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Excerpt from Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard


by Colleen Hubbard
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  • Apr 2022
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Chapter One

On an unseasonably warm afternoon in late September, Del did something that she could not explain to herself and would not explain to others. In the months to come, when she considered the moment that changed everything, she would reach no conclusion as to why she did what she did. In the short term, it was stupid; but in the long term, it was nothing less than catastrophic.

The cleaning of South Elm started as it normally did. Del picked up the keys from the agency and checked the paperwork to see if there were any add-ons. Sometimes the owner wanted the fridge cleaned or the oven scoured. Other cleaners wouldn't do that sort of filthy work and tried to trade jobs, but Del didn't mind. She got paid fifteen dollars out of the agency's fifty-dollar fee for extras. On this occasion, a note indicated that she needed to change the sheets in the top-floor guest suite.

South Elm was fairly straightforward. She had cleaned it twice a week for more than a year without ever meeting the occupants, but she knew them from her intimate involvement with their stuff. The owner was a single mother with twin boys and, judging from her Japanese knife collection and elaborate home cinema, a serious amount of cash. They lived in a five-bedroom brick town house overlooking a small gated park.

As Del let herself into the house and went to the cleaning cabinet in the kitchen, she thought that the owner's man must be coming. She wasn't sure who he was, or the nature of his relationship to the homeowner or her sons, but she had picked up enough details to piece together the scenario. He visited every other month or so. Del was always asked to set up the guest bedroom for him, perhaps for propriety's sake, but at some point, he ended up in the owner's bed. His sheets were mussed but didn't have the stink of having been slept in overnight, and Del had found his plaid boxers bunched at the foot of the owner's bed.

Del took the bucket and cloths out of the cabinet and then removed the cleaning solutions and spray bottles from the drawer beneath the kitchen sink.

She started with a spritz around the living/dining area, which opened to a huge bay window that overlooked the park. Walking around in her socks on the wide-planked walnut floor, she wiped down Lucite chairs, straightened the photos on the mantel, and made sure that a pebbled glass whiskey decanter was centered on its platter. Then she started to clean the floor. Plunge, wring, mop, repeat. She liked this type of work because it allowed her mind to drift. Del thought about Night Must Fall, which she had watched on TV last night with her roommate, and wondered if they would get pizza for dinner. She moved to the kitchen to get to the good stuff, like the greasy stove hood filter. Putting on gloves, she filled the sink with Palmolive and hot water.

Later, with an hour left of the clean, Del leaned the mop against the wall on the third floor, across from the children's skylighted playroom, and felt a drop of perspiration roll from her throat down to her bra. Her chapped hands burned from being soaked in cleaning fluids. It was late afternoon, and the sun shot like a dart through the blinds at the end of the hallway and went directly into her skull. The turbo vacuum cleaner still roared in her ears though she had unplugged it at least twenty minutes earlier. And that was when Del did something she had never done before: she went through the house room by room, touching the owner's belongings as if they were hers. The silky pearl nightgowns that Del herself had tucked into the marble-handled chest of drawers, a toy aircraft carrier with guns that popped, a small gold compact that clicked open to reveal a cake of raspberry gloss. She touched her fingertip to the gloss, felt it melt to a semiliquid state, and pressed it to her lips. Then she turned on the tap, took off her clothes, and got in the tub.

Del wasn't cleaning the tub: she had done that already. She was submerging herself, a boiled lobster color to her skin. Just as she reached for the cork-topped glass container of bath salts, a woman with straight black hair appeared in the bathroom door, a crumpled paper grocery bag under one arm. The green tops of carrots hung limply from the bag.

Excerpted from Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard. Copyright © 2022 by Colleen Hubbard. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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