New Fiction: PLAYING WITH THE DEAD

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Written by Dr. Christian A. Dumais

“I’m here for the pharmacist’s dinner,” I tell the hostess.

“You mean the drug thing?” She looks up from her clipboard and squints her eyes. She is obviously not impressed with my appearance. “Are you a pharmacist?”

“Absolutely,” I say, smiling. “I can count to thirty and sixty; any higher than that and the machine counts for me.”

She purses her lips and surrenders with an indifferent shrug. “Sign here and then follow me.” She leads me down a long corridor into a private room and hands me a menu at the entrance.

The private room is vast and strangely dark, set on an aura usually designated for drunken romances. There are people standing around, conversing in groups of two and three, and the rest are sitting awkwardly at two long tables by the far wall. The room is tense, as it always is in the vacuum of professionalism, smelling of cigars and scotch. A wave of silence ripples through the room, and I feel all the eyes descending on me; they can smell the imposter in their midst.

I remain confident and walk further into their territory. A waiter taps my shoulder and asks if I would care for a drink. I order a beer. “And be sure to keep the beer coming,” I tell him. “This is a big night for me and the last thing I want to do is ruin it by being sober.”

I take an empty seat at the end of one of the tables and try to mentally note some observations; however, I am interrupted when a man sits beside me. He is wearing jeans with a faded gray sports coat. “What pharmacy do you work at?” he asks.

I name a pharmacy; a chain named after a rich old man.

“Oh, there, huh? I work for (he names a grocery chain that has no business having a pharmacy). How many scripts do you do a day?”

I think about this, then: “I’m filling about a thousand prescriptions a day now.”

“Jesus God! That’s inhumane! You have help, right?”

“No. Just me and my white jacket.”

“Well, I am only doing about a hundred at my store with two technicians and a cashier. I couldn’t handle that type of load…”

“Well,” I say, “that’s why you’ll never be working with the big boys. Personally, I prefer to work in an environment with plenty of distractions to increase my margin for error. Gets the adrenaline flowing and all.”

“I see, well, I, uh…” he pauses, sips his drink, and says, “I guess I’ll catch you later.” He gets up and leaves.

The waiter returns and puts two glasses of beer down on the table.

“Christian,” a familiar voice calls from behind. I turn around to see my esteemed colleague, Dr. Patel, the man who told me about this sadistic function. “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show.”

I hand him one of my beers. “I almost didn’t. Pretending to be a pharmacist seems like stepping down, even if it is for a free meal. I prefer being a doctor; I prefer that kind of bullshit.”

In doing what I do, I am required to be many people: a schizophrenic Clark Kent, if you will. Sometimes a pharmacist, sometimes a porn director, and sometimes even a priest…I am always a doctor…

I became a doctor on a Wednesday night.

With the exception of my Fisher-Price Medical Kit I had when I was four, I never really wanted to be a doctor, but then again, does anyone ever really want to play with the dead and then profit from it?

I became a doctor because I had no choice. Everyone advised me to become one and I fought against it for a long time. I protested loudly, but my people were louder and violently charitable; virgin daughters from all over the world and large properties in Montana were offered to me.

“All we want from you,” they told me on the phone after midnight, “is for you to write us a prescription or two.”

That’s all?” I asked.

“Accept your destiny, Dr. Dumais and then the magic really happens…”

Never one to argue with such a mystical prophecy, I became a doctor.

“We better order ourselves more beer because the drug people are going to start talking pretty soon. And you know how they are when you interrupt them to get some more alcohol.” Dr. Patel raises his arm to signal the waiter.

“Like I always say, alcohol and drugs don’t mix.” I laugh.

“Jesus, that was lame, Christian.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” I balance a butter knife on my index finger. “When I am surrounded by pharmacist like this, I feel out of whack. I mean, I didn’t go to school to sit around and listen to a bunch of dip-shits tell me their drugs are better than anyone else’s drugs…even if it means free beer.”

After four easy years of Creative Writing, I had little patience to commit myself to another eight years of school. Even if I wanted to, I would never truly belong. I don’t look all that good in a white jacket and medical schools are clubhouses for people named Patel or Korabathina.

And who wants to spend good money to watch egos crash into one another like bocce balls?

So, instead of schooling, I decided to put a Dr. before my name on a magazine subscription, and three weeks later, with the assistance of companies selling my name to corporate America, I was officially a doctor.

Now, my living room is a demented waiting room filled with junkies and grandmothers, and when I walk the streets, drug reps approach me with free pens, microwaves and T-shirts, pleading and begging me to prescribe their brand of medication. “But my patients don’t need this drug,” I told one of them.

“Who said anything about needing?

There are worst fates, I imagine, but nobody wants to be surrounded by bad actors all day with fake tears and ketchup for blood, moaning and whimpering for you to write your magical words on a magical pad of paper; which, in essence, is what it comes down to in the end. The prescription pad has been seriously overrated; I have seen people kill each other just to be the one to touch it, hold it, and even sleep with it.

By the time the man representing one of the major drug companies begins his lecture, Dr. Patel and I are shit drunk. The representative speaks like he died a few years back and nobody has had the nerve to tell him about it. I have heard eulogies with more enthusiasm. “As you can see that there is an eighty-two percent increase in pain relief without the usual side effects as compared to other pills with hydrocodone.”

Dr. Patel leans over. “And you can also see an eighty-two percent increase in the street value.”

I spill some beer when I laugh, then I add: “But the important question still remains for every patient: will I still be able to drink alcohol with this medication?”

