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       Boredom, p.21

           Alberto Moravia
 

  Finally I thought I would telephone to Luciani; I might possibly be able, by means of some sound or other, to detect Cecilia’s presence in the flat. Luckily the telephone in the bar was near the door, so that I would be able to make the call without interfering with my watch on the street door opposite. I went over and dialed the number, and heard the actor’s voice. My calculations were not entirely wrong; while the actor was repeating, “Hello, hello,” I could distinctly hear the sound of a dance tune, and this made my heart sink, for I knew that Cecilia liked to make love to the sound of music. The actor, after repeating “Hello” once again, added the single word “Idiot!” and hung up the receiver. If the dance music had given me some vague idea of the size and arrangement and look of the room in which it was being played, this insulting word, in which I seemed to detect not only irritation at being disturbed but also male vanity aroused by the nature of the thing which had been disturbed, gave me a glimpse of Cecilia and the actor as they were at that moment—he standing naked beside the little table with the telephone on it, fully visible with his big chest and broad, hairy shoulders, with his muscular belly, and his sexual organ still, perhaps, in a state of erection, with his athletic, over-developed loins and legs; she, naked too, lying languidly on the bed, her eyes turned to gaze with delight at the limbs of her lover. I hung up the receiver and sat in the window again.

  I waited twenty minutes longer, and then had another proof of Cecilia’s presence in Luciani’s flat. The bar phone rang, the barman answered it, listened and then said, in a stupid sort of military voice: “Always at your service, Signor Luciani!” After a short time I saw the waiter, a red-faced youth, go out carrying a tray; on it were a bottle of beer, some sandwiches wrapped in a napkin and a large glass filled with orange juice. I knew that Cecilia, after making love, was in the habit of quenching her thirst with the juice of three or four oranges. I followed the waiter with my eyes, saw him go into the house opposite, and after not more than a minute come out again with the empty tray. The boy came back into the bar, and the barman said to him sardonically: “What’s the matter? What did you see? Bowled over, you look. How many times have I told you—what you see in people’s houses has nothing to do with you. Come on—get these glasses washed.” At that moment, as if propelled by a powerful spring—with the same kind of automatic jerk of the muscles as had caused me earlier to abandon my vigil in front of Cecilia’s flat—I put the money on the table, took my bottle of whisky and went out. I saw that to go away after waiting so long meant that all the efforts and sufferings of the afternoon would be thrown to the winds, but for this day, anyhow, I was not capable of waiting any longer. Perhaps, as I thought later, I really wanted to put off the moment when, being completely assured of Cecilia’s unfaithfulness, I should feel that I possessed her inasmuch as I was enabled to judge her, and was consequently set free from her and no longer loved her. In any case, the final proof of her unfaithfulness was deferred, and with it the devaluation of Cecilia and the reduction of her from a creature of mystery to an insignificant little adulteress.

  I have sought to describe in detail the first day of my starting to spy upon Cecilia, because it was identical, or almost identical, with many others that followed it, of which therefore I may spare myself any extensive description. The only difference was that on that first day I was still capable of acting with a certain method, but as time went on and these wearing vigils were repeated, I did things more and more haphazardly and more and more stupidly. Actually, in order to be a competent spy, I ought, as I have said, to have had the cool, technical detachment of a detective, or the curiosity, for its own sake, of a busybody. Instead of which I was watching Cecilia with the anguished heart of a lover, and little did it matter that I was a lover who was not seeking to keep his own woman to himself but rather to get rid of her.

  How many hours did I spend during those days, sitting in my car in front of the building where Cecilia lived! How many hours in that bar, at the little table in the window! In order to show the degree of obtuseness to which I had been brought by jealousy, all I need to say is that, after a week of exhausting vigils, I discovered by chance that it was useless to watch Cecilia’s block of flats because it had two doors, one on to the street where I had been mounting guard, and another on to a parallel, more important street along which the buses passed and where taxis could be found. Naturally Cecilia went out by the latter door, which was more convenient for her. This discovery appeared to me significant. I had become so stupid that it had taken me a week to notice a thing which I ought to have thought of from the very first moment.

  After I had discovered this second door in Cecilia’s building, I believed that my investigations, now confined merely to the house where the actor lived, would become much easier. But again I was wrong. Apparently, among all the minutes in the day, I always chose those that were never visible on Cecilia’s little wrist watch. Time, for Cecilia and her lover, was not the same as for me. Theirs was the calm, sure, regular time of love; mine the furious, uneven time of jealousy. In all probability I took up my station in the bar when Cecilia had already gone into the actor’s house, and went away when she had not yet come out. The truth was that I could not manage to overcome my repugnance for the act of spying, which I felt to be both degrading and deceptive. This repugnance made me sluggish when I was preparing to go to the bar and impatient when my period of waiting was drawing to a close.

  During this whole time, although I made the most determined efforts to entrap her, I never once saw Cecilia coming out of or going into Luciani’s house. This seemed to me an incredible thing, with something supernatural about it; so much so, that it sometimes occurred to me that Cecilia was downright invisible. And so she was, to me at least, with the kind of invisibility of things that are apparent to the senses yet elude the mind.

