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Two friends, p.17
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       Two Friends, p.17

           Alberto Moravia
 
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  waiting for this moment for over a month … You fell for it and there’s no going back.”

  “But what do you mean?” Sergio asked once again, in an agitated voice.

  Calmly, Maurizio explained: “I’m not in love with Lalla, nor have I ever been. Even though I find her very beautiful and very desirable, I have never desired her and don’t desire her now … but I wanted to prove something to you. In other words, I too wanted your soul … and I knew it would be mine if I convinced you to do certain things … You wanted me to become a Communist, and I wanted to show you what Communism can lead to. And one more thing … I have no intention or desire to become a Communist … I never have … Not only do I have no desire to do so, but I have always hated Communism … In other words, I am and have always been an anti-Communist. And that is why I became involved in this whole ruse.”

  “What does that mean?” Sergio asked, aghast.

  “It means that while you did your best to convince me to sell my soul for an hour of lovemaking with your woman, I was trying to manipulate you into selling yours … by doing something which, when you look back, will make you deeply ashamed … In simple terms: I wanted to see whether, in the name of Communism, you would sell the woman who loves you and whom you love. And I succeeded. Judge for yourself which one of us has lost his soul to the other.”

  “So none of it was true. You weren’t tempted by Communism … You didn’t love Lalla …”

  “All lies.”

  “Why did you give her the money?”

  “In order to trick you … A man who accepts money from his wife’s lover is lost … And that money was not easy for me to obtain … I’m not as rich as you think … I had to sell some of my mother’s jewels.”

  “You wanted so desperately to prove me wrong?”

  “At least as desperately as you wanted me to sell my soul,” Maurizio said, coldly.

  “But what have you gained?”

  “Just as I said … I have proved that you Communists

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  are not as clever as you think … You are willing to give away what is real for an illusion … and you are capable of dishonorable behavior … In other words: I am now in possession of your soul … It’s almost as if I had it here in my pocket … and you will never have my soul.”

  “So you were always my enemy?” Sergio asked in a breathless voice.

  “On an ideological level, yes … Of course you are an intelligent, pleasant person … but this is quite a debacle for you, isn’t it?”

  “A debacle?”

  “Well, you’ve done the following,” Maurizio said, counting on his fingers; “you’ve accepted money from me for the woman you love, you attempted to sell her to me, and, when I rejected her, you desperately tried to make me reconsider … all of this in order to secure a political conversion that will never take place.”

  “Perhaps,” Sergio said, exasperated, “but you’ll be the loser in the end … You’ll go on living without a positive purpose.”

  “To the contrary,” Maurizio said. “The positive purpose of my life is the opposite of the base actions I

  have pushed you to commit: a respect for humanity and a rejection of the idea that a person can be used as a means to an end, even a noble one; respect for oneself; and the freedom to choose, a freedom that all men and women possess … a freedom which, in Lalla’s case, you did not respect.”

  They heard a scream. Lalla was now sitting upright on the bed, half naked, tired, upset: “Finally, one of you has said something that is true … Neither of you has shown any respect for my right to choose … You have done so in the name of Communism, and you in the name of anti-Communism … You’ve both treated me like an object … but I’ve had enough.”

  They stared at her in bewildered silence. She pulled up the strap of her dress and continued, now in a low voice, rendered hoarse by the power of her emotions: “I want to reclaim my freedom … I’ve come to a decision … The two of you should go back to Rome today … I will stay here with Moroni.”

  “With Moroni?” Sergio asked, sarcastically.

  “Yes, Moroni,” she said, suddenly angry. “At least I

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  know that if I decide to marry him, as he wishes it, he will love me … without getting mixed up in debates about Communism and anti-Communism … He’ll hold me in his arms, love me, say sweet things to me, take me, make love to me, make babies with me, and make me feel like I am living with a man made of flesh and blood and not with a marionette like the two of you. You may not realize it, but you’re just like two marionettes.”

  “And what about Moroni?”

  “Moroni is different … Even if the Communists take over and he loses everything, he will be a man;

  the two of you are just puppets without a drop of blood in your veins. Your heads are full of words … You’re just the same, the two of you … Even if things change, for me nothing would change.”

