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       Boredom, p.19

           Alberto Moravia
 

  “Yes, he told her, but she didn’t believe it, because Balestrieri was making love to her all the time; so she told my father he had invented it because he was jealous.”

  “Did Balestrieri go on coming to your house after that?”

  “Yes, he went on coming, but we were more careful. So much so that in the end Dad almost thought he had made a mistake. But he went on hating Balestrieri. When he saw him arrive, he went out.”

  The table was cleared by now, and Cecilia was putting the chairs back in their proper places. As she passed close to me, I pulled her to me by the arm and made her sit down, reluctantly and absent-mindedly, on my knee. “Shall we go to my studio soon?” I asked.

  I noticed that she glanced at her wrist watch. Then she replied: “I’m expecting a telephone call.”

  “What’s that got to do with it?”

  “It depends on the telephone call whether I can come to the studio or not.”

  “Who is going to telephone you?”

  She considered me for a moment with an indefinable, thoughtful expression and then answered: “It’s a film producer, to make an appointment to see me. If the appointment is in a short time, I’m afraid I shall not be able to come.”

  I was sure that she was lying. The thing that betrayed her was her tone of voice, which had the excessive naturalness achieved only when a person is lying. “Why not tell the truth?” I said. “It’s the actor who is going to telephone you.”

  “What actor?”

  “Luciani.”

  “I saw him yesterday,” she said unexpectedly, seeking to foist a twenty-four-hour-old truth upon me, I decided, in order to conceal her lie of a moment earlier. “We went together to see a producer. I don’t have to see him every day.”

  “Was it a producer you went to see yesterday, too?”

  “It’s the same one. It was Luciani who gave me an introduction. The producer couldn’t see me yesterday and sent a message that he would telephone me today.”

  I noticed how plausible it all was. And perhaps it was all true, even in detail, for I knew that Cecilia, on the occasions when she was forced to tell a lie, did so by building up an edifice of falsehood with the materials of truth. “Come on,” I insisted, “it is Luciani who is going to telephone you. Why shouldn’t you admit it?”

  “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t, but it isn’t true.”

  “Well then, if it’s not true, let me go and answer the telephone for you.”

  “All right, if you like.”

  Her willingness to agree made me think that there might be an arrangement between her and Luciani, as often happens between lovers: if it was she who answered, Luciani would declare himself for who he was; if somebody else, he would say he was the producer. With some bitterness, I said: “No, I don’t want to put you to the test. I only want you to understand one thing, just one thing.”

  “What’s that?”

  “That I don’t want you to love me, I want you to tell me the truth. I would rather you told me you were going to see Luciani today, if it’s true that you are, than that you should tell me you’re not going to see him, just in order to please me.”

  We looked at one another. Then, with a gesture that was almost tender, she stroked my cheek. “My truth,” she said, “is that I’m not seeing Luciani today. Would you rather I told you your truth—that I am seeing him?”

  Thus Cecilia, without intending it, let it be seen that truth and falsehood were for her the same thing, and that fundamentally neither truth nor falsehood existed. Suddenly, from the passage, came the ringing of the telephone. Cecilia jumped off my knee, exclaiming: “The telephone!” and ran out of the room. I followed her.

  The telephone was at the far end of the passage and at the darkest part of it, on a shelf. I saw Cecilia take off the receiver, place it to her ear and then immediately say: “Good day.” I stood beside her, and she, as though she wished to conceal and protect the black vulcanite instrument into which she was speaking and out of which someone was speaking to her, suddenly turned her back upon me. The conversation continued, but I noticed that Cecilia answered in monosyllables or in words even more insignificant—if that was possible—than those with which she usually expressed herself; and all at once I was convinced that it was the actor at the other end of the line, that he and Cecilia were arranging a meeting, and that Cecilia was unfaithful to me with him. At the same time I became aware that I felt a violent desire for her, lying to me as she was, and therefore evading me and therefore becoming real and attractive; as if, by having her there and then, in the passage, while she was talking to her lover, I might be able to possess her at the very moment when, by means of the telephone, she was withdrawing herself from possession. I stood right up against her, as I had done shortly before in the bathroom; and from the barely perceptible hint of a movement of her buttocks against my belly, I seemed to understand that not merely would she not be opposed to an embrace so inconvenient and so unusual, but would even welcome it, as though to compensate me, by means of a false surrender, for the true surrender of herself which she was at the same moment making to the man who was telephoning to her. I was pressing myself against her, filled with anger and desire, when I recalled that Balestrieri had had her in the kitchen in the same manner, and probably with the same feeling. I drew back abruptly; Cecilia felt that I was no longer standing close against her and threw me a questioning glance over her shoulder; then, still talking on the telephone, she put out her free hand behind her and clasped mine. I allowed her to do this and leaned against the wall behind her, my face bowed down on my chest, my mind in confusion. Finally Cecilia said: “Well, good-bye, see you soon,” then she replaced the receiver and stood for a moment deep in thought, her hand in mine. “I’m sorry,” she said at last, turning toward me, “but I shan’t be able to come to the studio today. I’m expected in half an hour by that film producer.”

