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       Boredom, p.30

           Alberto Moravia
 

  Bending her head as she pulled off my tie and then, one by one, undid the buttons of my shirt, she went on as if she had not heard what I said. “And this is a lovely house. I should like to live in it with you.”

  “Well, then?”

  “Besides,” she continued, trying to pull my arm out of the sleeve of my coat, “You’ve promised me so many nice things—traveling, clothes, parties.”

  “Well?”

  “But I must tell you I can’t marry you. I ought to have told you at once, when you spoke to me about it, but I hadn’t the courage, I saw you were so set on it.” By this time she had succeeded in taking off my jacket and my shirt too; she folded them and threw them aside, to the bottom of the bed.

  I now had a feeling of immense astonishment; it was just as though I had really believed Cecilia would be flattered at the idea of becoming my wife. The fact of the matter, as I at last realized, was that just as in the past I had hoped to possess her by means of money, so this time I had imagined I could achieve the same end by offering her something that women almost always place before money—marriage. I asked angrily: “Why don’t you want to?”

  “I don’t want to because I don’t want to.”

  “But why?”

  “Because of Luciani,” she said. “I don’t want to leave him.”

  “Do you want to marry him?”

  “Oh no, I’m not thinking of that. Besides, he has a wife already.”

  “Luciani has a wife?”

  “Yes, and he has to support her, too.”

  Exasperated, I cried: “What does Luciani matter to me? I’d let you see him as much as you liked.”

  “No, I said no, and no it is.”

  “But why?”

  Speaking in the same tone with which she had answered me when I had offered to pay her a fixed monthly sum, a tone which suggested that she was attached to a convenient and cherished habit, she said: “No, no, Dino, why should we get married? Let’s stay as we are; it all works so well as it is.”

  With almost unbelievable tenacity, I now clung more and more to the idea of marriage, possibly because Cecilia would have nothing to do with it. “But if I let you see Luciani, or anyone else you like,” I said, “if nothing changes except for the better, if instead of living in a wretched flat with your family you come and live in this villa with me, why on earth should you refuse? What is it that makes you refuse?”

  “I don’t want to get married, that’s all,” she answered in a decisive manner. Then, getting off my knee and pulling me by the hand, she added: “Come on, come on now, let’s make love.”

  Mechanically, almost in spite of myself, I rose to my feet. And then a ridiculous thing happened: my trousers, the belt of which Cecilia had in the meantime undone, fell down to my feet and I stumbled over them. “No,” I yelled, at the height of fury, “no, I don’t want to. I only want to know why you won’t be my wife.”

  She stood looking at me, then warned me ambiguously: “As you like. But if we don’t do it today we won’t be able to do it for some time.”

  “Why?”

  “I’d decided not to tell you, so as not to make you angry. I would have written you a post card and you’d have learned like that. But after all it’s best that you should know. Tomorrow morning I’m leaving for Ponza with Luciani and we’re staying away for about two weeks.”

  I was already in a rage, and this revelation, which at last explained Cecilia’s behavior that day, redoubled my fury. So she had decided to spend a couple of weeks with Luciani at Ponza; it was for this reason, and for this reason only—that is, in order to console me in some degree—that she had suggested that morning that we should spend the day together; for this reason and for this reason only that she had suggested making love with me; and finally, however strange it may seem, it was for this reason and this reason only that she had refused to become my wife. I knew Cecilia pretty well by now and had had experience of her complete lack of imagination and of her indifferent, apathetic disinterestedness. I knew also that she was incapable of thinking of more than one thing at a time—the nearest and most immediate and most attractive. In this case the trip to Ponza with the actor was the nearest and most immediate and most attractive thing; for the sake of this trip she did not hesitate to refuse a marriage which, at another time, she might have accepted.

  I was suddenly aware of the pain this caused me, and that, whereas shortly before I had wanted at all costs that she should become my wife, I should now be satisfied if she did not go to Ponza. I said, in a voice of deep distress: “Don’t go!”

