While Marilyn is potting in the wood shed, or puttering in her pot shed, or pissing on the petunias (not really), I slip upstairs to phone the woman. It has been some time since I’ve seen her. Over the winter she came in for a breast consult. She had one of those absentee husbands— looking numb in the extra chair. At first I didn’t notice him, so quiet, and partly blocked by the consulting room door.
After some twenty years in her chest cavity, her silicone breast implants had hardened. Encapsulated. She wanted them removed. No new ones. Take them out, she’d told me.
Surprised, I guess I sort of reacted because she got this pissed off look on her face. Well who wouldn’t seem surprised? She already looked flat-chested. Take them out? You mean put in double D’s, I almost said.
Who wouldn’t naturally assume she was there for augmentation?
Very well, I told her. Adding that if they are not replaced she will be left with two limp sacks of skin, two deflated balloons.
Take them out anyway, the woman had replied. Her eyes were steely. The husband remained unresponsive in the chair. Interesting.
Usually they dragged the husbands along for economic reasons. A divorce, for instance, where new bigger breasts are part of the settlement. In her case I wasn’t so sure. She didn’t want big breasts. She just wanted to be rid of them.
You’re not going to be happy, I went on to tell her. You’re still a youngish woman, you won’t like the way you look.
Youngish didn’t affect this dame. I’ll be fine, she had answered coolly.
Now, I get all kinds in my practice. The best and the worst God ever made. I get the beauty queens wanting even more beauty, and the beasts, who in earlier times, would have been shut away in caves.
This woman was almost over-the-hill; yet still quite pretty. She had this reckless quality that came into her face making her seem more attractive than she actually was; if I were to assess her face feature by feature. Oh, a little filler perhaps under the cheekbones to soften that part. But, she was really quite fine with what she had.
She affected my heart rate. Normally I’m a tower of composure. Something about her. Plus my hands felt abnormally sweaty.
Without the slightest warning the husband had jumped out of his chair to put in his two cents. One moment he’s a statue, next he’s invested in the issue. She must have the removal followed by another breast augmentation, he announced. He said he knew her, and that she’d be unhappy living with any kind of deformity. He talked very fast. It occurred to me that he might have some type of mania.
After his speech she seemed to waver a bit. Looking worried. Again I mentioned the sacks of skin, and she wavered further, looking less determined. She dug around in her purse and pulled out a yellow sheet of paper. When I asked what she was holding, she answered that it contained her surgery questions. Sighing, I deliberately made my face look slightly annoyed yet compliant. Sitting down on the examining stool and folding my hands in my lap.
Go ahead and ask your silly questions my face was telling her. She noticed and her resolve for no breasts seemed to weaken even more. Then it was decided.
As per usual, I had her stand bare chested in front of the dark velvet screen, in order to take her before and after pictures. All at once the woman seemed to come to life.
Don’t you dare raise that camera to my face! she cautioned me, breaking out in wild laughter. Such a great smile! I laughed in return. We had this little repartee as if the husband weren’t present.
Aiming my camera, I reassured her. “No exposure,” I promised. Saying she would always be anonymous here. Safe. Then I raised it slightly to take her left profile shot. Then raised it again for her right side. Just slightly higher than the first picture.
Her explant/implant was scheduled for April. At some point she phoned and cancelled until mid-September. Why the long time span? Why procrastinate? Was she divorcing the husband or not? What was going on? My secretary Janelle yawned, she didn’t have the particulars.
Get over it, honey, I thought about the woman. It’s just breasts. Get over yourself. I stared at her pictures on my computer screen. Her lovely face above her right profile breast. The husband flashed through my mind. Get rid of him.
April came and went. Thanks to an increase in media coverage of movie stars, I was doing more boob jobs than ever. Frankly, minus the make-up, these actresses were a dime a dozen.
From my wife’s phone upstairs in our house I call the woman. If anyone else picks up, they will see my wife’s name appear on their caller ID. They will assume it’s a wrong number.
The woman picks up on the third ring. When I announce myself she seems momentarily surprised. I ask why she postponed her breast augmentation until September. I tell her I’m in my office going over files, and ran across hers. And that the long lapse in time concerns me. I ask if she’s been ill.
Yes, she says. I’m sick of everything.
Then she seems to become more agitated saying she has the September appointment booked and isn’t that enough for me?
Not enough, I’m thinking, saying I will see her in the fall. In the most cheery voice I can muster up.
Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her collection ‘dear Petrov’ is forthcoming this winter from Pure Slush Books. Tepper was the Second Place Winner in ‘story South Million Writers Award’ (2014), and came in 7th of 10 winners in the Zoetrope Contest for the Novel (2006). Her essays and interviews appear at Black Heart Magazine, and she is founder/host of FIZZ; a reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, these past eight years.
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[picture by California Surgical Institute]