A short story by Lisa McGlade
By Lisa McGlade
Published February 26, 2007
"...probably in their early forties. Mr. and Mrs. Springer, I guess, but nowadays it's so hard to tell. She's Kaye. And he's Jack. They seem nice. She...."
Maryann Hutchison always found it hard to concentrate on the prattle of Doreen Smith. She was simply far too distracted by how much the woman resembled a Pekingese dog. The real estate agent's words about the new people moving in across the street from Maryann registered almost entirely like so much yapping. She found it hard often to meet Doreen's eyes. She was so earnest in her desire to belong in Maryann's social circle of wives in the neighbourhood.
Really, after all, the book did say, "You will meet with others who don't understand you and your quest to be 'her'. Often, underneath the guise of feminism you will see them in careers that leave them forlorn by modern day standards and I tell you, you will know them by their desperation to be you." The New Wives, Alder Katherine, Stanton. CH III; PG 223
Maryann figured this lack of attentiveness had Doreen confused. She must have read the book; simply every woman had! Perhaps Doreen had done so listlessly, as though it were coming to her from under water. She was, however, a good real estate agent, in that, she had most likely finished the book to understand her market. Doreen couldn't have understood why she always felt so rejected by the new wives, as they called themselves. She practically shook as she talked, so great was her desire to please.
"As I was saying, they seem like nice people, she might be a little bit quirky, I guess, but..."
The word 'quirky' got Maryann's attention. Merely a slightly raised eyebrow made the gesture. She felt it best not to greatly excite mutual interest in any of Doreen's stories; she wasn't always sure the woman was house broken. However, she registered a kind of pity for the Springers right at that moment.
Days later she watched their move from her living room window. She regarded Kaye Springer in her husband Jack's shirt, with her dirty rolled up jeans and unkempt blonde hair in a ponytail; laughing as she helped him carry an old couch through their front door. Maryann's eyes grew wide behind the slits of her Venetian blinds. Kaye Springer's husband Jack was as disheveled as his wife. He sported that fresh out of bed look that told Maryann that he was of a slightly younger generation than she and, it would appear, Kaye herself. It would seem that her new neighbour was married to a SNAG. "...A SNAG, or, sensitive new age guy is to be enjoyed only at arm's length! These are men, often younger than oneself that think of you as a 'yummy mummy'. You will find them lurking around your local coffee shop. Their flirtations are enjoyable, but girls, take heed! These men are not husband material! They are web designer's, landscape architects or, God forbid, filmmaker's..." Alder Katherine Stanton. "The New Wives" CH IX, PG 407
She shook her well-coiffed head at the small amount of furniture the Springers were moving into their large house. They were clearly not prepared for the affluence subtly required by the suburbs they were moving into.
Maryann took a moment to glance over her shoulder at the comfortable clutter of her of her own space. She ran a red fingernail over an eyebrow, an unconscious gesture she had been making since she was younger. She smiled to herself however, with the kind of self-satisfaction that could only come with age.
When she turned back to her watch of the Springer's move into the house across the street, Kaye was carrying a nicked up old end table. In passing her husband she smiled and kissed him on the cheek. The whole of their move, Maryann never saw a harsh word pass between them. She thought back to she and Doug's own move. Even when they had had mover's they still snapped relentlessly at each other. Maryann sighed; she had needed to wear a very "special outfit" for that make-up session.
A well coiffed appearance, a house maintained with comfortable but tidy clutter and "special outfits", were, for Maryann and her friends in the neighbourhood, part of being the "New Wives".
"The New Wives" was their bible, their handbook. It philosophized that the days of the frustrated housewife on tranquilizers and vodka were over. The idea being that the ageless role of wife and mother could be empowering, a welcome relief from the rat race of double incomes and juggling just, well, too much. All in easy, reasonably numbered steps. To say nothing of the splashy fonts and glossy pictures of content, glamourous homemakers captioned with words to the effect of "all this could be yours".
Yes, the days of frumpy and grumpy were over. The days of a husband trading in his wife for a younger model were over. A wife could stay sexy and keep her man if she looked upon it as a job. A job that she got paid for in security, modern conveniences and steady, pleasurable sex. The sex was where the special outfits came in. Couples were encouraged by the book to explore fantasies in their sex life and it was good for the wife to take the lead. "New Wives" were the matriarchs of their world, kind and practical. Housework was shared out according to capability and time. Maryann's two young children made their beds; Doug did yard work and laundry. He cooked sometimes, sometimes she did.
The new wives had style.
The Springers seemed to be lacking just that.
Maryann turned away from the window. She was very good at being a new wife. She did it with much less stress than her mother had. When she was in high school, a boy she'd had a crush on had told her she'd make someone a good wife someday. Despite the strident protests of her female classmates, she had taken that as a compliment. Reading the book later in life had sealed for her what she now saw as her life's calling. Her eyes roamed lovingly around her tasteful décor, she pictured those same classmates running around, disheveled and demeaned, trying to push their children around in grocery carts and attempting to ignore their sore feet, still crammed into their office shoes. She felt a smug smile creep over her face, tried to subdue it and finally, indulged.
She didn't call on Kaye Springer right away. It seemed only decent to give them a few days to settle in. She contented herself with her window vantage point. To a woman as highly organized as Maryann, it was all very perplexing.
Kaye didn't seem to be in any hurry to settle in. She would meander out to pick up the mail at noon, wrapped in a cheap silk robe. "It's like she's just gotten out of bed." Maryann murmured to herself, glancing at her watch. There was something, well, slatternly about Kaye Springer in her faded jeans and matted ponytail. Maryann felt a rising pity for her new neighbour and almost unconsciously put her copy of the book in her purse as she started across the street.
"Hi!" Maryann called to Kaye as she reached the Springers property line. Kaye was wandering around her front garden with a cup of black coffee in her hand. "I'm Maryann Hutchison, I live across the street. Welcome to the neighbourhood."
Kaye wiped some sleep from her eyes and stuck out her hand, "Thanks. I'm Kaye Springer. Do you want some coffee?"
"Oh, no thanks. I had a latte earlier. That's my cup for the day." The book discouraged too much caffeine, smoking was definitely out and alcohol restricted to decent chardonnay. All this left a wife with a clear mind and encouraged balance and good taste.
A strange soft smile played on Kaye's lips at Maryann's refusal. "Well, this is a beautiful neighbourhood. We love the house very much. Jack wanted to be close to work. He's at the greenhouse not far from here."
"How are you settling in?"
"Oh, fine. I do what I can while I try to get some other work done."
"What do you do Kaye?"
"I'm a writer."
Artistic. That explained so much to Maryann. Combining being a writer with working at a greenhouse, she wondered how the Springers could afford the house. The mention of writing made her reach for the book in her purse. "Are you published at all?" She asked absently, trying to find a smooth way to introduce the book into the conversation.
"I am, actually. Years ago, during my first marriage, I wrote this really popular piece of self-help tripe called 'The New Wives'..."
The book fell from Maryann's fingers to the bottom of her purse.
"...It was truly a load of crap. But, well, it paid for this house, and the divorce. Now I'm thinking about going into mystery novels."
Kaye continued to chat amiably about her work. Maryann kept a frozen smile on her face as her world crumbled around her.
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