  She did not answer me; but she went to the bed, got on to it and lay down, slowly, complacently, placidly, her back against the pillows, one leg stretched out on the bed, the other bent, her foot dangling in the air; exactly like Danaë in the picture. Then, starting to unwrap the towel from around her body, she said: “Why do you think about the future? Come here now and lie down beside me.”

  “But I don’t want you to go.”

  “We’ve already booked the room.”

  “Well, tell Luciani you don’t feel well, and don’t go.”

  “It’s not possible.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I like the idea of going to Ponza and I don’t see why I shouldn’t go.”

  “If you don’t go, I’ll give you a present.”

  She was naked now, lying in a relaxed attitude with her breasts free and her hips comfortably settled on the bed; and she was looking up in childish curiosity at the hangings. Without lowering her eyes, she asked in an absent-minded way: “What sort of present?”

  “Whatever you like.”

  “But what, for instance?”

  “For instance, a sum of money.”

  She lowered her big dark eyes and looked at me in a vague, expressionless, slightly surprised sort of manner. “How much would you give me?” she asked.

  I looked back at her and then, struck by the resemblance of her attitude to that of Danaë in the picture on the wall close by, I had a sudden idea. “I’ll give you all the money it takes to cover you.”

  “How do you mean?”

  “I mean that you’re to lie still there on the bed and I’ll cover you with banknotes from head to foot. If you give up the idea of going to Ponza, I’ll give you, as I say, all the money it takes to cover you from head to foot.”

  She started to laugh, flattered and attracted more, it would seem, by the novelty of the game than by the bargain I had suggested. “What ideas you get into your head!” she said.

  “Painter’s ideas,” I said dishonestly.

  “Anyhow, where have you got the money?”

  “Wait.”

  I rose and ran into the bathroom, where I swiftly did what I had foreseen that I would eventually do: I moved the tiles, uncovered the steel door of the safe, turned the dials according to the secret combination. Meanwhile I was hoping that the money would be there. If there was no money, I thought, I would cover Cecilia with stock certificates, which anyhow were equivalent to money, as my mother had so often pointed out to me.

  But the money was there. On top of the usual two or three rolls of bonds was the well-known red envelope, stuffed to bursting point. I seized it, took out the notes which it contained and went back into the bedroom. As I went toward her, Cecilia looked at me with a kind of leer which, I could not help thinking, was positively mythological—much as Danaë must have looked when the first golden coin tumbled into her lap. “Now,” I told her with a smile, “lie down flat.”

  As she lay down she looked at me with curiosity and amusement and also, I thought, with a touch of agitation. The bundle of notes that I had taken from the envelope was a thick one; I calculated there must be fifty notes of ten thousand lire each. I started from the bottom, symbolically, by spreading a single, carefully smoothed note over her dark, curly groin. Then, moving upward, I covered the white, childish belly, the slim waist and the beautiful brown bosom, placing one banknote on each breast. I wrapped another not
e across her neck; four I put on her shoulders and four on her arms. Then I went down again below her belly, and covered her legs with notes right down to her small feet. Cecilia at first followed this operation with childish, attentive curiosity, just as though it were a game; then all of a sudden she began to laugh, with nervous, uncontrollable laughter. I could not help thinking hopefully that this was the laughter of a woman who finally yields to her lover, after repulsing him for a long time. In such a way, I reflected, must Danaë have laughed when she felt the divine shower of gold flooding her with amorous voluptuousness. Still laughing, Cecilia continued to take part in the game, pointing to the places that still remained to be covered: “There’s still room here, put one here, and here.” Finally she lay still, looking like some strange bedizened animal, flat on her back with her face turned toward me and her eyes wide open. I said curtly: “There are twenty-four ten-thousand-lire notes. If you don’t go to Ponza, I’ll give you the lot.”

  She started laughing again and exclaimed: “I thought there’d be more than that.”