  “Very well, I’ll leave you at once.”

  “Wait a bit—and now come with me.”

  She walked in front of me down the passage toward her room. She went in first; as soon as I had come in, she carefully closed the door. “Would you like to make love now—here?” she asked. “But we must be quick about it, because I really haven’t time.”

  Faced with this very charming, very cynical proposal, I felt once again that desire for her which seemed never to be satisfied, for the simple reason that it was not her body—always so ready and so docile—which I desired, but the whole of her. However I said: “No, don’t think of that now, I don’t like doing things in a hurry.”

  “But we needn’t be in a hurry. Only that I shall have to run away right afterward.”

  “No, I’m not like Balestrieri, it’s of no consequence to me to make love in your home.”

  “How does Balestrieri come into it?”

  “Speaking of Balestrieri—there’s one thing I want you to tell me.”

  “What’s that?”

  “That time you made love in the kitchen, had there been an argument, a quarrel, a disagreement between you shortly before?”

  “How can you expect me to remember? It happened such a long time ago.”

  “Try and remember.”

  “Well, yes, I think there had been a bit of an argument. Balestrieri was so tiresome, he always wanted to know everything.”

  “Everything?”

  “Yes, everything: whom I saw, where I went, what I did.”

  “And had you had an argument of this kind on that occasion?”

  “Yes, I believe we had.”

  “How did it finish?”

  “It finished in the usual way.”

  “What d’you mean by that?”

  “There came a point when I stopped answering him, and then he wanted to make love.”

  “Just like me!” I could not help exclaiming.

  “No, you’re exactly the opposite, you don’t want to make love. Come on, then, why shouldn’t we?”

  She gave me a tempting look, as
though she felt herself to be in debt to me and wished to pay me back at all costs, so as not to have to think about it any more. I should have liked to reply: “I don’t want to make love because I don’t want to do the same things as Balestrieri.” But instead, kissing her on the neck, I said: “We’ll do it tomorrow at my studio, calmly.” She shook her head in sign of slight disappointment, then went and opened the wardrobe, took out the parcel containing the bag and removed the tissue paper. “D’you see?” she said, smiling at me, “I’m using your bag.”

  We left the room and went out of the flat. Cecilia walked downstairs in front of me, and as I followed her I thought over what had happened. I told myself that although the effort had been almost superhuman, I had avoided making love to her in the passage in spite of a furious desire to do so; that is, I had avoided, this time at least, doing precisely the same thing that Balestrieri had done before me; and yet this was only a tiny episode in a passion which, in its more general development, tended increasingly to resemble the passion which the old painter had felt for Cecilia. I was able, thanks to a clearer consciousness of the situation, to prevent myself from acting like Balestrieri on particular occasions, but it looked as though I was not capable of halting my progress along the road that he had followed before me to the bitter end. When we reached the entrance hall, I said brusquely to Cecilia: “Good-bye, then.”

  She seemed astonished both by my words and my tone of voice. “Why?” she said, “aren’t you going with me?”

  “Where to?”

  “I’ve told you already, to that film producer’s.”

  “Very well; come along.”

  I did not speak during the whole journey. Fundamentally, what most exasperated me was not so much that Cecilia should make me drive her to an appointment with her lover, as that she should do so without malice and without cruel intent, in a vague sort of way, simply, it might be, because she was tired of taking the usual crowded bus, and there was I, ready and on the spot, with my car. I realized that this detached, childish lack of sensitiveness caused me far more pain than any self-indulgent perversity.

  I stopped the car in front of the film company’s door and watched Cecilia as she disappeared into the darkness of the entrance hall, walking with her usual tired-looking, swaying step. Evidently the appointment with the film-producer was genuine; but either the actor was waiting for Cecilia in the office, or Cecilia was intending to join him at his own home after she had spoken with the producer. In both cases it would have been easy for me to ascertain the truth, either by following her immediately into the building, or by waiting until she came out. But I gave up the idea: I was still at the stage of jealousy when a surviving sense of dignity prevents one from spying upon the person one is jealous of. Nevertheless, as I went away I knew I had merely postponed the moment when I would start watching her. Next time, I thought, I should no longer be able to stand firm against circumstances which encouraged me, which indeed almost obliged me, to spy upon her.

  7

  THE EVENTS WHICH I am now going to relate may create the impression of a crisis of very ordinary jealousy; and indeed, if my behavior during that time had been observed by a spectator of little perspicacity it might well have appeared to be that of the stock victim of jealousy. But it was not like that. The jealous man suffers from an excessive sense of possessiveness; he suspects continually that some other man wishes to get possession of his woman, and this haunting suspicion gives rise to extravagant imaginings and may even lead him to crime. On the other hand, I suffered because I loved Cecilia (for it had now become a question of love); and my aim in spying upon her was to make certain that she was deceiving me, not indeed to punish her or in any way prevent her from continuing in her unfaithfulness, but in order to set myself free both from my love and from her. The jealous man tends, in spite of himself, to shackle himself in his own servitude; I, on the contrary, wished to release myself from this same servitude, and I saw no other means of attaining my object than by destroying Cecilia’s independence and mystery, thus reducing her, through a more exact knowledge of her treacherous conduct, to something well known and ordinary and insignificant.

