(Content warning: this story covers recent history & mass shootings.)

Bathroom stalls

by Charles Duffie

The latch on the bathroom door rattles like the lid on a boiling pot when Papa’s cooking. Kaamisha squeezes her eyes and prays to wake up at home but she’s still here, in a bathroom stall at school. She peels her hands off the door and the latch stops shaking. Down the hall, the bursts sound like drums: tok-tok-tok! tok-tok-tok-tok-tok! She crouches on the toilet to make the bathroom look empty. The screams are moving in a broken circle. She jumps when the fire alarm blares like a monster cricket: cree-cree! cree-cree! cree-cree! Someone pulled the alarm. She should have done that. She was chosen as a February hall monitor. Papa said it was an honor. Mama framed the certificate as Blessing #247. “We are in the new millennium,” mama said. “People feared Y2K would bring catastrophe. They were wrong. This will be a century of higher consciousness. We will count every blessing until we reach 2,000.” But when the man strutted across her hallway, American flag tattoo upside-down on his shoulder, one gun pulling him away like a guard dog, the others like dragon spikes on his back, Kaamisha ran past the red fire alarm and hid in the bathroom. Now she’s cold and has to pee. She crouches lower and presses her thighs together. She remembers the fence lizard she put in a jar with screwdriver holes punched in the lid. The lizard climbed against the glass, pushing up on two legs, moving round the jar like a person until she let it go. Tok-tok-tok-tok! She hops off the toilet but the latch slipping in her hands won’t open. As she shimmies out on her stomach, chin against cold tile, she sees a beautiful bar of gold under the bathroom door. She waits for shoes to step on the light and shatter it. She’s caught in the amber glow until her held breath bursts her lungs and she scrambles to her feet spins around but there’s no secret door no fairy tale cave no curtain so she climbs the counter bumping her knee but the window isn’t the kind that opens and she looks higher for God or angels her palms on the plaster ceiling and jumps at another drumroll of gunfire. She sits in the sink, crying and shaking, tugging the Hall Monitor sash, hearing mama say, “It’s a new century, Kaamisha, and you are Blessing #1.”

Charles Duffie is a writer and designer working in the Los Angeles area. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Prime Number Magazine, Spelk, Meat for Tea, Exposition Review, Border Crossing, Scribble, Swimming with Elephants, Third Street Writers, Role Reboot, and American Fiction by New Rivers Press.

Read by Jen Duffie.