by Paul Evans
Here's to Cheshire
Here's to cheese
Here's to the pears and the apple trees
Here's to my lovely strawberries...
I was leaning against a parking meter, idly deconstructing the Victoria's Secret ads for the Click Miracle Bra, when Amalia burst through the front door of 111 Fifth Avenue and sashayed across the sidewalk with the rolling gait of a pirate on shore leave. After 35 years I still don't know why she walks like Popeye rather than like the senior executive she is.
The Apple was baked that noon, the heat and humidity both edging 90. Across the river, Jerseyites were staring at the city, wondering how anyone could breathe in that haze. I was doing it, and I wondered.
Amalia was wearing the little black corporate dress.
You know the dress I mean. With varying skirt lengths, necklines and sleeves, it's appropriate for every corporate woman from 21 to 61.
I was wearing a pair of khaki shorts, a tank top advertising a shrimp and oyster bar in some Florida backwater, and a battered straw hat.
Amalia's hair is red and wavy, waterfalling down to her shoulders. Mine's gray. I don't ask, she doesn't tell.
Amalia looked like a cool strawberry shortcake. I looked like an unemployed compost heap.
"Dahhling!" Amalia drawled, then popped up on tiptoes to fetch me a quick peck on the lips. "How are you?"
I gestured toward the window. Amalia loves Vickie's knickers.
"Want to multi-task your breasts?"
She hooted. "Three levels of cleavage! How I would love, just once, to look down and not see my feet. Come, let us to the park." Amalia grabbed my arm, and we ducked around the corner of 18th Street, heading for Union Square.
"How did things go this morning?"
"Wonderful. Someone in a meeting asked, 'What's a Nehru jacket?' Children! They're children!"
"Why are you wearing that little black thing? Is it Sarah Jessica Parker Wannabe Day?"
"Too short for an old lady?"
"No, no, not if I were your gynecologist."
"I'll have you know that this is the mature corporate length! And it has its compensations."
Before I could ask what those were the light changed, and Amalia, still holding fast to my arm, propelled us across the street and into the Union Square Greenmarket.
Within the confines of the Greenmarket the farmers' pears and apples, cheeses and pretzels, flowers and muffins were engaged in a mortal struggle with the crowds and the asphalt and the heat. The smart money was on the humidity trifecta.
Amalia steered me up the stairs between the playgrounds just as two people rose from a bench in front of the statue of Lincoln. She eased into one vacated spot and patted the bench next to her. I sat.
"Have you noticed my sandals?"
"Your powers of observation are appalling."
"The man who seeks only to notice sandals never sees a falling star."
"As we eat our sandwiches, tell me what you infer from my sandals."
"Infer from your sandals? Who do you think I am, Holmes of Union Square?" Amalia let out another hoot. "OK, your sandals. I infer from them that you've painted your toenails some violent shade of red that might look great with a deep tan, but since you have the palest toes this side of Budapest, look like you hit each one with a hammer." She smacked me. "And since you're wearing sandals, you're not wearing pantyhose. Do they let you do that?"
"Oh, that explains everything. A professional woman with bare legs. To what depths have we sunk?"
"Back to my sandals, Holmes."
"Well, ya got me. Sandals, toenails and the absence of pantyhose. Inference takes me no further."
Amalia sighed, deeply disappointed.
"Put your hand on my upper back, and tell me what you feel."
"Your back, under this black thing."
Amalia sighed again.
"Rub your hand up and down, and think of Victoria's Secret."
"Careful. You don't want to get me -- you're not wearing a bra."
"And you're so quick. From my lack of this garment, and my lack of pantyhose, you may infer?..."
There was a pause.
"You're not wearing any underwear."
Amalia unfolded a smile that belonged on a Cheshire cheese.
"You're joking, right?"
Her smile widened.
"You're not really sitting in Union Square at 12:47 on a Wednesday afternoon with nothing between you and the bench but this corporate chador?"
"Finish your sandwich and come with me."
Finishing my sandwich took a surprisingly short amount of time.
Amalia swept me back between the playgrounds, between the stalls from Windfall Farms and Hawthorne Valley Farms, to the north end of the square.
"That's why you were keeping that death grip on my arm, so I wouldn't find out before you wanted me to."
"Maybe you're not so dumb after all." Her smile threatened to float up to the Heaviside Layer. "And now, on to Barnes & Noble!"
"Barnes & Noble?"
"And take this rubber band." Amalia produced a very large rubber band from her satchel and handed it to me.
"What am I supposed to do with this?"
"Hang onto it until you understand what to do with it."
We crossed the street and swept through the front door of the colossal book emporium. The air conditioning was sweet.
Amalia nudged me to the right, to the escalator, stood beside me as we ascended, and spoke low into my ear.
"You are going to the bathroom on the second floor. When you come back, it will be without your underwear."
"You're out of your mind."
"Are you the man who wrote, 'The imminence of passion -- of heat and flesh and broken taboos -- hung almost tangibly in the air of Barnes & Noble'...or are you not?"
"That was fiction. This is...not fiction."
