Judie Junkie Blues, part 2

Judie Junkie Blues” is appearing in three monthly installments. Find Part 1 here.

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“I’m Natalie, femme.” She took out some clothing from one of her bags on the bed and hung the garment on one of the hangers that was attached to a rod in the wardrobe. “You ever heard of Millie Jackson?”

“Hell yeah!” Alexis shook off her surprise at meeting her new roommate earlier than she expected, as well as her distraction elicited by Natalie’s charming demeanor, and went to her wardrobe to get fresh clothes to change out of her sweats. “You know that vinyl disc she had with her sitting on a toilet on the cover?”

Natalie laughed as she said the music album title: “‘Back to the S__t!’”

“Yep, yep,” Alexis said as she took off her sweats and put on a black t-shirt and jeans. “I wish we had our own comms so we could play some Millie and I could play you that ‘Shave ’Em Dry’ song.” Personal communication devices, or “comms,” came in the form of a variety of wearable body attachments and appliances that provided audio and video communications and entertainment. “I had comm specs, but they took them from me when I first came here. They gave me these antiques just before they released me from treatment.” She pointed at the plain wire-rimmed glasses she wore. 

“They took my audio earrings and my video necklace,” Natalie said. “I couldn’t believe they were just going to leave me all disconnected like that.”

“Yeah, they just want you to be connected to them,” Alexis responded, referring to the facility and its staff. “They got us all on tracking,” she added, using the common term for being injected with the GPS-tracking nanobots.

“Mm-hm.” Natalie finished unpacking and putting her clothes and other things away. “But at least that’s temporary. The anti-bugs are forever.”

Alexis sighed, “True that.” The “anti-bugs” were the treatment for physical addiction: engineered viruses injected into the residents in the treatment suite upon admission to the facility. The viruses changed the body chemistry of residents permanently, making them violently ill rather than intoxicated if they ingested alcohol, cocaine, opiates and other abused substances. 

Done with changing her clothes, she opened a small door on the wall and tossed her sweats into a chute. The clothes, woven with nanochips that identified their owner and matched outfits and accessories such as socks, would be laundered and returned to her the next day. “So,” she continued, “I’m in here for cannabis use disorder. How about you?”

“Sedative use disorder,” Natalie replied with a cheery yet-matter-of-fact tone. “I love me some lay-backs.”

“Oh, so no more pills for you or pot for me.”

“And no coke, booze, opies or speeders,” Natalie added, using the slang for cocaine, alcohol, opioids and amphetamines. Then she sang, “I got me the judie-junkie blues.” Adjudicated subjects with substance use disorder were commonly called “judie-junkies.”

Alexis smiled at hearing Natalie’s sweet and sassy singing voice, but then she realized that she shouldn’t linger much longer in the bedroom. “Ooh, I better get out of here before staff calls me on the video screen. They don’t let you stay in your room for recuperation time.”

“Well, hell.” Natalie put her hands on her hips. “I guess I better go on to the day room before they call me for staying in here.” She walked over to Alexis and stood in front of her, looking up into the taller woman’s eyes. “You coming with me?”

Alexis held her breath for a moment, and she tried not to shiver with the rush of excitement of being so close to Natalie. “Of course,” she managed to say.

The day room was a large open space with video gaming tables and chairs on one end and couches on the other in a semicircle facing a wall that doubled as a video screen. While other residents watched video entertainment, played games and socialized, Alexis and Natalie sat together on one of the couches and quietly shared more about their lives before adjudication and treatment. 

The previous Thursday afternoon, Natalie was lying on her bed in the room she rented in a private home filled with other boarders. Propped up by pillows into a sitting position, she used her comm jewelry to watch old music videos of Aretha Franklin as the high from her last few lay-backs wore off. Even though she was out of drugs, a delivery service would be bringing her another supply of pills in a few minutes according to the package tracking information she was receiving through her comm. Through the underground online market, she had traded video sexual favors in exchange for another person’s identity and payment access to obtain her drugs of choice for the past month. This would be the last time she used this specific set of data before she’d abandon it for another set, keeping her one step ahead of detection by law enforcement.

