Disclaimer: The Talented Mr Ripley is a novel by Patricia Highsmith. The film is directed by Anthony Minghella.
Dedication: For Jack Davenport, who really is beautiful.
'Soul, surrendering your soul,
the heart in you not whole
for love, but love walked on,
cast into the dawn,
branded with the mark.
Oh, shame of Cain.'
-Lullaby for Cain, Sinead O'Connor
Not Whole For Love
It was a gamble and it failed. No, that isn't entirely true.
For one thing, the initial gamble worked. I entered the poker game with a pearl necklace (found on the sidewalk) and I left the game with a pearl necklace and a second-class ticket to Italy.
I was unemployed at the time. Hell, I was nearly always unemployed. I could feel myself sliding into the blackness of depression. Demons were consuming me: self-hatred, poverty, failure, anger…
I had been at my lowest ebb when I found the pearl necklace glimmering on the sidewalk and seeking to double my money, I went straight away to the nearest bar and inquired after poker games. I didn't win any money, in fact, but I did end up with a ticket on a ship leaving the next morning.
I figured that it would be easy enough to earn Italian. A charming young man, English speaking, would be indispensable in a hotel. Anything had to be better than unemployment in New York. So I packed one suitcase with books, sheet music, a couple of different ties, a toothbrush, my blunt razor and the few remnants of clothes I possessed. I pawned the pearl necklace for fifty dollars, which was half its real value, but it must have been apparent to the pawnbroker that I was not in a situation to haggle.
In the end, however, the gamble still failed. I couldn't find work in San Remo where I initially went, so I moved onto Rome where I likewise failed. Venice was something of a last ditch effort. I spent all my money on the train fare and wandered despondently round hotels for eleven hours requesting interviews with English speakers. It was November 29th at that point and all the American tourists had long since gone home. No one wanted me.
It was six O'clock when I gave up and I hadn't eaten since breakfast the previous day. The light-headedness that had sustained me during my quest for work had vanished to be replaced by melancholy and hunger cramps. I considered all the ways I could commit suicide and decided that slitting my wrists would be ideal.
I'd pondered killing myself before but this was the first time I had actually pressed a razor to my wrist until the pale skin stretched over the web of blue-purple veins.
But I couldn't do it.
Feeling more of a failure than ever before I sought out the cathedral and prepared to ask for divine intervention.
I sat on my suitcase and stared across at the cathedral, preparing to go inside and present myself to God. The hunger cramps were less sharp now; it was more like a dull, omnipresent ache. I must have sat there for hours, certainly by the time I moved it was late afternoon- the time of day that Venice was at its most beautiful.
I watched a man enter the cathedral. He was tall, with dark hair, too pale to be Italian.
"To be that man," I murmured, watching the dark-haired man disappear into the depths of the cathedral. I decided he was rich, probably a tourist, certainly not hungry like me.
I turned away from the cathedral. I had changed my mind about turning to God; God was for men who could afford Him, men like my rich tourist. They have something to be grateful for; I had nothing but a suitcase of books and sheet music and no piano to play on.
I picked up my suitcase and began to walk. I hummed as I walked, in an attempt to keep my spirits up.
"Beethoven, fifth symphony," said a British voice behind me. I spun round and found myself looking at my cathedral tourist. "Do you play?"
"Piano," I answered. "How did you know I spoke English?"
He smiled softly. "I'm surrounded by Italians, all day, everyday. One learns to spot an ally, as it were."
Not a tourist after all, I thought.
"You're American, I take it?" he asked, giving me a warm smile.
"Boston," I said. "Then New York."
"I've never been." There was an awkward silence. My stomach growled loudly. He was English so, of course, he ignored it.
"You were in the cathedral," I said.
"I do choir practices there," he answered the non-existent question.
"Peter Smith-Kingsley," he said, offering me his hand.
