“Monday Afternoon” by Agatha Shannon

what is it you want?
she looks straight into me
no attempt at stifling a yawn
and so I spend the hour trying to get into her head
while she grills me
I sense what must be her impatience
and think of leaving
I'll apologize for being such a waste of her time
I don't have the talent or intellect or confidence
she must be used to dealing with
knowing I would have to shake her hand keeps me seated for now
my palms are sweating and what would she think of that?

again she asks
what is it you want?
I respond polished and polite
legs crossed hands folded
no fidgeting or fiddling with my pearls or twirling my hair
I make eye contact
and I'm so sincere
and I'm a liar
and she looks out the window
and the silence is suffocating

the two flowers on the wall are the same
but for their backgrounds
which are entirely different
I wonder if it's their sameness or their difference that retains by interest for the moment?
are appearances misrepresentations of content -
or is it the other way around?
then I notice her necklace which is something like
the one the neighbor with the birdbath used to wear
I remember how much she liked owls
and how much he hated the fact that that birdbath was in her yard
after all it was his grandfather's
I wonder if he ever remembers

she looks back at me from whatever it was in the parking lot
holding her attention
and rubs her eyes
she reminds me of that nun from Holy Trinity
maybe she is a nun or an angel or something and she knows what I'm thinking
or that I'm really not thinking at all
about her question
because if I do I might give a wrong answer
or worse
I might give the right one
what if somehow my answer is universally significant and spiritually profound
and then I change my mind
what if I put every ounce of faith into a ridiculous radical cause only to realize it is just that?
what if I have to leave behind all I've come to identify with as successful in order to fulfill my purpose?
what if my use of power is perceived as irresponsible by those from whom I crave attention?
she says if I can hear myself say it
it will become clear
why this fruitless attempt at conformity
this stubborn insistence on forcing a square peg into a round hole -
or is it the other way around?
she must think I'm incredibly naive
that would be expected
everyone tells me I'm incredibly naive

she leaves the room to take some phone call
I should really get back to the office
but I'm still here because of my palms
this must be some sort of experiment
like one of those psych labs in school where the cameras are watching
and you think you're being critiqued on some latent aptitude or your test taking ability
but really they just want to observe you
sitting there
so I look around and read the brochure on the table
I check out her coasters
and act real comfortable just to throw them off
the people on the other side
maybe the guy from the front desk who walks like Robert is one of them
or the angry woman from the bathroom
they could be the watchers
or the two guys in the hall
who immediately stopped engaging
in what appeared to be wrestling holds
when I walked by
maybe they're in on it too
all of them just props

she's back now and I tell her
I answer her question
sort of
because my words don't ever match my thoughts
everyone tells me I've such problems communicating
but she smiles
no she smirks and nods her head
I stand and hold out my hand and run back
home safe
filled with overwhelming relief after having voiced by confession
I'm bursting to tell you about my progress and you listen
as best you can I believe
and you pat my head
partly because I'm now a bit disheveled which you find endearing
and partly because this is an acceptable form of touching for people in our position
you whisper because no one else should hear where I've been
that's not what you want

and there you go
you are logical and practical
you avoid complicated scenarios
you want to be sure I understand
that's your job
to teach me
to explain in simple terms the reasons why
the common sense of it all
the way things work in this world
the timetables
the expectations
the money
and here we are
and I hear her ask
what is it you want?