Charles needed to go to the bathroom very badly.
There was no longer any use in trying to fool himself that he could wait for recess. His bladder was screaming at him, and Miss Bird had caught him squirming.
There were three third-grade teachers in the Acorn Street Grammar School. Miss Kinney was young and blond and bouncy and had a boyfriend who picked her up after school in a blue Camaro. Mrs. Trask was shaped like a Moorish pillow and did her hair in braids and laughed boomingly. And there was Miss Bird.
Charles had known he would end up with Miss Bird. He had known that. It had been inevitable. Because Miss Bird obviously wanted to destroy him. She did not allow children to go to the basement. The basement, Miss Bird said, was where the boilers were kept, and well-groomed ladies and gentlemen would never go down there, because basements were nasty, sooty old things. Young ladies and gentlemen do not go to the basement, she said. They go to the bathroom.
Miss Bird cocked an eye at him. “Charles,” she said clearly, still pointing her pointer at Bolivia, “do you need to go to the bathroom?”
Cathy Scott in the seat ahead of him giggled, wisely covering her mouth. Kenny Griffen sniggered and kicked Charles under his desk. Charles went bright red.
“Speak up, Charles,” Miss Bird said brightly. “Do you need to – ” (urinate she’ll say urinate she always does).
“Yes, Miss Bird.” “Yes, what?”
“I have to go to the base – to the bathroom.”
Miss Bird smiled. “Very well, Charles. You may go to the bathroom and urinate. Is that what you need to do? Urinate?”
Charles hung his head, convicted.
“Very well, Charles. You may do so. And next time kindly don’t wait to be asked.” General giggles. Miss Bird rapped the board with her pointer.
Charles trudged up the row toward the door, thirty pairs of eyes boring into his back, and every one of those kids, including Cathy Scott, knew that he was going into the bathroom to urinate. The door was at least a football field’s length away. Miss Bird did not go on with thelesson but kept her silence until he had opened the door, entered the blessedly empty hall, and shut the door again.
He walked down toward the boys’ bathroom
(basement basement basement IF I WANT)
dragging his fingers along the cool tile of the wall, letting them bounce over the thumbtack-stippled bulletin board and slide lightly across the red
(BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY)
Miss Bird liked it. Miss Bird liked making him have a red face. In front of Cathy Scott – who never needed to go to the basement, was that fair? – and everybody else.
Old b-i-t-c-h, he thought. He spelled because he had decided last year God didn’t say it was a sin if you spelled.
He went into the boys’ bathroom.
It was very cool inside, with a faint, not unpleasant smell of chlorine hanging pungently in the air. Now, in the middle of the morning, it was clean and deserted, peaceful and quite pleasant, not at all like the smoky, stinky cubicle at the Star Theatre downtown.
The bathroom (!basement!)
was built like an L, the short side lined with tiny square mirrors and white porcelain washbowls and a paper towel dispenser,
the longer side with two urinals and three toilet cubicles.
Charles went around the corner after glancing morosely at his thin, rather pallid face in one of the mirrors. The tiger was lying down at the far end, just underneath the pebbly-white window.