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       Boredom, p.20

           Alberto Moravia
 

  But the thing that drove me on to spy directly upon Cecilia was, more than anything else, my own fatigue. I now spent almost the whole day looking at the telephone, waiting either for the time when Cecilia should telephone me, or for the time at which I knew I could telephone to her with the hope of finding her. Besides this, there were the calls when I found no one, or only the whisperings of her father; and there were the calls to her mother, exhausting and irritating, to reconstruct Cecilia’s daily activities. All these telephonic stratagems, growing, as they did, more and more complicated and harassing, in the end canceled out any possible relief that I might derive from the telephone calls themselves. Like a starving man, whose hunger seems unsatisfied even after he has eaten, so I, after I had finally succeeded in speaking to Cecilia, continued to feel just as harassed and angry as before. Moreover the result of all this was a kind of sexual frenzy: after deciding beforehand to question Cecilia calmly and at length and to oblige her to confess her unfaithfulness, the moment she appeared in the doorway of the studio I would forget my cool intentions, throw her on the divan and have her there and then, without waiting for her to undress, without even—as she herself used to say with a touch of childish complacency—giving her time to breathe. It was the usual masculine illusion that possession can be achieved all in a moment and without a word, by the mere physical act, which drove me to this frenzy. But immediately afterward, when I saw Cecilia to be even more elusive than before, I realized my mistake and said to myself that, if I wished to possess her truly, I ought not to expend my energy in an act which had merely the semblance of possession.

  An insignificant incident was the immediate cause of my decision to spy upon Cecilia. It is worth recounting if only to give an indication of my state of mind at that time. One morning, after I had carried out my usual investigation of Cecilia’s and the actor’s telephones and had found them both to be busy, I asked Cecilia point blank, as soon as she rang me: “Who were you telephoning to? Your number’s been busy for at least twenty minutes.”

  She replied at once, in a perfectly natural way: “I was telephoning to Gianna.”

  Gianna was a friend of Cecilia’s, and by chance I knew her surname and address. I hastily said good-bye to Cecilia and looked up Gianna’s number in the directory. Exasperated, I thought that this time I would get Cecilia with her back to the wall. I dialed Gianna’s number, and a woman’s voice, probably that of Gianna’s mother, answered me. “Signorina Gianna?” I inquired.

  “She’s gone out.”

  “How long ago?”

  “Oh, it must be more than an hour. Who wants her?”

  I threw down the receiver and then again dialed Cecilia’s number. As soon as I heard her voice, I shouted: “You told me a lie.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You told me Gianna had telephoned you a minute ago. Well, I’ve just telephoned her and been told she went out an hour ago.”

  “That has nothing to do with it; Gianna was telephoning from outside. From a public telephone.”

  This took my breath away. So I was no longer capable, in my present state of fatigue, of orderly, lucid reflection; and I had thought to catch Cecilia in a trap from which, in point of fact, it was perfectly easy for her to escape. “I’m sorry,” I said, with a kind of astonishment, “I hadn’t thought of that. For some time now I don’t seem to understand anything.”

  “It seems so to me, too.”

  This incident, although of minor importance, convinced me that I could no longer trust my own tired, confused mind; and that I must spy upon Cecilia in a direct way, with my eyes. At first this seemed to me the easiest thing in the world. But as soon as I set about doing it in earnest, I became aware that it was not so.

  My idea was to telephone to Cecilia from a public telephone as near as possible to the building in which she lived; and, after assuring myself that she was at home, to go and mount guard opposite her door and wait for her to come out, as she usually did, about three o’clock. I was convinced, from a number of clues, that she went to visit the actor at about that time: I would follow her, I would watch her go into Luciani’s house, I would wait for her to come out, I would stop her. Of course it was by no means inconceivable that Cecilia, even at that moment and in that place, would find some means of lying to me, or rather, as was more probable, of admitting only a part of the truth—and precisely that innocent part which is never lacking in any guilty action; but I counted on the fact of surprising her and catching her in the act to undermine her duplicity and oblige her to confess. Once I had obtained this confession, I was convinced that the devaluation of Cecilia and my consequent liberation would follow of themselves.

