictures together”; whether, in fact, a dinner and a home, a mother and a motion picture were really concealed behind the words, or possibly an appointment with the peroxide-haired actor. Thus I was seized with a furious desire to know Cecilia better; previously I had not taken the trouble to find out anything about her because, being under the illusion that I possessed her through our sexual relationship, I was under the illusion that I knew everything. For example, her family. Cecilia had told me with her usual brevity that she was an only daughter, that she lived with her father and mother and that they were not well off because her father wasn’t well and had stopped working. I had been content with this information, almost grateful to her, in fact, for not telling me more, since the thing that mattered to me more than anything else was that she should come every day to the studio and make love with me. But from the moment when I had a suspicion that she was being unfaithful to me, and when this suspicion had suddenly transformed Cecilia from something unreal and boring into something real and desirable, I was filled with curiosity to know more about her home life, as though I hoped that a more thorough knowledge might enable me to achieve the full possession which sexual intercourse denied me. So I started questioning her, rather in the way in which I had questioned her about her relations with Balestrieri. Here, as an example, is one of our conversations.

  “Your father is sick?”

  “Yes.”

  “What is he suffering from?”

  “He’s suffering from cancer.”

  “What do the doctors say?”

  “They say he’s suffering from cancer.”

  “No, what I mean is—do they think he can recover?”

  “No, they say he can’t recover.”

  “Then he’ll die soon?”

  “Yes, they say he’ll die soon.”

  “Are you sorry?”

  “Sorry for what?”

  “That your father is dying.”

  “Yes.”

  “Is that all you can say?”

  “What ought I to say?”

  “But you’re fond of your father?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well, let’s go on to something else. Your mother—what’s she like?”

  “What d’you mean—what’s she like?”

  “Well, is she short, tall, pretty, ugly, dark, fair?”

  “Oh well, I don’t know; she’s just like lots of other women.”

  “But tell me, what does she look like?”

  “Goodness me, she doesn’t look like anything.”

  “Doesn’t look like anything? What ever do you mean?”

  “I mean she doesn’t look like anything in particular. She’s just like anyone else.”

  “Are you fond of your mother?”

  “Yes.”

  “More or less fond than of your father?”

  “It’s a different thing.”

  “What does different mean?”

  “Different means different.”

  “But different in what way?”

  “I don’t know: different.”

  “Well then, is your mother fond of your father?”

  “I think so.”

  “Why, aren’t you sure?”

  “They get on all right together, so I imagine they’re fond of each other.”

  “What does your father do all day?”

  “Nothing.”

  “What does nothing mean?”

  “Nothing means nothing.”

  “But people say ‘doing nothing’ just as a manner of speaking, and then they really do all sorts of things even if they’re doing nothing. So your father doesn’t work; what does he do instead?”

  “He doesn’t do anything.”

  “That is to say—?”

  “Oh well, I don’t know: at home he sits in an armchair by the radio. Every day he takes a little walk—that’s all.”

  “I see. You live in a flat in the Prati district?”

  “Yes.”

  “How many ro
oms have you?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “What d’you mean, you don’t know?”

  “I’ve never counted them.”

  “But is it a big or a small flat?”

  “So-so.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “Medium-sized.”

  “Well then, describe it.”

  “It’s a flat just like lots of others; there’s nothing to describe.”

  “But I suppose this flat of yours isn’t empty? There’s some furniture in it?”

  “Oh yes, there’s the usual furniture, beds, armchairs, cupboards.”

  “What sort of furniture?”

  “Really I don’t know; just like any other furniture.”

  “Take the living room, for example. You have a living room?”

  “Yes.”

  “What furniture is there in it?”

  “The usual furniture: chairs, small tables, armchairs, sofas—the same as in all living rooms.”

  “And in what style is this furniture?”

  “Don’t know.”

  “What color is it, then?”

  “It hasn’t any color.”

  “What do you mean, it hasn’t any color?”

  “I mean it hasn’t any color, it’s gilt.”

  “I see, but even gilt is a color. D’you like your home?”

  “I don’t know whether I like it. In any case, I’m not there very much.”

 
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