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       Boredom, p.28

           Alberto Moravia
 

  I felt that I was going mad; frustrated desire joined forces with my obsession of being unable to possess her, as though this day’s discomfiture were only one of the many impossibilities of a never-changing situation. “I wanted you so much,” I said, “and by coming with me and letting me think you were willing, you made my desire twice as great. Why didn’t you tell me at once that you weren’t well?”

  She looked at me with indifference, like a shopkeeper who offers an article of inferior quality in place of another which is out of stock. “But we’re going to be together all day,” she answered.

  “But I wanted to make love.”

  “We’ll do that some other time, perhaps tomorrow.”

  “But I wanted to do it today—now.”

  “You’re like a child.”

  Silence followed. Cecilia was walking among the bushes with bent head and appeared to be looking for something. Then she stooped, picked a blade of grass and put it between her teeth. I said furiously: “That’s why you suggested that we should spend the day together. Just because you knew you couldn’t make love with Luciani.”

  “Luciani wanted to do it too, and I told him the same thing that I’ve told you.”

  “But Luciani had you yesterday and I haven’t had you for three days.”

  “Luciani didn’t have me yesterday, he had me three days ago, like you.”

  She walked on in front of me through the bushes, wandering about, the blade of grass between her teeth. I asked angrily: “Where are you going, what do you want to do?”

  “Whatever you want to do.”

  “You know what I wanted.”

  “But I’ve told you it’s impossible.”

  “Well, if we can’t do that, I really don’t know what we can do.”

  “D’you want to go back to town and see a picture?”

  “No.”

  “D’you want to go to the sea?”

  “No.”

  “D’you want to go over toward the Castelli?”

  “No.”

  “D’you want to stay here?”

  “No.”

  “D’you want to go away?”

  “No.”

  “Then what do you want?”

  “I’ve already told you: I want you.”

  “And I’ve already told you—not today.”

  “Then let’s go back to the car.”

  “And where shall we go?”

  “I don’t know; let’s go, anyhow.”

  So we went back to the car and this time I walked in front of Cecilia, although, unlike her—for she always seemed to be conscious of her objective, with her body at least, if not with her mind—I was entirely ignorant of where I was going.

  When we were in the car I did not even wait for Cecilia to close the door properly before I started off at full speed. I felt an increasing fury which nothing could quench nor satiate, like a fire to whose flames fresh fuel is constantly being added. And this fury filled my mind with continuous, haunting illusions, so that, having failed to make love to Cecilia, I sought her everywhere, in a stupid, stubborn fashion, if even the most remote resemblance permitted it. Thus brief stretches of country, partly mown and partly grassy, made me think of her belly, rounded hillocks of her breasts, irregularities in the ground, of her profile and her hair. Or again I saw the road creeping in between two long, curving hills, and it seemed to me that they were the open legs of Cecilia as she lay on her back, and that between the two hills was the cleft of her sex and that the car was moving swiftly toward this cleft. Then, when I thought I was about to plunge, car and all, into this gigantic Cecilia made of earth, the whole prospect changed, and instead of two hills there were four, and there were no longer any legs or sex or anything but merely an ordinary landscape. Moreover, as I have said, I did not know where I was going; I seemed to be rushing in search of something which, rush as I might, remained unattainable. This something was in front of me all the time—down there in that group of trees, on that hill, in that wide valley, upon that bridge; but when I reached the group of trees, the hill, the valley, the bridge, there was nothing there and I had to rush on breathlessly toward new fictitious goals. And meanwhile, in the midst of this delirium of dull, impotent rage, I still had the feeling that Cecilia was there, at my side, close to me yet at the same time inaccessible.

  I do not know how far I went in this haphazard way—along one road after another, branching off at crossroads without any exact sense of direction, turning back, driving for miles and miles along the sea or through woods—for more than an hour, perhaps. Suddenly, on one of these roads, facing a wide stretch of fields bounded by poplar trees, I stopped the car abruptly and turned to Cecilia. “I have a proposal to make to you,” I said.

  “What is that?”

  The idea had never entered my head while I was driving. But I had thought about it during the preceding days and that same morning before seeing Cecilia. And so it seemed to me that I was saying something quite natural. “I want you to become my wife.”

  She looked at me with quiet diffidence, but without surprise. “You want us to get married?”

  “Yes.”

  “But why d’you say this to me now?”

  “I’ve been thinking about it for some time and now the moment has come.”

  She was gazing at me, and I, meanwhile, had a giddy, voluptuous feeling, like a man who, after many hesitations, hurls himself headlong into the void. I seized her hands and said hurriedly: “You’ll be my wife and we’ll go and live at my mother’s house. Perhaps you don’t know that I’m a rich man.”

  “You’re a rich man?”

  “Yes, or rather my mother’s rich, and when we’re living with her, in her villa on the Via Appia, her money will be mine too—in fact ours.”

  She said nothing. I went on: “We’ll get married with all the proper celebrations. Wedding in church, presents, flowers, wedding cake and refreshments, reception and so on. Then we’ll have a fine honeymoon; we can go north to Scandinavia or south to Egypt. When we come back, your whole life will change completely. You’ll be a married lady in Roman society, like the ladies you see in Via Veneto or Piazza di Spagna.”

