Like many people with their professions, pharmaceutical sales was merely something she “fell into.” It wasn’t as though she was “passionate” about selling drugs legally. Or passionate about much of anything else, really. Her life had simply added up to this, living in North Carolina, specifically Asheville (the “New York City” of the state, or was it Brooklyn? Either way, both comparisons were a faulty justification for living in NC.) and going from door to door, so to speak, with her wares.
She knew she had only been hired by Drugged Up, her “indie” pharmaceutical company, because she had the attractiveness to sell. And yes, there could be no denying that the industry was still one filled primarily with male doctors, ones either already in or approaching middle-age. Particularly in the South, where the cliche about old men being susceptible to obeying any skirt hemline above the knee rang truer than the most iconic of bells. But Carmen couldn’t complain, they were her meal ticket. And she, in a certain sense, was theirs. For part of her job was to take them out for dinner, wine and dine them as though she were the man, upselling them on her product du jour. And she was all too aware that, as it was the South, even if Asheville, this was the only time in which such circumstances would be allowed. For “chivalry” (a.k.a. a means to control and manipulate women under the guise of being “nice” and “respectful” to them) was too ingrained in the Southern man to be eradicated under any other contingencies.
So Carmen wielded this loophole of “feminine charm” through flattery and an expense account to get them to do what she wanted. Or rather, what Drugged Up wanted. After all, she had a certain quota to meet with them every month. At least forty new medical professional converts to a drug. An essentially impossible target. Or it would be if Carmen wasn’t a young and beautiful woman with the skill for persuasion and the gift of knowing when to charm with her conversation and when to shut up and let the “menfolk” do the talking.
Mercifully, she was all of these things. And she could only thank her debutante mother for this knack. It was slim-figured Virginia, a woman that despised being called “Virginia Slim” and also set the precedent to Carmen for getting plastic surgery before turning thirty, who made her daughter join the cheerleading squad, and worse, go through with a cotillion. Meanwhile, her only sibling, a younger brother named Derek, was allowed the luxury of sitting at home all day watching TV or playing video games. But looking back on those entities she despised, she was grateful to Virginia for forcing her to engage with them. For she wouldn’t be even remotely as equipped for her job as she was in the present. To stifle her rage and contempt, to smile sweetly and say such things as, “Yes, Dr. Martin, I know just what you mean” and “If you’ll turn to the final page here and initial” as she hovered over them with her chest strategically pointed in the direction of their face, her left breast (long ago augmented along with the right, obviously) just coming within his purview to distract him long enough to go through with murder if she asked in that very moment. She had to admit it was thrilling to have this kind of power. To brandish the undercover brute force of seduction and drugs in a socially acceptable way was electrifying to her. In truth, it was like a drug in and of itself that she couldn’t get enough of.
After closing yet another sale for the month, Carmen took a scenic drive back from a hospital in Goodluck (yes, Goodluck), feeling she deserved a pit stop at the gas station to buy a Cherry Coke. It’s the simplest of chemical poisons that feel the most rewarding, after all. She got back into her front seat and guzzled half of it down before placing it in her cup holder. She backed the car out of the eerily deserted station and continued on her course, right as news of the virus hit her Sirius XM airwaves (because, of course, she spent money on a monthly subscription to Sirius XM–she simply had that much disposable income).
It had been a dormant news item for the past few weeks, trickling into select headlines when there was a lull in discussing the shitty state of America. Talk of more countries closing their borders felt like some faraway concept, as foreign as the countries themselves. And though Carmen liked to consider herself more in touch with possessing an “international knowledge” than most of the average denizens of North Carolina, she was struck with an immediate understanding that she knew nothing at all. Had been as insulated from reality as the rest of them. For reality was more than just one’s own environment and immediate surroundings, though this was a concept that had long been anathema to the U.S., particularly the South. Yet with this announcement of the virus infecting at least thirty people in the area, even the South could no longer ignore what had only recently been a “remote” actuality.
Carmen pulled over to the nearest shoulder to listen to the news report more intently, momentarily stricken with panic before a Grinch-like smile crept over her face. This was going to be her most lucrative sales year yet once they started coming up with trial vaccines. Feeling a sensation she could not recognize, she touched her face (despite the ardent warning from the CDC not to do so). A tear was streaming down it. A tear of sheer and uncontrollable joy. She could not even remember the last time her body had permitted her to emote in such a way, thanks to the free and steady supply of SSRIs she was able to furnish herself with. And of course while everyone was panicking, waiting for a miraculous “cure” that would likely only work on a select few cases, there would be needs for other health maintenance. Specifically mental health. Just think of all the benzodiazepines they might want during this period of crisis and unrest, she thought as her eyes darted about as though calculating imaginary numbers on an invisible screen in front of her. Anything to calm the nerves. Anything that could help them ignore the absoluteness of this virus. The fact that it was going to change everything, forever. Why, the collective PTSD cachet alone was worth enough sales to cover Carmen’s lifetime and any other generations she might breed. She tittered at that thought, knowing full well you’d have to be full-blown mentally ill to still keep producing in a global climate like this. There were drugs to cure that kind of mental illness, too (the morning after pill, mifepristone and misoprostol, to name a few).
She stared blankly out the window for several seconds as she finished the last of her Cherry Coke. Carmen then reached into her glove compartment to grab her newest pair of Dolce and Gabbana shades and put them on. She pressed her Jimmy Choo to the gas pedal and set off into the sunset, never more certain in her entire life that the pharmaceutical sales reps would inherit the earth.