I took the hand; noticed that it was a nice hand- a pianist's hand. "Tom Ripley," I introduced myself. "On vacation." I gave him what I judged to be a warm smile. Small talk was over, introductions had been made and it was time for an invitation to dinner.
"It really is wonderful to hear English," said Peter. He glanced back at the cathedral as though seeking divine inspiration. "Will you come to dinner?" he asked. "That is if you haven't already made plans… Which you probably have… But if you haven't then-"
"I'd love to," I said. It was perfectly true; I was absolutely starving.
And that leads me to the other reason why my gamble was not a failure: it lead to me meeting Peter.
I made him laugh, that was what I noticed first. He laughed when I ordered more food than an average person would eat in a day, he laughed when I pretended to choke on the wine, he laughed when I told him funny stories about my life in New York in my penthouse apartment and my troubled relationship with my millionaire businessman father. He laughed especially loudly (and I can't really blame him for this) when I tried to send my compliments to the chef via a waitor and ended up saying 'would you tell the chef I am happy he cooked me'.
"Perhaps you could teach me some Italian," I said jokingly.
He, however, took me to be serious. "I may just take you up on that."
I smiled, a little nervously.
That leads me onto the second thing I noticed: that he looked at me differently to how men usually looked at other men. He looked at me like he was attracted to me; whether physically or mentally I didn't know. I wondered whether he was queer. What I did know, however, was that I liked it. When I looked up from my food to find his eyes on me, I felt this warm tingling inside. I felt wanted.
At the end of the evening I pretended to reach into the inner pocket of my jacket. "Damn," I said, pretending to be surprised at the lack of wallet there.
"Forgotten it?" he asked, still smiling and still studying me. I apologised profusely, faked embarrassment and that was the end of the matter. He didn't care. Money was of no consequence to him.
"Will you meet me at Café Felipe for breakfast," he asked as we parted. "Of course," I said, suggesting ten O'clock.
"I could show you some of the galleries here. The art is incredible."
Iaccepted the invitation gladly.
He went home and I prepared for an uncomfortable night in a shop doorway.
I put on a new tie in the hope that it made my outfit appear different and desperately smoothed out the creases of my jacket. Then I strolled through the narrow streets, waiting for the time of our meeting and preparing more stories about my life in America. It was all an invention, of course. I had already decided that Peter Smith-Kingsley was my lifeline; the person who could pull me out of the abyss of poverty. I only had to ensure that he believed I was one of them: rich- a gentleman in more than manners.
I made sure I was fashionably late for our meeting. It wouldn't have done to appear over-eager.
The café was small and delightfully Italian. We sat outside, although the sun had not yet brought warmth to the day and Peter ordered pastries of the gooey, sugary sort. "I've been robbed," I told him, pretending to be upset.
"How terrible!" he exclaimed, neglecting to lick a cluster of sugar from his bottom lip.
"What's been taken?"
"My wallet," I said.
"Oh," he said. It was a subtle enquiry as to how much was in my wallet. An invitation I could refuse if I wished to.
"All my money's gone- nearly seven hundred dollars," I lied.
He looked genuinely horrified. "Whatever I can do to help I will," he pledged.
"I'll write my father immediately," I reassured him.
"What can I do?"
"Buy me breakfast," I suggested, giving him a winning grin.
And he was won. I was certain he was queer now- he liked me, of that I was also certain. And I was a little dismayed to find that I wanted him as more than just my lifeline.
"I don't hide what I am. Not from my friends, anyway," Peter said, after we had each eaten three pastries.
"And what are you?" I asked, although I thought I knew by now what he was going to say.
He laughed, maybe a little nervously. "You're going to make me say it, aren't you?" He paused, looked down at the crumbs on his plate. "I'm a –God, it sounds so clinical- homosexual." He dared to look up at me.
I couldn't resist. What's that saying that girls have? Treat him mean; keep him keen. "And you want me to be your friend?" I said.
He looked down again. His fingers slipped on the buttons as he tried to fasten his coat. "It does bother you? Ah. Forgive me," he said, his voice sounding small. "I miscalculated. Forgive me. I shall not trouble you again."