  Cecilia’s elusiveness was confirmed not only by the failure of my surveillance but also by that of my investigations into her relationship with Luciani. Knowing well that I could not make a frontal attack upon her because she would be ready to lie to me and would thus become even more elusive than she already was, I tried sometimes to make her talk about the actor in a general way, so as to see if her answers gave a glimpse of a feeling that was more than friendly. Here is an example of how I questioned her.

  “Do you often see Luciani now?”

  “Yes, I see him sometimes.”

  “You know him well by now, then.”

  “Oh yes, I know him a little.”

  “Then tell me what you think of him.”

  “What d’you mean—what do I think of him?”

  “Well, what do you think of him, what is your opinion of him?”

  “I haven’t any opinion—why should I have?”

  “No, I mean—what’s your idea about him, how do you find him?”

  “He’s very nice.”

  “Is that all?”

  “What d’you mean—is that all?”

  “Just—nice?”

  “Well, yes, I think he’s nice—that’s all.”

  “And you go out with him because he’s nice and that’s all.”

  “Yes.”

  “But I’m nice, you’re nice, your father’s nice; to say that someone is nice means practically nothing.”

  “What ought I to say, then?”

  “Defects, qualities, good, bad, intelligent, stupid, mean, generous, and so on.”

  This time she made no answer, replying to my words with a silence that was in no way hostile or offended, the silence, I couldn’t help thinking, of any animal. “Well, aren’t you going to say anything?” I insisted.

  “I’ve nothing to say. You want to know what Luciani is like, and I can’t tell you anything, because I’ve never thought about it, and I don’t know. I only know that I like being with him.”

  “I’m told he’s a very bad actor.”

  “That may be so, I don’t known anything about it.”

  “Where does Luciani come from?”

/>   “I don’t know.”

  “How old is he?”

  “I’ve never asked him.”

  “Is he younger or older than me?”

  “Perhaps he may be younger.”

  “Of course he is, at least ten years younger. Tell me—has he a father, a mother, brothers and sisters, a family, in fact?”

  “We’ve never talked about it.”

  “What do you talk about when you’re together?”

  “All sorts of things.”

  “What, for instance?”

  “How can you expect me to remember? We talk, that’s all.”

  “I remember almost all our conversations perfectly well.”

  “I don’t; I don’t remember anything.”

  “Well, tell me: if you had to describe Luciani, if you were forced to do so, if you couldn’t avoid it, how would you describe him?”

  She hesitated, then answered quite simply: “No one is forcing me to, so I haven’t any need to describe him.”

  “Then I’ll describe him to you: he’s tall, athletic, broad-shouldered, with black eyes and fair hair, small hands and feet, and a fatuous expression.”

  “What does fatuous mean?”

  “It means conceited.”

  She was silent for a moment, then she remarked: “It’s true that he has small hands and feet. Now that you mention it, I remember.”

  “So, if I hadn’t mentioned it, you wouldn’t have remembered?”

  “I don’t look at people in detail, as you do. I only see if they’re nasty or nice. That’s enough for me.”

  At this point it occurred to me, naturally, to wonder what Cecilia thought of me. I had it on the tip of my tongue to ask her: “And what do you think of me?”—but I could not make up my mind to put this question to her, fearing perhaps that she would answer, as in the case of Luciani, that she didn’t think anything. In the end, however, I did decide, one day, to ask her: “What do you think of me?”

  Rather unexpectedly, she replied: “Oh, lots of things.”

  I was much relieved, and went on: “Really? And What?”

  “I don’t really know; lots of things.”

  “Tell me one of them, anyhow.”

  She appeared to be considering the matter scrupulously, and then she answered: “Perhaps it’s just because you want to know, but at the present moment I can’t think of anything.”

  “What do you mean by that?”

  “I mean that at the present moment I can’t seem to think anything.”

  “Absolutely nothing?”

  “Nothing.”

  “But just now you said you thought lots of things.”

  “Yes, I said so, but I see I was wrong.”

  “But don’t you find it tiresome to think nothing, absolutely nothing, about the man you make love with?”

  “No, why should I? What need is there to think anything?”

  And so Cecilia did not merely remain elusive herself, but managed to confer an atmosphere of elusiveness upon everything that concerned her; she was like one of those characters in a fairy story who are not only invisible themselves but make everything they touch invisible.

  And yet two or three times a week I possessed her, by which I mean that I went to bed with her. Anyone else, faced with the growing inadequacy of the physical relationship, would have sought elsewhere for the explanation of a thirst which increased in proportion as it was satisfied. But I was now set upon a course which I felt to be at the same time both fatal and mistaken; and so I made violent efforts to discover, in that physical possession which I yet knew to be illusory, the true possession I had so desperate a need for. As I threw myself upon Cecilia’s willing body, I felt that possibly I was making amends, in those tow hours of her delusive presence, for the other days of her absence. Possibly I was seeking, in her unalterable docility, a reason for boredom and thus for liberation. But Cecilia’s body was not Cecilia, and what Cecilia was, I did not succeed in finding out. As for her docility, it no longer produced any boredom in me, but rather a profound mistrust, like some trap of nature into which I had fallen and from which I could not contrive to escape.

