Judie Junkie Blues, part 1

“Judie Junkie Blues” will appear in monthly installments at womenspress.com.

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The beeping of the alarm jolted Alexis out of her sleep. “Shit,” Alexis hissed as she sat up in her bed and rubbed her eyes. The lights in the room turned on automatically with the alarm that sounded in almost every bedroom at the sober living facility. A portion of a wall that doubled as a video screen displayed the time and the daily message to all the facility residents, but Alexis couldn’t read it until she put on her glasses that were on her nightstand. She didn’t care about the message anyway, and she knew what time it was. All the residents except any who had night-shift jobs had to get up at 0600, shower, clean their teeth, dress and be in the cafeteria for breakfast at 0700. 

Besides the screen area of the wall in a space between two windows, the other furnishings in Alexis’s bedroom were another twin-sized bed and a wardrobe on the other side of the room. 

Alexis had spent the past month out of the two months she lived in the facility without a roommate, and she enjoyed every minute of that time alone. When she was first adjudicated by the law and remanded to substance use disorder treatment and the sober living facility, she had to share the bedroom with a surly man in his 50s. The 28-year-old woman tolerated his curse word-strewn rants in silence in an effort to not be a snitch or not commit a violation in the form of slapping his mouth shut. The roommate himself eventually “violated,” as it was called, and got removed from the facility.

Alexis stood up and then opened the metal wardrobe that stood next to her nightstand. After putting on a white bathrobe and grabbing a nylon bag that held her toiletries, she left the room and walked down the hall past other open bedroom doors to the restroom. The hallway was filling with other residents going the same way, people of many ethnicities, genders, ages and sizes grumbling and chit-chatting as they wore identical white bathrobes and carried toiletry bags. 

In the communal restroom, there were five toilet stalls, five urinals, five sinks on one wall with a single long mirror stretched over them, and five shower stalls. There were 19 residents at the facility, two with night-shift jobs that exempted them from morning wakeup. That meant 17 people had to share the restroom. Usage order was determined with a rotating alphabetical list by the residents’ last names. Toilets and urinals first, then showers, and last the sinks. 

Alexis was number nine on the list, so she got a turn at the fourth urinal. “Andy, can I trade with you?” Residents were allowed to make trades. 

Andy, a long-haired, blond Amer-Euro man in his early twenties, stood by the fifth toilet stall. “Sure,” he said.

“Thank you!” Alexis didn’t feel like having to use the sanitary funnel in her toiletry bag, provided to all residents who needed it to use the urinal to make the morning hygiene routine fair.

After finishing with her morning ablutions, Alexis went back to her room to get dressed in a blue sweatshirt and sweatpants with white sneakers, apply pomade and run a brush over her close-cropped black hair to smooth her tight coils into waves, and make up her bed as required by the facility rules. Then she headed downstairs to get in line for breakfast in the cafeteria. Four facility staff supervised the residents and the automatic food dispensary as it served eggs, pancake, sausage, milk and orange juice; once residents got their food and drinks they sat down at one of four long faux-wood picnic-style tables with benches.

Alexis sat next to Kelly, a 25-year-old Amer-Euro woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair and blue eyes. Kelly was a cocaine abuser who got adjudicated and remanded to treatment and the sober living facility three months before Alexis arrived. 

On Alexis’s right side sat Annette, an Amer-Afro woman like Alexis who was 19, with large, wide brown eyes and a big halo of straightened off-black hair. Annette was remanded to the facility a month ago after being picked up by the Public Safety Squad for walking around naked and dazed on a downtown street. She had been treated for abuse of a designer drug related to PCP, but her spacey demeanor indicated that it wouldn’t be long before she was transferred to a mental wellness facility. Despite that, Annette was a good buddy of Alexis’s along with Kelly.

As soon as Alexis started eating, Kelly said to her, “Your life of luxury is about to end. I heard we’re getting a new resident today.”

“Damn.” Alexis shook her head. She was the only resident who didn’t have a roommate. “It was fun while it lasted.”

“Maybe somebody will violate today,” Annette chimed in. Violence, incorrigibility and persistent rule-breaking in the facility were violations that could lead to a removal.

“I doubt it,” Kelly responded. “Even the speed freaks in here are pretty laid back. Looks like you’re getting a new roomie.”

“Girl, that newbie better not be off the chain like Nicky was,” Alexis complained about her old roommate. “I swear if this roomie starts clowning in any way, I’m snitching their ass out.”

“I don’t blame you,” Kelly commiserated. “They need to screen jerks like him for mental wellness treatment before they send them to any facility.”

