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       Boredom, p.25

           Alberto Moravia
 

  “Ah, you’ve kept an account, then.”

  “Of course.”

  “Well, Mother, I don’t feel like telling you anything more—not for the moment, anyhow; but do answer me, once and for all: are you going to give me this money—yes or no?”

  My mother looked at me, and evidently I must have seemed sufficiently determined or even desperate to make her feel that she could not pull the cords of her indiscretion any tighter. Pretending to stifle a yawn, she said: “Very well, then. Here is the key; go into the bathroom, you know where the safe is and you know the combination. Open it and you’ll see a red envelope; take it out and bring it here.”

  I rose and went into the bathroom, turned the hook and opened the panel of tiles, and then the door of the safe. On the top of the rolls of bonds there was an orange-red envelope. I took it out and weighed it in my hand: judging by its weight, I calculated that it must contain at least half a million lire in ten-thousand-lire notes. I went back and handed the envelope to my mother, who was now sitting, thoroughly tired and sleepy, on the edge of the bed. I watched her as she opened the envelope and drew out, with the tips of her fingers, one, two, three, four, five ten-thousand-lire notes. “Here, take these in the meantime,” she said.

  “But in the envelope,” I could not help exclaiming, “there must be at least five hundred thousand lire.”

  “For that matter, there are even more. But that’s all I can give you today. Now go and put back the envelope, close the safe, bring me the key and then leave me. I’m extremely tired and I want to rest.”

  I did as I was told. But, as I replaced the envelope in the safe, I could not help being surprised at the confidence shown me by my mother, who was usually so mistrustful. After all, I could easily open the envelope again and help myself to some more money. But I realized at once that the reason why my mother trusted me was that I had always behaved in such a way as to inspire confidence in her—ever since I was born—owing to my lack of interest in money, in fact my contempt for it, which was perhaps a little ostentatious but anyhow perfectly serious; and I realized also that it was not my mother but I myself who had changed, for I now felt myself quite capable of stealing the money I needed to pay Cecilia, and I had a presentiment that, if she did not give me enough, I would end by stealing it in sober fact. Yes, I had changed, but my mother had not yet awakened to this change and continued to trust me as she had done in the past. I closed the door of the safe, replaced the tile panel and went back into the bedroom. My mother was lying on her back again now, across the bed, her arm over her eyes.

  I stooped and placed the key in her hand, but her fingers did not grasp it and it fell on the pillow. Then with my lips I lightly touched the thin, painted cheek and said: “Good-bye, Mother.” She answered with a faint groan: this time she had really fallen asleep. I tiptoed out of the room.

  I decided to divide the fifty thousand lire into two parts; twenty thousand lire for myself and thirty thousand for Cecilia, to provide the now indispensable justification of venality for her next visit. But I felt that Cecilia eluded me in proportion to the amount I paid her; the more I paid her, the less did she seem to be mine. Furthermore, to my anguish at not possessing her there was now added the anguish of suspecting that perhaps she let herself be possessed by my rival. More and more, indeed, was I tormented by the thought that Luciani succeeded in possessing Cecilia in earnest, and precisely by means of the simple sexual act which had been shown, in my case, to be so insufficient. I feared that the actor, less intellectual and more a creature of instinct than myself, had succeeded where I had failed. And, reflecting that possession consists not so much in the sexual act itself as in the effect of the act upon the person who was its object, I never tired of questioning Cecilia about her relations with Luciani. Here, as an example, is one of these questionings.

  “Did you see Luciani yesterday?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you just see him, or did you make love together?”

  “You know that when I say I’ve seen him, I mean that we’ve made love.”

  “Did you do it much?”

  “Just as usual.”

  “Do you usually do it much?”

  “Some days more, some days less.”

  “Which do you like best, doing it with him or with me?”

  “You’re two different things.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Different.”

  “But what actually is the difference?”

  “He’s kinder than you.”

  “Do you like his being kind?”

  “It’s his natural way.”

  “But do you like it or don’t you?”

  “If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t put up with it.”

  “Aren’t there any other differences between him and me?”

  “Yes, he talks while we’re making love.”

  “And what does he say to you?”

  “The things that people say when they’re fond of you.”

  “I’ve said those things to you, sometimes.”

  “No, you don’t say anything. The only time you spoke, you called me a bitch.”

  “Did you mind?”

  “No, I didn’t mind.”

  “But you prefer the things he says to you?”

  “When I’m with him I like the things he says to me, and when I’m with you I like your being silent.”

  “But tell me, what do you feel when he has you?”

  “There are some things one can’t explain.”

  “Do you have a stronger feeling than you do with me?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

  “I’ve never thought about it.”

  “Think about it now, then.”

  “Well, I feel he loves me.”

  “Do you like that?”

  “All women like to feel they’re loved.”

  “Then it is a stronger feeling than the feeling you have with me.”

  “But with you too, I feel that you love me.”

  “And you like it?”

  “Of course I like it.”

  “More, or less, than with Luciani?”

  “They’re two different things.”