  I had noticed that the street in which Cecilia lived was intersected two blocks farther down by a side street, and that at the corner there was a bar. One afternoon I stopped my car in front of the bar, went in and rang Cecilia’s number. I realized while the telephone was ringing that I had no excuse for speaking to her. We had already talked on the telephone that morning and had made an arrangement to meet the following day; what then could I say to her? Finally I decided that I would beg her to come to the studio that same day, in spite of our previous agreement, and I also decided that if she accepted I would give up spying upon her once and for all.

  The telephone went on ringing for a long time; then at last came Cecilia’s voice, neutral, colorless: “Is that you? What is it?”

  “I’ve been thinking it over; I’d like to see you today.”

  “Today’s impossible.”

  “Why is it impossible?”

  “Because I can’t.”

  “Do you have to go and see that film producer again today?”

  This time she was silent, as though she were waiting for me to ring off. I waited too, hoping that she would be hypocritical enough to give me a word of affection, as any other woman would have done, seeing herself to be, quite rightly, suspected. But Cecilia had no imagination and never said a word more than was necessary. After a long silence, she concluded: “Till tomorrow, then; good-bye.”

  I left the bar, got into my car and parked two blocks farther on, in front of Cecilia’s door. It was the first time in my life that I had spied upon anyone, and, as I have said, I was under the illusion that it was an easy thing to do. Apart from people who made a business of it, such as detectives and the like, was it not done by silly women through the bars of shutters, by urchins through keyholes, and by idlers in general in order to kill time? But when I began spying, I discovered a simple fact: it is one thing to spy as a profession, like a policeman, or out of idle curiosity, like silly women or street urchins, but quite another to spy for a precise and directly personal reason. Not ten minutes had passed, in fact, before I realized that I was suffering far more than if I had stayed in my studio mentally analyzing my suspicions, without seeking otherwise to verify the basis of them. I continued now to be suspicious of Cecilia in just the same way; but to the misery of suspicion was added that of espionage. If at least I had known the exact moment at which she would come out; then I could have felt easy until, let us say, one minute before she appeared in the doorway. But since I was ignorant of when that moment would arrive, each instant that passed had, for me, the exaggeratedly painful quality of that one single instant when I would see her actually appear. And, instead of being subdivided into a number of easily justifiable periods of delay (the usual delays one concedes to all women, due to the exigencies of the toilet, to a telephone call, a visit, and so forth) sufficiently prolonged to allow of some measure of repose, the period of waiting, and of facing disappointment at every second, increased steadily in intensity, strained and vacant, like a single shrill note rising up and up, or a monotonous pain growing more and more severe.

