“A Free Sampling” – A Meaningful Short Fiction Story
Gwen looked like a flight attendant pulling a carry-on from her white BMW convertible to the front entrance of Lake Terrace Medical Center. Three nurses huddled outside on their smoke break. She ignored a bent woman in her eighties with a walker ascending the handicap ramp. Gwen didn’t want to risk stumbling in her stiletto heels on the stairs, so she brushed by an old man wheezing belabored breaths from an oxygen tank attached to a pole on wheels. A Dial-a-Ride driver dropped off several seniors and helped them maintain their balance up the ramp.
The driver observed Gwen’s shapely figure and swishing shoulder-length blond coif—like a fly fisher’s lure attracting all males from boys to men. He hadn’t even seen her face with a tanned complexion, turned up nose, and shimmering green eyes that couldn’t be denied anything they demanded. She’d always been a daddy’s girl with no siblings to compete for his attention.
At twenty-eight her antennae were set in sugar-daddy mode searching for a middle-aged doctor, preferably a Board Certified specialist with little time for conjugal rights to yield any offspring. Though twenty years away, she could hear her menopausal clock ticking. She intended to make the use of every second to effectively dangle her lure for the best catch.
The three nurses ignored the old woman with the walker as she tried to get passed them to the entrance, but they all greeted Gwen with her sample case on wheels as if she were their long-lost sister. The nurses commented favorably on her well-tailored designer business suit and deep tan.
“Maui,” she told them as she passed through the entrance with a wink. The trip had been her company’s annual promotional trip. Investment companies and bankers were prohibited such extravagances for ancillary employees in their similar cut-throat competition to become “Sales Rep of the Year.”
Pharmies, as they called themselves had plenty of subsidies to spread around and share with each according to his or her sales production.
The three nurses flicked their cigarette butts into the sidewalk receptacle and followed Gwen into the medical center, leaving a cloud of second-hand smoke for the old man to inhale through his oxygen tube as the door closed in his face.
The medical facility’s lunch break had just ended, so a line of patients were gathered at the reception window with health insurance IDs and co-pays in hand to present to the receptionist—a uniformed medical assistant.
One scoop of ice cream short of splitting her pants, Gwen thought.
At least the receptionist’s pleasant manner reduced the sting on the patients’ pain scale—perhaps from 8 to 6—until the next episode of whatever ailed them. In general their greatest pain was a 10—and certain that they’d lived too long in a world that they no longer recognized as home.
Gwen tilted her head so the receptionist would see her waiting behind the motley assortment of what she saw as the walking dead. They exchanged nods then Gwen took a seat and crossed her legs. When any of the patients caught her eye, Gwen gave them her Cover Girl smile with sparkling white teeth, but she didn’t really see them—that could be painful as well as nonproductive. She was there to promote her goods, the only potions with any chance of easing their pains—or so she’d been programmed to accept, if not believe. Drinking the Kool-aid was still a matter of choice in a free society. Gwen followed her thirst.
The elderly women who left the reception line to take seats in the waiting room gave Gwen warm smiles, a reminder for them to call their granddaughters. The old men felt a twinge of renewed youth with the subtle wafting fragrance of Gwen’s body wash, reminding them it was time to renew their prescription for that blue pill.
The men exchanged nods of mutual understanding, thinking—she’s a looker, so let’s enjoy this precious moment before we forget why we even came here.
All heads turned when the door leading to the doctors’ examination rooms opened. The male nurse with spiked hair and a foreign accent looked right through them and nodded to Gwen, knowing the attractive sales rep was from one of the pharmaceutical companies—which one didn’t matter. All the sales reps seemed to be clones from the same mold. The young men looked like Wall Street hedge fund managers and the young women, the most successful, were a combination of “flight attendants” from the sixties and runway models of today. They were Stepford pill-pushers with an MA in Business or Chemistry. No dummies, and all good looking and sharp. But like professional athletes, they had short-lived careers and knew it coming into the game.
Do the math—Gwen had often thought—I have less than fifteen years to earn enough money to retire or become a Regional Sales Director before age forty. The patients looked blankly at one another as they had to wait for the young sales rep to finish her presentation to … today it would be Dr. Gelato, who was sitting at his desk making notes on a patient’s medical history on an iPad as Gwen entered his office and the nurse closed the door behind her to give them privacy.
“Hi, Gwen,” he said without looking up. “Right on time as usual. How are you?”
“Swell, Dr. Ray,” she said, rolling her sample case next to the chair in front of his desk and taking a seat with one leg crossed over the other and revealing more than half of her tanned athletic thigh. “I’ve got some hot items for you, including the one you asked about last summer, the one that will give a menopausal woman only one hot flash a year, the signal to take her annual dose, and with little side effects.”
“What are the little side effects?”
“Our test group showed one in a thousand could have uterine cancer as a result of extended usage, but eliminating the women who had any uterine cancer history in their families reduced that to one in five thousand.”
“How large was your test group?”
“Ten thousand,” Gwen said with a casual shrug.
“I know hot flash control is a priority for most women over fifty, but where in hell did your people find ten thousand American women to swallow that pill, knowing the potential danger? Did you even bother to tell these women there was potential danger?”
