He played solitaire at the table, munching on dry ramen noodles and humming along with the radio. “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” As he listened, it occurred to him that Nirvana was not even a band yet when he was arrested; now they were playing on the classic rock station. He shook his head.
The practice of measuring time against pop culture was a deeply ingrained pattern for Mason. Over his three decades of incarceration, child stars grew up and flamed out, sex symbols grew old and became activists, world leaders ascended to power and died, empires collapsed and resurrected, compact discs rendered cassette tapes obsolete only to join them in extinction soon thereafter. High school phenoms became college phenoms became first-round draft picks became first ballot Hall of Famers … all while he languished in the time capsule.
He knew that the concept of time was supposed to be illusory. All the great minds from Einstein to the Eastern gurus to David Foster Wallace had said as much. But it sure didn’t feel like an illusion when he was serving it.
Nirvana faded into the Black Crowes. He cycled through a losing hand of solitaire, reshuffled and dealt again. He had just laid his fourth ace when he heard a knock on the front door.
He turned down the radio and with the bag of ramen, walked barefoot across the carpet, shaking noodles into his mouth on the way.
Another knock, louder this time.
He checked the peephole. His heart sank. There beneath the porch light, hands on hips, stood Adolf the blonde, mother of two.
He opened the door. “Yeah?”
“Armed robbery? Aggravated assault? Seriously?”
He stared down at her. “Can I help you with something?”
A crease appeared between her eyebrows. “Yes, you most certainly can,” she sputtered. “You can … put a shirt on!”
He leaned his head back and shook another helping of dry noodles into his mouth, crunching them as he spoke. “Anything else? Something neighborly perhaps? A stick of butter? A cup of milk?”
“How could you?”
“How could I what?”
“How could you rob an innocent person at gunpoint?”
He shook his head. The neighborhood rumor mill was already churning. Might as well get the truth out there before I’m portrayed as some salivating serial murderer.
“I was a senior in high school, fell in with some wannabe thugs. They robbed a check cashing place across town. I drove the getaway car. It cost me thirty years of my life. But I paid my debt, day for day. Now I’m just focused on doing the best I can with the time I have left. Does that answer your question?”
She opened her mouth then closed it.
“Good,” he said. “Thanks for stopping by.”
He moved to shut the door. She stopped it with her high heel, yelping in pain from the impact.
“Are you okay? Those shoes don’t look like they’re made to stick in doors.”
“I’m fine,” she said, grimacing. “Listen, my kids—”
“No, you don’t. Their father, my husband, is … deceased. There’s a hole in their lives that…” She began to cry. “I can’t fill.”
He didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she sniffed, mascara running. “I’m okay. I just … I saw the way Evan was looking at you the other day. Maddy, too. Look, I’m sure you’re a really good person, but I can’t allow … I just, I can’t.”
“I get it.”
She turned and hurried down the porch steps. Her heel caught in a crack in the concrete, turning her ankle and almost causing her to trip. When she recovered, she glared back at him as if it was his fault, then limped off into the night.
“Nice dress,” he said, watching her go.