  I waited calmly for the first ten minutes, for I was certain that Cecilia would not come out during that time, since I had mounted guard at ten minutes to three and knew that she never went out before three. These first ten minutes went by without Cecilia appea
ring, and then I allowed her another ten. These minutes went by, and yet a further ten, and then I decided to wait ten minutes more, though I was quite unable, this time, to imagine what could be keeping her indoors. These empty, but still endurable, ten minutes passed more slowly than the first thirty, seeing that I did not intend to go on waiting and indeed hoped that Cecilia would appear at the third or fourth minute; but she did not come and I found myself faced for the fifth time with an empty period which was as repugnant to me as a huge, deserted square must be to a man suffering from agoraphobia. I waited, nevertheless, telling myself with a kind of mystical hopefulness that this time Cecilia was bound to come. But she did not come, and I resigned myself to waiting a further ten minutes, comforting myself, for lack of anything better, by reflecting that this would make a complete hour, and an hour is the longest time that anyone can wait in any possible circumstances. But naturally (I say naturally, because I now felt that Cecilia’s appearance would be a fact against nature, a miracle)—naturally she did not come this time either, and I prepared for the seventh time to wait another ten minutes, justifying my decision with the subtle, arbitrary reflection that, an hour being the longest time one could wait, I must give Cecilia ten minutes over the hour, if only out of politeness. At this point, however, I became aware that my mind was no longer working, and was thus refusing to keep me company while I waited. I was alone with myself, that is, with the misery which at that moment was my only mode of existence, and the only two things that meant anything to me now were the watch on my wrist and the door upon which my eyes were fixed. My plan was to glance at my watch at intervals of three minutes; the rest of the time I kept my eyes on the door as much as possible, as though I were afraid that Cecilia might come out with the speed of lightning and vanish during that one moment when I looked down at my watch. But invariably my impatience caused me to think the three minutes had gone by after only one minute had passed, and that the effort with which I forced myself to stare at the door became suddenly unendurable, as is any muscular tension that is continued for too long. And so I looked too often at my watch and was astonished to see that the minutes of this time of waiting appeared to be infinitely slower than any other minutes I had ever waited in my life; and on the other hand I felt an almost unconquerable longing to take my eyes off the door, the threshold of which seemed deserted only because I was looking at it, as though its stones and bricks and plaster knew of my waiting and maliciously withheld Cecilia’s appearance just because I desired it so much.

  I waited thus for ten minutes beyond the hour, and then for another ten, because at twenty minutes past four, as I knew, Cecilia’s mother went off to the shop which was not far away and which opened at half past four, and Cecilia sometimes waited to go out until her mother had gone. But at a quarter past four, quite suddenly, as though my muscles had given an involuntary jerk, without thinking I started the car and moved away. I did not go far, however. At the bar at the corner I stopped, got out, went in and telephoned. “She must have gone out,” replied Cecilia’s mother in an uncertain tone. “I’ve been in the kitchen and I haven’t seen her. She may have gone out five minutes ago, or maybe half an hour ago.” I rushed out of the bar, jumped into the car and went very fast up and down that street and the adjacent streets, pressing on as far as the bus stop where I knew Cecilia used to wait for her bus, but I found nothing. Evidently her mother had been wrong and Cecilia had not gone out five minutes or half an hour before, but only a minute or so, and thus had come out of the building at the very moment when I was looking for her in the neighboring streets; unless possibly she had come halfway downstairs and then gone back again, for some reason of her own that I could not imagine, and so was now back again in the flat. But I had no desire to make any more telephone experiments; so I decided to go and lie in wait in front of the house in which Luciani lived. This was in the Parioli district, in Via Archimede, a narrow, winding street which circles around the hill between two rows of modern houses. I had already explored this street some days previously, not so much with the purpose of spying as to see the place where I knew Cecilia so often went nowadays; and I seemed to remember that opposite the actor’s house there was a bar from which it would be easy to watch it. And indeed, when I got out of the car and looked into the bar, I found I was not mistaken: in the window there were two or three little tables from which, looking through between bottles and boxes of sweets, I could easily watch the door of the house opposite without being observed.

  I sat down, ordered coffee and began my spying—an occupation which by this time I hated with my whole heart. The door of the house in which the actor lived was framed in black marble and stood out against the white façade like an obituary notice on the page of a newspaper, but I immediately discovered that a bottle of whisky displayed in the window concealed at least half of it. It was quite possible that Cecilia might slip in or out of the house without my being aware of it, through the half of the door that I could not see. I tried moving my chair, but then I could not see the door at all because it was completely hidden by a large box of English biscuits. I wondered whether I could possibly put out my hand and remove the bottle; but I saw I could not do so without making the barman suspicious. In the end I decided to get rid of the embarrassing object by acquiring it. It was true that the barman might well have a similar bottle in reserve and would therefore not give me the one from the window, but I had no other means of achieving my aim. I called out: “I want that bottle there.”

