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       Boredom, p.27

           Alberto Moravia
 

  9

  IN THE MEANTIME Cecilia went on seeing Luciani every day, including the days when she came to see me, so that her elusiveness, after being for a long time a mere hypothesis, had become a certainty, something similar to a fixed character with which I had, one way or another, to settle accounts and to which I had to adapt myself. And I felt that my love for her, originating from my inability to possess her, was now, after oscillating violently between boredom and misery, gradually assuming the aspect of a species of vice with four successive phases: the attempt to possess her otherwise than by sexual means; the failure of the attempt; the angry, futile relapse into the sexual relationship; the failure of this also; and then the same thing all over again. But the only thing of which I was not capable was resigning myself to Cecilia’s elusiveness, accepting it, and, in short, calmly sharing her favors with Luciani. I remember that, much as Balestrieri had not been jealous of Tony Proietti because he imagined that Cecilia had been unfaithful to Tony with him, so did I seek to console myself by telling myself that, while I knew that Cecilia went to bed with the actor, the latter did not know that she went to bed with me. In other words, I now found myself, in relation to Luciani, more or less in the position of a lover in relation to an ignorant husband; and no lover was ever jealous of a husband, precisely because knowing, in certain cases, means possessing and not knowing means not possessing. It was a wretched consolation, but it helped me to pass the time with calculations of the following kind: I knew about Luciani and Luciani did not know about me, therefore Cecilia was unfaithful to him with me and not to me with him. On the other hand, he had come after me, consequently Cecilia had been unfaithful to me with him and not to him with me. Finally there was the question of the money, as there had been with Balestrieri: I gave her money and Luciani not merely did not give her any but spent my money with her; therefore she was making me, not him, pay her, and consequently was in a way unfaithful to him with me. However, it was not impossible that she was going with Luciani for love and with me for money, therefore she was being unfaithful to me with Luciani. But Cecilia attributed no importance to money. Money therefore had perhaps a sentimental significance between her and me, and since the actor did not give her any money, perhaps she was being unfaithful to Luciani with me. And so on, ad infinitum.

  After these agreeable reflections there remained always the bare fact, unalterable and indestructible, that Cecilia went to bed with Luciani and that as long as she went on doing so I should not be able to possess her because incomplete possession is a contradiction in terms. At least Cecilia might have tried to make me forget the incompleteness of my possession! But, confident that she had found a final solution to the problem of the simultaneous presence of two men in her life, not only did she talk to me freely and casually about her relations with the actor, but she did not even trouble to conceal from me the physical traces that Luciani’s lovemaking left upon her. There was no particular self-satisfaction or cruelty in her voice when, in answer to my question, she replied indifferently: “Oh, that was Luciani, he bit me,” or again: “Luciani made this white mark on my dress; we made love without undressing”; there was rather the serenity of a person who finds it easier and more convenient to tell the truth than to invent lies. Cecilia was so convinced that this sharing of her favors had now ceased to cause me any pain that she went so far as to make appointments with Luciani on the telephone in my presence, and then asked me to go with her to his house. In the end, one day when I was actually taking her in the car to Via Archimede, where Luciani was expecting her, she said to me suddenly: “I should like you and Luciani to meet and make friends.” I said nothing; but I reflected that a world made according to Cecilia’s notions would be very different from the one in which we lived—a promiscuous world, without boundaries or contours, shapeless, casual and unreal, in which all the women belonged to all the men and no woman had only one man.

  But I was suffering. And gradually, through this suffering, there came to me at last an extravagant idea which I was astonished not to have had before: possibly the only way in which I could set myself free from Cecilia—that is, possess her truly and consequently become bored with her—was to marry her. I had not succeeded in becoming bored with Cecilia by having her as a mistress; but I was almost sure that I would be bored with her once she had become my wife. Thus the idea of marriage began to attract me more and more, but with a prospect completely different from the one that generally smiles upon a man preparing to get married; the latter cherishes the dream of an endless love; but it was the opposite kind of dream, a dream of the end of love, that smiled upon me. I took pleasure in imagining that, once she was married, Cecilia would turn into an ordinary wife, full of domestic and social occupations, satisfied, without mystery; that in fact she would become, as they say, “settled.” It was possible that her present elusiveness was nothing more than an expression of matrimonial ambitions; perhaps she was searching instinctively among her lovers for a husband with whom she might pause and be quiet. I planned to marry her with every sort of religious and social ceremony, and after marriage make her have a large number of children, who would also play a part in ordering her life and confining her to the far from enigmatic role of motherhood.

  It may be thought that this idea of employing matrimony where a physical relationship and money had both failed was absurd, and anyhow inadequate. Like burning down one’s house to light a cigarette. But I had severed all bonds with any kind of society, especially with the world in which my mother moved. In this lack of all roots and responsibilities, in this utter void created by boredom, marriage, for me, was something dead and meaningless; and in this way it would at least serve some purpose.

