“Com’ere Bustah,” the old coot barked gruffly.
Slouched on a bench of stone and wood, the man wore an oversized pea coat and a dark blue knit cap. Most noticeable were his pale swollen ankles, showing between high-water plaid trousers and scuffed brown brogans.
Roscoe Swift was content to simply ignore the rumpled stranger until the guy made his purpose clear with his next utterance: “Gotta match?”
Out in the bay, Alcatraz was partially visible in the chilly fog. The thick gray sky was speckled with noisy white seagulls.
Roscoe approached the weather-beaten character cautiously to hand him a matchbook. In spite of the breeze the man lit his hand-rolled cigarette on the first try. Then the man coughed, cleared his throat, and spat triumphantly on the heavy support of the nearby tourist telescope. Roscoe watched the oyster slime its way off the heavy base to collect on the pavement.
After a couple of greedy pulls on his smoke, the man tossed the matchbook into the bay and said, “Look’ere kid, y'er no prodigy -- nothing special."
Annoyed, Roscoe looked in the water for the matchbook. It floated up so he could still read the type on the cover. It said Fancy Melons.
“No sir, heh, heh, y'er just another thin-skinned boy -- ha! Maybe a skinless boy -- trying to bluff his way into heaven,” said the old timer. His pale blue eyes twinkled in a maze of wrinkles and broken capillaries.
The sea breeze gusted. When Swift rolled over, he woke up startled and confused. His situation was nearly as weird as his mysterious dream had been. He found that he'd been asleep on a stack of inflated rafts on the beach. Suddenly, it was a beautiful morning in Virginia Beach and Roscoe was very thirsty.
Slowly, he began to remember climbing the lifeguard stand in the sand to the top of a pile of rental rafts lashed to it. Strangely, in the moonlight, it had made sense to sleep on an open-air perch, 15 feet up. He shuddered as he thought of the old man in the dream that was already beginning to fade away.
Then Roscoe realized he was still dreaming.
April 9, 1980: Roscoe Swift woke up already aware of the warm, moist air wafting through the slightly open bedroom window. Contrary to the weather forecast, it was still raining. Selena Cross, asleep on her back, didn’t stir as he deftly climbed over her and down from his loft.
The dream-within-a-dream he had just endured was a new variation on a familiar haunt. It went back to when was 16 and actually did wake up on top of a stack of rafts on the beach. Roscoe shut off the alarm clock, so it wouldn't ring, and he gathered up his clothes from the night before -- a black Rock ‘n’ Roll High School T-shirt, khaki shorts, white socks, and high-top Converse All-Stars. He grabbed a new pair of white socks on his way to the bathroom, where he threw yesterday's socks and T-Shirt into the dirty clothes hamper.
After his morning bathroom routine, Roscoe passed the shoulder-level bed. Still asleep, Selena looked too good to be true. Indeed, their six-week-old secret affair -- out of context from all else -- seemed dream-like much of the time to him. Quietly, he grabbed an old J.W. Rayle softball shirt from the dresser and headed toward the kitchen.
Leggy and graceful, bright-eyed Selena had a feline quality that Roscoe told her was reminiscent of a young Brigitte Bardot, in “And God Created Woman.” While such a comparison was obviously meant to flatter, it also recognized her natural talent for mimicry and disguising her thoughts. To him, Selena usually seemed to be working from a script.
Roscoe and Selena had a big day planned -- a stolen day, removed from time. As he headed for the kitchen to scavenge up some breakfast, she opened her eyes, unbeknownst to him.
Selena Cross waitressed three nights a week at Soble’s on Floyd Avenue. To protect her image as one who never partied after hours, or strayed from her main squeeze, Selena invented a system to facilitate her “sessions” with Roscoe. On the nights she worked, he would swing by the bar on his way home from work at the Fan City Cinema, where he was the manager. Her fiancé -- a 30-year-old antique dealer, with money to burn -- traveled frequently, usually for a couple or three days, on short notice. If she was free and feeling amorous Selena would wear her honey-colored hair in a ponytail, to signal Roscoe she would be showing up at his place later. That way they could confine their conversation in the restaurant to small talk and leave at different times without huddled discussions.