He moved to get up. His chair scraped along the floor but I grabbed his arm, a little too harshly I think, for he cried out softly. "That would be a shame," I said quietly. There was utter confusion written plainly across his face but he settled back in his chair. "I'm afraid I don't follow-"
"You would like me as a friend," I said, not intoning it a question although he answered it as one, anyway.
"And nothing more?"
It could have been relief that showed in his brown eyes but I like to think it was something more. Hope, perhaps? "Nothing, I promise you," he said.
Suddenly, I was hit with this irrational urge to be cruel- to hurt him. "I do not want to be your friend."
Yes, the hurt he felt was visible. He began fumbling in his pockets, counting out silver coins. "This should cover the bill," he said and there was a tremor in his voice. The sound of the coins as they clattered to the tabletop was eerily loud.
"I want to be your lover."
He froze and (I obviously deserved this) I thought that I had made some dreadful mistake; that it was in fact I who had miscalculated. Then he seemed to recover his wits and my anguish was over. He took a deep breath, gestured over a waiter and requested the bill. I remember liking the sound of his voice as he spoke Italian. "Damned Italians take forever with the bill," he said, laughing slightly.
He brushed his leg against mine under the table. It was the most he could do in a public place but to me the touch was electrical.
"I feel-" I tried to begin but he shushed me. The waiter appeared with the bill. He glared at us suspiciously.
"Come on," said Peter. We walked away from the café, felt the waiter's eyes burning into our backs. Then we rounded the corner and I grabbed his hand and we began to run through the streets, laughing like schoolboys. For once I managed to forget who I was; I forgot about my nightmares, my fantasies, forgot that I was a bad person.
We ran a long way and ended up on a pier. The sun was beginning to show itself in its full brightness and it made the canal's water glitter. Peter was bent over double panting and I laughed at him.
"You're younger than me!" he protested.
"Younger and fitter!"
Peter straightened up and looked out over the water. I studied his profile, found myself liking the square jaw and straight nose, although perhaps it was a little large.
He turned to me and I grinned, looking meaningfully around at the streets, which, somehow, were empty. And it was the first thing in my life that had ever been easy: I stepped towards him even as he came to me and we fell into one another's arms. Our lips met- a frantic kiss became a soft kiss, the tenderness almost painful. I'd always scoffed at couples kissing; I had never before kissed anyone but a single schoolgirl for whom I'd felt nothing. I'd never imagined it could feel like this: achingly gentle, loving… The heat of his body pressed against mine was intoxicating, as was the taste of sugar on his lips, coffee in his mouth, the scent of his cologne (wood and spices), the feeling of his pianist's hands running through my hair and caressing my scalp.
We sprang apart like guilty children at the sound of a motorbike approaching.
"Art galleries," I suggested, all too aware of the blush that was creeping up my cheeks.
"Art galleries," he confirmed.
His eyes were sparkling.
The art galleries weren't all that interesting. I fancied myself an art fan because it was part of the life and the culture that I had always yearned for. In fact, I spent most of that day studying him. We went to dinner at a real Italian pizzeria and I drank three glasses of wine; any more may have clouded my judgement. At the end of the day he asked me back to his house. It was what I had been expecting yet the invitation still sent a jolt of lightning through me.
We stood in his hall in the semi-darkness. Nerves had made me tense. I wondered what this tall Englishman who had so willingly taken me into his home, actually wanted with me.
"Um," I said.
"Um," he answered, although his 'um' sounded vaguely amused. I wondered if he brought men home often.
"You can have the guest room if you like," he said, gently. Perhaps he could tell I was scared.
I nodded, bade him goodnight and retreated quickly.
