MARLIN M. JENKINS
Yesterday’s urine shakes
between the floor tiles
with the children’s steps.
Kyle is spitting into the soap dispenser, shoving in wads of toilet paper between hocks. When Quentin walks in, he asks Kyle to stop.
In the hallway: Ms. Davis whispers to her teaching assistant,
a small white woman from some university in the suburbs
who the kids know is temporary—will leave
soon. They both stand between two lines:
boys on the left,
girls on the right.
Three in each restroom at a time. One
comes out, one
goes in. It’s not
a race, but the boys brag
because they get done first. Once,
Tonya tried to pee standing up
so she’d be faster.
Kyle laughs when he hears Quentin’s request. He knows that Quentin has been taking Tae Kwon Do classes for almost a year. He knows that Quentin gets better grades. He knows he doesn’t need another reason to kick Quentin’s ass.
Michael sits in the stall, trying not to make noise; he knows he’s holding up the boys’ line, but he doesn’t care about that. He knows that Tonya will tease him about it, which, for him, is a win-win.
Once, Quentin heard Kyle say the word “defense” when he meant “offense,” and he tried to correct him. Quentin told him: “you try to use too many big words.” What he meant was: “you use too many words incorrectly.”
Now, Kyle smiles after spattering saliva on Quentin’s eyelid. Quentin’s martial arts teacher would tell him, “we learn to fight so we don’t have to fight.” He turns to go tell Ms. Davis. He doesn’t make it two steps.
Quentin can’t quite place the taste of the floor,
but he’s glad that tooth was already ready to come out.
He is thinking thoughts of pebbles, snail shells.
He is wearing a red shirt today, so he thinks
maybe mom won’t notice.
Two full minutes pass before Ms. Davis walks in to check on them.
She would gasp but she’s all out of gasps by now. She pulls Kyle off of Quentin, drags him out of the bathroom. Quentin picks up his tooth from the floor, wipes it on his jeans. Michael opens the stall door, sees the tampered-with soap dispenser, and walks past Quentin toward the door like nothing has happened.