The man pauses and looks in my direction. “Is there something you’d like to add over there?”

“Oy! Don’t make eye contact and he’ll go away,” Dr. Patel says quickly.

This makes me laugh louder.

“Anything with hydrocodone should do the trick,” one of my patients said to me who suffered from high blood pressure. “Just make sure you write it nice and neat; I don’t need any resistance from the pharmacist.”

The pharmacists have become the atheists in the religion of modern medicine, constantly questioning the Word of the Doctors, and making the believers suffer because of trite grammar and logic. Even some of the believers tend to detest the doctor’s poor penmanship because it demystifies the entire process.

It is like getting a phone call from God, but collect.

But one thing is certain to the believer with a prescription: somewhere in all of that gibberish, lies salvation for the damned. Salvation, however, isn’t a cure; far from it. Salvation, in this context, is the sad illusion of a nirvana never achieved, the maddening pursuit of the perfect high: the goal of America’s newest Drug Culture.

The funny thing is, the Drug Culture in America did the unexpected in the past twenty years; they swapped roles with the very people who were prepared to burn them all at the stake. These days, all the acid-freaks and crack-heads point their fingers in disgust at all the men and women who sold their souls just to be allowed to suck on the nipples of an HMO.

The drugs to worry about as you sleep at night aren’t the ones the junky prostituted himself for or some powder you see zip-locked on an episode of Cops; these are all for the amateur. No, the drugs to worry about are the ones in the orange vials sitting in your medicine cabinets; these are the tools implemented by the New Drug Culture.

As a real pharmacist told me once: “The doctors made a business out of modern medicine, so the Drug Culture responded accordingly and made a business out of taking medication.”

Dr. Patel and I are asked to leave after the first presentation, just before dinner is served.

“But why do we have to leave? We haven’t eaten anything yet.”

The owner of the restaurant frowns. “It isn’t the restaurant’s doing, sir, but the people here believe that you aren’t really a doctor and that the young man here isn’t actually a pharmacist.”

Dr. Patel smiles. “Well, that’s true. I am actually a pharmacist and my friend here is a doctor.”

“But the sign log out front has you as a doctor and him as a pharmacist.”

I touch the owner’s shoulder. “That would be my fault. I get confused sometimes without my medication. That is why I am here, so I can see all the new drugs I will probably be taking. Kind of like a ‘coming attractions’ sort of thing, you understand? I can tell that you don’t understand me. That is my fault, as well. You see, I am a victim and I need a cure. I have been victimized for a long time and I have low self-esteem. I am over-sensitive and I am also very fragile. And if I weren’t such a victim I would be able to explain myself better, but I’m sick. This man is here to help me. Would you be so kind as to help him help me?”

Dr. Patel raises his empty glass. “Can we have another beer now?”

The owner sighs heavily. “I’ll have the waiter come around shortly.” And then he walks away.

“What is wrong with these people, Christian? It’s like they want to be damned.”

“I know, I know. It can’t be helped,” I say. “Writers act as a magnet to the doomed.”

“Yes, but these people are pharmacists and doctors. They are supposed to be the good guys. And look at them, will you? They are miserable. I can find happier people in a morgue.”

“It comes with the business.”

“Business. What a horrible word! It’s not supposed to be a business. When it comes to saving lives and preserving the quality of life: it is not a business. I mean, come on; you are supposed to save lives; you are supposed to preserve the quality of life! It’s not a job. It’s just being human. And you know something? We have all these drugs at our disposal, and what are the ones that everyone goes crazy over. Shit like Propecia and Viagra! Once again America reveals to us what we always knew: it is a patriarch where superficiality and sexuality means everything.”

“Are you finished?”

“Hold on,” he says. “Did I do the speech about how HMO’s made a whore out of America?”

“No, not yet. But let’s save that one until after the tequila.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Where’s our beer? My mouth is getting all dry like.”

I glance around the room and realize that most of the room is watching us. “Why exactly are we here? This doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Are you talking about what you are going to write or what we are actually doing?”

“Both.”

“I suppose that none of this is supposed to make any sense.” Dr. Patel leans back in his chair and exhales slowly. His face changes and I don’t realize just how until it hits me that he is just becoming serious. “I try not to think about what I do too much…working everyday as a pharmacist, I mean. I could tell you all about how it is the most respected profession and all that bullshit. Or about how I am doing my duty when I deny selling a narcotic to someone who is addicted to it, but that is bullshit too because I’ll just get a phone call from my boss telling me to make the customer happy and give it to him. I could tell you that I am supposed to go home fulfilled, knowing that I have helped so many people in need. The truth is, I go home feeling empty. I don’t make any difference at all. Sure there is the occasional person here and there, but none of that ‘grand scheme goodness’ that I imagined when I was a kid.” He pauses and twists his neck to the left until it cracks. “Your problem, Christian, is that you surround yourself with people like us, people robbed of their integrity, sell-outs, people dead of passion, and then you absorb our pain, our frustration. Sometimes you even audit us, you cold bastard! But seriously, the problem is that you are too busy trying to understand us when it can’t be understood. It is like dream logic. Just don’t think about it so much.”

“I guess I really do need a cure then.”

“Cures? Please! What people don’t understand is that cures always come with a price. Cures are a lot like the beer, you know?”

“I have no idea what that means.”

The waiter arrives at that moment and gives us our beers.

Dr. Patel raises his glass and smiles. “Wait long enough and it’ll appear whether we need it or not.”

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