  Naturally I counted upon going to live, as soon as I was married, in the villa on the Via Appia, with my wife and my mother. Matrimony, the villa, my mother, my mother’s world—all these were parts of the diabolical machine into which Cecilia would enter as a charming, enigmatic demon and from which she would issue as an ordinary, middle-class married woman.

  Moreover the idea of marriage had come to me spontaneously as the surest means of severing relations between Cecilia and Luciani. I thought, in fact, that she would willingly leave Luciani once she had agreed to marry me. But it was also true that, if Cecilia became my wife, I felt it would not much matter to me whether she went on having Luciani as a lover, or some other man, or no one at all.

  At this point I ought to say that, apart from the prospect of freeing myself from my love for Cecilia, the matrimonial solution seemed to give me a gleam of hope that I might start painting again as soon as Cecilia, now installed in my mother’s house, ceased to darken my horizon. I imagined Cecilia much taken up with her children and with social life; meanwhile, in the studio at the bottom of the garden, I would devote myself deliciously to my beloved, chaste, highly intellectual painting. Quite a different thing from Balestrieri’s foul, hectic nudes. I felt I would paint the most abstract pictures that had ever been painted since abstract painting came into existence. In the end, having planted Cecilia with my mother and a whole nestful of urchins, I would come back and live by myself in Via Margutta.

  It will be thought that all this was in contradiction to my previous character and behavior; and furthermore, that the terms of my problem were different. In point of fact, being in love with Cecilia and painting were not two facts depending on each other; rather they were equivalent and independent. It was not my love for Cecilia which prevented me from painting, but rather that I was powerless to paint just as I was powerless to possess Cecilia; and so a release from my love for her did not at all mean that I should be enabled to take up painting again. Moreover, I had always hated my mother’s house, my mother’s world, my mother’s money, and had gone to live in Via Margutta precisely because I had felt that it would be impossible for me to paint at the villa in Via Appia. And now I was thinking of going back to live with my mother, in that same house and that same world that I loathed. I can give no other explanatio
n of all this except that contradiction is the fickle and unforeseeable basis of the human spirit. In reality I was desperate; and it seemed to me that even the kind of suicide that a return to my mother’s house meant to me was preferable to my present situation, provided that it served to rid me of Cecilia.

  It was summer now, and one day, during our usual morning telephone call, I said to Cecilia that instead of meeting at my studio we might go out of Rome for a drive in my car. I knew that Cecilia liked being in the open air, but I was surprised by the extraordinary warmth with which she welcomed my proposal. “Yes indeed,” she added unexpectedly; “and today we can be together all day long, till late this evening. I’m quite free.”

  “What’s happened?” I asked sarcastically, “will that terribly severe father of yours allow you to go out with me?”

  She answered frankly, as though astonished at my remembering the lie she had made use of to conceal her relations with Luciani: “It’s not that. It’s because Luciani and I can’t meet this evening. So I thought you would like to spend the whole day with me.”

  “Please thank Luciani very much from me for his generosity.”

  “There, you see how it is with you. So it’s not true that one can always tell you the truth.”

  “Very well, I’ll come and fetch you about eleven o’clock, and then we can have lunch together.”

  “No, not at eleven, I can’t manage that; I’m lunching with Luciani.”

  “I thought it was strange that you shouldn’t be seeing him for a whole day.”

  “I’ll come to the studio about three.”

  “All right, three o’clock.”

  Cecilia appeared at the time arranged. She was wearing a new, green two-piece dress and I told her how well it suited her. She answered promptly, with a grateful eagerness that was vaguely surprising to me. “I bought it with your money, and these too,” she said, pointing to her shoes, “and these,” she added, stretching out her leg to show the stocking. “In fact,” she concluded, “I’m entirely dressed out of your money, underneath and on top.”

  As I drove the car out of the courtyard, I asked: “Why do you tell me this?”

  “Because you once told me that you liked me to tell you these things.”

  “Yes, that’s true. But I would far rather know that you belonged to me, not only underneath and on top, but inside as well.”

  “Inside where?”

  “Inside.”

  She laughed with her rather childish laugh that lifted her lips above her eyeteeth. “Inside, I don’t belong to anybody,” she said. “Inside are one’s lungs and heart and liver and intestines. What would you do with them?”

  She was gay, and I pointed this out to her. She said lightly: “I’m gay because I’m with you.”

  “Thank you, that’s very nice of you.”