  Anyhow I do not remember ever having loved Cecilia with such violence as I did during the time when I was spying upon her and suspecting that she was being unfaithful to me. I would throw myself upon her as if she were an enemy whom I wished to tear to pieces, a beloved enemy, however, who in an ambiguous way incited me to do this, and I was hardly ever satisfied with only one embrace. Significantly, the feeling that I had not truly possessed her generally used to assail me at the moment when, fully dressed and after saying good-bye to me, she walked toward the door in order to leave; it was as though her departure suddenly revealed to me, in an entirely physical manner, her unchanging power to withdraw herself from me, to elude me. Then I would pursue her, seize her by the hair and hurl her on the divan, disregarding her protests which in any case were not very energetic, and have her again, just as she was, fully dressed, with her shoes on her feet and her bag on her arm, still with the illusory idea that by having her I could nullify her independence and her mystery. Immediately after the embrace I realized, of course, that I had not possessed her. But it was too late; Cecilia went away and I knew that the whole thing would begin again next day—the useless watching, the unattainable possession, the final disappointment.

  After more than a month of fruitless spying and of even more fruitless sexual frenzy, I understood what I ought to have guessed from the very first day, that surveillance is not a thing that should be carried out by someone who is directly interested in the results of what he is doing. If I wanted to make any headway, I must have recourse to somebody who carried out such surveillance as a professional duty, that is, a private detective agency. It was Cecilia herself who gave me this idea. Continually, while I was spying upon her, I thought of nothing but Balestrieri. The old painter, whom I had never cared about while he was alive, had since his death become for me an object of horrified and incomprehensible attraction. In reality, I sometimes said to myself, Balestrieri, to me, was rather like a mirror to a sick man—an unanswerable witness to the progress of his disease. I thought especially of Balestrieri each time I suspected that I was doing something he had done before me. And so, during the time when I was spying upon Cecilia, I could not resist the temptation of asking her whether the old painter had also given way to the same weakness. We were in my car; I was taking Cecilia home, in the evening. When we reached the street in which she lived and where I recalled having so often waited in vain for her to come out, I stopped the car and asked her point blank: “Did Balestrieri ever spy on you?”

  “What d’you mean?”

  “Did he follow you, wait for you, watch you, in fact?”

  “Yes.”

  “You never told me about it.”

  “You never asked me.”

  “In what way did he watch you?”

  “He stood in the courtyard and waited for me to come out.” So Balestrieri, I thought, had been more intelligent than I; he had quickly discovered that there were two doors. “And then what?” I asked.

  “Then, as soon as I came out, he followed me.”

  “Did he do this often?”

  “During a certain period he did it ever day.”

  “At what time did he take up his position in the courtyard?”

  “That depended. Some days, when he knew I would be going out early, he was there by about eight o’clock.”

  “How did you come to know about it?”

  “I used to see him from my bedroom window.”

  “And what did he do in the courtyard?”

  “He used to walk about, or pretend to read the paper, or make drawings in a notebook.”

  “But what did he do so that you shouldn’t see him, when you came out?”

  “He went and stood under the doorway, in the shade, or behind a tree.”

  “And then what?”

  “Then he followed me.”

  For a mo
ment I was silent: I seemed to see the elderly painter, short and square, with his broad shoulders and big feet, his red face and silvery hair, turning up the collar of his raincoat and pulling the brim of his hat down over his eyes as he shadowed the sixteen-year-old girl from the courtyard to the street, and from that street to another; and I felt, recoiling upon me, the now habitual sense of shame at the thought that recently I had been doing exactly the same thing. Then I continued: “But did you notice that he was following you?”

  “Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t.”

  “And when you did notice, what did you do?”

  “Nothing: I went on just as if I hadn’t noticed. But once I turned and went back to meet him, and then we went together into a café.”

  “What did he say in the café?”

  “He didn’t say anything; he started crying.”

  I said nothing for a moment. Cecilia, who did not like being questioned, took advantage of this to start getting out of the car. But I stopped her. “Wait,” I said. “During the time when he was watching you, were you being unfaithful to him?”

  As if amused at the coincidence, she replied: “No, no, at that time I wasn’t being unfaithful to him at all. It was only some months later that I had somebody.”

  “So he was watching you for no reason, unjustly?”

  “That’s right.”

  “And by the time that you had somebody, he had given up following you?”

  “Yes, because he had had proof that I was not being unfaithful.”

  “In what way?”

  “He had me followed.”

  “By whom?”

  She said somewhat vaguely: “Oh, by one of those agencies—you know—who make inquiries, by a detective. They told him I hadn’t anybody except him.”

  “But how did you get to know that he’d employed an agency to follow you?”

  “He told me himself. He made me read a long report—pages of it. It cost him I don’t know how much.”

  “Was he pleased?”

  “Delighted.”

  After a brief silence, I asked: “And you were unfaithful to him immediately after the agency had proved to him that you weren’t?”

 
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