  “Yes, I see. Now tell me: if for some reason you couldn’t go on seeing Luciani, would you mind? Would you miss him?”

  “It hasn’t happened yet, so how can I tell?”

  “But if it did happen?”

  “Then I should see. I think I would.”

  “And if you couldn’t go on seeing me?”

  “That hasn’t happened, either.”

  “Well, try and imagine.”

  “When I told you we ought to part, I remember I felt sorry.”

  “Very sorry?”

  “How can one measure such things? I was sorry.”

  “Well, tell me then, are you more fond of me or of him?”

  “You’re two different things.”

  Or again, seeing that I had no success in squeezing information out of Cecilia on the subject of her feelings during physical love, I would try introducing a more innocent note into my investigations. “Did you go out with Luciani yesterday?”

  “Yes, we went out to dinner together.”

  “Where did you go?”

  “To a restaurant in Trastevere.”

  “You always refused to go out with me in the evening.”

  “I hadn’t any excuse. You can only have drawing lessons in the daytime. But with Luciani I can always say he wants to introduce me to a film producer.”

  “But you can’t make me believe your parents would have objected. I’ve met your parents.”

  “Mother—no, she wouldn’t have objected. But Daddy would have. He was so sick, I couldn’t go against him.”

  “Well, never mind. So you went to a restaurant in Trastevere?”

  “Yes.”

  “What did you talk about?”

  “All sorts of things.”

  “Wh
o talked most, he or you?”

  “You know I like listening.”

  “Well, what did he talk about?”

  “I don’t remember.”

  “Now, try hard to remember; after all, it only happened yesterday evening.”

  “But I haven’t any memory, you know that. I don’t even remember the things you said to me five minutes ago.”

  “All right, then, never mind. What was the restaurant like?”

  “It was a restaurant like lots of others.”

  “What was it called?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Was it big or small, crowded or empty, with one room or several rooms, smart or countrified?”

  “I’m afraid I don’t know, I didn’t look at it.”

  “While you were talking, did you hold hands on the table?”

  “Yes. How did you guess that?”

  “Did you like his holding your hand?”

  “Yes.”

  “A lot or a little?”

  “I liked it, I don’t know how much.”

  “Were your knees touching, under the table?”

  “No, because we were sitting side by side.”

  “Besides holding your hand, did Luciani fondle you?”

  “Yes, he stroked my face and kissed me on the neck.”

  “You can’t remember the conversation, but you can remember the kisses.”

  “I remember them because I didn’t want him to do it.”

  “Did you quarrel?”

  “No, but he always wants me to do things I don’t want to do.”

  “What, for instance?”

  “Oh, I can’t tell you; if I tell you you’ll be angry.”

  “No, I won’t be angry. Tell me.”

  “Well, he wanted me to put my hand...you know where. Do you understand?”

  “Yes, I understand. And you—what did you do?”

  “I did it for a little, but I couldn’t eat with only one hand and so I stopped. What’s the matter?”

  “Nothing. While you were doing that, did it give you pleasure?”

  “It gave me pleasure because it gave him pleasure.”

  “Supposing I asked you to do the same thing to me, would it give you pleasure to give me pleasure?”

  “I think it would. There are lots of things one can do with pleasure because one knows they give pleasure to someone else.”

  “Someone else? To anybody, then?”

  “No, I said someone else, meaning Luciani or you.”

  “Yes, I understand. And afterward what happened?”

  “We ate and drank; in a restaurant one eats and drinks, doesn’t one?”

  “What did you eat?”

  “I don’t remember, I never look at what I’m eating. The usual things.”

  “Anything else?”

  “Luciani called to the band and they sang us some Neapolitan songs.”

  “Which ones?”

  “I don’t remember.”

  “Do you like Neapolitan songs?”

  “I think I do.”

  “But really now, do you like them or do you not?”

  “Oh well, it depends. In a restaurant, yes. But if they started singing them while I was asleep—certainly not.”

  “After that, what did you do?”

  “What did we do? Nothing else.”

  “I bet Luciani bought you a rose with its stalk wrapped in silver paper, from one of those girls who go around selling them in restaurants?”

  “Yes, that’s true; how did you know?”

  “There are lots of things I know. I know also that you put it to your nose to smell it, didn’t you?”

  “That’s the thing to do when you’re given a flower, isn’t it?”

  “Were you pleased that Luciani gave you a rose?”

  “Yes.”

  “And after dinner where did you go?”

  “To the pictures.”

  “What was the name of the film you saw?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Who were the actors in it?”

  “I don’t know, I don’t know their names.”

  “But anyhow, what happened in the film?”

  “I think it was an American film—you know, one of those with people on horseback, shooting.”

  “A Western. Did you hold hands in the theater?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you kiss?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you make love?”

  “Yes.”

  “How? You made love in the theater?”

  “We were in seats at the back, behind a pillar, and the place was half empty.”

  “But how did you manage to make love?”

  “I got onto his knee.”

  “And did you like it?”