  Sergio stood up. He realized he had offended her and was suddenly terrified of losing her. “Lalla, please forgive me,” he began, “I’m so sorry … from now on I’ll love you and think of nothing else … Of course you’re hurt … I promise I will never do it again … We’ll live together and I’ll love you forever.”

  “It’s too late,” she said bitterly. “Why don’t you just go to bed with the Communist Party … and he can go to bed with his political party … I, on the other hand, will go to bed with a real man … Giacomo … Giacomo …,” she called out, in a loud voice. The door opened and Moroni entered, as if on cue. Lalla called out to him: “Giacomo, come here,” and he went to her, standing next to the bed. “From this moment, he is my fidanzato,” she said. “Take a good look, and then please do me a favor and get out.”

  Maurizio stood up. “Let’s go, Sergio. It’s best,” he said, with an almost satisfied air. But Sergio insisted, “But, Lalla …”

  “You don’t believe me,” she yelled, with a kind of fury, “but I will make love to him right here in front of you, and you can’t do anything about it … Come here, Giacomo, make love to me,” she said, making space for him on the bed, and then bending over to unbutton his trousers. Moroni looked embarrassed. Then she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, still saying, “Come here, make love to me.”

  Now feeling less awkward, Moroni began to caress Lalla, with a strange smile on his lips. Sergio could see it was all over for him. He took a step toward

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  the door as Lalla repeated, “Make love to me, make love to me.” She was naked to the waist, with Moroni next to her, already half undressed. Sergio and Maurizio left the room; Maurizio walked ahead, with a haste that seemed almost triumphant, merciless. They went downstairs, still pursued by Lalla’s voice crying out “Make love to me, make love to me,” and finally they stepped outside. Her voice still rang in their ears as they stood in the courtyard. The car was there. Maurizio got in. “It’s really better if we leave,” he said. In shock, Sergio tried to say something but did not have the strength to oppose him. He climbed into the car, and they left.

  [VII]

  For a long time, Maurizio drove in silence. They had

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  taken the tree-lined road out of Olevano, shaded by leafy, old plane trees, and now they were descending quickly toward the valley. The town loomed higher and higher above them, with its houses perched on the rocks, their stone sides indistinguishable from the smoky gray hillside, punctuated here and there by bushes of capers and broom. As soon as they were on the open road, Maurizio sped up. The speedometer rose to fifty, then to sixty miles per hour. Sergio did not speak; he was still trying to understand the catastrophe that had befallen him back at Moroni’s provincial manor. Finally, Maurizio asked, “What are you thinking about?”

  Sergio struggled to speak. “I was thinking that I should have stayed in Olevano … Why did we leave in such a rush?”

  Maurizio answered slowly: “We left because we had no business there … Lalla will marry
Moroni, and he’ll love her, just as she said. We were superfluous.”

  “I should have insisted,” Sergio said, in a desperate tone; “maybe I could have persuaded her.”

  “Yes, but then you would have returned to Rome and life would have gone back to the way it was, and you would have started to hate and despise her once again. She would have left you in any case.”

  He was silent for a moment, then added: “It’s better this way … A woman cannot go on forever in a situation like yours … At a certain point the cord breaks … I think it happened at just the right time.”

  “But you never loved her,” Sergio said angrily. “I did, and I still do.”

  “Nonsense … You never loved her either … You only loved yourself … or rather, you loved the Party, which was just an extension of yourself.”

  “That’s not true.”

  “Yes it is … You became a Communist because you weren’t strong enough to live on your own merits … And then once you became a Communist, you

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  became disenchanted, because you realized that your weaknesses had not changed. So you tried to prove to yourself that Communism is the most important thing, your raison d’être. You had only one way to prove this to yourself … by sacrificing Lalla on the altar of your political credo. And that’s what you did. Why are you complaining?”

