Boredom, p.22Alberto Moravia
“Yes, a month later, but I didn’t do it on purpose—it just happened.”
“And he knew about it?”
She hesitated and then said: “I think he may have guessed something, but he was never really sure about it.”
“How do you mean?”
“He saw me two or three times, always with the same boy, and then he started following me again, on his own, without the agency. But he had got rather tired and he did it less often than before. Then he died.”
“Why didn’t he have you followed by the agency again?”
She said, with a reflective air: “If he had had me followed, he would have found out everything. But he no longer trusted the agency. He said I had always been faithful and the agency hadn’t been able to discover the truth.”
After this conversation, I began to think more and more often of using an agency, as Balestrieri had done. Strangely, whereas in the past I had refrained from doing certain things simply because I knew Balestrieri had done them, now, on the contrary, I felt inclined to employ an agency just because he had employed one. It was as though, having recognized the vanity of my efforts to stop myself on the slop down which Balestrieri had plunged, I had now decided to deliberately do the things he had done before me, as if doing them consciously and of my own free will had now become my only means of distinguishing myself from him, since he had done these things in spite of himself and in a state of unconsciousness bordering on madness.
One day, therefore, I started off to find the “Agenzia Falco,” in a gloomy building in Via Nazionale, very solemn-looking outside, ornate and covered with pillars and statues and Latin inscriptions, and dark and dreary inside. I went up to the third floor in a dilapidated, evil-smelling old elevator, stepped out on to a pitch-dark landing and walked toward a glimmer of light filtering through an opaque glass door, on which was the name of the agency and a small, symbolic bird which was, presumably, a falcon. The door rang a bell as I opened it, and I went into an anteroom which was almost entirely bare except for a few wicker chairs. Two men came out of a room at the same moment, tightening the belts of their raincoats and pulling down their hats on their heads; I judged from their behavior and their clothes that they must be detectives, possibly the ones to whom the surveillance of Cecilia would be entrusted. The door having remained open, I walked over to it, and at the far side of a large room, sitting behind a desk reading a newspaper, I saw a dark, bald, thin man with flat temples, a big nose and fallen-in cheeks. I asked where the director could be found. In an earnest, authoritative manner, as though wishing to reassure me, he answered: “I am the director. Please come in and sit down.”
I went in, and he rose to his feet, holding out his hand and introducing himself: “Major Mosconi.” I sat down and for a moment looked at him, first at his meager face and worn black suit and twisted tie, and then at the old ink stains that speckled the top of the desk. I wondered what all this could possibly have to do with Cecilia and me, and the answer was: nothing. I said, however: “There’s a person I want to have watched.”
The major answered in a prompt, brisk tone: “That’s what we’re here for. Is it a man or a woman?”
“Is this woman your wife?”
“No, I’m not married. It’s somebody to whom I am bound by special affection.”
“Then it’s a case of pre-matrimonial investigations?”
“Call it that, if you like.”
The major indicated, by a gesture, that he did not wish to insist, that it was not necessary for me to say any more. He asked: “For what reason do you want to have this person watched?”
I looked at him again. For the director of an agency that called itself “Falcon,” he had a face which seemed to contradict that sharp-eyed appellation in every possible way. His eyes, deep-set, small, lusterless, expressionless, made one think not so much of a falcon as of a blind finch. With a roughness that gave me a certain satisfaction, I said: “I have very good reasons for believing that this person is unfaithful to me.”
It was quite obvious that the major was unwilling to come quickly to the main point of the question by way of the very simple truth; and this, it appeared, was more in order to uphold the decorum of his office than because he had not understood what it all about. “Is this person married?” he asked.
“No, she’s unmarried.”
“Are you married?”
“I’ve already told you that I’m not.”
“I beg your pardon, I didn’t remember. And so you have the impression that this young lady...it is a question of a young lady, is it not?”
I could only confirm this, impatiently: “Obviously.”
“Excuse me, I didn’t explain myself: I wished to know whether it is a question of a young lady of good family or of a woman who lives on her own and leads an independent life?”
“It’s a young lady of good family.”
“I could have sworn it was,” he affirmed mysteriously.
This time I could not refrain from asking: “Why could you have sworn it was?”
“Those are the ones who give us most trouble. Very young girls, of eighteen or twenty. And so you have the impression that the young lady is unfaithful to you?”
“It’s the usual reason. You must excuse my saying so, but ninety per cent of those who come here say the same things. And alas, in at least sixty per cent of these cases, suspicions are shown to be well founded.”
“If their suspicions are well founded, why then do they have recourse to your agency?”
“In order to have a mathematical certainty.”
“And you—are you able to provide this certainty?”
