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       Boredom, p.23

           Alberto Moravia
 

  “I’ve been to see that film producer,” she replied.

  “But isn’t his office in Via Montebello?”

  “His private house is near here.”

  I threw her a sideways glance and observed, in spite of being troubled myself, that Cecilia was troubled too, however inappropriate that word may seem when used of a person so expressionless. I saw this from a very slight contraction of her eyebrows, which I knew to be a sign of worry and perplexity. I decided to attack her with a combination of reason and severity, as if this had been a police interrogation. “What’s this producer called—quickly now, his name and surname?”

  “He’s called Mario Meloni.”

  “Where does he live—quickly, his street number, which floor, and the number of his flat?”

  “He lives here, in Via Archimede,” she replied, in a grudging tone of voice, like a little school girl being questioned by her teacher, “at number thirty-six, flat six, third floor.”

  This was the number of Luciani’s house, but not his floor nor yet the number of his flat. I realized that Cecilia gave me this number to protect herself from the possibility of my contesting her statement, in case I said I had seen her coming out. But how was she going to explain the presence of the actor at her side? I wanted to see how she justified herself. “I saw you just now,” I said, “coming out of number thirty-six, but you weren’t alone, you were with Luciani.”

  “He was at the producer’s too. We went there together.”

  “What for?”

  “He wanted to speak to us about a job.”

  “What job?”

  “A film.”

  “What’s the title of this film?”

  “He didn’t tell us.”

  “Where did Meloni receive you?”

  “In his living room.”

  “Describe this room, then—quickly—beginning with the furniture and how it was arranged.”

  I knew, of course, that Cecilia did not notice things nor, generally, places in which she had been. I thought therefore that if, in order to reassure me, she described the furnishings of Meloni’s living room with a wealth of detail—that room in which she had never been because it did not exist—I should have a further proof that she was lying to me. But I had not counted upon her unconquerable, negative laziness. She said dryly: “It’s a room like lots of other rooms.”

  Disconcerted and somewhat surprised, I insisted: “Meaning what?”

  “A room with armchairs, sofas, little tables and chairs.”

  These were the same words that she had used to describe the sitting room in her own home. I continued to press her. “What color were the armchairs and sofas?”

  “I didn’t look at them.”

  “What color were Luciani’s underpants; you must have looked at them, anyhow.”

  “There you are, I knew you’d begin making insinuations.”

  By this time we had arrived at Via Margutta. I drove into the courtyard, stopped and jumped out and then, faithful to my plan of systematic intimidation, seized Cecilia by the arm and pulled her violently out of the car. “Now we’ll see,” I cried.

  “What?”

  “Well see if you’ve told the truth.”

  I grasped her tightly by her thin, childish arm and realized that I was running purposely in order to be able to give her a violent tug to cause her to stumble and almost fall. “What a way to behave!” she said once, and then: “What’s wrong with you?” yet she did not appear to be either surprised or irritated or frightened. I pushed the key into the lock, turned it and kicked the door open, then turned on the light and, with a last, violent shove, hurled Cecilia on to the divan. She fell, her head lowered; I rushed to the telephone and started furiously turning over the pages of the street directory. I fumbled and searched, found what I was looking for, and then, my finger on the list, thrust it under the nose of Cecilia, who had now risen to her feet again. “There’s no Meloni at 36, via Archimede,” I said.

  “His number isn’t in the book.”

  “Why?”

  “Because he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

  “On the other hand, here’s Luciani at No. 36.”

  “It’s not possible, he’s not in the telephone book.”

  “No, but he’s in the street directory. Look here, there it is!”

  She looked with feigned reluctance but said nothing. I commented sarcastically: “What an odd coincidence! Meloni and Luciani live in the same house.”

  “Yes, Luciani lives on the ground floor and Meloni on the third.”

  “Very well, then, now we’ll go out and drive together to Meloni’s.”