I lay awake in the bed a long time; the sheets were starched and uncomfortable. I rolled onto my back, then onto my front, then onto my back again. It was far too hot. I watched the shadow pictures on the ceiling. I strained my ears attempting to hear Peter breathing in the next room. I tried to hum piano concertos but it didn't help me relax. I moved onto reciting the poetry of my schoolboy classroom; it had induced sleep in me then and might just do the trick now. I tired quickly of Keats, then Burns, and then Byron, but I was still wide-awake. I started on Tennyson with little hope of success:
Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to do and die.
The rhyming couplet stalled me. I repeated it over and over in my head.
I wanted him; there was no denying that. Quite what of him I wanted was another question altogether. I climbed out of bed and went next door. I didn't knock. I was surprised to find him awake and staring at the ceiling. He turned his head towards me and smiled.
"There's a piece of music forming in my head," he said. His voice was quiet yet it sounded eerily loud in the flat's oppressive silence.
"Yes," I answered, not entirely sure what I was doing in his room.
Do and die, I thought. I moved across the room to him, feeling very exposed with the moonlight shining on my naked torso and his eyes following me. I made myself hold his eyes as I rolled back his sheets and climbed into bed with him. The amount of affection in his eyes worried me a little.
It was even warmer in his bed than it had been in mine but I didn't care anymore. Do and die, I thought as I snuggled up close to him.
He sighed happily and fell asleep. I soon followed.
I woke up and climbed out of bed. I tiptoed across his room. What he still asleep? Yes. Nothing short of an explosion or an earthquake would have woken him.
I opened the top-draw of an old wooden chest. It was filled with socks. I took out a pair.
I knew what I had to do and even what to do once I'd done it. If I dumped his body in the canal it would look like an accident.
It was the perfect crime. The perfect way to get rich quick.
I crept back towards him. His mouth was wide open while he snored. I forced the sock into the cavern of his mouth; covered his nostrils, let him choke… Let him die… He fought me but not for long. And then he was still.
I woke up then, drenched in sweat but shivering terribly. The nightmares had not disappeared. I felt ashamed as always. I was worried too. The nightmares always had scared the shit out of me. I feared whether they were in fact foreshadowing what I would do later. Or if one day I might grow suddenly angry and, carried away, do as I had done in my dreams. Kill. The second most terrifying word in the English language (the first is 'love'.)
And then there were the people that said dreams tell of our innermost desires. In that case, what sort of monster was I?
I stayed awake for a long time after that particular dream. The moonlight shone through the open window and I could look over his sleeping form. He looked so peaceful that I felt something inside me, something painful. For a moment I hated him for being able to sleep so peacefully while I was suffering but the hatred I felt soon disappeared. His beauty extinguished it. I loved the way the moonlight played with the shadows of his face; the way he slept with his mouth faintly open; the way his hair, sweat having plastered it to his forehead, stood out against his pale skin. Most of all I loved the way he murmured something unintelligible in his sleep and moved towards me, an arm reaching out for me.
I allowed myself to be pulled towards him and slept.
When I awoke, the sun was blinding and he was gone. Was I always to be left alone? Disappointment tasted bitter in my mouth and I had to recall the memory of him sleeping to make it vanish. Seeing his bathrobe hanging on the back of the door, I climbed out of bed and put it on.
I found him at the dining table, reading an Italian paper and sipping a glass of wine. Hearing me come in, he set the paper down and beamed at me. "You weren't there when I woke," I said, though seeing his face and his smile, I could scarcely remember why I cared.
He laughed, though gently. "Its half past eleven, Tom. The morning is gone already. Shall I make you tea?"
"Wine is fine."
"Very poetic." He poured me a glass of deep red liquid and motioned for me to sit down opposite him. I had to move several pieces of sheet music out of the way.
"I am a little untidy, aren't I?" he said happily. He pushed a basket of crusty bread towards me.
"Uuummm." The bread was fresh; he must have bought it this morning.
"What shall you do today?" he asked. "I have to be in the cathedral for a rehearsal this afternoon but there's plenty for you to see in Venice."