The major shook his head with indulgent forbearance. “Look,” he said, “you might perhaps think that anybody can carry out certain inquiries. Even the interested party, you might think, but that isn’t so. There is as much difference between the inquiries of an amateur investigator and ours as there is between an analysis made by an amateur scientist, without proper means and without serious knowledge, and an analysis carried out in a scientific laboratory. If you wanted to find out whether you had a definite disease, would you go for an analysis to a charlatan, or to a serious scientific laboratory, accredited and recognized by law? Obviously, the latter. Now the Agenzia Falco is the serious, accredited laboratory, recognized by law”—here the major broke off and pointed to a framed diploma hanging on the wall above his head—“and it is able to provide you with the certainty you require, in a scientific manner.”
“In other words,” I asked, in order to gain time, “you are able to discover the truth?”
“Always. A case of uncertainty is extremely rare, in fact almost non-existent. Our detectives are honest and trustworthy, all of them ex-carabinieri or ex-policemen, and it is practically impossible for them not to obtain some information.”
“And how long does the investigation take?”
The major made a typical office worker’s gesture: he replaced a pencil which was not out of place, rested his chin on his hand and fixed me with his little black, lusterless eyes. “I might say two or three weeks,” he said. “I might say even longer. But I don’t want to run off with your money. By the end of a week we shall know everything. When a woman is in love with a man, she doesn’t see him once a week; she sees him every day, even several times a day. Now, if we can prove that the woman we are watching sees a man every day, or indeed more than once a day, our client is in possession of all the proofs he requires. Of course, if our client is not convinced, we can make further investigations, going even more deeply into the matter, if need be.”
“What do you mean—going more deeply into the matter?”
“Forgive me, but these are not things that can be stated beforehand. One has to know the case. However, don’t worry, a week will be enough. Yours, if I may be allowed to say so, is an ordinary case.”
“It is the sim
“Yes, I understand,” I said; and I remained silent for a short time. I was thinking that the major, thanks to his so-called scientific investigations, was convinced that he could reach the truth of the matter and I was also thinking that his truth was not mine. Finally I inquired: “What are the conditions of payment?”
“Ten thousand lire a day. With a supplement, according to arrangement, if the person to be watched goes about by car, because in that case our detectives have to have the use of a car too.”
I said, meditatively: “She doesn’t go by car, she walks.”
“Ten thousand lire a day, then.”
“And when could you start?”
“Tomorrow. You give me the details, I’ll study them and tomorrow morning the detective will start shadowing her.”
Suddenly I rose to my feet. “We’ll begin in a week’s time,” I said. “Because the person isn’t in Rome at the moment and won’t be back for a week.”
“As you wish.” Major Mosconi had also risen to his feet. “But if by any chance you are hesitating because of the price, you can find out and see that other agencies won’t charge you any less.”
I answered that it was not a question of price, and repeating that I would reappear in a week’s time, I went away.
I went back mechanically to my studio and prepared to wait for Cecilia, for this was one of the two or three days of the week when we saw each other. For some time now I had been suffering from sleeplessness owing to the wretchedness that my relations with Cecilia were causing me. Usually I would drop off to sleep as soon as I had gone to bed, but not an hour would pass before I woke up with a jump, as though somebody had given me a good shaking; and then, inevitably, I would start thinking about Cecilia and would not fall asleep again until dawn, only to reawaken at my usual time, all too early. And then during the day I would drop off to sleep wherever I was, worn out with fatigue, and sleep heavily for as much as two or three hours. And so it happened that day. The window curtain was drawn, and a restful light, warm and yellow, filled the studio. I lay down on the divan and, turning on one side, started looking at the empty canvas still standing on the easel near the window. I reflected that the canvas was blank because I did not succeed in getting possession of any kind of reality, in the same way that my own mind was blank when confronted with a Cecilia who eluded me and whom I could not succeed in possessing. And the physical act, by which I often had the illusion of possessing her, was equivalent to the pornographic painting of Balestrieri—that is, it was not possession, just as the other was not painting. And in the same way as, with Cecilia, I oscillated between boredom and sexual mania, so, in art, I oscillated between bad painting and no painting at all. And now I had turned to the Agenzia Falco in order to find out something certain about Cecilia, but it was as though in order to paint I had read a scientific treatise on the nature and composition of matter. The canvas was empty, I went on thinking confusedly, because Cecilia eluded me; my mind was empty because reality eluded me. Reality and Cecilia were the two words that echoed more and more feebly in my head; evoking two different operations which I felt, nevertheless, to be connected by an undoubted link. It seemed clear to me that this link was the mania to possess, and that both operations were wrecked by the impossibility of doing so. As I thought over these things, more and more wearily, I fell asleep.
I had scarcely fallen asleep when I woke up again. The studio was almost in darkness, and when I turned on the light I realized that in reality I had slept for about an hour; it was half past five, and I had come back from the agency at about half past four. This sleep, so profound as to give me the feeling of not having slept at all, had rested me: I felt unusually clear-headed and, as had sometimes happened to me in the past when I was getting ready to paint, full of precise and conscious creative energy. I looked up at the canvas and thought, almost involuntarily, that it was a pity I had given up painting; this was the state of mind one needed for working. But immediately afterward, in an automatic sort of way, I jumped off the divan and rushed out of the studio. I was sure that Cecilia was in the actor’s flat, and I wanted to catch her at the moment when she came out on her way to visit me.
