She decided the new wife should ease into the role gradually despite their shared eagerness. They began with sleepover’s. She and the husband had not shared the same bedroom in many years due to his farting, snoring, thrashing, and bed and blanket hogging, and he liked it that way. She knew that if the new wife came late and left early and he caught a glimpse of her, he would not know the difference. After all, the new wife was practically herself—Midwestern sturdy. And, after all, he worked twelve, thirteen, fourteen hour days, leaving at the crack of dawn; the kitchen filled with the reek of burnt bacon. Getting home after sunset, he’d eat his dinner then go to bed after a few minutes of television. She grabbed a sleeping bag and slept on the floor of her teenage daughter’s bedroom, the new wife in her new bed.
When she advertised for the new wife on Craigslist all she asked was that the new wife be able to cook, clean, pay bills, and cheerlead. The last skill being of the utmost importance and the only thing the husband ever noticed missing, when it went missing. “There are only so many years of cheerleading one can perform before your voice becomes hoarse,” she explained to the candidates.
She rented a cute little arts and crafts bungalow in the village she’d always dreamed of living in, fifteen minutes closer to her job. There wasn’t much she wanted to take with her, and she was able to find look-alike replacements at the local thrift stores. He didn’t notice the changes. She moved one pet out at a time. First a cat. Then the other cat. Then the old dog. Then the pug. She and the daughter stayed there during his working hours, and the new wife stayed in her new house, becoming familiar with its routines. The new wife cooked the dinner and left it on warm in the oven. He did not notice the change.
The new wife said, “I think we should try an evening.”
And so they did. The daughter stayed at the new house and she went out to fill the bird feeders after his supper and the new wife walked back in. The new wife cleaned up the kitchen, sat down to watch television with him for a few minutes, said goodnight when he went to bed. He did not notice. The new wife took on the evening shift. The daughter moved into the bungalow.
“I’ve been practicing cheerleading,” said the new wife.
She said, “Okay, let’s try it. After he gets home from work early on Saturdays, around five pm, he needs it. Since you’ll already be there, why not just stay for dinner and cheerlead after.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” the new wife said.
“How’d it go?” she asked the new wife Sunday morning out in the driveway.
“He complained about his job.”
“Yes, he does that.”
“Said he’s unappreciated by his boss. Underpaid. Should never have closed his business down four years ago. Feels like a failure. Said that if I hadn’t quit doing the books to pursue my own career, even though I’d always dreamed of doing it, he wouldn’t have been forced to close down. But couldn’t he have just hired another bookkeeper?”
“Yes. He will blame us for everything.”
“He said all he ever does is work.”
“What did you say to him?”
“I said everything was going to be okay. That he’s so talented. That if he wanted he could start up another company and I’d be the backbone. I’d quit my own newly-minted career and devote myself entirely to his success. He wouldn’t have to work so many hours.”
“What did he say?”
“Don’t get any ideas about anyone working less hours. His career will always require the ultimate devotion. It’ll always be his biggest priority. I told him I understood.”
“Perfect,” she said. “Did you have sex?”
“No, he went to bed early. Said he had to get up and work around the house.”
“What did you do?”
“Watched movies on Netflix by myself.”
“It’s a tough job,” she said. “I hope you can handle it.”
“I think I can,” said the new wife. “I like movies.”
After the new wife was working five out of seven suppertimes, she told her there was one more thing the new wife needed to know. “He’s a go-around man.”
“What kind of man is that?”
“Everything circles around back to him. He should be surrounded by a sparkling impenetrable bubble that floats up into the sky and shines down happiness. What makes him happy should make you happy. You must provide the invisible air that keeps the bubble afloat.”
She went on, “If you try to leak out, he’ll fight you. You’ll find yourself repeating over and over as to why you no longer want to live on a dirt road (for instance), at the bottom of a steep hill that’s icy all winter that leaves mud and dust on your SUV and your house and the back of your pant legs. It’s truly exhausting.”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll fight,” the new wife said.
“Really? Why not?”
“Because I’m not in love with him. He broke your heart not mine.”
She had her last supper at the old place. When she got in her SUV and drove down the driveway, she thought she ought to be crying and wondered why she didn’t. The exchange had been very pleasant, the new wife very supportive. The new wife was hoping to have sex with him that night.
“I hope you do too,” she said. “Let me know if he notices.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure he won’t,” the new wife said.
“I’m pretty sure you’re right,” she said, but it no longer broke her heart.
Jennifer Porter will be graduating in January 2014 from the MFA program at the Bennington Writing Seminars. She was a recipient of a Liam Rector Scholarship. This is her first publication in a literary magazine.