R.L. Maizes follows up her debut short story collection, We Love Anderson Cooper, with her much anticipated debut novel, Other People’s Pets. Receiving rave reviews by critics, the book has been called “absorbing” (Masters Review), “melancholy and moving” (Kirkus), and “a perfect addition to anyone’s summer reading pile, but … required for those who understand that coming of age has absolutely nothing to do with age” (Washington Post).
In the following excerpt, La La Fine breaks into a stranger’s home and is on the hunt for valuables. La La gets distracted from her father’s essential burglary rules, as she encounters a sickly pet. Grappling with her conscience and stuck for time, La La is torn between her calling as a veterinarian student but also as a daughter who needs to find quick cash to save her father.
When no one answers the door, La La walks to the side of the house and opens the sash lock on a sliding window by vigorously working the frame up and down. She climbs into a hallway. A grandfather clock ticks; fresh ice drops in a freezer. The floor creaks in another part of the house, and she stiffens. She waits but doesn’t hear the sound again. Perhaps it was just the structure settling. Creeping toward the back of the house, she passes a display of family photographs on the wall: colorful present-day shots and sepia images of ancestors. In a modern one, a mother wraps a baby in her arms, touching her lips to his forehead. La La brushes the image with a finger, though part of her would rather smash it. She has no memory of a mother caressing her. She’d like to steal some of that affection, but since she can’t, their possessions will have to do.
When the child gets older, the mother will greet him after school with a glass of milk and a plate of truffles that cost $5.50 each at Rocky Mountain Confectioners. Or at least that’s how La La imagines it. Unlike her own childhood, Zev home with her, teaching her the differences between fine watches and fakes.
As La La steps into the dining room, a woman appears. La La panics, bumps into an ornate high-backed chair and then into a console table. She’s about to flee when she realizes it’s her own reflection in the glass door of a china cabinet. More than a decade has passed since she regularly entered strangers’ homes, and she can’t help but feel jumpy.
Reaching the back door, she unlatches it, giving herself a second escape route. She doesn’t know whether the owner has stepped out for ten minutes or is gone for the day. Some people work at home, while others don’t work at all. A woman might return from yoga or Pilates. A maid might show up to clean. Only the poor do everything for themselves.
Outside a bedroom, a cramp twists La La’s gut. When it passes, she ducks inside. A cage monopolizes a child’s desk, a tawny hamster lying against the bars. Carrots, lettuce, and turnip slices fill a bowl. Someone meant well, but the portion is far too large—it should equal, at most, a few raisins—and is making the animal sick, at risk of dehydration. La La dumps the vegetables into the trash and refills the animal’s water. She cleans the heavily soiled wood shavings as best she can with the plastic scoop next to the cage, then gently strokes the animal’s back.
In the master bedroom, she rummages among silk thongs in the top drawer of an antique dresser. A jade ring and diamond studs nestle in small velvet cases. La La drops the jewelry into her bag. Longines and TAG Heuer watches keep time on top of a polished men’s bureau, and she slips them into her pocket. She pulls women’s designer clothing from hangers in the closet. In an office, on a desk covered with files and a calendar turned to the wrong month, a laptop tempts her, but heeding Zev’s warning about tracking devices, she leaves it behind.
A man’s leather coat and a short mink jacket hang in a front closet. She thrusts the leather coat into her duffel and cringes as she takes the fur off the hanger, intending to wear it beneath her own coat. The fence will give her a good price for it. Why leave it behind for the owner to enjoy? But as soon as she slips her arm through a sleeve, her lungs slam shut and dozens of needles prick her chest. Gasping, she tears it off and drops to her knees, feeling the anguish of the dozens of animals gassed to make it. They deserve a burial, but there’s no time. When she can breathe again, she folds the jacket and tucks it away on a shelf toward the back of the closet.
She checks the time on her phone. “In and out,” Zev taught her. “Never more than seven minutes.” She’s been inside ten already, each passing minute increasing the likelihood an owner will return or the police will arrive after being called by a neighbor.
As she rushes out the back door, she slips on an icy step that leads down to the yard and falls hands-first into the snow. Her duffel sails away. Retrieving it, she plows through white drifts to her car.