She leaned back and peered over her book at Timothy. He wore a red sweater with yellow chevrons under his tweed jacket. He didn’t match. In fact Timothy never matched.
He was the sort of person who always wore two different colored socks. As if it was beyond his comprehension to put on two black socks with matching shoes. Thistle softly smiled at his peculiar shoelaces. He was wearing blue shoelaces with maroon aglets. His shoelaces had been the first thing she noticed that day he came into the agency. The day her chest tightened and her breath stilled.
Timothy was her neighbor over the way. She’d noted, while pruning her hedge straight with a difference of several microns across its five foot length, that the man across the way was pruning his hedge into an asymmetrical zigzag. She’d noted his uncombed bed hair kind of way. It wasn’t until the shoelaces that he had her.
Currently Timothy was reading about porcupines. His wife, Penny, had been complaining about the porcupine in her garden. She’d come over on Wednesday night with a Ban the Porcupines petition. Thistle signed it. Although she couldn’t understand how you could tell the porcupines not to live in one’s garden. Penny was a bulldozer, better not to say no.
Timothy had been dispatched at ten to ten to find out how to eradicate porcupines. He was deeply involved in this research. He took any task given him seriously. Penny never trusted him to do anything, never. In her opinion if the man couldn’t match his socks there was nothing he could do. She had informed Thistle of this fact when she had first moved in.
Penny was the head of the neighborhood association and she’d come to welcome Thistle to the block. She’d brought enough treats to feed an army and talked her ear off about that bumbling idiot of a man. Thistle nodded, made appropriate noises, and eventually went back to hanging her pictures on the appointed gallery wall.
She always had a gallery wall with one image of every place she’d lived. (According to her coworker Tina her duplex looked exactly like the travel agency only more upscale and less beige.) What she didn’t have were pictures of people as Penny had pointed out.
“No one, then?” she asked.
“No, always just been me” Thistle replied.
Penny wrinkled her nose, squinted, paused and then stated “Well that’s nice.”
Thistle recalled these moments as she watched Timothy research porcupines. She had reached the point where she had to make a decision. Her decision making method was to review the evidence, analyze the evidence, make a decision, then change her mind and go through the whole procedure at least three to five more times. She was on her third decision making attempt. She thought about the beginning: the shoelaces.
She had been sitting at her glass desk in her beige office flicking through travel magazines. It was her job to pick the next “it” destination and she was on round four of her decision making process. She was feeling a little smug as she had just secured a 40% discount on the package deal for her winter trip to Australia. Her russet brown hair was staying in a French knot for once, which made her feel more superior. So there she was, smug, superior, flipping through travel magazines, remembering that time in Thailand when she’d meet that one German. And in walks Timothy.
She saw the pink shoelaces with yellow aglets first. She looked up and took in the tatty camel pants, the tweed jacket with worn out elbow pads, the green and purple sweater, the just got out of bed hair, the general air of dishevelment and uncertainty, her chest tightened, her breath stilled. She’d just sat there, travel magazine in hand, and stared. Timothy, hand still on the doorknob, piped up
“Can you help me, I need, I think I need a vacation? The girl at the front said to talk to you, said you specialized in adventures?”
“Yes, do come in, sit down.”
Timothy sat akimbo on the edge of the Danish modern chair.
“What sort of vacation are you interested in?” her normal first question.
“Well, I don’t know, it’s just, well Penny, my wife, she wants to go on vacation, wants it for her birthday present you see. And well, I don’t know, she said something romantic, something fun. She said things are getting stale and need spicing up.” Timothy sighed.
Thistle could tell he wished Penny would tell him which vacation package to buy. She went into expert mode.
“Well I have some brochures you could take home with you to have a look at. If you’re looking closer to home I’d recommend the usual weekend in Paris or Rome. If you want something a little more exotic our package deals in the Caribbean are quite popular. The Bahamas are the top seller right now. I have a promotion running on five nights at the Stella Maris resort. You can go swimming with sharks there. Very exciting. Would definitely spice things up.” She walked over to the brochure wall and picked out a few to give him.
“Swimming with sharks?” Timothy spoke haltingly under his breath.
“Oh yes, very popular, great fun, done it myself more than once. Exhilarating.” She smiled her professional traveler smile.
Timothy said slowly raising his voice to a squeak “You went swimming with sharks, more than once, but you’re so normal looking.”
Her smile froze. “Once in the Bahamas, once in Honduras, thinking about going again this winter in Australia.” she retorted.
“Well” Timothy said, taking the brochures, “Tropical might be what she wants, and I know she hates cruises. I’ll just let her have a look through and see what she says.”
“I think that’s a good idea. If you want to leave me your address and number I’ll let you know if any other deals come up. I could add you to the mailing list if you like.” she offered.
