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Authors: Maile Meloy

Devotion

BOOK: Devotion
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“[Meloy is] a wise and astonishing conjurer of convincing realities.”

—The New Yorker

The perfect house, near the right school, and thrillingly affordable. How could Eleanor resist? A twenty-something single mother, sharing a room with her four-year-old in her parents' house, she's desperate for a new plan. This little bungalow, with its yard and tree, feels like a lucky gift.

It is only after the house is hers—having eaten her savings and set to devour her future income—that she realizes that something is terribly wrong. Investigating, she discovers her new neighbors: two ancient sisters who are feeding and fostering thousands of beloved “pets.” And what had looked like a fairy tale turns out to be closer to a nightmare.

In
Devotion: A Rat Story
, Maile Meloy takes on the hopes and horrors of domestic life with a story that is riveting and exquisitely unsettling.

 

“She's such a talented and unpredictable writer that I'm officially joining her fan club; whatever she writes next, I'll gladly read it.”

—Curtis Sittenfeld,
The New York Times Book Review

“Maile Meloy combines the meticulous realism of domestic fiction with the witchery of a natural-born storyteller.”

—
Laura Miller,
The New York Times Magazine

“Maile Meloy is a bit of a magician.”

—Cleveland
Plain Dealer

“In a Maile Meloy story, the thrill is in our own perception . . . [Her] style is disciplined and sly. She keeps a perfect poker face. And we're players in the game.”

—The Dallas Morning News

“Don't let the easy accessibility of Maile Meloy's writing fool you; she's capable of witchcraft.”

—Time

ALSO BY MAILE MELOY

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

A Family Daughter

Liars and Saints

Half in Love

R
IVERHEAD
B
OOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

USA * Canada * UK * Ireland * Australia * New Zealand * India * South Africa * China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

Copyright © 2013 Maile Meloy

First published by Byliner, Inc., 2013

First Riverhead edition: 2015

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

ISBN 978-0-698-40715-2

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Praise for Maile Meloy

Also by Maile Meloy

Title Page

Copyright

DEVOTION

About the Author

T
hat the yellow house was thrillingly affordable might have been a warning sign, if Eleanor had known how to read it. But she'd been desperate. She was sharing a room with her four-year-old daughter, Hattie, in her parents' house, and she had to get out. Her parents didn't want her to leave, but that was part of the problem. What her mother really wanted was to have Eleanor back inside her, along with Hattie, nested like matryoshka dolls.

So when the neat bungalow came on the market, close to the school her daughter loved, Eleanor thought she'd made it up. A wish on a candle. The seller was a pixie-like blond songwriter who was never there and was selling it as is—another red flag. But Eleanor had never bought a house before, and the real estate broker had the air of an authoritative and impatient aunt, waiting for a decision. She tapped long nails on the steering wheel of her parked Lexus while Eleanor gazed at the little house from the passenger seat. The sycamore in the yard had good roots, the broker said.

“Won't someone outbid me?” Eleanor asked her.

“It's too small for most people. And the seller thinks you're sweet. I think we can wrap this up, if we do it now.” The broker tapped the steering wheel.

“You really think so?” Eleanor asked.

“Look, do you want it or not? You're getting manna from heaven, in your price range. What do you want, a burger?”

What Eleanor wanted was to ask her father to come walk through the house. But the broker already didn't take her seriously because she had a streak of pink in her hair and a bracelet of vines inked around her wrist. She didn't want to be the hapless tattooed girl who had to call her dad.

“No, I want the house,” Eleanor said. “I do.”

“All right, then,” the broker said, dialing her phone.

The offer was accepted, and Eleanor promised her soul and her future income to the bank. It was a little dizzying. Her father raised his eyebrows at dinner. “Want me to look at it?” he asked.

“When I've got it all set up,” she said.

“You've got an inspector?” her mother asked.

“The broker does.”

“I want to see the house,” Hattie said. She'd been refusing to use the booster seat because she was not a baby, and her head barely cleared the table.

“You will,” Eleanor said. “You'll have your own room there.”

Her daughter eyed her. Eleanor knew Hattie was thinking that she didn't really want her own room, but she wasn't going to be caught saying it.

“How about a real estate lawyer?” her father asked.

“It's a very straightforward transaction,” Eleanor said.

At that, her parents fell silent. It was fraught territory. They'd wanted her to get a lawyer when Hattie was born, too, but she'd refused. She had met, in her last year of art school, a boy as fierce in his independence as she was, and their friends had bet against the romance lasting six months. When she got pregnant—a broken condom—she discovered that she had complicated feelings about fate, about why the latex had broken, about that particular sperm and that particular egg. James had moved to Australia. Struggling for his art wasn't going to include taking care of a baby. He had no money, and sending lawyers after him would only have prolonged the pain.

The first year was a blur of tears and lost sleep, a demoralizing return home, and her mother's delight in coming to the rescue. People felt sorry for Eleanor and sent her design jobs, and she took anything that was offered, staying up late after Hattie went to bed. Gradually the jobs turned into steady freelance work. She had saved money, living with her parents for four long years, and she had inherited a little more from her grandfather, and now she was trying to regain her own ground.

I
T REALLY WAS
a straightforward transaction. Escrow closed quickly, and she took possession right away. She bought two beds—an optimistically big one and a small one—and the mattress company delivered. There were no bookshelves in the house, but her father would help her build some. She drove her few boxes there by herself and was happy to be unpacking, making the beds, imagining her new life. Hattie would play in this yard and learn to climb the sycamore. Eleanor would get a swing set for the yard and hide Easter eggs in the spring, like her parents had done for her. She might even meet someone now, if she wasn't living at home.

She was bringing in another box, thinking about what that someone might be like, when she saw an enormous rat staring at her from the front lawn. It gazed at her as if she were the intruder.

“No,” she said. But still the rat stared.

She took a threatening step forward, and it darted away.

She carried the box up the walk, haunted by the appraising way the rat had looked at her, and saw another toast-colored blur disappear along the side of the house. She called her father at work.

“There are rats here,” she said.

“There are rats everywhere,” her father said. “They live in the ivy.”

“No, these are serious,” Eleanor said. “They're
huge
.”

“How huge?”

“Like small Chihuahuas.”

“Oh.” There was a pause. “Where are they?”

“One was on the lawn, and one running along the foundation.”

“Should I come over?”

“Not yet,” she said. “I don't want you to see it like this.” She heard a small, patient sigh.

“Then call an exterminator,” he said. “And stay with us tonight.”

“I can't do that. It's admitting defeat.”

“Defeat to whom?” he asked. “To your mother? Don't be a hero, Ellie.”

“Do rats carry disease?” she asked.

“I think what they carry is fleas, and fleas carry disease.”

“Oh, God,” she said.

“Ellie,” he said. “Call a professional and come home.”

She hung up and searched for exterminators on her phone, and called one who could come the next morning. She tried not to think about how thrilled her mother would be to have her back.

Outside the school, she watched the other mothers: the tall, thin, grown-up, married mothers, with the diamonds on their fingers and the tiny pleated workout skirts. One wore a pink silk shirt printed with riding tack, without irony. They didn't have rats at home. Or fleas.

That night, her mother beamed with triumph over take-out pizza at the kitchen table. She said, “You know you can stay here as long as you like.”

“It will be good to have our own place,” Eleanor said.

“I don't see why,” her mother said. “If it's I-N-F-E-S-T-E-D.”

“What does that spell?” Hattie asked. She was already starting to read.

“She means the house is an investment,” Eleanor said. “A good thing to spend money on.”

Hattie pushed a crust across her plate.
“Infestment,”
she said.

“If I'd known you were coming home,” her mother said, “I could've cooked something special.”

“It's not a special occasion, Mom. It's a temporary setback.”

“It's
always
a special occasion,” her mother said, tweaking Hattie's nose.

BOOK: Devotion
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ads

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