Fields and trees go by rhythmically, infinitely, hypnotically. Richard is staring out the window, mesmerized by the view out from the morning train that left Atlanta, Georgia, for New Orleans, Louisiana. The trance he’s in reminds him of the cawing crows swirling incessantly above his head years before.
“Do you take the train much?”
“Huh?” Richard says, coming back to his senses. “No, you?”
He notices he’s been traveling over three hours already.
“No,” the lady says. “I’m Evelyn. I just got in at the Birmingham station.”
Her light brown hair has red reflections and her green eyes are bright. She wears a long dress with a peach-colored flower pattern.
“I’m Richard,” he says.
“Are you going to New Orleans?” she asks putting her luggage down.
“Mardi Gras …”
“Me, too. It’s my first time.”
“Yeah! Me, too! Do you like jazz?” he asks.
“Zydeco. It gets under my skin like nothing else does. And I like the French culture. How about you?”
“I just had a conference in Atlanta, and I thought I’d take a break before going back to work.”
“What kind of conference?”
“Biostatistics for the pharmaceutical industry. I have a reservation for lunch. Do you care to join me?”
Walking together to the dining car, she continues the conversation. “You mean, about getting FDA approval for drugs?”
“Yeah and vaccines. But there’s a whole lot of statistical stuff that comes before FDA negotiations. We work on scientific models and animal studies, before we start tests on human beings. Then we set up standards and make sure different labs perform up to those standards. It’s a huge machine and there’s lots of competition.”
“You like it?”
“You’d think … I always thought I’d follow my heart.”
“It’s strange. I loved psychology. My dad encouraged me to do psychiatry, but I was not interested in medicine and meds.”
“And now you’re working for a pharmaceutical company?”
“Ironic, isn’t it?”