[Paul/sushi 4th place]
Joey Lundquist rode his bicycle down the sidewalk at a breakneck pace, flying off the bumps and little cliffs created by the roots of ancient trees that lined his street. Up ahead, he spotted an unfamiliar van in his driveway, and gave a cry.
Mike Jefferson heard him, and ran from his house just in time to flag down his friend. Joey! he shouted, Is that the new maid your dad just got?
Shes not a maid, Joey replied. I dont think so anyway. She works for the same company my dad does, and shes just staying with us while shes on some kind of assignment. She just said shed help with the chores and stuff while shes here.
Ill bet your mom is happy about that, Mike said, with perception uncanny for an eleven year old. My mom says she wishes she had a maid.
Yeah, just like in Forrest Gump, Joey enthused. When he made that lady rich, so she could hire some white lady to do all her housework.
But its your dad that works for a big company. My dads store doesnt have people running all over the world, you know.
Mike and Joey watched a gray haired woman emerge from the house and pick up another load of belongings from the back of the van. A moment later Joeys older brother Brandon, a tall sixteen year old, appeared. He glanced at Joey and paused.
Knowing what was about to happen, the both boys screamed theatrically and ran up the steps and across the porch into Mikes house. They had no intention of getting dragooned into hauling all the old ladys belongings upstairs to her new room.
That Mrs. Olsen sure brought a ton of stuff, Joey said, from the safety of Mikes bedroom.
A week later, Joey was sitting in the kitchen of Mikes house. Mikes father had just arrived from work, and was chatting with his wife.
Mr. Jefferson said, You know something, honey? I cant believe that old lady is really Swedish. I mean, Ive sold a lot of furnature to Mr. Lundquists staff people, and she doesnt sound anything like them. He held up his arm and pinched up a fold of dark skin. I still cant place the accent, but if shes Swedish then so am I.
Mrs. Jefferson glanced sharply at the boys, who were sitting behind her husband, bent over their homework, and shook her head. He gave his wife a quizzical look, then finally realized what she was signaling.
He cleared his throat. Course, Ive never been to Sweden. Could be they all sorts of cultures over there. Different accents and stuff.
Mrs. Jefferson rolled her eyes and went on preparing dinner.
Within an hour the boys were up in Joeys bedroom, whispering conspiritorially.
If shes not Swedish then what is she? Mike asked his friend.
I dunno, but she sure acts weird sometimes.
Cant say exactly. Its like she stops a lot, like she cant remember how to do regular stuff. Maybe she has Az-hime-ers or something.
Alzheimers, the studious Mike corrected.
I know! Lets find out. My dad just got these new Russian Army night-vision things. Got em from this catalog he has. Says hes gonna bring em when we go camping next month.
That night, Joey tiptoed downstairs and out the back door, and climbed the ivy-covered trellis behind Mikes house. He tapped lightly, and Mike opened his bedroom window.
Minutes later they both climbed down, and scrambled up into the huge old maple tree that stood between their houses. Earlier, Mike had nailed two boards into the notch of two thick, high branches.
They perched themselves on the boards and took the binoculars from their case. Mrs. Olsens bedroom window was only fifteen feet away, level with their position.
Cool! Joey exclaimed, as he brought the Russian surplus device to his eyes.
Shhh! Let me see, Mike replied.
Mrs. Olsen was moving about her room, dressed in a white nightgown and busily sorting some kind of paperwork. She kept pausing and flipped through the pages of a small pamphlet, then standing still in front of her mirror and mouthing something.
The boys watched for a half hour, then slipped back to their bedrooms, unsuspected.
The next morning, when he came downstairs, Joey saw Mrs. Olsen in the kitchen. He watched her preparing breakfast for his family, and brewing up a pot of tea.
Tea? he muttered to himself. Thats strange. But for the life of him, he could not remember why that should be so.
With a twinge of guilt, he ran upstairs and peeked into the old womans bedroom. The pamphlet was not on the dresser where hed seen it the night before.
That evening, driven by urges they could not name, Mike and Joey resumed their vigil. Things were going the same in Mrs. Olsens room; mirror, pamphlet and all.
It was another ten minutes before Mike realized the obvious. Wait a minute, he said. These are night vision glasses, right? I mean, were seeing her in the dark, right?
Yeah, so? They work great.
But then how the heck is that lady reading the pamphlet?
Both boys recoiled with shock, Joey nearly losing his balance in the process. Mrs. Olsen was straightening up her room, and reading from the mysterious pamphlet, in nearly pitch darkness.
Torn between fear and fascination, the boys remained at their perch. Mrs. Olsen began selecting a wardrobe for the following work day at Mr. Lundquists company office. Joey whispered that hed never heard his dad say exactly what their visitor did at work, anyway.
Mrs. Olsen slipped off her nightgown and began studiously trying on different outfits. Both boys had had occasion to watch their mothers get dressed, and though they couldnt voice their observations too well, they noticed that the old lady was going about things quite deliberately. Much more slowly than their mothers did.
Mike, who was a year older than his friend, noticed something else.
Joey, look at her skin.
What do you mean, at her skin?
Yeah, her skin, and her boobs and stuff.
Joey grabbed the binoculars and looked. At that moment he experienced the first harbinger of a storm to come, a twinge of inner heat; something called puberty.
Mrs. Olsens face, neck, arms, and hands were lined with wrinkles, just like every old lady hed ever seen. But her torso was smooth, and her breasts did not sag at all.
As he thought of it, they reminded Joey of a magazine his older brother had, stuck under the mattress in his bedroom. Brandon didnt think anyone knew it was there, but Joey had seen him gazing at it intently, with only the little desk lamp on, late at night. Joey had pulled it out that afternoon, when his brother was out, and wondered what was so special about a bunch of naked women.
As Joey watched, Mrs. Olsen put her nightgown back on, and turned away from the mirror. Just as she did, her elbow brushed the pamphlet and knocked it off of the dresser. Then she yanked on her fingers, and her wrinkled old skin came off, just like a glove. Metal gleamed faintly. Joey gasped, and barely stifled a cry.
What? Mike said sharply, and grabbed the binoculars.
Then she walked to the window.
The boys froze. The old lady stared out into the darkness, without moving, for several minutes, though to the boys it felt like hours.
That morning, Joey and Mike both had soccer practice, and Mikes mother drove them to the athletic field at six AM. Then they had school, but with summer vacation beginning it was only a half day.
As they walked home, they discussed what they should do.
I say call the FBI, Mike said. They can send somebody. An Agent Mulder type.
No way, Joey replied. Thats just a dumb TV show. Theyd think we were loony toons. He circled his index finger by his head for emphasis.
They paused as they came in sight of their homes. The van was back, and Joeys parents and brother were loading Mrs. Olsens belongings.
The boys waited a full hour, across the street and behind a parked car, until the van pulled away.
Of, shes been reassigned, Mr. Lundquist told the boys, when queried.
They were both certain his casual attitude was faked.
Cmere, Joey said, and tugged Mike to the rear of his house, to the narrow, unpaved alley behind the back fence. Theres something I want to check out.
The boys opened the Lundquists trash barrel and began pawing through it. In moments theyd found a small plastic bag, the kind they used in the wastebaskets of their upstairs rooms. They tore open the top one and dumped it out on the ground.
Sure enough, there was the pamphlet.
Mike snatched it up, and read aloud: Saab Industries America. Automation Research Division. Robotics Laboratories. Confidential Document.
Opening it, they found a section titled: Vocalization. English. Accents and Dialects.
It was spotted with something that smelled like 3-in-1 Oil.
Mike threw back his head and laughed uproariously.
Hey, whats so funny?
My dad was wrong, Mike replied. She really was Swedish.