In spite of the obvious chemistry between the two of them, Selena had convinced herself this subterfuge kept her coworkers and the bar’s regulars from suspecting anything.
In the summer between high school and college Selena had learned a lesson about being caught with her pants down, literally. Her outraged boyfriend, a judge’s son, beat her up. When the bruises faded she left her hometown for good.
Sometimes, Roscoe didn’t know whether to believe Selena. Nor was he sure the ponytail really had everybody fooled. Still, with the bangs, it was a great look for her. Just the sight of that ponytail, bobbing and swaying as she walked, had a hypnotic effect on him.
Until this particular occasion it had been her custom to leave Roscoe’s carriage house apartment, in the alley behind the 1200 block of Franklin Street, before the first light of day. This time her fiancé was scheduled to be away longer than usual. Thus, this was their first morning together.
Roscoe Swift, 32, was a divorced wannabe filmmaker, who was too existential for his own good. Having had the same job for nine years, he could coast most of the time. Selena was a 23-year-old art history graduate. She led a disciplined, goal-oriented life and was ready to make her mark on a world of unlimited opportunity. Aside from a shared taste for Rockabilly music and a similar appreciation for black humor, they really didn’t have much in common. Generally, Selena didn’t talk about the past and Roscoe didn’t talk about the future.
Roscoe switched on the kitchen radio and opened the refrigerator. Then he remembered that Selena had wolfed down his leftover pizza.
He was out of eggs, too. What he had to work with was: a half-loaf of wheat bread, an almost new stick of butter, jars of mayonnaise, mustard and strawberry jam, a box of fig bars, a tired-looking head of lettuce, a bottle of extra dry domestic champagne, two cans of ginger ale, seven cans of beer and an empty pizza box.
Roscoe took out the champagne and sat it on the counter next to a small watermelon Selena had brought with her from the restaurant. He opened a can of ginger ale. As he carved up the melon, he whistled along with the radio to the classic Everly Brothers’ not-so-thinly-disguised ode to masturbation: “All I Have to Do is Dream.”
Selena, naked but for her thick socks, entered the room without making a sound. Amused that Roscoe hadn’t noticed her, she leaned her butt against the damp windowsill and folded her arms.
“Morning!” said Roscoe. “Hot coffee, buttered toast and cold champagne, with a watermelon spear, served in a pewter goblet. Presto! A perfect rainy day breakfast.”
Selena grinned. “I like rainy days. With no shadows, colors look more thick and juicy…”
“Miss Cross,” said Roscoe, “would you please slide the coffee pot onto the burner. It’s already loaded up.”
“Done,” said Selena. “Watermelon and champagne, together?”
“Yep,” said Roscoe, watching the gas flame burst into action, “this is an old Southern favorite. They call it a ‘Spring Fling.’ You haven’t heard of it?”
“No, but it’s so appropriate,” she said with a yawn. The gesture fit perfectly with her decadent rich girl act -- sometimes Selena almost seemed to have walked out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Given her blue-collar, small town background, it was a persona he enjoyed watching her affect.
Roscoe popped the cork off the bottle of bubbly and the moment’s perfection promptly fizzled. The bubbly wasn’t!
“Goddamn it!” he growled in a tone she hadn’t heard from him before.
While Selena’s body language had seemed to suggest that something other than breakfast was on her mind, anyway, the suddenly crestfallen Roscoe was focused on the flat champagne.
“I’ll be right back,” Roscoe blurted out, grabbing a hooded sweatshirt. He ran three-and-a-half blocks to a neighborhood wine shop in the rain, convinced the owner to open early, and returned with chilly bubbles aplenty.
“When you’re wet, you look fantastic!” Selena said, at first sight of him.
That prompted an impromptu session, with Selena seated on the porcelain kitchen table. Once again, they delighted in their collaborative ability to please one another. If anything, it was still improving. And, that was that.
The rain stopped and the clouds parted as they polished off their breakfast with gusto. During the drive from Richmond to their destination, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Selena and Roscoe sang along with a taped compilation of cuts by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.
