by Rowena Wiseman
Luisa has fallen madly in love with sculptor Jarvis, so she comes up with a plan to find a new wife for her husband Luke so she can exit stage left. She wants to screen potential stepmothers for her 8-year-old son Max and has strict criteria: the woman must be a single mother; have no more than two children; she can't be authoritarian; she must be creative, nurturing and not much prettier than Luisa.
After a few carefully orchestrated meetings with different women that fail to raise a spark, Luke finally connects with a potential replacement wife. However, Luisa isn't prepared for the fact that Luke's interest in the other woman makes him a better man and a more attractive husband. After suffering for years in a half-dead marriage, Luisa starts to remember what it was about Luke that she originally fell in love with. But is it too late?
It was my brother Chris’s fortieth birthday party, and I was in the kitchen helping my sister-in-law prepare salads. I was chopping spring onions when I saw Jarvis walk through the back gate. He’d grown a beard, so at first I wasn’t sure it was him. I asked Melissa, ‘Is that Jarvis?’
‘Yeah. He’s finally coming along to something,’ she responded. I watched through the window as Jarvis greeted my brother with a hefty handshake and a six-pack of ciders. It must have been at least a dozen years since I’d seen him, but it appeared now that my long-ago crush had left a tiny cavity in my heart. Distracted, I turned my attention to grating carrots for the Ottolenghi sweetcorn slaw, but ended up grazing my knuckle.
An hour later, after we’d eaten, I was sitting on the back deck. My best friend, Hattie, had just left when Jarvis walked up and sat beside me.
‘Hey there,’ he said, cautiously.
Greetings dealt with, an awkward silence fell.
‘I always wondered what had happened to you,’ I said at last. ‘I haven’t seen you for years.’ My voice felt trapped in my throat.
‘I’ve been around. It seems I prefer my own company to most people. I was curious about you, though. Your brother said you’re married now.’
I pointed out my husband, Luke, and my son, Max, who were over by the shed. Luke was standing with his arms crossed, watching Max hurl water balloons at his cousin Thomas.
‘I always took you as a free spirit,’ Jarvis said, smoothing a crease in his pants. ‘I thought it would’ve been hard for you to settle down.’
Gathering words seemed to be like catching fairy dust in the air. ‘What’s that Coelho quote? “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”’ I had a strange urge to show him that I wasn’t living in domestic bliss, that my window was open to the fragrance of adventure.
He smiled, his mouth betraying his serious, thoughtful eyes. His plain blue shirt was buttoned all the way up to his neck, his beard was obsessively neat, and his chunky black-framed glasses reminded me that he read more than the sports section of the newspaper. With my nerves expanding in my chest, making breathing difficult, I cursed myself for being a mouth-breather. My words came out as though they were colliding with a road train. ‘What are you doing now?’ I finally managed.
‘I’m a sculptor. Well, working at an abattoir pays the bills. But sculpting’s my thing. I’m working on a major piece to enter in the McClelland Sculpture Award. Fourth time lucky, perhaps. I’m thinking maybe it’s my artist’s statement that’s letting me down: I can get carried away with my writing sometimes.’
‘I could help you, if you like,’ I said, skidding over my own enthusiasm. ‘I’m an editor. Words are my thing.’
‘Really? That would be great.’
‘You can email it to me.’ I reached into my handbag to get out my purse, but pulled out Max’s cricket box instead. ‘Oh, this is Max’s . . . He played cricket this morning; I don’t always carry dick-protectors in my bag. Joys of being a mother — you end up with all sorts of crap in your handbag. It used to be sultanas or Matchbox cars—Ah, now I’m rambling . . .’ Jarvis’s laugh was as confident as steel.
Eventually, I found my purse and took out my business card. My hands were trembling just slightly as I handed Jarvis my card.
‘Luisa, let’s go. Max is all wet,’ I looked up to see Luke’s face staring down at me impatiently.
‘It’s only water, he’ll dry off,’ I said, my neck feeling flushed.
‘He’s soaked,’ Luke said. Then he leaned in and said, ‘Thomas is a bully. Let’s go, he’s not being nice to Max.’ I knew the real reason Luke wanted to go was that he expired at social functions somewhere between two and three hours. He’d make any excuse to get back to the comfort of his own home; to a TV programme he liked, his feet on the coffee table, and four squares of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate at hand.
‘I’ll email you,’ Jarvis said, half waiting to be introduced. But Luke was in a hurry, and didn’t care to meet whomever I was talking to. No doubt he was already imagining his feet up on the coffee table.
‘Nice to see you,’ I said to Jarvis, gathering my handbag up off the ground before trailing after my husband pathetically. I left the party forgetting my salad bowl, but carrying a new seed of pleasure in my otherwise routine life.
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How long have you been writing?
RW: Probably since I could write a sentence. I always loved writing stories as a child. My own daughter is now 8 years old and it’s so lovely seeing her do the same thing. She loves writing stories on Storybird (a great program for selecting illustrations and writing text). The technology has changed – but storytelling is still storytelling.
Did you always aspire to be an author?
RW: I don’t think I aspired to be an author as a child, it was just something I did. It probably wasn’t until I was in late high school that I thought about becoming an author.
Tell us a little about The Replacement Wife?
RW: The Replacement Wife is about a lady named Luisa who falls in love with another man, so she tries to find a wife for her husband. She has an 8-year-old son and she convinces herself that she is looking after everyone’s interests by attempting to play matchmaker for her husband.
Are you working on any new projects you'd like to share with us?
RW: I’m in a very early draft of a novel about suburban swingers. Where I live is rumoured to have been the swinging capital of the state in the 70s.
Plotter or Pantser?
RW: definitely a pantser. I jump into my stories headfirst and hope to somehow land on my feet.
What books are you currently reading, if any?
RW: John Updike’s Witches of Eastwick. I definitely recommend it! I’d seen the movie years ago and have almost no memory of it. But I’m going through an Updike phase at the moment and when I saw he’d written Witches of Eastwick I had to get a copy straight away!
Twitter or Facebook?
RW: Twitter. Writers love twitter, it’s all about words.
Any tips you'd like to give aspiring writers hoping to be published one day?
RW: Find your own path – there’s no traditional route any longer. Look outside the mainstream. Join an online writing community like Wattpad – the world’s largest reading and writing site. Post your stories and find out if anyone likes them. If they don’t, try harder. If they do, build your audience.
When you're not writing, you are?
RW: Doing hundreds of other things! This week I’ve been treating nits in my daughter’s hair, playing aliens in the front yard with my son, working at a gallery where I’m their publications and marketing coordinator and making my own granola.
Tea or Coffee?
Summer or Winter?
RW: Winter. I love my winter wardrobe; I love coats, boots and covering up my arms! And I like sitting by a fire with a book.
RW: Early bird.
Favorite time to write?
RW: First thing in the morning, like 5am, before the sun rises. It’s my special time.
Rowena Wiseman writes contemporary fiction, young adult and children's stories. She was recently named as one of the 30 most influential writers on Wattpad.
Rowena's blog Out of Print Writing, about writing and publishing in the digital revolution, has been selected for the National Library of Australia's archive program PANDORA http://www.outofprintwriting.blogspot.com.au/.
She works in the visual arts sector and lives on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.