At the top of the escalator was the entrance to Children's Books, flanked by Barnaby and his purple crayon and Frog (or was it Toad?). The restroom sign was at the right, under a reclining Piglet.
"This is perverted," I said.
Amalia turned, looked up, smiled, leaned into me. Yes, she really wasn't wearing a bra.
I went into the rest room.
There were only two stalls, and someone was in the near one. I could remove my underwear without attracting attention by using the far stall, but only if the near stall was empty.
Why I thought the person in the near stall would have the slightest interest in my removing my underwear is difficult to recall, but at the time it seemed vital.
After he left, the removal of my underwear took an even shorter time than had the finishing my sandwich.
Outside, I found Amalia, her enormous and feline smile bizarrely at home in Children's Books.
"All better?" she purred.
"Yes, thank you. Now what?"
"Up the escalator."
"I am very unsure about this."
"Up the escalator!"
Amalia preceded me, leaned back into me, swayed from side to side. Her bottom was round and full and warm.
At the top of the escalator, people were reading magazines in front of us and to our left. Amalia went right -- and stopped so suddenly I ran smack into her, which wasn't at all unpleasant.
"Ahh!" Amalia said. "Ahh!"
It was some sort of strange, choked laugh.
"What the hell is wrong with you now?"
"Ahh!" she repeated, and pointed at a sign.
The sign was an ad for Godiva Chocolates.
The ad read, Indulge Yourself.
"Ahh!" Amalia said.
"Very funny. Now what?"
"Back here, toward Educational Software."
"You want to buy software?"
"That's just the thing I'm not after."
We walked past the Spiritual Matters table, turned left at Religion, and headed straight ahead to New Age. All the books there seemed to have 'Goddess,' 'Chakra,' or 'Alien' in the title.
"Stand here, on my left," she ordered.
There was no one to our right, looking at the Bibles. A very large security guard was standing about twenty feet to our left, but beyond him stretched an unbroken wall of books.
"When he goes, no one will be able to see us." Amalia said. Then she placed her hand gently, but firmly against the front of my shorts and began to stroke. "Look to the right. What do you see?"
"Storage area. Elevator. Stacks of books." The stroking was beginning to have an effect.
"You've missed one thing."
"Take out the rubber band."
Under the circumstances, this seemed a fairly ludicrous request.
I took out the rubber band.
"Each door to the electrical cabinet has a inside knob."
"Are you sure?"
Amalia gave me a look. For a customer in an air-conditioned store, she looked surprisingly flushed.
"The doorknobs can be held together with the rubber band. If anyone comes by at the wrong time, that will keep them out for just long enough." Her hand was still moving.
"But that's electricity in there."
"Then don't touch it."
"Aren't we too old for this?"
"Why should children should have all the fun?"
She had me there.
"The security guard is going," she said.
Seizing my hand, Amalia pulled me into the exit area, not running but moving quickly, purposefully, leading me through the door of the electrical closet.
I turned, pulled the door shut, and hooked the rubber band over the doorknobs, twice.
There was just enough light.
"This won't work face to face. I'm too short, and my standing on a stack of books might end up frying us both. But kiss me once first. And use your hands. I didn't take that bra off just to sway in the wind."
I complied with her requests.
"Now, there's just enough room for me to turn around," she whispered.
Amalia pivoted, bent over, placed her hands against the wall. I lifted the little black corporate dress.
She didn't have to give any more instructions.
When the Chinese first saw American movies with sex scenes, I am told, they were struck by the concept that sex could include noise, as the Chinese typically live so close together sex needs must be silent.
Amalia and I pretended to be Chinese.
My hat fell off, but it seemed foolish to stop for that.
"Do you hear anyone?" Amalia whispered.
I listened. Nothing. I removed the rubber band and slowly, quietly opened the door.
In four long strides I was back among the books, where I earnestly pretended to examine the Bibles.
Amalia strolled out languorously, smiling like the Cheshire Cat who swallowed the cheese. "For some unknown reason I am awfully sweaty. There are bathrooms on the other side of this floor. I think we could both use a wash."
There was no one in the bathroom to catch me putting my underwear back on.
Amalia emerged impeccably made up, the little black corporate dress back on duty, unstained and wrinkle-free.
"I'm beginning to see the compensations of that garment," I said.
"I thought you would," she replied, as we rode the escalators down to the main floor. "Don't you love books?"
"I've been devoted to them since I was a very small child, but never quite so much as today."
"My afternoon will be remarkably stress-free."
"As will mine."
We headed for the front door.
"Tell me one thing, my menopausal minx -- what would you have done if someone had come in?"
Amalia stopped short of the door, her way suddenly blocked by someone I belatedly recognized as the very large security guard from the third floor.
"Thanks so much for your help, Nick," she said.
"Always a pleasure to return a favor, Amalia," Nick replied.
Nick nodded to me. I nodded to him. Amalia nodded to us both and swept out the door.
Only her smile remained behind.
Here's to Cheshire
Here's to cheese
Here's to the pears and the apple trees
Here's to my lovely strawberries...