  Still she said nothing. In a growing frenzy, squeezing her two hands, I went on: “We’ll have children, because I want children. And you look capable of producing any number of them. I’ll see that you have two, four, six, eight—as many as you like.”

  Her silence, nevertheless, made me uneasy. Quickly I asked: “Well, what do you think?”

  At last she made up her mind to answer. “I can’t tell you, like this, all in a moment,” she said slowly. “I must think it over.”

  “Yes, think it over. Will you give me an answer tomorrow, the day after tomorrow? Just as you like. In the meantime,” I suddenly added, “let’s go at once to my mother’s and I’ll introduce you as my fiancée.” It had occurred to me that Cecilia might be doubting my statement about my mother’s wealth and I wanted her to make certain of it with her own eyes. Besides, to introduce her as my fiancée meant compromising her and in a way forcing her to accept my proposal.

  “Why go to your mother’s now?” she asked. “You can let me meet her some other day.”

  “No, it’s better today; then you’ll know her and be able to see what it’s all about.”

  “But you can’t introduce me as your fiancée; I’m not that, yet.”

  “What does it matter? If we decide not to get married after all, I’ll tell my mother you changed your mind.”

  “I’ll give you my answer today,” she said suddenly, in a strange manner, as though she had already taken the decision which she was to announce in a few hours’ time. “This evening.”

  “Why this evening? Why not now?”

  “No, this evening.”

  I said nothing; I released the brake, started the engine and drove off. I now felt such a desire for her that the marriage I had offered her seemed to me an inadequate price, not for an eternity of love, but even for a single,
fleeting embrace. To possess her just once, but really and truly, I would not only have married her but would have made a pact with the devil and damned my own soul. This is a mere phrase, it may be said, and a highly romantic one, into the bargain. Nevertheless, at that moment damnation was for me not a mere phrase but an actual fact which might take place, not in the other world in which I did not believe, but in this world, in which I knew I had to live. Strange to say, however, the sense of such a damnation was not unrelated to a very remote hope of liberation; of that particular liberation which I continually deceived myself into thinking I should attain on the day when I succeeded in possessing Cecilia.

  By now it was almost sunset; and at last the cypresses and pines of the Via Appia came into view, black as ink, outlined against the background of a long red streak in the sky which looked like a chink of fire in the dark tumult of the clouds. I started driving slowly up the narrow Roman road, slackening speed where the ancient pavement showed through the surface of the asphalt, lingering now and then to look at the ruins, at the gates of villas, at the cars parked on the grassy shoulders. All the time I was reflecting upon the marriage proposal I had made to Cecilia, and I was conscious that I had made use of matrimony in perhaps too frivolous a way, as a mere means—one among many—of achieving a purpose which was not only foreign to it but actually contradicted it. I feared that I had exposed my own state of mind and my intentions and had thus failed to be convincing, in fact that I had given Cecilia the unpleasant feeling that I wished to marry her simply in order to get rid of her. After all, I thought, it might well be that Cecilia cherished the ideal of marriage in her heart; and perhaps my hasty manner of proposing that she should become my wife had affronted this ideal. After a pause, I resumed: “You’re quite right, anyhow, not to want to answer at once. Marriage isn’t a thing that ought to be undertaken lightly.”

  She said nothing, and I went on: “Getting married means becoming united for life. At any rate, I understand it that way: that’s why I want us to get married in church.”

  Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, she asked: “Why in church?”

  “Because,” I said complacently, “if we get married in church we’re truly united, without the possibility of ever parting again.”

  “But you don’t believe in it,” she said.

  “I would do it for your sake.”

  “I don’t believe in it either.”

  “You don’t believe in it? But you told me you’d been brought up by the nuns until you were twelve.”

  “That doesn’t mean anything. Even when I was with the nuns I didn’t believe in it.”

  “What did you believe in?”

  She appeared to reflect for a moment; then she replied, in a dry, precise, conscientious way: “In nothing. But I don’t mean I didn’t believe in it because I thought about it, and realized that I didn’t believe in it. I didn’t believe in it because I never thought about it. And even now I never think about it. I think about any sort of thing, but not about religion. If a person never thinks about a thing, it means that for him that thing doesn’t exist. With me, it isn’t that I like or dislike religion, it just doesn’t exist.”

  Slowing down until I had almost stopped, I said: “You may never think about it now, but it’s not impossible that you may come to think about it some day.”

  She sat in silence for a moment, then answered: “I don’t think so. I didn’t think about it when I was with the nuns, where there was nothing but religion; so why should I think about it outside the convent, with so many other things to think about? D’you know what I used to think about while I was reciting the prayers with the nuns?”

  “What?”

  “About the clock.”

  “Why about the clock?”

  “It had a pendulum and I used to watch it, and as I recited the prayers I counted the seconds and the minutes.”

  “Were you so bored, saying these prayers?”