  My first thought was to make use of the telephone. As I have already mentioned, Cecilia used to telephone me every morning about ten o’clock. She had done this, at the beginning, merely in order to greet me. But now that her visits had become rarer (her promise to continue to see me every day had soon been proved unreliable), the telephone had become an essential element in our relationship. It was in fact by telephone that Cecilia now fixed the day and hour of our appointments each time, in an unaccountable, irregular manner. I noticed that the time of these telephone calls had changed recently from ten to twelve o’clock. Cecilia had justified this change by the fact that her telephone was a party line and that the subscriber who shared it had taken to making a great many calls in the early morning. But I was convinced that the reason was a different one and that she no longer telephoned me at ten o’clock because by that time she had not yet spoken to the actor who, like all actors, slept late. Not having spoken to him, she did not yet know what she would be doing during the day, and therefore could not tell me if and when she could see me.

  The actor’s number was not in the telephone directory; but it was easy for me to obtain it from a film company for whom he had worked in the past. Having found out the number, I ascertained the truth of what I had supposed in the following way: I would first telephone Cecilia at about a quarter to twelve and invariably find that the number was busy; immediately afterward I would telephone the actor and discover that he too was on the line. I would wait five or ten minutes and then repeat the maneuver: both the lines would be free. A moment later, with a punctuality that filled me with sadness, my own telephone would ring and Cecilia, at the other end, calm and precise as a trained secretary, would tell me, according to the situation, whether we could see each other that day or not.

  I also made use of the telephone to keep watch over Cecilia’s comings and goings. I telephoned methodically (if one can speak of method in relation to the frantic stratagems of jealousy) at various times of day, and either I found no one or I found Cecilia’s mother, who often stayed at home, leaving the shop to her sister. Then I would enter into conversation with her. She, on her side, asked nothing better than a few minutes’ chatter, and by way of this chatter I would get to know more or less what I wanted. The mother’s pieces of information, of course, came almost entirely from Cecilia, who lied to her just as she did to me, and told her only what best suited her; but I had now reached a point when I could decipher these pieces of information fairly well, all the more so because Cecilia, not knowing that she was being spied upon, did not take the trouble to bring them into line with the equally false but different information with which she provided me. Thus I came to know that Cecilia, a creature of habit like all persons who lack imagination, had, to her parents, justified her relations with the actor in the same way as those with Balestrieri and myself: she said she went to see the actor because he had promised to find her work in the films, just as she had said in the past that she visited Balestrieri and me because we gave her drawing lessons. But lessons last only an hour or two, whereas an association with a place of regular work may take up the entire day; and thus I discovered that under the pretext of her film job Cecilia was seeing the actor every day, twice or even three times a day. She saw him sometimes in the morning, especially if the weather was fine, for a walk in the town and an apéritif; she saw him in the afternoon, probably in order to make love; she saw him in the evening, to have dinner and go to the pictures. Her mother was slightly alarmed at this pretended film activity on her daughter’s part, and at the same time rather flattered. Taking me into her confidence, she would ask me anxiously if there was not a danger that the motion-picture world, so notoriously free and easy, not to say licentious, might have a corrupting influence upon Cecilia; and then again she would ask, with equal anxiety, whether I thought that her daughter had
the right qualities for becoming a star. She spoke with complete ingenuousness; but to me, at the other end of the line, she often gave the impression of knowing everything, both about myself and about the actor, and of amusing herself by tormenting me with refined and conscious cruelty. In reality, as I knew perfectly well, the cruelty lay in the circumstances and in them only.

  And so, what with Cecilia’s lies on the one hand and her mother’s illusions on the other, the telephone neither gave me complete reassurance nor did it furnish me with the indubitable proofs that I needed in order to free myself of my little mistress and of my love for her. Indirect and abstract by its very nature, the telephone now seemed to be the positive symbol of my own situation: a means of communication which prevented me from communicating; an instrument of inspection which permitted of no precise information; an automatic machine, extremely easy to use, which nevertheless showed itself to be almost always capricious and untrustworthy.

  Furthermore, the telephone seemed perfectly designed to confirm the elusiveness of Cecilia’s character. Obviously it was not the fault of the little black instrument if Cecilia was late in telephoning me or did not telephone me at all; if she lied to me or disappointed me. But since all this took place on the telephone, I had reached the point when I was obsessed with hatred for that innocent object. I never telephoned now without extreme repugnance; I never heard its ringing without a feeling of anguish. In the first case I feared not to find Cecilia—as indeed almost always happened; in the second, that I should hear her, as usual, lying to me—which was also a manner of not finding her. But the telephone, above all, confirmed Cecilia’s elusiveness, for by its means her physical presence was replaced by one single part of her, and the most abstract at that—her voice. Even when this voice was not lying to me it remained, to me, ambiguous and evasive, simply because it was only a voice. And all the more so because it was Cecilia’s voice, which was always so stubbornly expressionless.

 
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