  A long silence followed. Cecilia gazed at me with those eyes, so vague and so poetical, that in reality saw nothing, and was silent. “Come on,” I urged her, “get a move on.”

  I saw her suddenly blush, with an uneven, patchy redness, from her neck up over her cheeks. “Yes,” she said, “it’s true.”

  “It’s true?—what’s true?”

  “That Luciani and I see each other.”

  Again I had foreseen, for some time past, the words of this confession; but there is a great difference between foreseeing with one’s mind and hearing with one’s ears: once again, as when I saw her coming out of Luciani’s house, I had a sickening sensation of faintness. “What do you mean, that you see each other?” I stammered stupidly; “I know you see each other.”

  “I mean we make love.”

  “And you say it just like that?”

  “How else should I say it?”

  I felt she was right: she did not love me, she was unfaithful to me, and her tone, so economical and so colorless, was the correct one. I was still left, however, with an insatiable need to imprison her in her confession as in a cage of shame from which she would never be able to escape. “Why did you do it?” I asked.

  She seemed to be reflecting, seriously, scrupulously, before answering. Then she said, quite simply: “Because I liked it.”

  “But don’t you realize you ought not to have done it?”

  “Why ought I not to have done it?”

  “Because a woman doesn’t betray a man she’s fond of, and you’ve told me over and over again that you’re fond of me.”

  “Yes, I am fond of you, but I’m fond of Luciani too.”

  “So you’re one of those women who give themselves to everybody—yesterday to a painter, today to an actor, tomorrow, I daresay, to the electrician.”

  She looked at me and said nothing. I went on again: “You’re a good-for-nothing, worthless woman.”

  Still she was silent. Why did I go on insisting like this? Because I wanted to convince myself that, after the confession she had made, Cecilia was discredited and reduced to nothingness in my eyes, and yet I felt that this was not so. Nevertheless, this discrediting process was bound to occur, I could not help thinking. There had been women who had forfeited my estimation and my affection for no more than a phrase, a gesture, an attitude; all the more reason why Cecilia, who had vulgarly betrayed me, should do so. I concluded angrily: “Do you realize that what one does, one is, and that therefore what you have done makes you into something very different from what you were?”

  I should have liked her to ask: “What was I, and what am I now?” And then I should have answered: “You were an honest girl and now you’re a whore.” At the same time her question would have indicated a need on her part to be well-considered, esteemed, appreciated by me. But I was disappointed in my hope: Cecilia did not open her mouth; and I saw that silence was the only answer I could expect from her. This silence meant that lying and unfaithfulness were, for her, words devoid of significance, not so much because she did not understand them as because they did not denote anything particular in her life. I felt she was eluding me again, and I seized her by her arms and shook her, crying out in a rage: “Why don’t you speak, say something, why don’t you answer?”

  She announced, quite sincerely: “I have nothing to say.”

 
; “I have something to say,” I shouted, beside myself with rage. “And that is, you’re just a vulgar little whore.”

  She looked at me, but said nothing. I shook her again. “So you allow yourself to be called a whore and you don’t protest.”

  She rose to her feet. “Dino, I’m going away.”

  Among all the many things I had failed to foresee, there was this—the possibility of her going away. Seized with a sudden anxiety, I asked: “Where are you going?”

  “I’m going away. It’s better for us not to go on seeing each other.”

  “But why? Wait. Wait a moment. We must talk.”

  “What’s the use of talking? We don’t agree, anyhow. Our characters are too different.”

  Thus Cecilia was again eluding me, and in two ways—first, by reducing the value of her own confession: between herself and me, according to her, there was merely a difference of character, as though unfaithfulness were a question of individual temperament and not of moral standards; secondly, by leaving me before I could leave her. Passing suddenly from the moral to the physical, I was seized with desire for her; it was as though I should be able to pretend to myself, if I took her at that moment, that I was possessing her through the physical act after psychological possession had failed. I caught her round the waist as she was already moving toward the door and whispered in her ear: “We must make love, for the last time.”