  He came over at once, a young, tough-looking man, thin and very pale, with one noticeable feature—a harelip which was ill concealed beneath a drooping black mustache. He asked, in a deep, confidential tone of voice: “The bottle of Canadian whisky?”

  “Yes, that one.”

  He bent forward, cautiously took the bottle from the window and appeared to be making a move to replace it with another standing near it. I said hastily, in a commanding voice: “Let me see it.”

  Slightly surprised, he handed me the bottle and I pretended to examine it at leisure, in the hope that he would forget the empty place in the window. Fortunately, at that moment a customer came in; the barman left me and went back behind the counter. After an interval he brought me my coffee, but he did not put any other bottle in place of the one he had given me. I breathed freely again and set myself to the task of watching the door which was now entirely visible.

  I calculated that Cecilia would have taken the bus because I knew she had no money and that she was never in too much of a hurry to get to her appointments. It took at least twenty minutes to go by bus from Cecilia’s home to the Parioli district. All this, of course, depended upon whether Cecilia had really gone out a minute before my telephone call and whether she had really gone to see Luciani. I decided—provisionally, at least—that these two suppositions were correct, and therefore spent about twenty minutes in tolerable ease, though without for one instant taking my eyes off the door.

  When these first twenty minutes were over, I waited patiently for a further ten, and then found myself confronted with this dilemma: either Cecilia had arrived before me by taxi (this was not improbable: I had had to stop at three sets of traffic lights), or she had not arrived at all. What ought I to do? Wait for her to come out or go away? I was so sure that Cecilia had gone to see Luciani that day that in the end I decided to wait. Furthermore, I said to myself, if Cecilia had arrived, say, five minutes before me, I should anyhow have thirty-five minutes less to wait.

  But, as though to deny me even this modest consolation, suddenly, right in front of my eyes, was the figure of a man in a green overcoat. It seemed to me that there was something familiar about his back, and when he moved to cross the street, I recognized him beyond doubt by his broad shoulders and above all by his artificial-looking, too-bright fair hair; it was the actor. I saw him go in the door and vanish.

  So my vigil was only just beginning. Either Cecilia had arrived before Luciani and had gone up to his flat to wait for him, or she had not com
e at all; but I, in order to make certain, would now have to wait for goodness knows how long. And the thirty minutes I had already spent in spying had been spent in vain.

  I realized that if my wait in front of Cecilia’s house had been painful, that in front of the actor’s house was a hundred times more so. When I waited outside Cecilia’s house, I had been waiting for her to finish eating or dressing or talking to her mother—all of them innocent things; but as I waited outside Luciani’s house I was actually waiting for her to finish making love. Thus, whereas I had suffered an hour earlier from having to endure a shapeless, empty period of expectation which my imagination had not been able to fill, now, when I knew perfectly well why Cecilia was in Luciani’s flat, I had to endure a period of waiting which contained the whole shape and rhythm of the sexual act. Now, in contrast to what had happened earlier, if I looked at my watch I could calculate to the minute what was going on in the actor’s flat. At this moment Cecilia is pulling off her sweater over her head. At this moment, naked, she is going over to the bed, is getting on to it, is lying down. At this moment she is having her first orgasm, and after two or three violent jerks of her belly, she throws back her head and lies back exhausted. All these imaginings, naturally, renewed the feeling I had of not possessing, of never having possessed her, since hitherto I had deceived myself into thinking I possessed her simply because I had possessed her body, and that body was now in the arms of Luciani.

  Apart from all this, the feeling of Cecilia’s elusiveness was further increased by my uncertainty as to whether she was in fact with Luciani in his flat. After all, there was a possibility that they might not be seeing each other that day. In that case my imaginings became truly those of the most ordinary kind of jealous lover, who builds up a whole castle of hypotheses upon the foundation of a small and fallacious clue. Nevertheless, this did not in any way imply that Cecilia was not unfaithful to me; it merely meant that she was not being unfaithful on that particular day.

 
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