I gulped down some of the wine and he watched me, amused. "I'm doing nothing today," I said. He was still watching me as I tore off another piece of near-warm bread. I met his eyes: dared him to suggest something for me to do.
He didn't though; he only smiled and said that 'sloth is one of the seven sins'.
I like to think that in that moment I was truly happy. "So is lust," I said, smiling back at his smile.
It was six O'clock before he returned. He shook his head and made a noise of disapproval when he found me lying on the sofa, still wearing his gown, and reading one of his books. I said nothing, just watched him as he poured a glass of gin. "Let's go to dinner," he said.
"Aren't you tired?"
"Music doesn't tire me." He looked at me, fondly I think. "Music is the life flowing through my veins." I got up and went through to the bathroom to shave off the day's growth of stubble.
"Music and love, that is," he said as I left but I pretended not to hear because everyone knows that 'love' is a dangerous word and should not be said aloud.
In the bathroom I leaned against the closed door and watched my reflection in the mirror opposite. The reflection-me looked calm.
I found Peter's razor in an ornate jar by the sink. It was sharp, not blunted with overuse and poverty like my own. I was careful as I ran the blade across my chin and my care worked to an extent, as I did not cut my face. I did, however, manage to cut my index finger. I only noticed when I saw the blood, a stupid amount, pooling into the sink. The razor was so sharp that I hadn't felt any pain.
It came to me unexpectedly, as usual, and filled me with the same self-loathing I always felt. I saw Peter walking into the bathroom, myself holding out my arms, inviting him into my embrace and him –so very trusting- not expecting the razor that I whipped out of my pocket and used to cut his throat: a quick cut across the jugular.
And this razor was so sharp that he might not even feel any pain if I did cut his throat.
I came back to earth at the sound of knocking on the door. "Can I come in?" I
dropped the razor into the sink, terrified of what I might do if he came in and I was holding it. I felt the back of my throat burn and the first tears prick my eyes.
"Yes," I managed to say and he came in.
He stared at me for a moment, looked from my bloody finger to my tear-filled eyes and then back again. Then he took my right hand in his and examined my bleeding finger.
"Well, it's nothing to be crying about," he said admonishingly but gently as always.
"Oh God," I said, though I knew by then that God, if such a being existed, did not care for me. Peter looked me in the eyes, and didn't drop my gaze as he slowly brought my finger to his mouth and then sucked on it. A drop of blood formed on his upper lip and it struck me as an intimate thing to have tasted someone else's blood.
"God," I said again.
"Its okay," said Peter. I wept.
The next day he told me solemnly that I should either buy a safety razor or grow a beard.
I continued to stay with him. I didn't leave his house during the daytime. I spent the nights curled in his arms and managed to ignore the nightmares from which I awoke sweating and panting and amazed that there was no blood on my hands. On the days when he wasn't working we played cards, drank wine, read books. It was all quite innocent. Too innocent, perhaps, to be touched by me.
It was also the greatest period in my life so far. Peter was so calm and so gentle with me that it was easy to lie about who I was: easy to assume the identity of a Tom Ripley with money and connections, easy to complain about my father's preoccupation with his successful export business.
After ten days together he had to leave to work on a new opera. "Just for a short time," he consoled me. I was genuinely distraught.
"They don't need me for long. We could go on holiday after. Spend Christmas at one of the ski resorts, if you like. C----- perhaps."
"Yes, yes," I said. "Super." Skiing holidays had been one of my dreams when I was a near-penniless runaway, struggling to manage a job lifting orange crates- a job for which I was clearly not strong enough.
Venice wasn't as great as I'd imagined it. In fact I was rather bored without Peter there. I wandered round some more art galleries, studying paintings in great detail, although it was a complete charade, as they didn't interest me in the slightest. I went to a concert Peter had recommended- this was slightly more interesting, if only because I was genuinely passionate about music. Most of the time, I just sat in cafes, watching passers-by. I studied an Italian grammar book I had found on Peter's shelf in great detail and tried to converse with the locals. It was a relief to be on the train to C-----. I had become more listless the longer I was without him; by the end of the week that he was gone I felt empty. Perhaps romance is a drug and these are my withdrawal symptoms I thought, though in all honesty my relationship with Peter seemed more about companionship than anything else. We had only kissed twice: the second kiss had been oddly chaste, just a gentle meeting of lips by way of greeting one morning.