  “No, no, no,” she replied, trying to pull herself away, “that’s all finished.”

  “Come here.”

  “No, let me go.”

  She struggled determinedly, but without any hostility, as though she were withholding herself simply because I was incapable of offering her my love in a more efficacious manner. In her enigmatic, unmoving eyes there was an ambiguous hint of allurement; and in her body below the waist, a submissiveness which I did not perceive in its childish, slender upper part. Nevertheless she struggled, and when I succeeded in making her sit on the divan she drew back a little out of reach of my lips. Then an idea came to me, or rather an impulse. That morning I had taken twenty thousand lire, in two notes of ten thousand, out of my drawer and put them in my pocket. I pulled Cecilia violently toward me; and at the same time, as she turned her face away from me and my kiss landed on her neck, I slipped the two notes into her hand. She lowered her eyes to take a quick glance at the unaccustomed object in the palm of her hand; then her hand closed, I felt her body abandon its resistance, and I saw that she had lowered her eyelids as if ready to fall asleep—which was her way of showing me that she accepted my love and was prepared to enjoy it.

  And so I took her, without her undressing; with a fury and a violence greater than usual, for it seemed to me that her body had become a kind of arena where I had to compete with the actor in vigor and tenacity. I took her in silence; but at the moment of the orgasm I blew the word “Bitch!” right into her face. I may have been wrong, but it seemed to me that a very faint smile hovered on her lips; I could not tell if she smiled for the pleasure she was feeling or at my insult.

  Later, when she was half asleep and I was lying beside her, I reflected as usual that physical possession had in no way satisfied me. The fleeting, ambiguous, possibly ironical smile with which she had answered my insulting word confirmed, if anything, the futility of the carnal relationship. But I had seen her grasp the banknotes in her fist, and during our lovemaking she had put her hand up to her forehead so that the notes had been in front of my eyes all the time. I said to myself that considering the failure of my previous attempts at possession, money might possibly be the trap in which I could catch her. She had refused herself to me until the moment when I put the money in her hand; so that, contrary to what I had thought hitherto, she was venal. It was now a matter of proving that she really was so, that is, of reducing the mystery of her independence to a question of profit.

  Cecilia slept beside me for a little, for her usual length of time and in her usual way; then she woke up, planted a kiss on my cheek with her usual mechanical tenderness, and finally rose to her feet, smoothing down her crumpled dress with both hands. The two banknotes, folded in four, were now lying on the floor where she had dropped them after we finished making love. She picked them up, opened her bag and slipped them, very carefully, into her purse. “Then you still want us to part company?” I asked.

  She did not appear to grasp the allusion contained in the word “still”; she answered indifferently: “Just as you like. If you want us to go on, I don’t mind. If you want us to part company, let’s do so.”

  And so, I reflected, not without astonishment, the money she had received and accepted had sufficed for one single time only; and it had failed to suggest to her listless imagination the alluring prospect of her being able to earn more in the future, in the same manner. “But,” I asked, “if you go on seeing me, why would you do so?”

  “Because I’m fond of you.”

  “If I asked you to give up Luciani, would you do it?”

  “Oh no, not that.”

  I was hurt, in spite of myself, at the firmness of her refusal. “You might answer me with a little less eagerness,” I said.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “So from now on I’ve got to go halves with Luciani?”

  She seemed to become more animated, as though I had at last touched a sensitive spot. “But what does it matter to you?” she said. “Why are you so worried about it? I’ll come and see you as usual; nothing will be changed.”

  I repeated to myself: “Nothing will be changed,” saying to myself that for her it was the truth. She was gazing at me now with a curious, almost regretful expression. At last she said: “You know, I should be sorry to leave you.”

  I was struck by the undoubted sincerity of these words. “Would you really be sorry?” I asked.

  “Yes, I’ve grown accustomed to you.”

