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Anna Alexandra Isacson

Urban Shrines

Crystal checked her computer schedule, Al was in doing a procedure, and they had one more patient to see. Standing in front of her wall mirror, she pulled up her long, blond hair with a clip; curls cascaded down her back. "Breast Wishes" looped across her pink scrub top in white embroidered thread. She put some drops in her green eyes to take the red away and applied some pink lipstick to her collagen-stung mouth. Her Monroe diamond stud flashed back at her. Her phone vibrated, and she felt angry while reading the second text from her estranged husband, David.

Distracted by the message, Crystal just about tripped over a towering bin of cast off implants. She grabbed a silicone 600cc (DD) off the top.

Her flame-haired therapist was teaching her strategies to help her cope with general stress and the break-up of her marriage. Crystal laid the implant on the arm of her antique verdigris sofa, slipping her shoes and diamond ring off. Sitting on the sofa, she crossed her legs in a lotus position, closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. She identified her angry thoughts and visualized them floating through the air. Feeling somewhat detached and separated from her anger, she watched the words glide away. She was getting better at observing her emotions, outside of herself. She closed her eyes and visualized keeping her house, not worrying about work, and having a healthy relationship with a man she could trust. She released her thoughts into the universe.

Feeling calmer, she looked at the 600cc implant straddling the sofa arm. It was Al's idea to keep the old implants she thought as though they were artifacts. To compare the old to the new. Comparing -- saline vs. silicone; texture vs. non-texture; teardrop vs. round; small vs. large. Even more choices than that. New implants were superior to the old. The old ones got old and needed to be replaced. Just like wives and everything else.

Weeks before, Larry, Al's best friend and attorney, was in Crystal's office talking to Al and her about an impending medical investigation. Larry had wrinkled up his brow, his gray blue eyes scanning the bin. Al was confident and she was nervous about their case. After their business was over, drinking Naked Chardonnay together, Larry picked up an implant, squeezing it.

"What the hell are these here for?" Larry asked, holding an 800cc saline implant.

"To relieve tension," Crystal said, smiling.

"What is this a Freudian joke, Al," Larry laughed, looking at the implant bin.

"Sure," Al, said. He ran his hands through his dark widow-peaked hair.

Crystal suggested to them that she could recycle the cast off implants to sculpt the ancient goddess Artemis Diana at Ephesus. She could use a female mannequin as Diana, glue implants all over the form, and donate it to the Phoenix Art Museum. The idea for the sculpture first occurred to her when she snapped a picture of a woman's breasts during her post-op augmentation check and the patient moved. The woman was a blur of breasts, and Crystal thought of Diana and Duchamp.

"So can you tell she majored in biology and minored in art, Larry?" Al laughed.

"God, yes," Larry said, laughing.

"She could be called Evolutionary Goddess," Crystal said.

Now she stepped back into her shoes and slipped her diamond back on, throwing the implant into the bin. She shoved some porn magazines into her bottom drawer that she used to show off their cosmetic surgery patients to prospective patients. She left a couple of local Arizona magazines with their ad out, ads of her advertising breast implants and facial rejuvenation. First, he advertised her on his website, then newspapers, and magazines. In a couple of weeks, she would be fleshed out on a billboard. She thought he had far too much money to spend, made from his booming practices across the valley.

Her office phone rang and she swiveled around in her leather chair.

"Crystal speaking, Tempe office," she said. Larry's voice. Where was Al? She visualized Larry with his graying wavy hair. There were some complications in the case, but they did have truth on their side. She thought if she had known what was going on in the office, she could've prevented the problems. She felt guilty about not doing anything.

"Larry that's not true," Crystal said, holding the phone. "She is lying."

"She says she has no memory whatsoever," he said.

"So it's her word against mine."

"I'll subpoena her," said Larry.


"Have Al call me," he said before hanging up.

Another text came in from David about selling their house. She turned her phone off, accidentally knocking a stone statue of Botticelli's Venus that she and Al bought in Rome at a medical conference a year earlier. The statue toppled over on a sample implant, her valium pills, and one of Al's portfolios. She took another deep breath and let it out, straightening her desk.

To distract and redirect herself, Crystal opened his textured leather portfolio. She flipped through a couple of pages that she showed patients of Al helping poor people in other countries. This is why she had become attracted to him in the beginning. She stopped at one page and touched the picture.

