Tom’s heart took a sudden leap. He put on an expression of reflection. It was a possibility. Something in him had smelled it out and leapt at it even before his brain. He wanted to leave New York. “I might,” he said carefully, with the same pondering expression, as if he were even now going over the thousands of little ties that could prevent him. Tom stared at the gold signet ring with the nearly worn-away crest on Mr. Greenleaf’s little finger. “I think I might.”
In a large mirror on the wall he could see himself: the upright, self-respecting young man again. He looked quickly away. He was doing the right thing, behaving the right way. Yet he had a feeling of guilt. When he had said to Mrs. Greenleaf just now, I’ll do everything I can… Well, he had meant it. He wasn’t trying to fool anybody. He felt himself beginning to sweat, and he tried to relax.
He leaned in the corner of the elevator in an exhausted way, though he knew as soon as he hit the lobby he would fly out of the door and keep on running, running, all the way home.
The last four years had been for the most part a waste, there was no denying that. A series of haphazard jobs, long perilous intervals with no job at all and consequent demoralization because of having no money, and then taking up with stupid, silly people in order not to be lonely, or because they could offer him something. It was not a record to be proud of.
His aloofness, he knew, was causing a little comment among the passengers. He imagined [their] speculation: Is he an American! I think so, but he doesn’t act like an American, does he? He’s terribly serious, isn’t he, and he can’t be more than twenty-three. He must have something very important on his mind. Yes, he had. The present and the future of Tom Ripley.
“And these—a lot of landscapes,” Dickie said with a deprecatory laugh, though obviously he wanted Tom to say something complimentary about them, because obviously he was proud of them. They were all wild and hasty and monotonously similar. “My surrealist effort,” Dickie said, bracing another canvas against his knee. Tom winced with almost a personal shame. It was Marge, undoubtedly, though with long snakelike hair, and worst of all two horizons in her eyes, with a miniature landscape of Mongibello’s houses and mountains in one eye, and the beach in the other full of little red people. “Yes, I like that,” Tom said. It gave Dickie something to do, just as it gave thousands of lousy amateur painters all over something to do. He was sorry that Dickie fell into this category as a painter, because he wanted Dickie to be much more.
Dickie walked in his slouching, downhill gait that made his bony knees jut out in front of him, a gait that Tom had unconsciously adopted, too.
He suddenly felt that Dickie was embracing her, or at least touching her, at this minute, and partly he wanted to see it, and partly he loathed the idea of seeing it. He turned and walked back to Marge’s gate. Tom stopped as Marge’s window came into view: Dickie’s arm was around her waist. Dickie was kissing her. Marge’s face was tipped up to Dickie’s, and what disgusted Tom was that he knew Dickie didn’t mean it. What disgusted him was the big bulge of her behind in the peasant skirt below Dickie’s arm that circled her waist. Tom turned away and ran down the steps, wanting to scream.
You were supposed to see the soul through the eyes, to see love through the eyes, the one place you could look at another human being and see what really went on inside, and in Dickie’s eyes Tom saw nothing more now than he would have seen if he had looked at the hard, bloodless surface of a mirror. It was as if Dickie had been suddenly snatched away from him. They were not friends. They didn’t know each other.
Tom sat opposite [Dickie], staring at his hands with the green ring and the gold signet ring. A crazy emotion of hate, of affection, of impatience and frustration was swelling in him. He wanted to kill Dickie. It was not the first time he had thought of it. He had failed with Dickie, in every way. He hated Dickie. He had offered Dickie friendship, companionship, everything he had to offer, and Dickie had replied with ingratitude and now hostility. If he killed him on this trip, he could simply say that some accident had happened. He could—He had just thought of something brilliant: he could become Dickie Greenleaf. The danger of it, even the inevitable temporariness of it, only made him more enthusiastic. He began to think of how.
This was the clean slate he had thought about on the boat coming over from America. This was the real annihilation of his past and of himself, Tom Ripley, who was made up of that past, and his rebirth as a completely new person… He felt as he had on the ship, only more intensely, full of goodwill, a gentleman, with nothing in his past to blemish his character.
Tom saw Dickie smiling at him, dressed in the corduroy suit that he had worn in San Remo. The suit was soaking wet, the tie a dripping string. Dickie bent over him, shaking him. “I swam!” he said. “Tom, wake up! I’m all right! I swam! I’m alive!” Tom squirmed away from his touch. He heard Dickie laugh at him, Dickie’s happy, deep laugh. “Tom!” The timbre of the voice was deeper, richer, better than Tom had even been able to make it in his imitations. “I swam!” Dickie’s voice shouted, ringing and ringing in Tom’s ears as if he heard it through a long tunnel.
What had he said about risks? Risks were what made the whole thing fun. [And] anticipation! It occurred to him that his anticipation was more pleasant to him than his experiencing. Was it always going to be like that? When he spent evenings alone, handling Dickie’s possessions, simply looking at his rings on his own fingers, or his woolen ties, or his black alligator wallet, was that experiencing or anticipation?
He definitely wanted to see Greece. He wanted to see Greece as Dickie Greenleaf with Dickie’s money, Dickie’s clothes, Dickie’s way of behaving with strangers. The idea of going to Greece, trudging over the Acropolis as Tom Ripley, American tourist, held no charm for him at all. He would as soon not go.Tears came in his eyes as he stared up at the cathedral, and then he turned away and began to walk down a new street.
He was lonely. He had imagined himself acquiring a bright new circle of friends with whom he would start a new life with new attitudes, standards, and habits that would be far better and cleverer than those he had had all his life. Now he realized that it couldn’t be. He would have to keep a distance from people, always. He was alone, and it was a lonely game he was playing. He altered his behavior slightly, to accord with the role of a more detached observer of life. There was a faint air of sadness about him now. He enjoyed the change. He imagined that he looked like a young man who had had an unhappy love affair or some kind of emotional disaster, and was trying to recuperate by visiting some of the most beautiful places on the earth.
Were [the authorities] going to pounce on him soon with every bit of evidence they needed? It gave Tom the feeling that he was being followed. Tom did not know who would attack him, if he were attacked. He did not imagine police, necessarily. He was afraid of nameless, formless things that haunted his brain like the Furies.
He loved possessions. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence. It was as simple as that. And wasn’t that worth something? He existed.
His stories were good because he imagined them intensely, so intensely that he came to believe them.
In a way it was asking for trouble, Tom thought. But that was the mood he was in. The very chanciness of trying for all of Dickie’s money, the peril of it, was irresistible to him.
He saw four motionless figures standing on the imaginary pier, the figures of Cretan policemen waiting for him, patiently waiting with folded arms. He grew suddenly tense and his vision vanished. Was he going to see policemen waiting for him on every pier that he ever approached? In Alexandria? Istanbul? Bombay? Rio? No use thinking about that. He pulled his shoulders back. No use spoiling his trip worrying about imaginary policemen. Even if there were policemen on the pier, it wouldn’t necessarily mean—
“A donda, a donda?” the taxi driver was saying, trying to speak Italian for him.
“To a hotel, please,” Tom said. “Il meglio albergo. Il meglio, il meglio!”