:: Article

Wait Here?

By Andrew Farkas.

Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia

Have I forgotten the question that goes here?

                     -Padgett Powell
The Interrogative Mood

Why do you hate the waiting room?

Because of the way it looks? What’s it like? Do you remember? If pressed, could you rattle off, say, your five favorite waiting rooms with a list of their primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary features? Then, would it be possible for you to throw in the dates and times you visited them? You think there aren’t detectives who can check up on these things? You think they haven’t already checked up and we’re now interested in seeing if you decide to lie? But, seriously, does a waiting room ever stick with you? If you left this waiting room right now, walked around the block, and returned, would you be able to state with certainty that it was the same waiting room? If it were different, would you notice? If it were the same, is there a chance you might think it was different? Have you, in the end, either consciously or unconsciously, accepted the fact that there’s a template in your mind labeled Waiting Room, and that’s all you’ve got no matter how disparate the places might actually be? Does it bother you that somehow a number of your experiences have taken place in an unidentifiable void? Or, without thinking about it, do you just sit there, surrounded by who knows what, and, innocuous activities notwithstanding, do you just sit there and wait?

Is the waiting room uncomfortable?

The furniture, does it appear to be from a boardroom, a convention center, a church basement, a college classroom, a dorm, a high school, a kindergarten, or maybe somebody’s home? If it’s like parlor furniture, what kind of parlor? Are you getting the brandy, cigars, and a whole lot of harrumphing vibe? The little sandwiches, Easter colors, and passive aggression vibe? Or, are you thinking more like a fraternity house vibe, bunch of mismatched couches, wrecked chairs, tables that look like they were heaved off the roof and somehow landed here? Maybe there’s an island theme, a nautical theme, a modernist theme, an antique theme, a 1950s theme, a far-flung future floating through space theme, or maybe the theme is that there’s no goddamn theme at all? Would it be worse if there were no theme because you might begin to lose the thread of why you’re here? Are you sweating through your pants onto this relentlessly unthemed furniture on account of whatever lies beyond this room waiting for you? Could it be that bad? Mightn’t it be good? Or, is it possible that nothing’s waiting for you? Does that calm you down or make you more apprehensive? Can you imagine, after you’ve heard your name called, standing up from your La-Z-Boy, walking through the door, down a hallway, then another, and finally being shown into the office where, as it turns out, there’s nothing? How would nothing be represented? If you can’t imagine any of that happening, but it did happen, would you shiver with fear and confusion, fondly remembering the halcyon times back in the coziness of the waiting room, when you sat in a club chair/wingback chair/wobbly folding chair/1950s desk-for-second-graders chair basking in the glow of your purpose, your absolutely real, even verifiable purpose for being there? If commanded to rank the three potential outcomes, would you list them Good—first, Bad—second, Nothing—447th? Would you gladly eliminate Good if you could also eliminate Nothing? Are you afraid when you are called, that you might stick to your chair? Or, maybe you don’t worry at all, confident in your appointment, perched atop your comically short stool, and question instead, rightly so perhaps, whether a fraternity house, no matter how it’s designed, could ever contain a room justifiably called a “parlor?”

What’s the décor like in the waiting room?

Is there any art on the walls? If there is, and you originally saw this art at a friend’s place, would you think less of that person? If you originally saw this art at a friend’s place and recalled enjoying it, would you think less of yourself? If you originally saw this art at the store, purchased it, brought it home, hung it in a prominent place so everyone could gaze upon what you’d bought, no, what you’d finally obtained, acquired, added to the collection even, would you think, there in the waiting room, “Whelp, that’s all for me,” while rolling up your sleeves and producing the packet of razorblades you’ve kept at the ready for just such an occasion? Really, though, who produces this art? A student looking for a paycheck? A hack who’s making a mint? A sad-sack who’s lost all hope of realizing their dreams, or someone who never had any? A computer? How likely are you to accept “spontaneous generation” as a good explanation for the presence of this what-have-you? If we could go back in time to before the previous question was asked, are you thinking you’d never have answered “spontaneous generation,” but now that the toothpaste is out of the tube (as it were), do you find it impossible to gin up any other plausible account for this … will we be sticking with art? After all, it’s inconceivable that someone, anyone, an artist (no less), sat down, tools at the ready, ideas skittering through their mind, work progressing, progressing, moments of doubt, no, no, I can’t do it, I’ll never finish, but, must go on, yes, yes, at last! now take this, immediately, not there, no, not there either, no, take this directly to the dentist’s office and put it in the waiting room—that’s just a preposterous explanation, right? So, we’re sticking with spontaneous generation? Do you imagine how your decision would be depicted on the walls of this waiting room?

Is there anything to do in the waiting room?