Al breezed into her office. His open lab coat with "Dr. Al Morgan" embroidered above a caduceus floated over his shirt, silk tie, and dark dress pants. He sat down in an antique Queen Ann armchair across from her, holding a chart. His pants hiked up some, exposing his nylon socks, matching his Italian shoes.

"What," he said, looking at her with his brown eyes.

"I would love to go with you some time," she said, getting up from her desk, showing him her most favorite picture of him holding a five-year old boy.

"Come to Mexico with me," he said.

Al had the most beautiful face and voice she thought. She had first thought he was too old for her, and she wasn't necessarily physically attracted to him when she first met him. Al was good looking, but she really had to know a man to find him attractive. Now she loved his masculine nose and sculpted cheeks. She even loved that he was twenty years older than she.

"So what's wrong, Crystal?"

She put off telling him about Larry calling.

"David keeps texting me these damn messages about the house," she said, while continuing to flip through the pictures.

Getting up from the chair, walking behind her desk, he started rubbing her shoulders, pulled back her hair, and kissed her neck.

"You're tense," he said.

"I've got some appointments with my body worker."

"Why do you keep wearing that ring?" he asked.

It was two carats. Princess cut. She wore it for consults, generally not for rechecks, and definitely not surgery. It weighed her down.

"It's lasted longer than my marriage," she said, closing the portfolio.

"What the fuck is it worth really?"

"It's symbolic of something beyond the marriage and ring."

"I bought my wife so much damn jewelry," he said.

"Ex-wife," she said. "Two years, Al. She's remarried."

"I got caught. All that damn money it cost me. It was stupid."

"She went out on you first, and you put up with it just like I did," she said. "And then you got caught."

"She was screwing the handyman," he said.

"He was an architect, Al," she said, leaning her elbows into the desk.

"I have strong defense mechanisms. It wasn't worth it," he said. "Only you, she, and the handyman know that."

"Architect, Al. He built your house. It's so emotional for me with David."

"Listen, you're better than David's newest fling that he's shacking up with," he said, pointing. "Get as much money out of him as you can. Forget him. Don't get stuck as many years as I did."

"He left me for the flattest-chested woman he could find," she said, picking up a sample 300cc silicone teardrop implant off her desk. "His secretary." She hurled the implant at the wall. "God dam it Al, I was a full D cup before augmentation. My breasts were tight against my chest. I was out under anesthesia, he was fucking manic, and in a state of grandiosity. He told the surgeon to 'put in the biggest he had.'"

"Jesus. You look good, honey. Just be happy with what you got," he said. "Calm down, Crystal."

He stopped rubbing her shoulders, fumbled around to find a lighter in her office, lighting a lavender candle.

"Let's sit on the couch," he said, looking at his watch. "We've got some time before Dr. Davis' wife comes in."

"Her name is Nanci," she said, still sitting in her chair.

"He keeps getting new wives," he said walking over to the sofa. "It's just easier."

"Stop," she said, laughing. "You called her 'Dr. Davis' wife.'"

"She's not his wife?

Laughing with him, she picked the implant off the floor, flinging it on her desk. She grabbed the Venus statue, touching the stone was soothing for her. She leaned on her desk, feeling embarrassed by her burst of anger. From a young age, she had always wanted children. She wanted to have three daughters and name them all after the ocean. They would all have "mar" in their names. Precipitated by her breast augmentation, she had heart trouble, and she would probably never have her own children. It made her feel empty, and she wanted to nurture a baby in her belly. She could only think of her belly as negative space, the space that surrounds the object in sculpture or in a painting.

Sitting on the sofa, he leaned forward, as she came to sit with him.

"Just stand there," he said. "I want to look at you."

He said the most beautiful things to her sometimes.

Flashing up her pink scrub top, he kissed her belly, loosening her scrub bottoms.

"You're perfect," he said.

Which, of course, was not true, but the moment was perfect. She took a breath in, closed her eyes, holding Venus.

"God, Al, you're so sweet to me."

She sat down beside him. Feeling lightheaded, trying to center herself, she sat Venus down on an end table. "I always feel something powerful in you and your hands."

"With you, it's pure simple lust," he said, looking at his hands. "Sexual energy."

"It's procreation," she said.

"It's scientific," he said. "Creativity and sexuality are both in the frontal lobe."

"Sure, between the ears," she said.

"Don't let this ruin your day with David. Forget it. Let's go out for dinner tonight like we planned," he said, kissing her neck. "I made reservations at the resort. We need to get out of here early today."