Timothy considered this and knotted his brow. “Yes the more choices she has the better.”
It was when Thistle looked over the form that she realized he lived across the street.
“We’re neighbors” she stated as Timothy was about to leave. “I live across the street Number 44, Thornton Terrace.”
“Oh, yes the red house with the straight hedges, I can never get mine right, how do you do it?” he asked.
“Laser level” she stated.
Timothy backed out slowly panic seeping over his face.
“I’ll send Penny over then if she has any questions, I take it you’ve meet Penny.”
“Oh yes, but come over yourself whenever you reach a decision.” She said this to his camel rear end as the door closed.
That night she decided to stalk him. This was an easy decision. Penny was so obviously wrong for him and she was so obviously right. There was no other option but to try and bump into him randomly and see if she could strike up any interest. That normal comment preyed on her a bit, but she was sure with better lighting she could overcome that.
She took a couple days off work to establish his routine. He left early in the morning to go to the university where he was a professor of history specializing in Roman Britain. After classes he generally went to the library to grade papers and do research. Then home to Penny who generally gave him a lecture over dinner. After the lecture he disappeared upstairs. As Thistle’s binoculars couldn’t peer into the back of his house she was not able to establish what he did next. She concluded that the library was the most probable spot for randomly bumping into him.
Every Tuesday and Thursday she went over for a few hours in the afternoon to do “travel research” as she told Tina. Tina of course knew better but thought it would be the best thing for Thistle if she did get a man. Albeit one with odd taste in shoelaces. Thistle didn’t stop there of course, it was necessary to lay a little groundwork.
She began with Penny, as she had an excuse. The goal was to discover if there were any wedges she could drive through the Timothy/Penny relationship. One evening she knocked on the door, when she knew Timothy was out, armed with brochures. Penny opened with a questioning look as she normally went over to the neighbors not the other way round.
“Timothy came in recently about a vacation, but he really didn’t know what he wanted poor man. I thought I’d bring you some additional options.” she said brightly.
“Come in, well that is nice of you, Timothy forgot to bring the brochures home the last time. Couldn’t get anything out of him other than something about sharks. He was very worked up over it, looked half balmy he did.”
They sat on the chocolate brown sofa.
“I suggested a promotional offer on a five night stay at resort in the Bahamas where you could swim with sharks he seemed stunned at the thought” she replied.
“The man would be, has no balls, keeps saying why don’t we go to Paris like normal people. We’re not normal people I keep saying. We’re Penny and Timothy and we do interesting things. But well, I’m the only interesting one around here.” Penny sighed.
Sipping her tea Thistle asked “Everything all right between you two, I always thought you were a great couple. Why at the dinner the other night you seemed to be going great guns.”
“Well you have to put a face on it don’t you. I insist on that. It’s just he’s ever so, well Timothy. He just wants to sit and make model Roman forts, or read books, or go walking along Hadrian’s Wall, or explore some dry old ruin. He lives in his head that man, and he just can’t do anything right.”
“Well that’s men for you. I once had a boyfriend who thought it was a great idea to buy me a t-shirt that said “bitch” on it for my birthday. Said it was meant to be funny. Really.”
“I hope you dumped him.”
“Well yes obviously.”
“No Timothy he’s in his head. It’s as if he just doesn’t notice me anymore, doesn’t listen. The louder I talk, the more I say, the more I nag him, the less he listens, and the more things he does wrong. I’m just at my wits end. And, well. . .”
“I don’t want to be indiscreet, especially seeing you’re a neighbor. . ” Penny hesitated.
“Sometimes you just have to get it off your chest.” Thistle said gently.
“True, your so right. . . well we haven’t had sex in months you see, just ages. Whenever I bring it up he goes on about Roman swords and swans off to his library.” Penny clutched a tissue and started to snivel. “It just makes you feel so unattractive when your own husband doesn’t want anything to do with you, I know I’ve put on a bit of weight recently, and I’m not the best at being feeling towards people, but honestly my own husband.”
“There, don’t cry, don’t let him do this to you, you’re an attractive woman, this isn’t your fault you know, I’m sure there are lots of men who’d want to sleep with you.” Thistle patted her hand and faked a look of concern.
“You know you’re right, I shouldn’t let a man get me down, I’ll. . . I’ll have a talk with Timothy about it later, take some action.” stated Penny firmly.
Thistle went home and watched the fight through the binoculars. A good days work she thought.
For the next few weeks the talk of the block was Penny and Timothy. At the ice cream social it was apparent that relations were strained. Timothy refused to get Penny a banana split. He even said in public at high volume “Do it yourself”.