At the sound of a knock on her door, Natalie turned off the music videos and sat up. “Who is it?” she barked.

“Natalie, you got a package.” Natalie recognized the voice of Howard, who rented the room across the hallway from hers. 

“Aiight, here I come.” Natalie figured that Howard must have been near the front door of the house when the package was delivered. Though she was surprised she didn’t get an alert about the package drop, she was anxious to get her lay-backs since they had arrived. 

Natalie staggered out of bed in her drug-induced haze to unlock the door, but when she opened it her housemate was not standing in the hallway. Instead a femme Amer-Afro person wearing business casual attire consisting of black slacks, sensible brown shoes, a simple blue top and matching scarf that covered her hair and neck stood in the doorway. 

“Hey! Who the hell are you?” Natalie put one hand on her hip while keeping the other on her doorknob.

“Natalie Bland, I’m Sgt. Juana Barnett of City Law & Safety…” the person in the doorway started saying.

“Oh, hell no!” Natalie slammed the door in the law enforcement officer’s face and tried to lock the door. However, the door was forced open, flinging Natalie to the floor. Sgt. Barnett charged in along with two other plainclothes officers. Sgt. Barnett and one of the other officers tried to lift Natalie off the floor, but she started kicking and swinging her fists, hitting the sergeant in her chest. Changing their tactics, all three officers wrestled with Natalie to roll her on her stomach and place her in handcuffs and leg cuffs. When they succeeded in restraining her, the officers turned her onto her back. 

As Natalie still struggled against the restraints, Sgt. Barnett said, “This didn’t have to happen like this, Ms. Bland. Now you’re going to have a resisting arrest and possible assault on law and safety officers on top of what we came here for.” The officer pulled a card-sized screen out of her pants pocket and then pulled on it, making it grow in size until it was as big as her hand. Holding out the screen toward Natalie, she tapped the center of it. The screen then showed a document with Natalie’s photo in one corner.

“Natalie Bland, this is a warrant for your arrest for theft of information, theft of identity, medical fraud and financial fraud,” Sgt. Barnett said. “You are to be immediately remanded to the nearest adjudication station to be arraigned on these charges.”

Two months before Natalie’s arrest, Alexis stood inside an adjudication booth at the Fourth Precinct Adjudication Station. The wall in front of her was a screen that showed a live video of Judge Lloyd Whitehead, who was presiding over Alexis’s arraignment. On the wall to her right was live video of Ms. Hu, her court-appointed attorney; on the left wall was video of Mx. Garcia, the attorney representing the SFPA. Alexis had just finished having a private consultation in the adjudication booth with Ms. Hu.

The judge said to Alexis, “Ms. McKay, now that you’ve spoken with your attorney, how do you plead to the charges of theft of information, theft of identity and grand larceny?”

“Guilty to both charges.”

“Counsel for the defendant, any sentencing recommendations?” the judge asked Ms. Hu.

“Your honor, my client has had no criminal record prior to this case,” the public defender said. “The charges she has pleaded guilty to are related to family discord that is best dealt with by Family Law and Contracts Arbitration,” an organization employed by the SFPA to handle legal matters involving children, families and marriages. “The defense asks that there be no further adjudication and no arrest record and that the case be transferred to FLCA.”

“Counsel for the Sovereign and Free People of the Americas?” the judge asked Mx. Garcia.

“Your Honor,” the prosecutor said, “the defendant stole financial account access and identity information from her own mother. She then used that information and access to purchase about $600 in cannabis products.” Mx. Garcia shook their head. “The victim’s husband submitted a sworn affidavit saying the defendant has stolen from the victim numerous times, all to support what he says is an addiction to cannabis. The Sovereign and Free People of the Americas ask the court to sentence the defendant to chemical addiction evaluation, after which if she’s diagnosed with a substance use disorder she be remanded to treatment and a sober living program. If she doesn’t have substance use disorder, the People ask the court to sentence the defendant to six months of judicial monitoring and abstinence from cannabis, alcohol and other recreational drugs, along with mandatory education on the dangers of recreational drug abuse and mental wellness therapy. Furthermore, the People want all the charges to remain on the defendant’s record.”