Before this I had set out to watch Cecilia every day except those days on which we saw each other, thinking for some reason or other that she would not go to bed with me and with the actor on the same afternoon. But Cecilia had told me on the telephone that morning that she could not see me before six, and I understood why she had given me an appointment for that time: she was due to visit Luciani before she came to visit me. And so, while I could not know at what time she went to see Luciani on other days, nor at what time she left him, today, I at least knew for certain at what time she would be leaving him, because that was the time when she was coming to see me. It astonished me that I had never before thought of a thing that was so simple and, in addition, so completely in conformity with Cecilia’s innocently cruel psychology. It was characteristic of her to go straight from the arms of the actor into mine, in the space of barely half an hour; to give herself to me with the same flattering abandonment with which she had given herself to him; to mingle the seed of both of us, with animal-like greed, in her own belly. Why in the world had I never thought of it before?
Fifteen minutes later I was at the house where the actor lived. I found room for the car almost in front of the entrance door, and stayed in it. It was not worth while taking up my position in the bar; according to my calculations, Cecilia ought to be coming out in five minutes at most. I lit a cigarette, never taking my eyes off the ground-floor shutters, through which a light showed. These were the shutters of Luciani’s flat, and probably, at that moment, Cecilia was dressing hastily, telling the actor the same childish lie that she generally told me: “I must go, Mother’s expecting me.” I had a feeling of nausea as I looked at those shutters, and realized that it was not so very different from the feeling sometimes aroused in me, in times past, by the blank surface of a canvas, as the moment when I was preparing to paint: out of that door, framed in black marble, would soon issue something which I desired at the same time both to know and not to know, something for which I felt at the same time both appetite and disgust—Cecilia, or in other words, reality. I knew that I must stay in my car until I saw her appear in the doorway, but at the same time I felt a great desire to go away. Once again, in the light of this twofold, contradictory feeling, I saw that what had so often made me abandon my spying, during these last days, had not been a revolt of dignity but rather a repugnance for Cecilia as she really was—that is, in a word, for reality.
At the end of five minutes, as I had foreseen, Cecilia and the actor appeared together in the doorway. They were holding hands and it seemed to me that they were both staggering a little, as though dazed. I noticed that Cecilia was clasping the actor’s hand in a special way, with her fingers between his, as if unconsciously repeating he recent interlacing of their bodies. Still holding hands, they went off along the pavement down the hill.
Everything can be foreseen, except the feeling aroused in us by what we foresee. One can certainly foresee, for example, that a snake may come out of a hole under a rock; but it is difficult to foresee the quality and intensity of the fear that the sight of the reptile will inspire in us. Countless times I had imagined Cecilia coming out of the actor’s house, either in company with him or alone, but I had not foreseen the feelings I would experience when I actually saw her come out of that big door with it black marble frame, into the street, hand in hand with Luciani. And so I was astonished when, at the sight of Cecilia and the actor standing for what seemed an eternity in the doorway, I became conscious of an abominable sensation like that of a fainting fit. I suffered horribly and was at the same time amazed that I should be suffering so much and in so novel a way, when I had been prepared for this moment by so precise and anticipation. I felt that th
I have said that my suffering was comparable to that of a fainting fit. In reality I had fainted in every part of myself except at the one point in which—as if the whole of my vitality had concentrated itself there—I was conscious of myself to an excessive degree. And it was precisely from this that I suffered; from feeling myself to be everywhere lifeless except at this one grievous point. In the meantime I had automatically started the car, brought it slowly out from its parking place and driven off behind Cecilia and Luciani.
They were walking very slowly, still holding hands, silent and happy, no doubt. Then the actor stopped at a barbershop; Cecilia spoke to him for a moment, held out her hand to him and Luciani kissed it. He went into the barbershop and Cecilia went on her way. Driving slowly, my eyes fixed on her as she disappeared and reappeared on the winding pathway, I went on for some distance down the street. I looked at her, and I looked especially at the movement of her hips under her short, tight dress, a movement at the same time clumsy and lazy and powerful, and I realized that I still felt desire for her—just as though I were not yet entirely sure of her unfaithfulness. And I saw that if I really wished to stop desiring her I must compel her to confess the truth, that truth which alone would irreparably establish her in my eyes for what she was, and would make me cease to love her. Cecilia, meanwhile, had gone to the bus stop farther down the street. I looked at my watch; there were still ten minutes to go to the time of her appointment with me. She had calculated her time well: in a quarter of an hour at most, the bus would put her down in the Piazza del Popolo, a few steps from my studio. At six o’clock, as arranged, she would be able to throw herself into my arms.
I stopped the car abruptly in front of her—she was at that moment fumbling in her bag with her head down—threw the door open and said to her in my normal voice: “Want to get in?” She looked up and saw me, appeared to be on the point of speaking, then changed her mind and got into the car in silence. I started off and asked her: “How do you come to be in these parts?”
Boredom by Alberto Moravia / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes