They let us wander around outside and called it free time. An apt name. I figured they had bugged everywhere else. The three of us huddled together.
“The Haves and Have Nots. I can’t get away from people who believe they’re superior,” Kitty said shaking her head as she scuffed the bottom of her shoe repeatedly along the pavement.
Surrounded by rocks, boulders, and the ocean, it wasn’t like we could go anywhere. One paved path beside the treatment center’s wall had been constructed for walking and wound all the way around the place. People wandered about with their heads down, staring at their feet.
“I told you we’d end up here, Don.”
We were under the watchful gaze of Nurse Bragg’s green eyes, but she had given us space. She sat on a bench with her long, narrow nose buried in a book. I was confident she was unable to hear us over the waves breaking. But at least one of her eyes followed my every move. “You said it. I didn’t believe you, Buck.” Don Juan shook his head. He had quit giving his full name to anybody—too embarrassing.
Don was twenty-two years old. I was twenty-four. We were two paralegals from the same firm, Kettles, Lissener, and Pott law office in Boiling Springs, South Carolina. Don and I often partied together. One night as we came out of a club two uniformed police officers stood waiting for us. They glanced down at something they held in their hands, and then back at us.
In a sharp tone one burly policeman asked, “Your names?”
“Don Juan Love, sir,” he smiled big, showing his perfectly aligned, Hollywood-white teeth.
“B-Buck Sexton,” I stammered.
“Hands behind your back,” the officer ordered.
The other policeman recited, “You have the right to remain silent…”
“What are we being arrested for?” I asked and staggered, my legs suddenly numb.
“Youse two can work that out tomorrow with the judge,” the beefy policeman said. They ordered us into the back of their police car. We got in as they guided us with their hand on top of our heads.
The next day Mr. Lissener tried to help us. He filed a motion to dismiss all charges and pleaded with the court for the sake of the firm, but to no avail. Kettles and Pott were no help as they were literally in the same boat. But thankfully, we were never placed in a group with them.
“How is it that Nurse Bragg sits while we stand, and yet she still manages to look down on us?” I asked.
“Because she looks at us like this,” Kitty said and imitated a librarian shushing loud children. Her posture straightened, hands held out in a stopping gesture, and her legs drew together. It was a convincing pantomime even though she wore bright red fingernail polish, matching lipstick, and miniskirt. If I had not known Kitty was a prostitute from Commerce, Georgia, I might have thought her a librarian having a night out on the town. I figured she needed to be here.
In 2042 a tri-state initiative, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida governments used the patients for research in a facility at sea, twenty-two degrees north latitude and seventy degrees east longitude. If successful, M. Barassuall, the lead researcher of the proposed fifteen-year project, will build more facilities.
I listened to Don Juan but watched the action on the boat landing, beneath where we stood, at the bottom of the rocks. A big navy blue and white boat had docked, likely the same one they brought us in on. People were lined up from the top stair to the bottom. Three staff members stood at the bottom on the dock. An orderly released their manacles one by one working in tandem with the nurse and steward. The sounds of their speech traveled up between the waves breaking and I could hear bits and pieces of words spoken. I knew what was going on because a few days ago this had happened to us.
“Medi…wa…tra,” the nurse handed the newly freed person a pill cup. She pointed to her tiny cup-covered cart and the trashcan.
The orderly released the cuffs of the first person in line and the man immediately rubbed his wrists. Hesitantly he took the medication and tiny cup from her cart. He put the pills in his
mouth, followed by the water. Setting the precedent for the rest of them to do the same as the nurse looked on, he threw the cup in the trashcan below the cart. Afterward, the steward led him away.
“The first round of patients nicknamed the center Alcatraz Two because of similarities to the old prison,” Don said. “Like being surrounded by rock and ocean.”
“And we’re locked up like prisoners too, bruh. Therapists and orderlies like prison guards make sure we attend meetings to learn new behaviors,” I said.
“Yeah, I was getting to that. They say the similarities to Alcatraz are not happenstance.”
“How do you know all this?” At six foot four I towered over him. But he was not deterred.
I read about it in Science Knows Best. The structure of this place is made of see-through metal that’s never been used as raw building material.” He pulled a vape pen out of his shirt pocket and inhaled. They use strontium and calcium vanadate. Used to be just in cell phones and television screens.”
