- Gilbert in Arcadia
Gilbert was humming on the drive back from Lucy's when a sound like a foghorn rent the air. In the nearby field the black bull was pressed against the fence, every ounce of his massive body given over to his pink-throated, mournful cries. Did he know, Gilbert wondered, that he could step through the fence in a second? Turning back to the road, he saw that, once again, he had missed the lane leading to his brother's house. At supper the night before he'd remarked how, after more than a month, he still got lost on his homeward journeys. Neither Patrick nor Carol had smiled at his feeble pleasantry. Carol had said, "Oh, Gilbert," and Patrick, a landscape gardener, had reminded him to look for the gray bole of the copper beech.
Now he performed his customary U-turn, parked in the lane, and let himself into the house, carelessly, expecting Carol to be in her studio, only to discover her at the kitchen sink, washing mushrooms. "A man called to see you," she said, half-turning to greet him.
So the bull was an omen, Gilbert thought: Stewart had come, at last. But no, Carol had met Stewart several times; she wouldn't call him "a man." "What was his name?"
"He said it wouldn't mean anything." As she described the man, he realized she had been waiting for him. "A little older than you. The usual height. White shirt, green tie, awful, old-fashioned tan jacket, creases in his trousers. Those leather shoes with little holes."
"Brogues. But what about his face? You can't identify someone from their shoes."
"The only interesting thing about his face," she said thoughtfully, "was how forgettable it was: no beard, no scars, no expression." She herself had a tear-shaped scar below one cheekbone where a drop of molten glass had landed when she first started glassblowing. "He said he'd be back."
Since he moved in with Carol and Patrick, Gilbert had woken [End Page 3] most mornings convinced that everyone hated him, but, climbing the stairs to his room, he could not think of a single person, other than Stewart, who would track him down in the wilds of Suffolk to tell him so. Despite everything, he felt a pang of pleasure as he opened the door of his room. When he had looked at the house with Patrick and Carol, more than a decade ago, it was the sight of these elegant windows and wide floorboards that had made him say, "You have to buy this place." He checked his computer to see if his visitor had sent a message. For a few days after he left London, Stewart had bombarded him with e-mails; he'd stopped when Gilbert asked, repeatedly, for his missing wages. Curt replies to other friends had thinned his in-box. Today there was only a brief acknowledgment of the one job he'd applied for. "Dear Mr. Vickers, thank you for your interest. …"
When the doorbell rang, Gilbert paused, fork raised over his lasagna. Between his nap and laying the table, he'd forgotten about the mystery caller. But Patrick was already on his feet, muttering about canvassers. Local elections were a few weeks away. Let it be the Green Party, thought Gilbert. Let it be New Labour. Then he heard his brother say, "Yes, he's here." As they passed in the hall, Patrick clapped him on the shoulder.
The man beneath the porch light fit Carol's description perfectly. "Good evening. Gilbert Jerome Vickers?"
Any lingering doubts about the gravity of the occasion were dispelled by the sound of his middle name, not heard since finals at university.
"I'm here to serve you with a subpoena. All inquiries should be addressed to the lawyers named on the form."
Then, somehow, Gilbert was holding the papers, and the man was walking down the garden path, his tan jacket sifting into the darkness. In the dining room Patrick broke off his description of a new variety of peony to ask if everything was OK, and, suddenly, Gilbert couldn't...