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Unlocking the door and stepping inside the moderately lit, clean, cozy kitchen, I call out, “Miss Lindsay? I’m here!” There’s a shuffling of feet upstairs. The sound of padding slippers comes down the stairs and draws closer to me. The familiar, elderly, lined face comes into view, the orange hair slightly frazzled.
“Alexa! Bread and television and birdie and microwave!” cries Miss Lindsay, my elderly (and insane) but lovable neighbor. I just smile. Four years ago when I was twelve, my mom suggested that I go over to our neighbor’s house and give her some company. I have to admit, the first time I met the babbling Miss Lindsay, I was a bit scared, but as I visited her more, she grew into a very close friend of mine. Now I visit her almost every day, and without my mom’s prodding. It feels good to see that smile light up her face when she sees me, to be making a difference in Miss Lindsay’s life, just by spending time with her.
Standing in Miss Lindsay’s kitchen, I smile at her little “summary” of her day. After four years, I’m nearly able to understand the babble that so often flows out of her mouth. My neighbor points to the living room, so I follow her and plop myself on a bright yellow sofa.
“Day you how?” asks Miss Lindsay. I understand this to mean, “How was your day?” so I respond by pouring out every detail of my school day, from the unfair homework assignments to all of the latest gossip. Miss Lindsay is a wonderful listener, nodding and seeming to understand everything I say.
“Work daddy?” she asks. Although Miss Lindsay asks me about my father’s job every time I see her, I still answer her question with extreme patience.
“My father is in the military,” I explain yet again. “He is the army chief of staff.” I say this with great pride, but Miss Lindsay doesn’t seem to notice.
“Happening?” she wants to know. Again, this is a question she asks every time I see her – what is going on with your father’s job?
I reply, “He isn’t allowed to tell me anything, with security issues and all, but from the newspapers, I know that the army is preparing to invade the country of Zukaria, to thwart its attempt to seize American land. I’m guessing my father will be one of the first to debark the plane when it lands in Zukaria.” I tell Miss Lindsay how much I do not want him to leave and how sorely I will miss him.
At this, she becomes very distracted and looks down at her hands, which, oddly enough, are twitching. I wonder if she’s having a seizure. After several minutes, she calms down and proclaims,
“Okay. Tea?” I accept her offer, and we head back into the kitchen to enjoy a delicious, steaming cup of hot tea.
Once we are done, Miss Lindsay says, “Nope. Tired cookie.” She tires easily, so I say good-bye and head home so she can nap.
My next visit occurs two days later, after I arrive home from school. Once I reach the front door, I unlock it as usual and step in, calling out,
“Hi, Miss Lindsay!” There’s no answer. I call her name several more times, to no avail. This is strange as she never takes a nap at this hour. I search the entire first level but fail to find her. Since she has forbidden me from going upstairs, I refrain from doing so now. I collapse on the yellow sofa in frustration, waiting for Miss Lindsay to come down from the upper level.
The minutes become hours. I check my watch, trying to decide between breaking Miss Lindsay’s rule or just going home and hoping she is okay. My hands drop in despair. Just then, I notice a small corner of a piece of paper sticking out from between the sofa cushions. Curious, I extract the paper and notice that it is a sheet of floral stationary. I glance at the first, handwritten sentence, which happens to read, “My dear Alexa.” My mouth drops open, and I read the letter.
My dear Alexa,
First of all, let me say thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I cannot tell you how great a comfort you were to me those countless times you came over and kept me company. I’m sorry I acted so strangely and was always secretive about my younger life, but to tell you why would require a long explanation. But after your many kindnesses, I think you deserve that explanation. Let me start from the beginning of my story, when I’d just married the man of my dreams.
David Ewens was simply perfect. Tall, handsome, and kind – what more could you ask for? We got married in 1970 and settled down in a cozy home. David was the Army Chief of Staff, and I was extremely proud of him. But as the country of Zukaria grew very violent in its attempts to seize American land for its own, David’s army responsibilities grew, and it got to the point that I hardly ever saw him. I endured it, telling myself that David would be eligible for retirement from the military in several years.
