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       Boredom, p.29

           Alberto Moravia

  “I don’t remember.”

  “Did you lie to me, for instance, about your relations with Balestrieri?”

  “I swear I don’t remember.”

  “And so everything you’ve told me about your past may also be untrue?”

  “No, that’s not so. I’ve only told you lies when it was necessary.”

  “When, for example?”

  “I don’t remember now: when it was necessary.”

  “And when is it necessary for you to tell lies?”

  “How can I explain that? It’s necessary when it’s necessary.”

  “Well, now we’ll go and see my mother. I’ll introduce you as my fiancée and in a month, at most, we’ll get married.”

  We drove on in silence and very soon came to the well-known gate between the two pillars adorned with bits of Roman junk. It was not shut, as it usually was, but wide open; the two lanterns on top of the pillars were lit; and at that very moment three or four cars were on the point of entering. Disappointed, I said: “I’m afraid my mother must be receiving—in other words, giving a cocktail party. What shall we do?”

  “Whatever you like.”

  I reflected that, after all, for the purpose I had in mind, a party might come in useful: Cecilia would in this way be able to form an idea of the world into which I should introduce her if I married her. And if, as I hoped, she was ambitious, this idea could not but be favorable. I said carelessly: “Let’s go in, then. I’ll introduce you to my mother, you can have a drink and see the house and then we’ll go away; is that all right?”

  “Yes, that’s all right.”

  I drove up the drive behind the other cars and with some difficulty found a place to stop; the space in front of the house was already almost full. Cecilia got out and I followed her. As she walked toward the front door she put up her hands and lifted her hair from off her neck, arranging it on her shoulders, in a gesture which with her, as I knew, indicated that she felt a timidity which she was trying to overcome. I caught up with her and took her by the arm, whispering: “This is the house we’ll come and live in when we’re married. Do you like it?”

  “Yes, it’s a fine house.”

  We went into the hall and into the first of the four or five rooms that occupied the ground floor. There were already large numbers of guests, standing close together, glass in hand, talking into each other’s faces and leering at each other sideways, as always happens at cocktail parties. I thrust Cecilia forward by the arm, cleaving a passage through this haughty, conceited crowd, and as I looked at all these florid, glossy men and painted women dressed in the latest fashion; and as I saw that Cecilia seemed to mingle with the odious multitude to the point of appearing to be one of them; and as I reflected that, if this really happened as in fact it might happen after our marriage, I should not only be rid of her and of my love for her but should actually hate her, as I hated my mother’s guests—then I felt a kind of remorse at having planned to lose her among these horrible people, and almost a hope that she would not agree to marry me. I wanted to become bored with Cecilia, but I did not want to hate her. And anyhow I loved her too much to wish to be rid of her at the price of her transformation from a poor and charming girl into a moneyed harpy.

  Thus reflecting, I went on pushing Cecilia through the crowd, from one group to another, from one circle of faces to another, through the cigarette smoke and the buzz of conversation, brushing against trays covered with glasses of various sizes and colors which were being handed around by waiters. It was an immensely crowded reception, and it was obvious that my mother was doing things on a grand scale, regardless of expense. But the money my mother had spent in order to receive her guests worthily was a mere nothing in comparison with the money—an almost incalculable total—represented by each one of those same guests. I remembered, for some reason, a question which, at a similar reception some years before, I had heard put, with an air of complacency and at the same time of almost scientific perplexity, by a fat, vigorous, cheerful old man to another old man who was thin and pale and melancholy: “What amount of capital do you suppose is represented within these four walls? What do you think? What’s your guess?” To which the other had replied somberly: “How should I know? I’m not a tax collector.” Often I had wondered why I felt so profound an aversion to my mother’s world; but it was only today, remembering that remark and comparing it with the faces I saw all around me, that I finally understood. As I examined the faces of my mother’s guests, I suddenly had a strong feeling that there was not one wrinkle, not one inflection of the voice, not one ripple of laughter, not a single feature, in fact, that was not directly determined by the money which, as the fat old man had said, was represented by the guests in that room, in greater or lesser quantity. Yes, I thought, in that crowd money had turned into flesh and blood; whether earned by honest and successful work or stolen by cunning and arrogance, it produced always the same result—an inhuman vulgarity that was recognizable both in well-fed fatness and in dried-up thinness. And if it was true—as indeed it was true—that money does not allow of any divorce from money, for anyone who is rich cannot make a pretense of not being so; then I understood again that I myself, even in spite of myself, formed part of this society of rich people, and that it was money—which I had renounced without being able to get rid of it—that had caused the crisis in my painting and, in general, in my life. I was therefore merely a rich man who would have liked not to be so; I might dress in rags and eat crusts and live in a hut; but the money at my disposal would transform my rags into elegant clothes, my crusts of bread into delicate and dainty dishes, my hut into a palace. Even my car, old and dilapidated as it was, was more luxurious than many luxurious cars because it belonged to someone who, just for the asking, could have had another one, brand new and of the most expensive kind.

  I started as I heard my mother’s voice, saying: “Oh, Dino, what a pleasant surprise!”