With her hair gathered in a ponytail, Selena wore a pair of maroon short shorts and a lightweight gray sweatshirt with Bertand Russell's face on it that she borrowed from Roscoe. He knew she would try to steal it. Smitten with the sight of her, Roscoe could hardly keep his eyes on the road.
“I’ve smiled at you so much I feel like a Cheshire cat on two hits of acid,” Roscoe deadpanned, as he pulled his pale yellow 1973 Volvo wagon into the parking lot of the quaint Hilltop Hotel.
As soon as they got to their room, Selena went to the bathroom. As he waited, Roscoe lit a joint, took a hit, and asked, “Do you still want to go to the horse races in Charles Town? We’ve still got the rest of the day to go sightseeing, or do whatever…”
“Whatever suits me fine,” said Selena, as she opened the door wearing only the new Fan City Cinema T-shirt he had given her. That, and a spectacular smile.
“What the hell,” said Selena, who rarely smoked pot, “Up here I’m as out of town as it gets, give me a toke of that.”
After her second hit, she passed the joint back to him. Then Selena lifted her right foot to rub the instep along the back of her left calf. Roscoe stepped closer, tossing the joint at the bedside table’s ashtray. Her head tilted slightly to one side. The air between them was charged.
She pulled at his belt buckle as they landed on the bed. His hands cascaded along her rib cage to her bare hips.
Then Roscoe heard a loud explosion; he flinched. “Wha, what the hell was that?”
Selena laughed as Roscoe rolled onto his back, seemingly dazed. “What was what?” she cooed.
“That sound; like a gunshot, or a bomb,” he gasped. “That bang! Didn’t you hear it?”
“Passion!” she said, widening her eyes. “Pure, pure passion!”
Roscoe was disoriented. Hadn’t the noise been real? Hadn’t she heard it, too? He sat up. “Come on Selena, you didn’t hear that sound?
She kissed him with such fury that he had to stop talking.
Soon, thoughts of fiancés, ex-wives, everyday concerns in Richmond, horse races in Charles Town, and especially mysterious explosions in hotel rooms were put aside. Later they slept the sleep known only to lovers who’ve given their all to the moment.
The next day, in spite of his efforts, Roscoe was unable to determine if Selena had actually heard the explosion he had. They talked about it during the drive back to Richmond, but she never gave him a straight answer. She enjoyed teasing him -- maybe this, maybe that.
Exaggerating her southern accent, Selena would say, “Pah-shun.” Eventually Selena’s evasiveness began to rub Roscoe the wrong way, so he stopped asking.
They finished off the drive with little to say, accompanied by a Kraftwerk tape, turned up loud. He dropped her off at her Volkswagen bug, parked in a lot near his place. She planned to stop by her apartment and then take care of some errands. Selena’s parting words were: “I’ll call you around dinnertime, about getting together later ... if you’re up for a encore session.”
At 6 p.m., that same day, when Roscoe got home from playing Frisbee-golf, he found a message Selena had left on his new telephone answering machine. Essentially, it said her fiancé had returned from his business trip, without warning, two days early. Roscoe felt a sense of panic, wondering how much the man knew. There must have been some gossip.
Although she said twice that everything was “fine,” the fact she said it at all gave him a bad feeling.
The end was abrupt: Harper’s Ferry proved to be the finale for Selena and Roscoe. Two months later, Selena’s wedding took place in her husband’s hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. After a honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds surprised everyone by deciding to set up residence in Annapolis, Maryland, instead of Richmond.
And, that was that, except for a rainy day about a year after Harper’s Ferry. Upon returning from a week’s stay in San Francisco, visiting his old friend Finn Daley, Roscoe found a large brown paper bag on the driver’s seat of his Volvo, which he never locked. In the bag was a bottle of Dom Perignon, a small watermelon and an unlabeled tape cassette.
Roscoe shoved the cassette into the stereo and switched the ignition on. Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” poured out of the speakers. He smiled.
“Passion,” said Roscoe, as he let out what was left of his clutch and turned up the volume.