Finally, in1978, David and the army defeated Zukaria, saving the Terra Vista Islands from greedy hands. After his big victory, David decided to retire and go into accounting. He worked from nine to five, we were always able to have dinner and the weekends together, and he made much more money. Life was once again perfect.
Then it was 1981. David was coming home from work when a bomb, which was somehow attached to the bottom of his car, went off. He was killed. Investigations showed that the bomb had come from Zukarian hands, probably angry hands wanting revenge on David. I was devastated, and never smiled for years. It was probably the loneliest, saddest period in my life.
In 2003, you came to visit me for the first time. I was still quite depressed, so I just sat and half listened to you jabber away with sweet innocence. But after you left, I realized that some weight had been lifted, and I actually felt happy. I’d found companionship again, something I’d been without for twenty-two years. Although my beloved David was still gone, I realized I looked forward to having someone to talk to and spend time with. Your friendship was so uplifting.
A few weeks after your first visit, I decided to go out for dinner, something I hadn’t done since David died. Two hours later, I was unlocking the door at home, when a strong arm reached out from nowhere and grabbed me, pulling me into a large black van. The scream never left my lips – a man’s tough hand covered my mouth.
Strewn across the backseat, I was bound with incredibly strong rope, blindfolded, and gagged. I estimated my captors to number three - the two large men who had tied me up, and a driver. Realizing it was futile to struggle and attempt to escape, it was all I could do not to pass out.
We traveled for about an hour. Just when I was beginning to think I could stand it no longer, my moving prison pulled to a stop in front of a tall, foreboding building – The Zukarian Embassy. The men strode with me through the doors and into a lobby area. We all crammed into an elevator, which rose to floor 214.
We emerged from the elevator to find ourselves standing in a small office. A man sat behind a desk. He motioned for me to take a seat in one of the brown, comfy chairs in front of the desk.
“Now, you are Lindsay Ewens, widow of David Ewens, correct?” he demanded. His voice frightened me.
“Y-yes,” I stammered.
“Good,” replied the man. “Now listen closely. I am Gordon Snikovitz, Zukaria’s president. As you might know, many years ago, I commanded my army to capture American land at any cost. The attempt was crushed by the American army, led by your husband. To avenge that, I ordered one of my soldiers to kill David three years later.
“Today, I still don’t have what I want – the Terra Vista Islands. But I intend to get it very soon. When I send my troops in to capture it, I do NOT intend for my long planned operation to fail. To do so, I need to know everything happening within the American army. This is where you come in, Miss Lindsay.”
“You live next to the current Army Chief of Staff. I understand you’re close to his daughter, Alexa. I need you to gather information on her father, his work, and the army’s movements. You will pass that information to me using this radio.”
Snikovitz paused to hand me a small radio.
“If we don’t get any helpful information from you, Lindsay, we will simply have to kill you. You have been bugged, so we can always tell where you are and what you’re up to. Understood?”
I sat in shock. Betray Alexa and her father? Hand over information that would probably get Alexa’s dad killed? I couldn’t! But Snikovitz’s threat kept echoing in my head. Numbly, I allowed myself to be escorted to the car and back home.
I’ve been giving Snikovitz information on your dad and the army for the past four years. My fake “insane” personality was a ploy so you’d feel safer telling me your dad’s secrets, and also so that Snikovitz would think me senile and therefore expect less useful information. I’m sorry, Alexa – I was scared and my selfish side wanted to live, no matter what the cost to your Dad. But once you told me that your Dad was getting ready to fly to Zukaria, I could no longer deceive you. Knowing how much you love your father, I could not live with myself realizing I had caused your heart to break.
I ’have gone to the Embassy turned myself in to Snikovitz. I’d rather die than betray you and your family any longer. By the time you read this, I will be dead.
You are a wonderful girl, Alexa. I can rest in peace, knowing that I died trying to protect you and your family.
With much love,
I cry for Miss Lindsay, and for the difference she’s made in my life. All this time, I have thought that I’ve been making a difference in her life. But really, it was nothing compared to what Miss Lindsay did for me.