  She was standing in front of me, but I had not seen her, or rather, perhaps I had seen her but had not been able to distinguish her among the crowd of her guests, for at that moment she looked to me like one of them, exactly similar to them in every way and without any kind of connection with me, even of blood. Alone, my mother was my mother, but in the crowd that filled her rooms she became as indistinguishable as a bird in a flock of other birds or a fish in a shoal. Thus the strong business sense which, when my mother was alone, might appear to be an individual characteristic, revealed her impersonal, generic character among the crowd of her guests. And as in the case of all the figures thronging the rooms of the villa, so with my mother one could swear that behind the glassy glint of her blue eyes and the showiness of her massive jewelry, behind her nervous thinness, the excessive artificiality of her make-up and the disagreeable quality of her voice, there was a conformist attitude toward money, typical of the society of which she formed part, rather than any originality of private experiment.

  Similar to her guests in physical appearance, my mother also resembled them in her behavior during our brief encounter. Usually, when she was alone, she was very attentive; but now, at this cocktail party—the normal rule for such occasions being, apparently, a supreme inattentiveness made up of indifference, haste and thoughtlessness—my mother behaved like all the other people, looking without seeing and talking without listening. Indeed, immediately after her lively welcoming remark, she murmured a few vague, incoherent words about how busy she was and how this would prevent her from taking much notice of me that afternoon; and then, looking around her all the time, she added, without the slightest sign of curiosity, hastily and as a matter of form, so to speak: “May I point out that you haven’t yet introduced your friend to me?”

  Taking Cecilia by the arm, and with a certain solemnity, I said: “This is Cecilia, my fiancée.” And then an unexpected thing happened. Either my mother did not hear what I said, or if she heard it she did not take it in, by which I mean that she was conscious of it as a sound but not of its significan
ce; the fact remains that, after letting her cruelly sparkling eyes rest for a moment upon Cecilia, she hurriedly exclaimed: “Forgive me, I’ll see you later; there’s something I must do now,” and without waiting for an answer she darted off through the crowd with the decision of a shark rushing through the depths of the sea after its prey. I presumed that somebody had arrived; somebody of importance, perhaps; and my mother had not listened to me because, just at the moment when I was introducing Cecilia to her, her eye had caught sight of an eddying movement near one of the doors, the movement caused by an influx of new guests into the crowd at a party.

  I took two glasses from a tray handed by a waiter and gave one to Cecilia; then I propelled her across the room into a window. “Well, what do you think about it?” I asked.

  “About what?”

  I stood for a moment in embarrassed silence. I did not know what it was that I wanted to know from Cecilia; everything, in point of fact, since I knew nothing. I said haphazardly: “About this party.”

  “Well—it’s a party.”

  “Do you like parties?”

  She answered, after a moment, with a slightly troubled air: “Not very much. I don’t like the smoke and the noise.”

  “What do you think of all these people?”

  “I don’t think anything. I don’t know anybody.”

  “Some of the people who are here might be useful to you. If you like, I’ll introduce you.”

  “Useful in what way?”


  “What does that mean?”

  “Oh well, they might make friends with you, take a liking to you, ask you to parties like this one, or, if they’re men, they might flirt with you. Something useful might come out of any of those things. Lots of people go to parties for that reason. Shall I introduce you, then?”

  “No, it doesn’t matter; after all I shall never see them again.”

  “Certainly you’ll see them again, since we’re getting married.”

  “Well, in that case you can introduce me later on.”

  I wanted to turn the conversation to the subject of wealth, but I didn’t know how to manage it. Finally I said: “The people you see here are all very rich.”

  “Yes, you can see that.”

  “How can you see it?”

  “From the ladies’ clothes and jewelry.”

  “Would you like to be like them?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Why don’t you know?”

  “I’m not rich; in order to know whether I’d like to be rich, I’d have to become rich. I could only say if I liked it or not after I’d tried it.”

  “But can’t you imagine it?”

  “How can you imagine a thing that you don’t know about?”

  “But you like money?”

  “When I need it, yes.”

  “Aren’t you in need of money?”

  “Not at present; what you give me is enough.”

  “Well, if you married me you’d have plenty of money and you’d become like the ladies you see here; what do you say to that?”

  I saw her big, dark eyes moving around over the crowd of guests; and once again I wondered what she saw, and whether what she saw in any way resembled what I saw. Then she said, slowly: “There are no girls here; there are only ladies of your mother’s age.”

  “My mother is giving a party for her friends; it’s natural therefore that the ladies here should all be more or less of her own age. But you haven’t yet answered my question. What do you say, then, to the prospect of marrying me and becoming like these ladies here?”

  “I can’t tell you, I haven’t thought about it.”

  “Think about it now, then.” I saw her look around the room again; then she raised her glass to her lips, took a sip and remained silent. This was one of her ways of eluding me; by silence. “But at any rate,” I insisted, “I should like to know what you’re thinking about.”

  Almost brusquely, she replied: “I was thinking that perhaps it might be better for us to go to some quieter place; then I could give you the answer you wanted.”

  “Which answer?”