“Thank you, counselors,” Judge Whitehead said. “I have looked over the submitted records and the affidavit as well as listened to your recommendations. I hereby order the defendant to submit to chemical addiction evaluation immediately. If the defendant is diagnosed with substance use disorder, then she will be remanded to chemical addiction treatment and a sober living program for six months. Upon successful completion of the program, the defendant will be released from adjudication and her arrest and all charges will be expunged from her record. If the defendant does not have substance use disorder, she will be brought back to this court to be sentenced to six months of judicial monitoring, mandatory abstinence from all recreational drug use, and mental wellness counseling, with arrest and charges expungement after successful completion of that sentence. Does the defendant understand this sentence?”

Alexis turned to look at Ms. Hu, who nodded. “Yes, Your Honor,” Alexis said.

“Everything this court has said in this arraignment will be sent to your email address on record. Is this address correct?” Alexis’s email address appeared in bold white print on the screen in front of the judge’s chest.

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Is this personal comm number correct as well?” A 10-digit number appeared under the email address.

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Very well, law enforcement will transport you to chemical addiction evaluation once you leave the adjudication booth. This arraignment hearing is over.” The judge, prosecutor and public defender all disappeared, leaving Alexis surrounded by walls of frosted glass.

The sober living facility’s daily lunch was at noon, and as soon as all the food was served and the all the residents were seated the video screen wall in the cafeteria showed a life-size image of Dr. Mfume, one of the two therapists who conduct the morning group counseling sessions. “Good afternoon, sober lifers,” the gray-bearded Amer-Afro man said.

“Good afternoon,” the residents and staff replied, as was expected. The staff were all treated “sober lifers” as well as the residents, but they had years of proven abstinence.

“Today I’m introducing a new resident to our sober living community. Her name is Natalie. Would you stand up for everyone please, Natalie?”

Natalie was seated next to Alexis and rolled her eyes before she stood up.

“Natalie, say hello to everyone,” Dr. Mfume said.

Natalie sighed and then lifted her hand to wave at the group. “Hello, everyone.”

“Hello, Natalie,” everybody in the room responded.

“Thank you. You may sit down,” Dr. Mfume told Natalie. “We are all glad to see you join us in embarking on the beginning of your new life of sobriety. Fellow sober lifers, please support Natalie on her path to freedom and function.” Freedom was an anticipated end to adjudication, and function meant being an independent, productive member of society. “Have a nice lunch, and I’ll see some of you tomorrow at group therapy. Goodbye, sober lifers.”

“Goodbye,” the group said as the wall returned to its ivory color.

“Well, that was corny as hell,” Natalie whispered to Alexis. “I felt like I was in a kindergarten class.”

“Get used to it,” Alexis said in between bites of her tuna sandwich. “Sober living here means getting treated like a kid. It’s like one of them boarding schools you see in old movies.”

“Damn.” Natalie took a big swallow of cranberry juice. “I don’t think I can keep from cussing these folks out for one week, not less six months.”

“You better,” Alexis turned and looked straight at Natalie. “Go off on staff too many times and you’ll get removed, and you know where you’ll go from here.”

Natalie shook her head and started eating her lunch. “Umph, umph, umph. This is bulls__t.”

“Yep.” Alexis nuzzled Natalie’s shoulder with her own. Hugs, kisses and other forms of affection were banned at the facility to suppress the forming of romantic or sexual relationships among residents and between residents and staff. Natalie responded by rubbing her shoulder in a slow circle against Alexis’s arm. Taking a deep inhale to keep from trembling, Alexis looked away from Natalie and tried to focus on finishing her lunch. Natalie kept up the secret shoulder caress while giggling under her breath.