He met me off the train. We shook hands in a suitably platonic manner and caught a train to the hotel where we were staying. Once we were in our room, we embraced for several minutes. It was a distinct possibility that he had missed me just as much as I had missed him. We pushed the twin beds together and slept for a few hours, my head heavy on his chest.
Dinner that night triggered what appeared to be the beginning of the end. The meal itself was okay but the Logues (part-time friends of Peter's and filthy rich) were sitting three tables away.
"I should go over and say hello, shouldn't I?"
"Stay with me," I said irritably.
He nodded, ate his meal in near-silence. I didn't once make him laugh. Both of us declined pudding, refused coffee.
Peter gave the Logues another anxious glance. "I ought to go over."
"Then go," I said. "I'm going to walk back."
"Why don't you come over?" he asked. Perhaps he was worried that I felt excluded.
I tried to decline the invitation gracefully; as usual I succeeded in sounding like a spoilt child. "No thank you."
"Okay," he said calmly. He got up. "You'll settle the bill, won't you?"
And so I was found out.
"You lied," he said simply. He didn't raise his voice, didn't demand an explanation, didn't appear angry, just looked a little sad.
"I did," I admitted, realising that now I'd confessed it there was no going back.
"You're not the son of a millionaire."
"You can't even afford a meal in a restaurant."
I shook my head, felt desperately sick all of a sudden.
"And the reason you have no clothes in your wardrobe is not eccentricity -"
"Can't afford any," I said bitterly. I put my head into my hands so he would not see the tears forming there.
"Then it's all been a lie," he stated. He still didn't sound angry.
"Yes," I said, then, "no."
"Well, which is it to be?"
I was determined to cling to my newfound life. I didn't realise that it wasn't really the life I was clinging to but him. Peter Smith-Kingsley. My lover. If he had thrown me out I might have found a job. There were still American tourists in the ski resorts. But if he did throw me out what was the chance of me ever finding someone like him again?
"One thing hasn't been a lie," I said softly, forcing myself to move my hands from my tear-filled eyes. "Us."
Tears shone in his eyes as well, though he was determinedly blinking them away. Englishmen don't cry. Stiff upper lip and all that. "Us?" he whispered.
"You, me." I gestured around the room. "This. What we have."
I tried harder. "The feeling when we're walking and you accidentally brush up against me."
"Electricity," he said.
"Yes!" I cried, somewhat surprised that he had felt it too. "I love that feeling."
He nodded, came towards me and knelt at my feet. He had made his decision. "I don't love that feeling; I need that feeling."
My heart swelled. "Peter, I'll never lie again. I'll never-"
"Shhh… No promises, eh?" He wiped my eyes with his thumbs then took my head in between the palms of his hands. They felt warm and clammy. "I need you," he murmured. He rested his forehead against mine. "I need you but I also need some time."
We moved the beds apart again.
I woke up at eight O'clock to find Peter gone. There was a note: Gone walking –P.S.K.
I left our room and found a bar on the first floor of our hotel. I drank two martinis and put them on Peter's tab.
By the time I returned to our room, Peter was back from his walk. I found him standing on the balcony and looking out over the snow covered mountains. The sky that day was a washed-out grey and it was difficult to tell where the sky ended and the white-carpeted earth began. He was wearing a grey-turtleneck sweater and his skin looked grey too. There was no colour in the landscape and no colour in him.
My entire world turned colourless.
"I'm sorry," I said, knowing that he couldn't hear me through the glass but needing to apologise all the same.