  We crossed the Piazza del Popolo and the Tiber, went the whole length of Via Cola di Rienzo and after circling the sloping walls of the Vatican started off along the Via Aurielia, in the direction of Fregene. Cecilia sat quite still at my side, her head erect, the mass of her thick, curly hair falling about her round face, her hands in her lap. From time to time I cast a sideways glance at her and recognized yet again the characteristics which, in their enigmatic way, made her so desirable to me and at the same time so elusive: the childishness of her face, contradicted by the dry, fine lines that cut into the skin at the corners of her small mouth; the sharp slimness of her shoulders, which seemed belied by the full, heavy prominence of her bosom; the supple slenderness of her waist which did not match the rotundity of her hips and the solidity of her thigh. And, lying in her lap, her big, ugly hands, doubtfully white, yet attractive and even, perhaps, beautiful—if it is permissible to say that an ugly thing is beautiful. Never had I found her so pleasing; and that in a manner so very like herself, both irritating and evasive. As soon as we were outside Rome I began to think I should not be able to wait until six, when we would be returning to the studio. I had ten hours at my disposal, therefore I could make love twice; right now and again at night, after dinner. Now, in any convenient meadow; after dinner, at the studio.

  The road went up and down among treeless hills covered with thick, luxuriant grass of an almost blue green, grass which had sprouted from the water-soaked earth after the abundant rains of the last two months. But the sky was still not clear: black clouds, which looked as if they were unable to rise due to the burden of rain they carried, hung in motionless layers above this spring-like green. I kept looking about for a suitable place, although I was driving fast, but failed to find one: either it was too near the road, or too exposed, or too close to a farm, or on too steep a slope. So I went on for some miles, still without speaking, and in the silence I became overburdened with the full force, the anger, almost, of my desire. At last, at the first side road, I turned off. “But aren’t we going to the sea?” Cecilia demanded.

  “We’re going now to a quiet place to make love,” I answered, “and afterward we’ll go to the sea.”

  She said nothing, and I drove on as fast as I could along the white, stony country road. After we had bumped along over loose rubble for about half a mile, the landscape, as I had hoped, began to change. No longer were there grassy, treeless hills, but wooded slopes rising behind small fields in which horses and sheep were grazing. It was just what I was looking for. I came to a sudden stop beside a fence and said to Cecilia: “Let’s get out.”

  She obeyed, and stood aside to let me go ahead. I said, for no particular reason: “I’d rather you went in front.” She made no objection; and, after pushing open a rustic gate, started off down a path, or rather a track where the tall, thick grass had been trodden down, and then I realized why I had asked her to walk in front of me; I wanted to watch the powerful, indolent movement of her hips. I knew that this movement did not concern me, personally, any more than the sexual appeal of a woman of any kind concerns any particular man. Now if I had been walking in front of her, I might even, perhaps, have had the illusion that I was acting as her guide. But in this way, by making her walk ahead of me, I should be able to persuade myself that this movement was directed not so much at me as at the pleasure that awaited her at some spot in the wood, a pleasure which I should be providing for her, it is true, but of which I should be merely the instrument.

  We walked on in silence through the tangled, sticky grass. Above our heads the mass of cloud, low and swollen like a pregnant belly, seemed to be unraveling itself into shreds of mist. The air was damp and warm and humming with insects. I watched Cecilia’s hips which, as we gradually drew nearer to the wood, appeared to assert the strength and monotony of their movement like a machine that has found its normal rhythm, and I reflected that there was no difference between this movement which she made as she walked and those she would soon be making as she lay on her back: Cecilia was always ready, so to speak, for the sexual act, just as a machine, nourished with the proper fuel, is always ready to function. She must have become aware of my gaze, for suddenly she turned and asked: “What’s the matter, why don’t you speak?”

  “I want you too much to speak.”

  “Do you want me always?”

  “Do you mind?”

  “No, I was just asking.”

  We walked on for some distance; then the thick grass of the meadow began to be replaced by scantier, taller undergrowth and trees rose from the uneven ground, thinly scattered at first but growing steadily thicker. After a few more steps we found ourselves in a little ravine between two hills, with trees everywhere, and bushes and thickets covering the humps and hollows of the broken ground. I started looking for a suitable place where we could lie down, and finally I found what I wanted—a flat, mossy open space surrounded with tall ferns and big broom bushes. I was about to point it out to Cecilia, when she turned around and said lightly: “Oh, I forgot to tell you, it’s not possible for us to make love today.”

  I felt as though I had put my foot into a trap. “Why?” I asked.

&n
bsp; “I’m not well.”

  “You’re not telling me the truth.”

  She did not reply, but walked on among the ferns and the broom bushes with her usual slow, firm step and climbed up onto a small, round hillock; then she turned toward me, stooped down and, taking hold of the hem of her dress with both hands, pulled it up to her belly. I could see her straight things pressed close together, sheathed in their silk stockings, and, at the lowest point of her belly, where usually the transparent stuff of her slip allowed a glimpse of the dark groin, the pale, opaque patch of a wad of cotton. “Now d’you believe me?” she asked.

  I answered angrily: “Yes, it’s true, with you it’s always true.”

  She pulled down her dress in silence, and then asked: “Why do you say that? On other occasions I’ve never refused you.”

 
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