  “But you would be equally sorry to leave Luciani, wouldn’t you?”

  “Yes, indeed.”

  “You’ve grown accustomed to him too?”

  “You’re two different things.”

  I remained silent for a moment. How could we be two different things, seeing that Cecilia asked the same thing from both of us, which was in fact the mere physical relationship? “So you want to have us both?” I asked.

  She nodded her head in a mysterious silence, full of impudent, childish covetousness. Then she said: “What fault is it of mine if I like being with both of you? You each of you give me something different.”

  I felt tempted to ask her: “I give you money and Luciani gives you love—isn’t that so?” But I restrained myself, realizing that it was still too early for a question of that sort. Before I asked it, I would have to get to the bottom of her newly discovered venality. The fact that she had accepted money just this once might not have any significance. With a mingled feeling of anger and weariness, I said: “Very well then, you shall have both of us. We’ll have a try at it. But you’ll see yourself that it’s impossible to love two men at the same time.”

  “Not at all; I tell you it’s perfectly possible.” She appeared to be extremely glad at having solved the problem of our relationship; stooping, she lightly touched my cheek with her lips and went off, telling me that she would telephone me next morning, as she did every day.

  I turned to the wall and closed my eyes.

  8

  I HAD NOW to prove to myself that Cecilia was venal. I recalled all the times I had given money to prostitutes and told myself that if Cecilia was really venal I would have the same feeling for her that I had for these women after I had paid them—a feeling of possession, but of a possession depreciated and superfluous, a feeling that the person who had received the money was reduced to the status of an inanimate object, a feeling that, owing to this commercial valuation, she had forfeited all true value. It was only a step from this feeling to the sense of boredom which would liberate me from Cecilia and from my love for her. Certainly it was a degrading kind of possession, for the one w
ho was possessed as well as for the one who possessed; and without doubt I should have preferred a different kind, which would have permitted of my parting from Cecilia as from somebody whom I now knew too well but did not despise; but I had at all costs to relieve my own misery. Indeed, I preferred to know that Cecilia was mercenary rather than mysterious; the knowledge that she was mercenary would give me a sense of possession that mystery denied me.

  And so I acquired the habit, at the first moment of our meetings, of thrusting into Cecilia’s hand—without a word, as I had done the first time—a sum of money which varied, according to the day, from five to thirty thousand lire. In this way, I thought, the elusive, mysterious Cecilia, from whom I could not succeed in detaching myself would be replaced in a short time by a Cecilia who was not in the least elusive and who was entirely devoid of mystery. But this transformation did not take place. If anything, it was the opposite that happened: it was not the money that changed Cecilia’s character; on the contrary it was Cecilia, evidently the stronger of the two, who changed the character of the money.

  Cecilia, when I thrust the folded banknotes into her palm, would immediately clench her fist, but without giving any other sign that she had received and accepted them. It was truly as if this money and the hand that gave it and the hand that received it belonged to a different world from the world in which Cecilia and I existed. Then, while I was embracing her, she would drop the notes on the floor beside the divan, and there they would remain, folded and crumpled, where I could see them easily while we were making love—the symbol, it seemed to me, of a method of possession which I fondly imagined to be more complete and satisfying than the one to which I was applying myself at the same moment. Afterward Cecilia, ready to tiptoe naked to the bathroom, would stoop swiftly and, with the graceful gesture of a runner bending to pick up a handkerchief dropped by his companion, would snatch up the notes with the tips of her fingers and throw them beside her bag on the table. When she was dressed she would go to the table, take up the notes, put them safely in her purse and shut the purse in her bag. Cecilia liked to do things always in the same way, as a kind of ritual. And so this detail of the money came to be included in the customary love ritual with perfect naturalness and even with a sort of grace, without, in fact, any of the meretricious significance which I had thought to be inevitable—indeed, like everything Cecilia did, without any significance at all.

 
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