  “About getting married.”

  “Where would you like to go?”

  “It’s all the same to me.”

  “Let’s go upstairs. We can be quiet there. And you can see the house, too.”

  We put our two glasses on the window sill and I took Cecilia by the arm again and steered her through the crowd toward a door at the far end of the room. I opened the door and led her into the passage. Immediately the din, the smoke, the crowd were replaced by the customary air of the house, clean, deserted and silent. I guided Cecilia to the staircase and started going up with her, one hand on the brass rail and the other on her shoulder. “Would you like to live here?” I asked her.

  “Here or in some other place, it’s just the same to me.”

  “But here there’s my mother.”

  “She’s charming, your mother.”

  I exclaimed, in astonishment: “Good Heavens, what do you find charming about my mother?”

  “I don’t know, she’s charming.”

  By this time we had reached the first floor. “Do you want to see my room?” I asked.


  I threw the door open and showed it to her. It had remained just as it was on the day when I ran away, leaving my trousers in the hands of Rita—with the shutters closed and the mattress rolled up on the bed. She gave it a cursory glance, with a complete absence of curiosity, and said: “Does no one use it now?”

  “There are some empty rooms upstairs,” I said. “We could take them over, if we get married. Don’t you think you’d be better off here, in a room like this, than in the one where you’re living now?”

  Her answer confirmed my conviction that she saw nothing, and that for her there was no difference between my mother’s splendid Empire furniture and the junk in her own home. “Why?” she said. “The two rooms are much the same. There’s a bed here as there is there, a wardrobe and chairs too, just as there are there.”

  “At least you’ll admit that it’s larger?”

  “Yes, it’s larger.”

  I shut the door again and said: “Let’s go to my mother’s room. She’s busy with her cocktail party. We can talk there as much as we like.”

  I led her to the bedroom, opened the door and pushed her forward into the darkness, as I might have pushed her into a prison to shut her up forever. Then I turned on the light. The big, comfortable room, in which there was not an inch of bare wall or uncarpeted floor and where everywhere there were curtains and hangings and rugs, seemed to me suffocating. I went to one of the windows, threw it open and looked out for a moment. The window overlooked the Italian garden, and beyond it the whole garden could be seen, with its avenues and trees, its fountain and pergola. Night had fallen now; the black, starless sky was dimly lit from time to time by flashes of lightning from some far-off thunderstorm, the air scarcely less hot and suffocating than inside the room. Lamps on the ground, concealed among the hedges, threw a false, quivering light upon the feet of the many guests who had gradually moved out from the ground floor rooms and were scattered about the garden. Thus they appeared illuminated up to their knees, in a ghostly sort of way; but from their knees up they melted into the darkness, so that it looked as though the whole garden were populated by male and female legs without any bodies. While I was watching this spectacle, Cecilia’s voice made me jump. “Where is the bathroom?” she asked.

  “That door over there.”

  Without a word she went over to the bathroom door. I left the window and went and sat in an armchair at the foot of the bed, and lit a cigarette.

  I was struck by a large, old picture hanging to the left of the bed. It represented Danaë and the shower of gold, and was probably a recent acquisition of my mother who, as I knew, sometimes “invested” her money in works of art: I did not in fact remember having seen it before. Danaë was depicted lying on a bed very l
ike my mother’s bed, low and wide, with a canopy decorated with bronze ornamentations. Leaning against a pile of pillows, her bosom drawn back and her belly thrust forward, one leg stretched out along the mattress and the other bent and dangling in the air, she was looking complacently at her lap into which, out of the shadow of the heavy curtains, fell the shower of coins, of a gold as bright and shining as her own wanton hair lying scattered over her white shoulders and rosy bosom. It was an ordinary picture of a mythological subject, and in other circumstances I should not have paid it any attention. But at that moment it struck me as something which concerned me, if only in an indirect, obscure manner. I went on contemplating the picture, wondering why it aroused my curiosity and what the significance of such curiosity could be. Then suddenly the bathroom door opened and Cecilia came back into the room.

  She had undressed and had wrapped herself in a short towel which just covered her hips and bosom and looked like one of those abbreviated pieces of material which women in the tropics wind round their bodies. Approaching me on tiptoe, she said: “Do you know, my trouble is all over? So we can make love, if you like.”


  “Why not? It’s so comfortable here.”

  I had a sudden feeling that this was a treacherous, self-interested piece of generosity, as though Cecilia were intending, by offering herself in this unexpected way when I had already given up the idea, to compensate me in some way, in advance, for a loss of which I was still ignorant. I said brusquely: “Very well, but first you must give me your answer.”

  “What answer?”

  “Whether you’ll agree to become my wife.”

  She said nothing, but wandered about the room for a little and then, with sudden decision, came and sat on my knee. She began to untie my tie and unbutton my collar, and said slowly: “Dino, you’re the only man I could marry because with you I can be natural and sincere and not hide anything.”

  “Really?” I exclaimed, somewhat astonished by this preamble. “I always have the impression that with me you hide everything, or nearly everything. If it’s like that with me, whatever happens with other people?”

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