Individual counseling hour followed lunch, during which each resident would go sit in one of 20 booths to communicate with their therapist via video. From 1400 to 1800 there were classes: job readiness, interpersonal relations, independent living skills and substance use disorder education, all taught by instructors streaming live on the day room video wall. Alexis and Natalie sat together through every class, communicating with whispers, stifled laughter, knowing looks, shoulder rubs and elbow bumps. The two were inseparable through the dinner that followed class time. 

The rest of the evening until bedtime at 2130 was game time in the day room. The residents had to play games together using either the gaming tables or the wall video screen. Luckily for them, Alexis and Natalie were able to play a table game with Kelly and Vick, a tall, big-boned, redheaded Amer-Euro man treated for alcohol use disorder.

As the group was playing the game, Vick gabbed about Carla, who was playing a game on the wall screen with Andy and was out of earshot. “I am so sick of Carla bitching to me about Andy getting switched out with me.”

“She’s still pissing and moaning about that?” Kelly said. “It’s been over a month, for crying out loud. She needs to get over it.”

“I can understand her still being upset over staff moving Andy out of her room, but what she and Andy did was just stupid,” Alexis added. 

“What did they do?” Natalie asked.

“Oh yeah, you don’t know nothing about that drama,” Alexis said to her. “Like about two or three weeks after I came here, Andy and Carla were busted getting sticky fingers under a lap blanket while they were sitting on a couch together watching a movie during a late night.”

“Sticky fingers?” Natalie raised her eyebrows.

“Yeah, they had their hands up under each other’s skirts…,” Kelly explained.

“…And all up into each other’s sauce!” Alexis jumped in, making Natalie chuckle. “Anyway, along with their losing late nights for a month and never getting late nights together, Andy was moved into Vick and Joss’s room and Vick moved to room with Carla.”

“And I hate rooming with Carla!” Vick spat out. “She runs her mouth constantly about missing Andy and telling me all the dirty details about the feel-ups they’d sneak while they were roommates. Yuck!”

“She and Andy are lucky they didn’t get put on all-watch for two weeks,” Kelly said, mentioning the nanobot injection that could transmit everything a person said, heard, saw and did to an staff-monitored audio/video stream.

“We all are,” Vick emphasized. “Nobody needs them walking around here being snitch recorders, especially Joss and I since we’re forced to room with them.”

Alexis said, “Hell, I think the only reason they didn’t put them on all-watch is because staff didn’t want to have to watch, and listen, to either one of them in the restroom taking a dump!” All four of the players at the game table broke out into laughter.

At about 2145 that night, Alexis and Natalie entered their bedroom, with Alexis closing the door behind them. As Alexis went to her side of the room, she stopped and turned to Natalie, who was putting her toiletry bag into her wardrobe. “I just thought — what are you doing for exercise time tomorrow?”

“Like Fats Domino said, ‘I’m walkin’.’” Natalie sang the line from the song, along with a few more lyrics, as she shuffled her feet and waved her hands. Alexis smiled, recognizing another 20th century bluesy song. “And I’m doing it outside,” Natalie added. “Any way to get the hell out of here.”

“Shoot, me too.” Alexis went to her bed and sat down to take off her shoes and socks. “I always ride my bike, but if you want I can go walk with you instead.”

“I’d really like that.” Natalie kicked off her shoes, picked them up and put them in her wardrobe. “Besides, I ain’t biking nowhere. I wish somebody would try to make me do some exercise mess like that. I’d exercise my right to break my foot off in their ass.”

Alexis snickered at Natalie’s remark as she took off her jeans, leaving on her t-shirt and underwear to sleep in. As she got up to toss her jeans and socks into the laundry chute, she glanced at her roommate.

Before she came to the bedroom, Natalie had oiled and combed her hair in the restroom and used a band to pull it up into a pompon on the top of her head. She retrieved a black satin scarf from her wardrobe, wrapped her hair with it and tied it up. Then she shrugged her dress off her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor, revealing a black lace bra and matching panties. While she bent over to grab the dress, ball it up in her hands and take it to the laundry chute on her side of the room, Natalie’s eyes followed her every movement.

After Natalie threw her dress into the laundry chute, she turned to Alexis, who was still standing near her own chute. “You like what you see?” She put her hands on her ample hips, stuck out her curvy bosom, and pressed her lips into a pout.