  I thought it might not be enough for her, so I went on: “I’ll give you twice the amount, the number that’s needed to cover you back and front. That’s fair, because after all you have a back and a front.”

  Lying now beneath the banknotes, motionless and as though afraid of disarranging them and so spoiling the game, she looked at me with an expression of regretful perplexity. Finally she said: “I’m sorry, Dino, but it’s not possible.” She was silent a moment, still looking at me, then she went on with an unusual gentleness that could not have been feigned: “Let’s make love now. Then, when I come back from Ponza, I promise you we’ll do it more often than in the past and I promise you we’ll see more of each other.”

  I saw that the gentleness in her voice was due to the excitement that the game with the banknotes had aroused in her. This excitement, according to my intention, should have allowed me to take possession of her through the medium of money; now, on the contrary, after her refusal, it made her once more elusive and unattainable. “You really won’t do as I ask?” I demanded.

  “No, it’s not possible.”

  She lay still, taking care not to move beneath her garment of banknotes, as though the game were going on and she were awaiting its final phase. Then suddenly I felt myself assailed by the usual blind male impulse, which urged me to take her because I could not succeed in possessing her, as if by taking her I could in fact possess her. I threw myself upon her and covered her body, and the banknotes that covered it, with my own body. Cecilia showed at once that she had expected the game to end in this way, clinging closely to me with her arms and legs, while the banknotes, horribly dirty and incongruous, crackled and slithered between our two ardent, sweating bodies. Other notes had become scattered around us on the bed covers, and yet others on the pillow, among Cecilia’s hair.

  Afterward, Cecilia lay supine, her legs apart, motionless and sated like a great snake that has swallowed an animal bigger than itself. I lay on top of her, no less motionless; and when I reflected upon our two separate stillnesses, I realized that mine was the stillness that can follow a futile, exhausting effort, while hers had the quality of full, rich satisfaction. I recalled the time when after painting for a whole day I would feel tired, not with an exhausted tiredness such as I felt now but with a satisfied tiredness like Cecilia’s; and I said to myself that in our relationship it was she, in reality, who possessed me and I who was possessed, although nature, for her own ends, deceived both Cecilia and me into thinking the opposite. As a man I was finished, I thought; not only would I never paint again, but I should also destroy myself in the pursuit of that species of mirage which seemed to rise up from Cecilia’s womb as from the sands of the desert; and in the end, like Balestrieri, I should sink into the darkness of mania.

  I was drawn out of these reflections by Cecilia’s voice, saying: “At least you must admit that I’m not mercenary.”

  I asked in surprise: “Why do you say that?”

  “Any other woman, in my place, would have taken the money and then gone away just the same.”

  “And what then?”

  “Well, you must admit that in a way I’ve saved you a lot of money.”

  “It’s not I who have saved it,” I said, hoping, almost, that Cecilia had thought better of it and was going to accept my proposal, “it’s you who have lost it.”

  “Just as you like. Now I want to ask you a favor.”

  “What is that?”

  “You were ready to give me nearly half a million lire if I didn’t go away. Instead, lend me a small part of that amount, forty thousand.”

  “But what d’you want it for?” I inquired stupidly.

  “Luciani is out of a job, and we have very little money. It would be useful for our trip to Ponza.”

  Before I realized what was happening, I had leaped forward and fastened my hands round Cecilia’s neck, shouting the first words of abuse that came into my head. They say that at certain moments of great intensity a man can think and act in contrary ways. In that second when I clasped Cecilia’s neck, my thought was that perhaps the only way of possessing her was by killing her. By killing her I could snatch her away from all the things that rendered her elusive, and could shut her up, once and for all, in the prison of death. And so, for one instant, I thought of strangling her, there on my mother’s bed, amongst the banknotes she had refused, in the house in which we should have lived together if we had got married. And I should certainly have done it if I had not realized, in that same lucid, lightning-like moment, that this crime, at least as far as my intended purpose was concerned, would be useless. Instead of achieving full possession of Cecilia and liberating myself from her, I should, in reality, merely succeed in establishing her complete and final independence; wrapped in a mystery doubly sealed by death, she would have then eluded me forever, irreparably. I relaxed my grip and said in a low voice: “Forgive me, for a moment you made me lose my head.”