  Sergio wanted to say that he was complaining because he felt an acute, powerful, unbearably bitter pain, where just a few hours earlier he had felt security and a conviction of his dominion over Lalla. And that his pain had taken the shape of an unfillable, gaping hole, as if the spot in his heart which until now had been filled by Lalla had suddenly suffered a terrible spasm, revealing its emptiness. But he knew he could not confide in Maurizio. They were not friends. In fact, as Maurizio had said earlier, they were enemies, and there was nothing he could do about it. As if guessing his thoughts, Maurizio added: “You would be less disappointed, or perhaps not at all, if you had a new convert to the cause sitting next to you rather than a complete enemy of your ideas … Isn’t that right?”

  Sergio rebelled against Maurizio’s insightful comments. But he knew that his friend was right. He objected: “Even if it were true, I would still love Lalla and be hurt by the idea of losing her … I would still lament my loss.”

  “Perhaps, but not the way Moroni laments the death of his wife … If one loves a woman, one must love her as he does … One must love her above all else … What do you think? Lalla left you because she knew that you did not love her more than the Party, and because she knows that Moroni will love her more than anything … Women cannot accept becoming secondary, second fiddle.”

  Sergio angrily retorted: “Well, at least you’re satisfied … You think you’ve won the match … You forced me to act dishonorably, you made me lose Lalla, and now you’re feeling triumphant, isn’t that right?”

  “Not at all … I’m just as defeated as you are, don’t

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  you see? The victory consisted not in defeating one another but in being loved by Lalla … She is humanity in its rawest state, the masses, the weak, vulnerable flesh that both of us sought to conquer … But we employed arguments that were interesting only to us … Meanwhile, we completely forgot the one true argument: love, affection, respect, passion … It is Moroni’s only argument, and that’s why he won.”

  “What does all of this mean?”

  “It means,” Maurizio said, once again displaying his pleasant, dreary logic, “that our arguments are interesting only to us, as Communists or anti-Communists … but women—in other words, the people—want to live in peace and to be loved for who they are, to fuck and to be fucked. It means that we are predestined by history to be the cuckolds of humanity … She betrayed us because we did not love her for who she is, without ulterior motives.”

  “How clever you are,” Sergio said, sarcastically.

  “I’m not philosophizing … I’m just observing reality … I think that when these wars of religion that currently divide the world finally come to an end, someone else will come along and reap the spoils, as the saying goes … People want to be loved for themselves … When they feel used, they only pretend to believe what we say, and then they run off with the first person who really loves them.”

  “Do you think Lalla will be happier with Moroni than she would with me or you?”

  “Of course … Moroni has a very precise, very neat little story, and Lalla fits into it perfectly: he did not love his wife as he should have, Lalla resembles her, he will love her as he was not able to love his wife … Meanwhile, you were dreaming about the Party, and I had my own cold-blooded business to think of.”

  “Such as?”

  “Myself, my own precious self … I had myself, and you had your Party … But for Moroni, there is only Lalla.”

  He said these words in a calm, definite tone, as the car went faster and faster. The car […]

  Version C

  [I]

  As soon as the war ended, two important events

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  happened in my life. The first was that I joined the Communist Party. I suppose that every man acts for reasons that are both selfish and disinterested. My disinterested reasons for joining the Party—from now on I’ll call it “the Party,” which is how we refer to it—were not very different from those of countless others who took the same step at that moment, whether farmers, factory workers, or people of means. It seems pointless to discuss these reasons, because the story I want to tell is a very personal one, one that will allow me to reveal who I am to the world and to myself. Disinterested reasons, as such, reveal little or nothing about the self. Quite to the contrary, they are the patrimony of all men. Suffice it to say that I joined the Party in good faith, with the requisite sentimental enthusiasm and knowledge of doctrine. As to my selfish reasons, they were many, and now that I examine them, I see that they all lead back to Maurizio and my friendship with him. But let us proceed in an orderly manner; the subject is rich and, in its way, full of surprises. I must proceed carefully, in order of relevance, if I hope to unravel it. So I will go back to the beginning. One of the many things that Maurizio accused me of, in his condescending, sarcastic way, was being an intellectual. He would say: “Intellectuals like you,” or “You’re a typical intellectual,” or even “Oh, you’re nothing but an intellectual.” Maurizio’s attitude was not the only thing that made me hate the word. Like the word “bourgeois” and so many others, its meaning has deteriorated over time, taking on negative connotations that it did not once have. Today it is almost an insult to call someone an intellectual, and there is no one who, hearing himself referred to in this way, does not feel the impulse to protest. But what bothered me the most was to hear Maurizio utter this word. I felt an unjustifiable attraction toward Maurizio and held him, also unjustifiably, in high esteem and wanted to be his friend. I realized that, despite his maliciousness, he was right: I was, without a doubt, what is normally referred to as an intellectual. In other words, I was an educated person