Alexis bit her lip. “Oh yeah.”

“Won’t you come over here and show me how much you like it?” Natalie shook her hips toward Alexis.

“You know I can’t come over there.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. The tracking will go off.”

“We could meet each other in the middle.” The narrow area between Alexis’s and Natalie’s side of the room, which was also the pathway to the door, was the only part of the room where the roommates could stand or walk together without the tracking being alerted.

“All right, so let’s meet.” The women walked to the center of the room and stood in front of each other, their faces only centimeters apart.

“So, now that we’re here, what you wanna do?” Natalie looked into Alexis’s eyes.

“Well, we can touch hands real quick.” Alexis turned her palms up and raised her hands to her waist. Natalie seized them with her own hands, squeezed them and let them go.

“We can kiss quick too, like a smack on the cheek,” Natalie added.

“Or the lips?” Natalie raised her eyebrows and tilted her head.

Alexis peered at Natalie, and then she puckered her lips.

Natalie reached up and pressed her mouth against Alexis’s. When she drew back, Alexis felt a flush of heat in her face and a flutter in her chest.

“Residents, you have one minute to get in your beds.” The voice came from the video screen, which also displayed the same message along with the current time including the seconds.

The women separated and went to their beds. “Damn, this place is bulls__t,” Natalie said as she lay down on her side and pulled the drab cream sheet and blanket over her head.

“Um-hm.” Alexis stretched out on her back and covered herself up to her waist. She tried to calm her breath and still her mind, but as the lights went out at 2200 she knew she would be awake in the dark for a long time.

A month later, Alexis and Natalie were strolling down a sidewalk eight blocks away from the sober living facility. Alexis wore a red tank top and Natalie a sleeveless purple sundress, which allowed them to give each other full arm-on-arm touches as they took their exercise-time walk. 

Just before they were about to cross a street, Natalie stopped walking, clicked her tongue and shook her head.

“Hey, what’s up?” Alexis turned to Natalie and put one hand on her hip.

Natalie turned her head to look at Alexis. “Kiss me.” Her eyes were wide and her lips were slightly parted.

“I’ll kiss you when we get in our room. Now let’s go.” Alexis nudged Natalie’s arm with her elbow.

“No, kiss me right now,” Natalie insisted. “Ain’t nobody around.”

“There could be security cameras and snitches looking out windows anywhere,” Alexis responded. “Come on, baby. The faster we get back, the faster I can kiss you.”

“Let’s not go back,” Natalie said while looking down the street in the direction of the sober living facility. “F__k that place, let’s go U.L.A!”

“Baby please, don’t even joke like that.” An unauthorized leave of absence meant immediate removal from the sober living facility. “Come on, we gotta keep walking.” 

“Fine. Natalie turned on her heels and started walking in the opposite direction.

“Baby, hold on!” Alexis walked by Natalie’s side. “We only got 20 minutes before we have to be in the building.” 

“I don’t care.” Natalie kept walking.

“Baby, don’t be like that. Let’s turn around.”

“I don’t care! I don’t care!” Natalie stopped walking and yelled into Alexis’s face. “I don’t want to go back! F__k sober living! I want to kiss you on the street in front of everybody! I don’t want to hide that I got a girlfriend from people like I’m a kid living with my mama!”

“Baby please, we can’t stop walking.” Alexis took Natalie’s shoulder in her hand. “Let’s turn around and walk back.”

“Oh, yeah, we can’t stand still for one damn minute because they’ll catch it on tracking. Got to keep moving, moving, moving.” Natalie started walking in circles around Alexis. “But we ain’t movin’ on up.”

“Movin’ on up!” Alexis sang the title of the Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions song.

Natalie responded by singing the song, which seemed to quell her rage to Alexis’s relief. Together, the two women walked back to the sober living facility while belting out a soul music duet.

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 

Judie Junkie Blues” is appearing in three monthly installments. Sign-up for MWP e-newsletters to stay informed of the final installment.