The phone rang.

"It's Larry," she said, handing the phone to him.

Taking the phone he said, "I know you can do this, Larry. Let them fucking investigate and harass. I don't have anything to hide, God damn it. This is political."

After hanging up, Al was energized and confident.

"Fuck 'em," he said. "I'll sue, and they'll have to pay our legal fees."

Al and Crystal saw Nanci Davis together, a blonde much younger and thinner version than his first and second wives. She was sitting on the examining table with her pink paper top, opened in the front. Last check.

"Good to see you Nanci," he said.

Crystal smiled at him.

They washed their hands.

"Dr. Morgan, these feel so much more natural than the saline did," she said, as he checked her breasts. "Ron loves looking at me."

"That's good," Al said, laughing.

Crystal smiled and stood by Al, writing in Mrs. Davis' chart.

"I'm very pleased with them being under the muscle," she said. "I feel this is really me. I just didn't feel good about myself before."

"It's all about balance," he said. "Being healthy mentally and physically."

"The saline felt like water balloons, and I really think 400cc's were perfect."

"Absolutely," Dr. Morgan said, closing her top.

"Feeling and nipple sensation okay?" Crystal asked, holding Nanci's thick chart.

"I've still got numbness," she crossed her legs. "I saw your picture in the ad in the magazine. Beautiful, just like in person."

Besides the heart attack, Crystal had never fully regained feeling in her breasts.

"Oh, thank you."

Standing by the door with Nanci, he talked to her about her "daily regime."

"Crystal, can I get an appointment for my Botox and filler for my lips," she asked.

"Sure." Crystal wrote some notes in her thick chart and Mrs. Davis left.

He called Crystal back into his office, and she sat down on his sofa. He stripped down to his boxers, she made small talk, looking into his face. When she first started working for him, she would leave when he started taking his scrub top off. He would criticize the things she did for the rest of the day and she never understood what his problem was. One day he put his hand on her hers and said, "Stay here. We can do this for each other. David is terrible to you."

Watching him now, she realized for him it was like the affirmations that she and other people said to themselves when they looked into the mirror. She loved his lean, muscular body. She watched her thoughts about him float through the air and she took them back. She wanted to take in the moment fully. He had a better body than some men her age.

"You wanna join me in the shower," he asked.

"Another, time, Al."

"Maybe I'll get lucky," he said, letting his breath out.

After they took their showers alone, he stood in his wife beater and black dress pants. He zipped up the back her black velvet dress. She sat down on his office sofa, slipped on her black heels, and crossed elastic over her ankles. He finished dressing, and she grabbed her black cashmere coat.

"Honey, let's take your car."

In her pearlescent Beamer on the way to dinner at a resort, Pavarotti and Bocelli played in the background, and she relaxed in her passenger massaging leather seat. Al leased the car for her, and he used it as a business write-off for when she went to the strip clubs to pass out his cosmetic surgery cards. He never wanted her to go alone, so she always took Joe, their anesthetist with her.

They drove on the Loop 101 Pima freeway, on the Indian Rez; free of advertising, dotted with Palo Verde trees and saguaros. Crystal admired the designs on the noise wall panels and the bridge piers of the freeway, painted and textured with land graphics of Hohokam geckos, cacti, and native designs.

The valet parked her car at the resort.

Sitting outside dining, Crystal and Al watched the sun set on Camelback Mountain. She cut a tomato spritzed with vinaigrette.

"Damn good steak," he said. "How's your salad?"

"Great," she said.

"We could stay the night," he said.

"I'd love to, but we shouldn't," she said, sucking on a strawberry. The fire pit and standing heaters made the chilly air comfortable. He moved closer to her, putting his arm around her, and slipped his fingers in the V in the front of her dress. He was smooth. He touched her in private places publicly, arousing her, and no one seemed to notice.

"You wanna get a massage or anything," he asked, rubbing her neck.

He had taken her here before for dining and massage treatments, which he paid for with his black card. At the resort, they both had stone massage and reflexology treatments. It always helped her relax.

"Dinner was so nice, Al."

"I checked," he said. "They have a nice room. If you wanna stay."

"I always want to stay with you," she said, holding her white linen napkin.

"What can I do, Crystal," he asked.

"Al, it's me," she said.

"I know I could be faithful to you," he asked. "Is that what it is."

"Because of you, I was able to stay married."