She gave him a twist of her head as if she couldn’t believe he was asking her such a question. Who did he think he was—her father?
“First off, it’s not a pill.” She reached into her sample case and put a bottle on his desk. “It’s an inhalant taken once a year after the first hot flash—user-friendly and economically practical for the patient.”
He took the bottle in hand and broke the seal. Curious, he started to put it to his nose, but she grabbed his forearm.
“For women only.” She glared. “We have no tests on men, but next appointment, I’d hate to see you with a nicer pair of boobs than mine.”
He pushed the bottle aside.
“Just busting your balls, Ray,” she laughed. “But we really have no stats on men for Breezerine, that’s what we call it, and it’s available July first.
“Who were these ten thousand women who tried it?”
“Koreans. We had over twenty thousand volunteers, but we ran out of our sample batch and had to turn away half of them.”
“And they were informed about cancer as a side-effect?”
“That’s not my job assignment. What’s this sudden flare for social consciousness? You didn’t hesitate to pass out our free samples of Scrotodin to patients when you knew it might cause seizures even though it effectively increased male potency. I thought the $25,000 bonus we paid you to distribute those free samples was enough to abate your scruples. What’s it going to take this time?”
“What did you pay those Korean women?”
“Through the grape vine . . . I think it was a hundred bucks a pop. We had one million dollars in the budget for testing. The economy in South Korea is worse than here, where our disclosure laws for FDA compliance testing is more stringent. The Korean result was a more accurate and broader sampling. If we did the testing here, we’d have to disclose the dangers more specifically and pay an American woman twice as much. Our budget would’ve decreased our test group by fifty percent with a less accurate sampling.”
He gave her a look like a school principal catching her smoking in the girls’ room. She didn’t flinch, but her cheeks flushed, thinking—who’s your daddy?
“I really don’t know why I’m explaining all this to you. If you have second thoughts about taking the free-sampling bonus, I’ll be back next week to see Dr. Price—and he’ll take enough for my month’s quota for half the usual bonus I’m offering you.”
“I know very well why Dr. Price takes a smaller bonus,” Dr. Gelato said. “We play squash together at our club.”
She smirked unabashedly. “I guess sometimes size does count, but I’m an equal opportunity supplier. Am I getting your business today, Ray?”
“I’ll pass this time, Gwen. I need to know more about it.”
“It’s more than that isn’t it, Ray? You’re a decent man in a cold world. You know you can have me any time, right here and now, or at another time and place that’s more convenient—just like Dr. Price. I respect you, Doc, but let’s face it, if my company can shell out a million bucks on a sample test, they’ll spend a lot more to keep doctors in tow. I’ve seen their reports on you, Ray. They know your weaknesses and they’ll use them just to keep you in line. Do yourself a favor. Take our bonus and just toss the samples in the garbage if you like. I’ll still get my commission. There won’t be any reason for them to be watching you unless I tell them you’re becoming a problem—a potential whistle blower. I’m doing you a favor, Doc.”
Dr. Gelato asked, “What will the retail price be for a twelve-month supply?”
“It’ll be about two grand. Medicare and Heath Insurance plans will pay up to half, depending on co-pays. It won’t go generic until 2034.”
“My wife is showing early signs of menopause at forty-four. I want her to have this kind of relief, but I also want her to be safe from harm—as in do no harm.” “Drugs come with no guarantees,” she said putting the free samples on his desk.
“If you want more, call me.” She paused at the door. “I guess with hot flashes at home, you’re not gettin’ any. I don’t have an appointment until three o’clock.”
“Mrs. Stanley has been waiting out there for forty-five minutes,” he said.
“Won’t take more than a minute,” she said, coming back toward him. She took a pair of sanitary plastic gloves from the box on his desk and blew them both open before slipping them on. As he toyed with the curl around Gwen’s diamond earring, he closed his eyes. He saw a dark void where his patients belonged to a lost world.
Before Gwen got started, her iPhone vibrated in her jacket.
“One sec,” she slid her finger across the screen, and saw a text from her step-mother only ten years older than she: COME HOME YOUR DAD HAD A STROKE
She rose from her prayerful position and snapped off the plastic gloves.
“Got a go, Doc.” Closing his office door behind her, she passed through the waiting room and saw the attentive eyes of the elderly patients admiring her good looks. So many, she thought, wondering why she hadn’t ever noticed them before.
(c) Copyright 2016 Gerald Arthur Winter
“I began my first novel at Rutgers U. School of Journalism in the 60s.
My first short story, “Old Loggerhead,” was published in 1974. My first book was non-fiction, SKIING FROM THE EDGES UP, published by The Dial Press in 1975. I had four stories published between 2010 and 2014.
I received my MFA in Creative Writing from U. of Tampa in January 2016. This year I’ve had twelve stories published so far in literary online publications of which ten are being considered in a twenty-story collection titled CROSSINGS.
I also have a novel, THE SWITCHEROO, currently under consideration for publication. My current hopes and dreams rest heavily on that collection and novel, but I keep submitting short stories every month.” – Gerald
You can visit Gerald at: GeraldArthurWinter.com
Lara loves photography and horseback riding.