Two days later itwas my turn to be staring out at the snow-covered landscape. This time, however, the sky was blue and the air was hopeful. I sensed rather than heard him come up behind me. "So beautiful," he whispered in my ear. "So very cruel."
"Even roses have thorns."
He wrapped his arms round me and I leaned back slightly. He felt warm, solid, steady and I pitied him; pitied him for staying with me, for loving me when I was clearly not meant to be loved.
We moved the beds back together that night.
On the last day of our holiday we went for a walk. Neither of us really spoke and I felt slightly guilty at the way I'd mistreated him. It was the fist time I'd felt anything but triumph and relish.
As we walked the wind suddenly got up. It was ridiculously loud and made my ears ache and my teeth chatter. "Peter," I said but he didn't hear me. I tugged on his sleeve to attract his attention. "Let's go back!"
He nodded. The wind had bitten his cheeks making them rosy.
The same wind stirred the soft powdery snow and we were caught in a blizzard but Peter seemed to know where he was going and I followed, trusting him for once. Twenty minutes on, we were nearly back at the resort; back in the world of the Logues and Freddie Miles. I was cold yet not quite ready to go inside. I stopped and watched Peter walk on for ten paces before he noticed I was gone. He turned around.
"Coming?" he called.
I shook my head. "Why do you stay with me?" I shouted.
He looked at me as if I were stupid. "Because I'm in love with you, you daft sod!"
I thought he was joking so I gave him a big grin. Then, feeling impulsive, drunk on the mountain air perhaps, I ran towards him and kissed him on the lips.
In retrospect he probably wasn't joking at all.
I lived with Peter for the next few months.
I didn't exactly get a job but I did do few odd things and earned myself some money: travel writing, English lessons, playing piano at the odd party or concert. I came to rely a little lesson on Peter financially, which was good, but all the same I grew to need him more and more.
The visions I sometimes had, the 'Death Dreams' I always thought of them as, grew increasingly frequent but less realistic. I learnt to ignore them. I think I came to realise that I cared for Peter far too much to kill him. It sounds ridiculous but it's true.
"You know what would be nice?" I said to Peter one day, perhaps four months after we first met.
"What?" He glanced up from the page of music he was scribbling on.
"If we could rent a house somewhere."
"We have a house here," Peter pointed out.
"I know, I mean 'our house'. Somewhere bought for us. Meant for us." I was getting a bit too romantic for my own good, I think.
Nevertheless, the idea appealed to Peter. "That would be nice."
Peter bought a cat and a hearthrug. It was a ridiculous play of setting up home but he seemed to be cheerful enough.
It will never work, I told myself. What was it that we had after all? A relationship built on suspicion, on lies? He knew I had lied once; he said he didn't care but I suspected I had hurt him. Still, said some part of me, he looks happy enough now. You may be mad but he's sane enough. He'll pull you through.
"Tom!" called Peter from the balcony of our new home.
"Yes?" I answered, going outside. I noticed the cat sprawled in the last rays of sunlight. It looked so carefree that I immediately hated it; decided that it might suffer a little accident soon, fall into the water and drown perhaps. This thought barely shocked me now.
Peter handed me a glass of champagne. "To us!" he said. We raised our glasses in a toast and drank.
"We'll be happy," said Peter.
"Yes," I replied. My voice sounded oddly sincere.
Peter took my hands in his. "I love you," he half-whispered.
I realised he was expecting a reply. "I know," I said.
We stood in silence, still holding hands. My palms were sweating but he made no move to release me. The last light of the day cast a halo over everything; bathed it all in beauty and happiness. Maybe I will be happy, I decided. It was a foreign notion but I found that I liked it.
I looked across at the man who had rescued me from poverty and despair. He was not yet old, barely thirty, but the golden light made him appear gloriously young and far less tired than I had seen him in the past weeks. He was humming something to himself; probably composing a new tune.
"You're beautiful," I said suddenly.
He smiled and I smiled back.
It wasn't exactly 'I love you' but it was a start.