"Like staying married to that smuck is a good thing," he said. "What's that supposed to mean."

"I enjoy being with you," she said. "I don't want to ruin things."

"How would it ruin things."

"I'm afraid of getting too close."

He lowered his voice, "Crystal, it's not fucking natural to put me off like this," he said. "It's not the 1950's here."

"You're still interested, right?"


"Maybe other things are more important."

"Why should we waste time?"

"We still have a good time."

After dinner, Crystal pulled out a Chanel compact, and applied some rose lipstick. She powdered her face and snapped her compact shut. He helped her put her black cashmere coat on.

He put his arm around her as they walked down the stairs of the resort. It was a clear night and the moon a slice of opalescence.

"Honey, will you be warm enough if I put the top down?"

"I've got a scarf. And this coat," she said, stroking it.

"Topless, honey," he said.

She wrapped a long nude silk scarf over her head and neck. In the car, he caressed her beneath her jacket. On the freeway, with the wind blowing through her scarf and luminous hair, she felt a sense of freedom and joy wash over her. She emanated moonlight. He was telling stories, and they were both laughing. He pulled off to the side to park and pointed to a lit-up billboard.

"Honey, look."

"My God, it's so surreal," she gasped. "It's like being outside of myself. I thought it would be a couple of weeks."

"I wanted to surprise you," he laughed.

It was a shock. Did she really look like that.

"It was a religious experience for me to see you on this billboard."

When he talked this way, she often wondered if he was teasing her about her spirituality or trying to manipulate her. After his drug treatment in Malibu for Demerol addiction, a year earlier, he had a spiritual awakening while in intensive counseling. His spirituality had waned since then.

As cars rushed by, he slipped his hand on the inside of her knees, sliding up her thighs beneath her dress.

"When I look at you up there, I feel like I'm completely inside you," he said.

He was one of the most seductive men she had ever known.

She had tied a black silk chiffon shawl across her hips for the shoot. The gold naval ring she wore in the billboard was alchemy. It was all a rush. She felt the whole experience bonded her even more deeply to Al. It was a deliciously transcendent feeling. She felt calm, as though she had completed something, calmer than taking the valium that he prescribed for her. As calm as when she worked in her garden or did yoga. She could see Dr. Al Morgan's name and phone number montaged across her thighs on the billboard.

"Seeing myself up there, I feel totally empowered," she said. "It's like taking a deep breath and seeing things objectively."

"That's deep, Crystal."

"It's so strange, I feel like I have the power to connect with everyone," she said.

"Good," he said, saying something else under his breath. "Everyone will be dreaming of you on the freeway. You're bigger than life."

He reached over and caressed her legs while unlocking the glove box. Inside, he grabbed a rectangular wrapped box with a gold bow.

"I adore you," he said, and smiled as he handed her a black velvet jewelry box.

"For me?" she asked, slipping off a gold bow, tucking it in her purse, and opening the box with Italian gilded writing inside. She touched the lustrous pearls.

"Spuma -- born from the sea-foam," he said.

He was so always so smooth.

"Here, honey." He gently clasped the three strand pearls around her neck. "You're Venus on the I-17; your hair is weaved with gold just like Botticelli's Venus."

She kissed him on the cheek. "Thank God he didn't burn that painting," she said.

"The Bonfire of the Vanities."

"Thank you Al, these pearls are exquisite."

"I went out and bought these pearls in the morning, the day after you went down on me," he said, while pulling on one of her ringlets.

She was quiet.

"After the medical conference," he said. "The day we saw Bernini's Saint Teresa."

"You're joking."

"No, I'm not."

"I remember, at the villa in Rome," she said.

"I got a deal; the salesman threw in the earrings," he said, laughing.

"You, fuck. They're beautiful," she said, putting in her pearl earrings and kissing him. A car honked that passed by. She put her visor down with a mirror and turned the light on to look at her jewelry. "I'm happy you got a deal," she said smiling.

"You are art incarnate," he said.

"Al, you're sweet."

"What we did together in Italy didn't ruin anything. I want to do more with you. At some point, you're going to have to learn to trust me and yourself. Or if it's not me, someone else. But it might as well be me."

She savored his words and took a deep breath, looking back at herself.

©2008 by Anna Alexandra Isacson

Anna Alexandra Isacson is a graduate of Arizona State University, with degrees in English and Religious Studies. "Urban Shrines" is from one of her short story collections. She also writes poetry and teaches high school English Humanities.

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