  “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  “Because with lots of things, even if they’re extremely boring, you at least know that they serve some purpose. But prayer, for me at any rate, serves no purpose at all.”

  “You never know. Some day perhaps you’ll find it does.”

  “I don’t think so. I can’t imagine the day when I shall feel a need for religion. It’s a superfluous thing.”

  “Superfluous?”

  “Yes—how can I explain? If it exists, things go on in a certain way, and if it doesn’t exist, things still go on in the same way. Nothing changes: therefore it’s a superfluous thing.”

  “That could be said of plenty of things in this world.”

  “What things?”

  “Well—art, for instance. Things, as you say, would go on in the same way even if art didn’t exist.”

  “But art is enjoyable to the person who practices it. Balestrieri enjoyed himself. You enjoy yourself. Religion, on the other hand, is boring. At the convent I always had the impression that the nuns were bored, just as priests are bored and indeed all those people in general who are taken up with religion. In the churches, goodness knows how bored people are. You’ve only to look at them in church, and you can see there’s not a single one of them that isn’t bored to death.”

  It was the first time Cecilia had spoken to me on the subject of boredom; my curiosity was aroused, and I could not refrain from asking her: “Are you ever bored?”

  “Yes, sometimes.”

  “And what do you feel when you’re bored?”

  “I feel boredom.”

  “What is boredom?”

  “How am I to explain that? Boredom is boredom.”

  I wanted to say: “Boredom is the suspension of all relationship with reality. And I want to marry you so as to get bored with you, so as to stop suffering and to stop loving you, so as to bring it about, in short, that you cease to exist as far as I am concerned, just as for you religion and a great many other things don’t exist,” but I hadn’t the courage. Moreover, she suddenly interrupted our conversation by raising her hand and stroking my cheek. “Let’s go to your mother’s now; otherwise it’ll be too late.”

  “Very well,” I said. But at the same time I could not help wondering about the reason for this sudden desire to go and see my mother, when a little while before, Cecilia had shown what amounted almost to repugnance at the idea of the visit. It seemed to me, on reflection, that she was suggesting that we should go and see my mother in order to escape a conversation which made her feel uneasy. I knew that she did not like one to talk about her, but I did this continually, and it occurred to me that her stubborn reticence derived from her antipathy to the kind of conversation which I forced upon her. Always ready at any moment and in any situation to surrender herself physically, Cecilia, when it came to a conversation about herself, could be compared to a closed, obstinate oyster which tightens its valves all the more firmly the more one struggles to open them. Usually, as I knew, she contrived to break off this type of conversation by suggesting that we should make love: she would take my hand and bring it to her belly, then close her eyes. Thus she offered me her body in order to distract me from everything else. But that day we could not make love, and so, in her desperate desire not to hear herself talked about, she suggested the first thing that came to hand, the distasteful visit to my mother.

  I drove on in silence for a time, thinking about these things, then I asked her: “Did Balestrieri ever talk to you about yourself?”

  “No, never.”

  “What did he generally talk about?”

  “About himself, generally.”

  “What did he say?”

  “He said he loved me.”

  “What else?”

  “Nothing else. He went on talking about himself—that is, about what he felt for me. You know, the usual speeches that men make when they’re in love.”

  I could not help thinking that at last I had found one difference between myself and Balestrieri: I was always talking to Cecilia
about herself, while Balestrieri, like all erotics, talked about himself all the time. In fact, I decided, Balestrieri had never really loved Cecilia. “And did you like him to talk about himself?” I asked her.

  “When he told me he loved me, I liked it for a bit, but then he went on repeating the same things and so I gave up listening.”

  “Would you have preferred him to talk about you?”

  “No.”

  “Don’t you like people to talk about you?”

  “No.”

  “Why?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Well, I’m continually asking you questions about yourself—you don’t like that?”

  “No.”

  This decided monosyllable almost took my breath away. “Perhaps you reach the point of hating me when I talk to you about yourself?” I asked.

  “No, I don’t hate you, but I long for you to stop as soon as possible.”

  “What do you feel when I question you about yourself?”

  She thought for a moment and then replied: “I feel I don’t want to answer you.”

  “To stay silent, you mean?”

  “Yes, or to tell you something that isn’t true, just to satisfy you.” She paused for a moment and then went on, with sudden volubility: “Imagine, when I was at the convent and had to go to confession, in order not to talk about myself I used to invent sins I hadn’t committed. Then the priest was satisfied and told me that I must repent and say I don’t know how many prayers to the Madonna and Saint Joseph, and I said yes, I always said yes, although afterward I never did anything he told me to do, because I hadn’t done anything wrong and so there was no need for me to repent.”

  It occurred to me all at once that this indiscreet priest had wished to do the same thing, fundamentally, that I had so often tried to do—to catch Cecilia, to imprison her in some sin or other, to nail her down to a penalty. I asked in alarm: “Then with me too you’ve invented things you never did?”

  She answered vaguely: “Yes, perhaps I have, sometimes.”

  “But what do you mean? That you’ve lied to me? And when?”

  “It may be so, but I don’t remember now.”

  “Try and remember.”

 
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