“Mmm-hmm.” Alexis nodded as she ate her eggs. 

“Anyway, Carla told me that Andy said he saw a newbie Saturday during late night,” Kelly said. Carla was Andy’s girlfriend, even though romantic and sexual relationships were prohibited at the facility. “Late night” was the privilege of staying up past 10 pm on Friday and Saturday nights to watch TV and play video games in the day room awarded to residents who excelled at their sober living program goals. “He caught a quick look at somebody who looked femme and not Amer-Euro being taken to the treatment suite.” 

Alexis sighed. “Aw, man, that means they’ll be out of treatment and in my room after dinner. Ugh. At least they’re femme. I don’t want to room with no dudes anymore.” 

Breakfast ended at 0745; residents who didn’t have jobs or schools to go to, including Alexis, had to attend the morning group meeting in the day room at 0800. The meeting, run by a staffer, went over general news and day-to-day issues at the facility. At 0830, the group was split up with roughly one half sent to the cafeteria and the other left in the dayroom for two separate counseling sessions with therapists streaming live on video. An hour later, the session ended and there was a 15-minute break before exercise time: 

All residents had to spend 45 minutes doing a physician-approved exercise regimen of their choice. There was a workout room with treadmills, weights and other equipment in the facility. Residents could also walk, run, bike or engage in other activities outside the facility; GPS-tracking nanobots injected into the residents transmitted their locations to staff and law enforcement at all times.

After getting her helmet and gloves from the wardrobe in her bedroom, Alexis walked through the building to the facility garage, which kept bicycles, scooters, skateboards and other non-motorized transportation owned by residents, and retrieved her old seven-speed hybrid bike. The doorway she walked through to take the bike outside had a scanner that would detect contraband such as alcohol, other commonly abused drugs, or weapons.

Before she got remanded to the sober living facility, Alexis hadn’t ridden a bike since she was 18. However, when she learned that biking outside the facility was allowed if it was approved for a resident’s exercise plan, she had her father bring her bicycle that was gathering dust in his apartment. She was glad she left the bike with her father; she doubted her stepfather would have let her mother bring it from their house. Biking gave her the only time she could be alone and away from the facility. Other residents who exercised outdoors would go to a nearby park, but she rode the city streets to enjoy the feeling — the illusion — of freedom.

When exercise time was over, the residents got an hour and a quarter of recuperation time for freshening up and resting in the day room. When Alexis went to her bedroom to change clothes, she was surprised to see a pair of big canvas shopping bags on the other bed. She was even more surprised to hear someone singing “Lady in the Street,” a song by 20th-century blues and soul singer Denise LaSalle. That someone was hidden behind an open wardrobe door.

Astonished at hearing anyone sing a tune that most people wouldn’t know about due to its age and unpopular genre, the first thing Alexis said to the person who had to be her new roommate was, “Hey, how you know about that song?”

A face peeped from behind the wardrobe door. “I’m an old soul who likes old soul.” The oval face had piercing dark eyes with long lashes, warm sandy-brown skin, a round button nose and russet lips that framed a toothy smile. The face was circled by an Afro of springy brown ringlets. “And how you know about that song?” The new roommate stepped from behind the wardrobe door, revealing a broad, buxom body clothed in a simple long blue dress and black flats on her feet.

“My pops has been playing dirt-old blues and soul music for as long as I can remember,” Alexis said, while thinking to herself that her roommate looks a lot like early 21st-century soul singer Jill Scott. “He really likes the down-and-dirty stuff, like there’s this song called ‘Shave ’Em Dry’ by this singer from way back named Lucille Bogan. It’s so nasty, but it’s funny too.”

“Oh, I wanna hear that. I never heard of Lucille Bogan, but if you know Denise LaSalle then you know she had some raunchy ones too.”

“Not as nasty as Lucille Bogan, and she was out way back in the olden times, long before Denise LaSalle,” Alexis responded. “You know what? I haven’t even told you my name. It’s Alexis. Femme.” 

It was customary with the Sovereign and Free People of the Americas (SFPA) to introduce oneself with one’s preferred pronouns: “femme” for she/her/hers, “dude” for he/him/his, “they” and “ze” for genders in between and outside the feminine-masculine binary.

“I’m Natalie, femme.”

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Stephani Maari Booker (she/her), author of “Secret Insurrection: Stories from a Novel of a Future Time,” writes nonfiction, speculative fiction, erotic fiction, and poetry. goodreads.com/athenapm 

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