  “No, I was too frightened. Besides, I don’t like doing things in public places.”

  “Why did you do it, then?”

  “Because I wanted to.”

  “Then you did like it?”

  “No, I wanted to, but I didn’t like it.”

  “And what else did you do during the evening?”

  “We went to a night club.”

  “Which one?”

  “I don’t know what it’s called. Behind Via Veneto.”

  “What was it like?”

  “It was very crowded.”

  “No, I mean what was the room like, how was it furnished and decorated?”

  “I didn’t look at it.”

  “Did you dance?”

  “Yes.”

  “Much?”

  “Yes.”

  “While you were dancing, did you press close against him?”

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because we were doing dances in which you have to keep apart.”

  “What more did you do?”

  “Nothing more. About three o’clock he took me home.”

  “Has he a car?”

  “He had one but he sold it.”

  “He hasn’t much money, then?”

  “Not at present, because he’s out of a job.”

  “Do you give him money, sometimes?”

  “Yes, sometimes I do.”

  “My money?”

  “Yes, the money you give me.”

  “And so the money I give you—you never spend it on yourself?”

  “Yes, I buy a few things. But I spend it mostly with him.”

  “Yesterday evening, did he pay or did you?”

  “We each did part of it; he paid for the pictures, I paid the rest.”

  “In fact you paid almost the whole thing.”

  “He’s paid a good deal on other occasions.”

  “How did you give him the money?”

  “In the restaurant I gave it to him under the table. In the night club he took it out of my bag.”

  “And then he took you home in a taxi?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did he go into the courtyard with you?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you go upstairs together?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you make love on the stairs?”

  “We did, a little, on my landing.”

  “What does ‘a little’ mean?”

  “Without going right to the end.”

  “Did you like it?”

  “Better than I did in the theater because I wasn’t so frightened.”

  “And then?”

  “Then we parted.”

  “And you went to bed?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you think about him before you went to sleep?”

  “No, I thought about you.”

  “About me?”

  “Yes, about you; I thought about you until I went to sleep.”

  “What did you think?”

  “I don’t remember. I just thought about you, that’s all.”

  One day, as if to confirm the feeling of elusiveness that Cecilia inspired in me, there occurred an incident which I wish to relate.
Quite often, especially when I knew that Cecilia would not be coming to visit me, I used to go into Balestrieri’s studio, which was still in the state as on the day the old painter died. His widow had not troubled to let it again, or—which was more probable—had not yet found a tenant. I was able to get into the studio thanks to the key which Balestrieri had given to Cecilia and which I had taken from her, and I took to wandering about among the dust-covered furniture in that room which smelled of fustiness and squalor, seeking I knew not what. As I lingered in the big, gloomy studio full of black furniture and dull red hangings that had witnessed the amours of Cecilia and Balestrieri, I had a mournful feeling, as though I were not in Balestrieri’s studio but my own, and I myself were dead, and had come back in the form of a ghost to visit, as ghosts do, the place of my own amours. This mournful feeling came to me not only from the sickening resemblance between my relationship with Cecilia and that of Cecilia and Balestrieri, but also from the conviction that I, in a way, was dead too, and in a manner perhaps more decisive than the old painter, who at least had never had doubts about his own art and had gone on painting, so to speak, until his last breath. I, on the other hand, as I thought when I looked at the enormous, agitated nudes of Cecilia covering the walls from floor to ceiling, I was dead to painting even before I met Cecilia; and if, like Balestrieri, I had died because of Cecilia, I had merely confirmed in life what had already happened to me in art. And so, as always, I felt that there was a link between the crisis in my painting and my relationship with Cecilia; between my inability to paint on the canvas that stood on the easel and my inability to possess Cecilia upon the cushions of the divan; just as there had been a link between the execrable quality of Balestrieri’s painting and the character of his relationship with Cecilia. It was an obscure, sinister link; there is a similar significance, for a traveler lost in the middle of a desert, in the white bones scattered on the sand.

  One afternoon, while I was contemplating Balestrieri’s hideous nudes as one contemplates the mysterious signs of an un-deciphered language, the door, which I had left ajar, opened slightly and in the opening appeared the head of a woman. The woman, after making sure that I was there, then entered and came over to me. I recognized her almost at once; it was Balestrieri’s widow who, on the day of his funeral, had her face completely hidden by a thick black veil of the kind that you see in village funeral processions, but whom I had happened to encounter on one or two subsequent occasions. She was a tall, well-built woman who had been beautiful and who at fifty still retained her youthful coloring, though it was now diluted and diffused over the slackened flesh of her face—a gleaming whiteness of skin, a clear blackness in her rather cow-like eyes, a vivid red, like that of a ripe cherry, in her full lips. In her youth she had been a model, and was perhaps the only woman, before Cecilia, whom Balestrieri had loved or imagined he loved: indeed he had married her and lived with her for twenty years. Born in a village in Lazio, traditionally famous for furnishing the artists of Rome with models, she had kept intact her original countrified air and her native simplicity.

 
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