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on the wire [part one]

by Pompadour


Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

[note: please don't hesitate to tear this apart completely. what i'm most concerned about, in this piece, is representation--if you feel i've made any blanket conjectures/ am romanticising any concepts or am putting forward incorrect notions (that may stem from my incorrect understanding of certain people, especially when it's intersectional crossings-into culture), do not hesitate in saying it. i also apologise if i /have/ done any of the above. this piece was difficult for me to write (it's quite old now; i wrote it last year), and i feel it is going to be even more difficult to edit. but i would appreciate the feedback very much, because i feel it is important in helping me grow--not just as a writer, but also perceptually. 

so please, tear it to shreds.<3]

‘Four o’ clock.’ The microwave hums; the tape recorder clicks as you press the ‘record’ button, and the kitchen suddenly seems louder, the clatter clang clatter coming together in a dissonant harmony. Rain licking the windows in blind rage. Streets reduced to slush. It is one of those days where the entire world seems to have settled into a chaotic calm, and you revel in the feeling of nature bringing out its claws, of pushing you into a sort of isolation that is beyond the critical social gaze—that is beyond everything, that is just the man and the world.

A hum catches in your throat. A songbird. You tap your fingers on the counter, face splitting into a wide grin. ‘Four o’ clock, ladies and gentlemen. A weather broadcast.' Your voice takes on an overenthusiastic tone. Suddenly, you are the weatherman from FM radio, in blue overalls and sporting a greasy sixties pompadour. They don't make them like this anymore these days, you tell yourself. They make them suit and tie and salt and pepper hair. Manufactured and processed like the old man next door who takes the same bus as you in the mornings, whose sighs always come in threes. You sometimes wonder if he sighs loudly for a reason—as though hoping that the amount of conviction he exhales with would somehow change his life.

Sometimes, you are very glad that you weren't made like that. It would take a lot for you to put the same amount of faith in your lungs.

The microwave hums.

'Four o'clock!' you exclaim. 'The sky has put on its shroud today—dusk has come to rest its buckled toes on the skyscrapers, and the clouds continue to cry on our funeral parlour’—you swivel you chair around, coming to face the countertop again, palms perched horizontally on marble like birds ready to fly at first notice—‘the funeral parlour that is the world, that is you, that is I, that is everything within it.' You pause, wondering just where you were going with this. 'Er, have a good day!'

Tap. The whirr of machinery. You fiddle with the recorder, replaying your recording—again, again, until it echoes in your skull. Even after you press the ‘stop’ button, after you have retrieved a steaming bowl of reheated soup from the microwave and swiveled across the hall to your workspace, it remains. An incessant thrum. As incessant as the buzzing of your phone on the bookshelf, the influx of messages that Bee considers kindness to leave for you every day, amid the mass of workshop drafts and project meetings. You ignore them, although the guilt pricks at you. Later, you know you will apologise to her, and laugh gladly as she forgives you. Bee has always been like that—kind and cruel, both in the most subtle of ways. Bee, whom you could listen to for hours. Beautiful, confident—Bee. She will talk about her dog, and about Gareth—and that is when you will cut the conversation short, because the very mention of Gareth these days makes your insides seize up. Gareth is—has always been—a reminder that no matter how hard you try, there are some people you can never surpass in life.

Outside, the storm worsens. The cat, Abalone, comes and curls up on your feet. You like it when the world is like this, when you can pretend that the earth has died, and you are the only person left to exist. Left to exist with a chisel in your hand, as natural as though it is an extension of your body, chipping away at a slab of wood—shaping it, smoothing out the edges, breathing against the grain. Even though Gareth has always been better at everything, always, sculpting is who you are. It has been the one thing he could never beat you at, partially because he never tried, and partially because, you feel, he never felt the need to sculpt his own world. After all, his world has always been perfect—without aspirations, without hopes and dreams, because all his hopes and dreams came true for him the moment he stepped foot into the art world.

When the chisel is in your hand—the chisel, the gouge, the carving knife—you are fully yourself. You become the instrument, almost as much as the instrument becomes you. As you work, you tap your fingers lightly against your worktable. A hum catches in your throat. A songbird. It flounders in your chest as you eat, as you carve a cheekbone across wood. Lightning skates across the sky. You pause to watch the spectacle. And as you lay your woodcarving tools flat against the surface of your desk, you sing:

The clouds cry on our funeral parlour.

Karachi drowns, Karachi swims, Karachi prays

To the tide, prays to the harbour—

Though the sea has neither meaning, nor pity—the city

Prays, prays, prays.’

At six o’ clock, the rain stops. The world starts up again, city wound up and buzzing. You force yourself to your feet, grab your wallet, rush to the nearest grocery store to stock up on bottled water and rice. The climate in the bazaar bespeaks of troubled crowds, aisles jam-packed with more people than they can hold. By the time you trudge into your apartment, the dream has broken—cleaved into two neat pieces like an oyster one discovers, only to find that there is no pearl inside. The pearl is gone, lost amid the cacophony of blaring horns and rickshaws coughing up smoke-filled lungs.

Nine o’clock. The power is out. You shuffle carefully across the hallway, which is littered with woodchips you keep forgetting to sweep up, and deposit the grocery bags next to the telephone stand. With a sigh, you slump against the wall. There is silence, save for the ticking of the clock, and the sound of Abalone meowing from somewhere in the dark. After a while, you slide your cellphone out of your pocket and scroll through the messages. Being stuck in traffic for more than an hour gave you enough time to read through the collection your email has amassed during the day. Apology emails—‘so sorry your workshop had to be cancelled, we were looking forward to it!’—a message from your sister, the customary ‘hope the weather isn’t as bad as the news claims’, and an email from your agent informing you that your flight to Jakarta was to be postponed until further notice. Usual stuff, you think, yet you cannot help but scrunch your brows in disappointment. