Mason skipped down 7th Street eyes wide open, soaking in the sights and sounds. He glanced back at his parents following. His father grumbled. His mom smiled as if trying to enjoy herself even though she didn’t like football. Mason didn’t care. He turned and skipped ahead.
Mason loved football, especially his beloved Vikings. He watched every game, even recording them. But more than anything he wanted to go to a game. He wanted to live the excitement as thousands of brother-fans cheered the Vikings on.
But his dad always said no. “Tickets are expensive. Then there’s the traffic and the crowds. And for what? Your seat’s too far away, there’s no instant replay, stinky bathrooms, long lines, expensive food…. It’s not worth it.”
Mason was disappointed. But last month was his twelfth birthday — his golden birthday — and his mom said he could have anything he wanted. There was only one thing. So Dad relented and here they were, parking several blocks away and walking to avoid the crowds. Mason didn’t care. He had waited so long, he wanted to hug every moment.
“Spare some change?”
Mason stopped and turned toward the sound of the voice. It was a girl, about his age, wearing badly torn jeans, a black t-shirt and a filthy jean jacket. She was shivering slightly with one arm held out.
“You’re goin’ to the game, aren’t ya?” she said. “You can spare a few bucks. I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
Mason stared as he put his hand in his pocket where he had $60. He did extra chores, even cleaned Grandma’s garage, to earn the money to buy souvenirs. His parents finally caught up to him.
“You two. Spare some change?”
“Oh my,” Mason’s mom gasped as she pulled Mason close.
“No way,” Mason’s dad said. “I’m not giving money to any panhandler.”
“But you’re spending hundreds on a football game. You can’t spare a buck or two?” she said.
“That’s only encouraging you to beg for more. Now leave us alone!” he responded.
“Yeah? Well fuck you too! Enjoy your game!” she said as she took off down the street.
Mason’s dad huffed. “Vagrants. You see? Another reason I hate coming downtown.”
Mason watched as the girl ran to the corner. She stopped, glanced back and met his eyes with a hard look, then disappeared.
“Sorry you had to see that, honey,” his mom said and led him on.
Mason was startled, but his festive spirit quickly returned as they reached the stadium. It was massive with flashing lights and soaring music like a carnival in the heavens. A sea of purple people flowed in, feeding Mason’s energy as the attendant scanned his ticket into paradise.
Their seats were high but the cheers of the crowd and the scent of hot dogs and popcorn created a sweet mix of bliss. As Mason sat for the magical kickoff, he pulled out his $60 and glanced at the concession line as it started to grow.
“Dad, can I get some stuff now?”
“Well, a jersey, trading cards and maybe a hot dog and nachos.”
“You see? What’d I tell you?” he said to his wife.
“I have my own money,” Mason said.
“You should save it for something more important,” he said.
“Oh honey, it’s for his birthday.” His mom said.
“Fine,” he said. “But you’ll regret it later.”
As Mason stood in line at the snack counter eyeing the options, a sour feeling grew in his stomach. He closed his eyes to shake the feeling but instead saw her face. ‘I haven’t eaten since yesterday’ he heard her say. And that hard look she gave him, was it hatred, despair, hunger, loneliness? He opened his eyes and found himself trembling.
Maybe a Jersey will help. Mason walked to the merchandise table but still the sour feeling remained. Instead he wandered past and down the concourse as if searching for something to make him feel better. Then he stopped at the emergency exit. He eyed the $60 in his hand and looked at the door. The sign said “No Reentry Permitted”.
The crowd cheered as the Vikings ran onto the field. Mason should be cheering too, but the electricity was gone. He had waited all his life for this moment and now it seemed unimportant. He knew what he had to do, but what would his parents think?
‘Save it for something more important,’ his dad had said. Mason agreed, pushed the door open and ran down the ramp and onto the street. He didn’t stop running until he got to the spot where he had seen her.
She wasn’t there. He walked to the corner where she disappeared. It was strange now — cold and eerie — nothing like the festival he felt before. He kept walking. Two blocks later he saw her jean jacket as she sat on a bus bench.
He walked up to her. She was chewing on a straw. Up close she looked exhausted.
She glanced up. “What do you want?”
“Here,” he said as he gave her the sixty dollars.
“Oh,” she uttered. “Thanks.”
“Are you really homeless?”
“Where’s your family?”
She stared out at the traffic. “Let’s just say it was not a good environment for a kid.”
“So, now what?”
“Well, thanks to you I get to eat tonight,” she said as she stood up. “You can go back to your game now.” She started to walk away.
Mason stared at her.
“I can’t get back in.”
“You’re not supposed to leave. I’m stuck here until the game ends or until they realize I’m gone. Either way I’m in big trouble.”
“Yeah, I feel real sorry for you!” she said and walked away, then stopped again. “You left. For me?”
She sighed. “Come on. Get dinner with me. It’ll be my treat,” she said as she held up the cash and smiled.
Russell Heidorn lives in suburban Minneapolis and scatters his time between working full time and raising a family while pursuing his dream of writing. He is currently working on a novel about a suburban man who scatters his time between work and family while pursuing his dream of writing. However, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.