How about magazines? Does it seem, and maybe this is crazy talk, like magazines, the kind that sit in waiting rooms, stopped being produced say twenty, twenty-five years ago? When you see there are magazines, do you immediately check if they’re from the last century? If they aren’t, do you marvel at their existence? Do you imagine a cynical publisher that reprints magazine covers where the only thing that’s changed is the date? Are you of the belief you’d actually notice? Will you later recall that you spent part of the day reading an honest to goodness magazine? What are the chances that something you read will actually be important, like really important, the sort of insight with the power to change everything if you actually followed it? Buried amongst so much garbage, though, will you realize how essential this insight is? Or, later, will you only think, “Now what was that I read today?” Will you dismiss it? Or will you grow frantic, race back to the waiting room, tear through the magazines? Do any of them have names you recognize, or are all of them suspiciously similar to names you think used to belong to magazines, but these, no way? Will you imagine a writer, ensconced in an impossibly gigantic building who wrote that line for you and you alone? If you do, what was their endgame? Did they insanely believe you’d come along, see the sentence, and make the appropriate change before continuing on with the usual nonsense? Is it your opinion that this has been the problem thus far, that you just haven’t stumbled upon the right magazine? Do you think it’s being kept from you? Who’s to blame? Would you actually use the word “thus” in any situation? Are you perhaps of the opinion that no person is to blame, but more like an entity? What is it? Where is it? Can it be found? Can it be stopped? Is it already too late? Is your belief in this entity your darkest secret? Who will reveal your shame? Which magazine you think it’ll be in? Has the issue come out already? Do they have it here in the waiting room?

Does anyone work in the waiting room?

Can administrative assistants or receptionists or front desk people or secretaries be said to work in waiting rooms? Would your answer be the same if you knew they weren’t waiting for anything? Is it possible to not be waiting for something? Were you waiting for me to ask that question? But, seriously, if they’re not waiting, can they be in a waiting room? If not, where are they? How is it that you can see them? Do you remember talking to them? Do you remember their names? Would you say they looked like you (though not specifically you, but more the species you happen to belong to), or would you say they looked like a close facsimile of you (your species)? How close? Flawless, meaning you’re certain they’re Homo sapiens? Suspicious, meaning you’re not certain, meaning there’s an uncanny valley effect going on here? Close Enough, meaning … can you imagine someone answering “Close Enough?” Is it possible there are more “Close Enough” answerers than we originally thought … possible? Do you think I used the word “possible” twice in the past sentence because I’m lazy, or because I’m gobsmacked to realize there might not only be people who, when confronted with a potential Homo sapiens impostor, would say, “Meh, close enough,” and then go on about their business as the counterfeit humans proceeded with the next phase of their impenetrable scheme, but that there might be a great many of these so-called Close Enoughs? Do you find yourself furtively inspecting the other folks around you to see if they are mimics, or the real deal? Or, would you rather pretend that everyone here is in the same room you’re in, meaning they’re all human, meaning they’re all waiting? Then for what, exactly? When will its terrifying provenance come to pass? Or maybe, when will its glorious genesis be visited upon the world? Or, more likely, when will this banal bullshit go down?

Are all rooms waiting rooms?

How come they haven’t called your name yet? Isn’t it time for your appointment? Isn’t it time to prove you have a purpose for being here? You do have a purpose for being here, right? Have you ever sat in a waiting room for so long, you forgot what you were waiting for? If so, did you come back to your senses? If you came back to your senses, how’d you explain the experience to yourself? Did you just end up assuming something happened behind the scenes that you’d never become privy to? Does anything ever happen in a waiting room? If it did, could that room still be called a waiting room? Is that why you hate being here, because you have more important things to do? Be honest—do you have more important things to do? Do you have anything to do? If you were liberated from this place, where would you go? Would you have fun? Would you be productive? Or, would you return home, sit down, stare into the middle distance, maybe occasionally flipping through, say, an honest to goodness magazine? Would you wonder what theme your furniture follows (if any)? Would you speculate about the art on the walls? Would you suddenly find yourself suspicious of the people there, the others? Do you now look at the waiting room, including everything and everyone in it, as a purposefully flimsy façade that mocks your normal, everyday existence? Do you feel yourself becoming part of the waiting room? Are you still of the belief that your name will be called? Have you come to the conclusion that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be? Or, on the other hand, if you have waited so long you forgot what you were waiting for, is there a chance you never returned to your senses? Maybe that’s why you’re here, to get your life back, the life you lost in a waiting room? Then how come they didn’t usher you directly to the person you’re here to see? Does it make any sense that you were guided, likely by someone with an unnerving smile, into this godawful place after what happened to you? Are you back to wondering what you’re doing here now? But, then, they’re not holding you against your will, are they? Couldn’t you just go? Is there anything or anyone stopping you from standing up, walking across the lobby, throwing open the door, and confidently striding right into whatever is to come? Why can’t you do that? Wouldn’t it be better than rotting away in here? Will it really be that great when your name is finally called? Or, at this stage, do you expect something transcendent will happen? You know it’s not going to, though, right? And yet, you’re still sitting here? Why?

I mean seriously, what are you waiting for?

Andrew Farkas is the author of a novel: The Big Red Herring (KERNPUNKT Press), and two short fiction collections: Sunsphere (BlazeVOX Books) and Self-Titled Debut (Subito Press). His work has appeared in The Iowa Review, North American Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Florida Review, Western Humanities Review, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. He has been thrice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, including one Special Mention in Pushcart Prize XXXV and one Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago, an M.F.A. from the University of Alabama, an M.A. from the University of Tennessee, and a B.A. from Kent State University. He is a fiction editor for The Rupture (the new iteration of The Collagist) and an Assistant Professor of English at Washburn University. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 19th, 2019.