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  of limited means, unable to enjoy culture as a mere ornament or pastime, forced to write movie reviews for a third-rate newspaper, to translate mystery novels and write articles for the society pages. I was idle and constantly busy, eternally unemployed and always occupied. Even physically, as he often noted, I resembled the perfect intellectual: slight, with a mop of unruly hair and glasses, dressed in casual pullovers instead of collared shirts, in muddy shoes and frayed trousers, my pockets always overflowing with bits of paper. I was an intellectual from head to toe, inside and out, and I knew it. So why did it offend me to hear Maurizio say it? I have already mentioned that the word “intellectual” has become an insult; in addition, I felt hurt that by describing me in this way, Maurizio revealed that he had no doubts about my nature, that he had pigeonholed me forever and ever. In other words, I no longer held any surprises for him: I was an intellectual, and no matter what I did in life, I would neve
r be anything else. What this denied me was the freedom, the margin of autonomy in human relations, that allows us to escape from the mortifying tracks of habit and routine. This hurt me more than the insulting connotations of the word “intellectual” itself. I suppose that one of my self-interested motives for joining the Communist Party was so that I could retort: “You think I’m an intellectual? Well, you may be surprised to hear that I’ve joined the Party … I’m a Communist now. What do you think about that?”

  Some will say that becoming a Communist is not

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  the only alternative to being called an intellectual. It’s true, I could have gone to work in an office, or become an explorer, a factory worker, a pilot. But we mustn’t forget that Maurizio’s attitude toward me, his condescending, obstinate contempt, was part of a superiority complex with clear overtones of class: he was rich and I was poor; he came from a powerful, established family and I from an obscure, petit bourgeois background; he was well dressed, elegant, and worldly, while I was unkempt, introverted, and awkward. Perhaps I also joined in order to feel morally superior to Maurizio, so that I could say: “Not only am I not an intellectual, but I can tell you that you are doomed, that you belong to a doomed class, that all your money, your worldliness, your elegance, and your airs will not save you on judgment day, and that day is near. On that day you will be judged and found wanting, and you will be thrown to the curb, like a piece of trash.” I didn’t think this so much as feel it, with great intensity but always combined with the strange and unlikely attraction that Maurizio inspired in me. Be that as it may, this was certainly my second reason for joining the Party, by which I mean my second, more personal and self-interested reason.

  There was also a third and final reason, connected

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  to the others: I did not feel my strength to be equal to Maurizio’s. And by this I mean my physical presence, because morally I considered myself to be vastly superior to him. I could not change my physical presence; even if I stood on my tiptoes or puffed out my chest, I did not become taller or more robust. But more than height and robustness I felt that I lacked another, more important element of physical presence, the magnetism, energy, and aura of vigor that lead to success in life, more than intelligence or desire. In Maurizio’s presence I shrank and shriveled; my breadth, consistency, and energy were diminished. I became small, weak, lacking, empty. His step was surer than mine, his gaze made me avert my eyes, his voice was stronger, and his presence obscured and obliterated mine. In other words, I was a typical intellectual. So it seemed to me that by joining the Communist Party, which was powerful both in numbers and in ideology, I would feel stronger in comparison with Maurizio; I would absorb some of the Party’s strength, and it would bolster my own. In the Middle Ages, wretches like me became monks in order to be able to look the arrogant landowners in the eye; well, I became a Communist for the same reason, in order to successfully face off with the arrogant bourgeoisie, as embodied by Maurizio.

 
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