“Oh, well now I’m fascinated, not at all furious that I’ve been locked up because I have an infection. How about you Kitty?” I wrinkled my nose as the smell of cherry vape filled the air.
“Fascinating,” Kitty smiled and winked at me.
Nurse Bragg stood and ushered us inside, waving her book at us like she was moving out livestock on a cattle drive.
Kitty cupped her hands to my ear on the way in and whispered, “Something’s wrong with the way she’s moving.”
She was right. Nurse Bragg ducked into the nurse’s station and crossed one leg over the other. I made no comment, focusing on casually finding the microphones planted everywhere hearing everything we said. They were all over the place, I was sure of it.
“You have to admit it’s a cool place,” Don said smiling. “The electrons that make up the chemical elements used to build this place have such strong interactions they literally detect other electrons around them. Then, when the sun shines on ’em, they become fluid—literally transparent, dude. It’s how we can see the ocean through the walls when the sun’s shining, bruh.”
Humans had advanced technologically, but in the United States, disparity remained —The Haves and Have Nots. The meanings had changed, it was much easier to become a Have, for sure, but the underlying emotions remained. That awful feeling of being less than others. And on the opposite end of the scale, that superior sense—wiser, better.
“We have to make the best of our situation,” Kitty said and hiked her skirt.
“Kitty, are you flirting with me? I am not interested.” Sex was the last thing on my mind for a change. Not caring if the staff looked on, I inspected a lamp by looking in the top and feeling around the edge, picking it up and peering into the open bottom. No bug there.
“Why did they send you here?” Don asked.
“The same reason they sent you here, it was my tenth infection,” I said and rolled my eyes.
“Bruh, it was my twentieth,” Don Juan said and placed his palm on his breastbone.
“What? You had twenty before they sent you here and I only had ten? Dude! Something is seriously wrong with the math here.” I started to pace.
“Kitty, how many infections did you have before they sent you here?” Don asked.
“Two.” Her eyes shot to the floor.
“Man, shoot. Why’d they send you here if you only had two?”
“Attention, everyone!” Nurse Bragg’s shrill voice sounded over the PA system.
She had climbed up into a chair in the glass-enclosed nurse’s station to speak into the microphone dangling from the ceiling like DJs used back in the 1960s.
“Don’t waste time trying to figure out when someone is required to come to Safe Sex,” she said and squirmed in her seat. Repeated sexually transmitted infections are what brought you here. These infections cost the United States seventy-two billion dollars this year alone.” She cocked her head, tensed, shifted her right hip, then her left, practically dancing in the seat.
“Until people have only one partner and routinely use condoms, they will continue to receive infections and make up the Haves. People without them will remain the Have Nots.” Nurse Bragg offered a smile of self-satisfaction, but it lasted only a second. Her eyes widened and bulged. She stiffened, moving one leg up awkwardly across her body, lowered it, and did the same with the other.
“Somebody needs to disinfect that chair when she gets down,” someone yelled.
Laughter erupted in the room. Nurse Bragg climbed down off the chair, stiffly walked to the back wall of the nurse’s station and reached up. The glass of the nurse’s area tinted until it was no longer transparent, and Nurse Bragg disappeared within.
Three days later I sat in my therapy group waiting for the meeting to start when Nurse Bragg walked up and took the seat beside me. “Are you teaching today?”
“No. I’m a patient just like you.” She crossed her legs, locked her arms around her knees, and looked down at the floor.
“You’re a patient here?” I had to get up and walk around. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face and didn’t want her to see it. It wasn’t in me to be cruel, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was happy to see her here —even thrilled. After a few minutes I was able to wipe the smile from my face and sit back down in the seat next to her.
“This could happen to anyone, you know,” Nurse Bragg said.
“Don’t I know it. You know, my friend Don is right. This is a cool place. Look, you can see the ocean right through the walls. I’m going to relax and enjoy the rest of my time here. Maybe you should do that too. Finish that book you were reading.”
“Yes. It’s not like I can go anywhere,” she said as she removed her arms from her knees and crossed them in front of her.
“And from now on, when I have sex, I’m going to use condoms.” I said smiling.
Martha Juliet is a native South Carolinian and masters-prepared nurse. Living near the east coast, she enjoys observing the various flip-flops, booty shorts, and tourists. When not writing, she is training her tuxedo cat to fetch. As expected, Martha Juliet is learning to throw and retrieve cat toys quite nicely.