  She did not appear to have understood the danger in which she had been. “You hurt me,” she said. “Whatever put it into your head to get angry like that?”

  “I don’t know. Again, please forgive me.”

  “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.”

  I raised myself slightly on my elbow, quickly collected some of the notes and handed them to her, saying: “Here’s seventy thousand lire; is that enough?”

  “That’s too much, forty thousand would be enough.”

  “Take them, they’ll come in useful.”

  “Thank you.”

  She kissed me with ingenuous, disarming gratitude and again I felt desire for her, still for the same old reason that she was there in my arms and at the same time not there, and that possibly, possibly, if I took her once again, possibly she might be there and might stay there. And so, with no fury this time, but gently, tenderly, despairingly, I passed my arm under her back, being careful not to hurt her with my wrist watch, and when my hand, encircling her slender waist, almost met my other arm, I insinuated my legs between hers, passed my other arm under her neck, and when I held her closely enveloped and confined, penetrated slowly into her, as though I were hoping, by this slowness, to achieve the full possession which on all other occasions had eluded me. At the end, I asked her: “That was good, wasn’t it?”

  “Yes, it was good.”

  “Very good or rather good?”

  “Very good.”

  “Better than usual?”

  “Yes, perhaps better than usual.”

  “Are you happy?”

  “Yes, I’m happy.”

  “Do you love me?”

  “Yes, you know I love you.”

  These were words I had used countless times, but never with a feeling so utterly desperate. As I said them, I was thinking that Cecilia would now go away to Ponza and that her departure, the concrete symbol of her elusiveness, would inevitably give new strength to my love and to my consequent longing to free myself from her by possessi
ng her. When she came back everything would begin all over again, just as it had been before she went away, but worse than before. I felt a sudden desire not to stay with her any longer, to get away from her. I said, as gently as I could: “It’s time we went away. Otherwise my mother might come and find us here, and that would be a nuisance.”

  “I’ll get dressed at once.”

  “Don’t be in too much of a hurry. I said it would be a nuisance, but no more than that. It isn’t really important. At most, my mother would protest not so much at the thing itself as at the way it was done.”

  “How d’you mean?”

  “My mother attaches great importance to what she calls good form. That’s what we’ve failed to observe, by making love in her bedroom instead of in my studio.”

  “What is good form?”

  “I don’t know. Probably it’s the result of thinking a great deal about money.”

  We finished dressing in silence. Then I collected the banknotes that were lying scattered over the bed, went into the bathroom and wrote in pencil on the envelope: “Have taken the 70,000 lire. Thank you. Dino”; and I put the envelope back in the safe. Cecilia was rearranging the bed covers. She asked: “Where are we going now?”

  A sudden impulse of rage swept over me. “We’re not going anywhere,” I said; “it wouldn’t be any use now, anyhow. I’ll take you home.”

  I almost hoped she might show displeasure or regret in face of this abrupt change in our program. Instead of which she answered, with indifference: “Just as you like.”

  “Just as I like?” I insisted. “No, it’s as you like; it’s you who is going away tomorrow. It’s up to you to say whether you want us to stay together until midnight or not.”

  “It’s all the same to me.”

  “Why is it all the same?”

  “Because I know I shall see you again in two weeks’ time.”

  “Are you sure of that?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well...I’ll take you home.”

  During this little discussion we had left the bedroom and gone down to the ground floor. We walked along the passage; an intense hubbub, like the clamor of a disturbed beehive, could be heard on the other side of the closed doors; the party was still going on. We followed the passage into the hall and went out in front of the house.

 
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