Then when Penny was supposed to be in charge of the bake sale she canceled at the last minute. Rumor had it she’d had a major fight with Timothy and was so upset she couldn’t face making a hundred coconut macaroons.
The rumor mill was in full swing on Wednesday when Mrs. Aster had spotted Timothy leaving his brothers whom he only visited under duress. Despite her successful wedge driving, Thistle felt her plan wasn’t going well.
She had yet to have a conversation with Timothy. She had however had increasingly pleasant sensations peering over books at him every Tuesday and every Thursday. It was all the little things: the way he got red ink all over his chin when he was grading, the way he could never find anything he needed and rummaged distractedly for ages, the way he smiled when reading Caesars Commentary on the Gallic Wars.
If she could make herself a roman woman, who’d built a time machine and jumped all those centuries to reveal to the world the intricacies of roman society, Timothy would throw her to the ground and ravage her right then and there.
The first week she’d read up on Roman Britain, which was more interesting than it initially sounded. She had smiled at Timothy on her way in and out and had even asked him if he was interested in a Roman Ruin tour of Italy. He just made a snorting sort of noise, smiled and went back to his books. She had slipped the brochure into his pile of papers.
The second week she had waved coyly, smiled sexily and walked past him close enough to let him get a whiff of her perfume. Again nothing.
The third week she had asked him about his relationship with Penny, saying she’d heard on the grape vine that it wasn’t going well, but it couldn’t possibly be true could it? “She’s just so Penny” he sighed. Well that was four words in a row at least.
And now it was week four. She was trying to decide if it was worth continuing. She was never one to give up, but she had to be realistic. He and Penny were married, they weren’t splitting up far as she knew, he paid not the least mind to her, and he thought she was normal. Immersed in these thoughts she heard someone clearing their throat behind her.
“I was wondering what your thoughts on porcupines might be.” said Timothy.
“Porcupines?” she asked.
“It’s just Penny has this problem with the porcupines in the garden, she’s running this campaign, and I know you signed the petition, but really, what’s wrong with porcupines?”
“Nothing far as I know, I rather like them myself.” she stated.
“I once had a pet porcupine named Caligula, he never ate all the grass or destroyed the flowers.” Timothy sighed. “She’s just so Penny, always has to have a project, always has to be mowing someone down, or porcupines in this case. I mean what did the porcupine ever do to her?”
“Maybe she’s compensating?” suggested Thistle.
“Well I wish she’d compensate without involving me, all I wanted to do today was work on my book, you know I’m writing the comprehensive work on the Roman’s in Britain, and along comes Penny demanding that I find out how to eradicate the porcupines.”
“I think you should just do what you want, if Penny really wants rid of the porcupine, she can very well get a spade and force him out” she suggested.
“Hmmm” A smirk played on Timothy’s lips at the image of Penny attacking a porcupine with a shovel. “The porcupine doesn’t stand a chance against Penny.”
With that he began walking back to his table but turned and stared at her for a second.
“I think I might sign us up for that Roman Ruin tour, I’ll pop by sometime.”
“All right then.” She watched him wind his way back to his table, take all the porcupine materials and dump them on a nearby cart.
Thistle decided to stop by the nursery after leaving the library. She slowly worked her way up and down aisles of gnomes and assorted creatures. She’d always had an aversion to gnomes, but she did have a very cute bunny living in her front garden named Flopsy.
She was considering buying Flopsy a friend when Mrs. Aster approached her.
“You are after Timothy aren’t you?” she blurted.
“Yes” Thistle replied her eyes growing large. Mrs. Aster lived a few houses up and she had no idea that she was that astute.
“Your quite prefect for him, I gather you know that.”
“Yes” Thistle stated again.
“Well I just wanted to give you some advice, let him come to you in his time. You don’t want to be that woman, you don’t want that on your conscience”
Mrs. Aster nodded her head sharply and disappeared into the fern section. Thistle took a deep breath and proceeded down the gnome aisle.
A few days later Timothy found a package on his usual desk at the library. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with yellow string. It was small but heavy. It had a note attached. Timothy looked around to see who could have left it, there was no one there. He unwrapped it slowly, coming face to face with a ceramic porcupine.
He opened the note. “Timothy. I think porcupines are rather wonderful. I was thinking that you could put him in the garden to replace the one that Penny drove out with the spade yesterday. I don’t think you should name him after a Roman emperor as they were all such awful people and you wouldn’t want anymore trouble in this area. Instead I think you should call him Edgar. It’s a nice sensible name for a nice friendly porcupine. Thistle”
Timothy arrived home early whistling as he placed Edgar prominently next to the front step where he knew Penny would spot it the minute she came home. He looked over at the crimson house with the straight hedges and indulged himself in a broad smile.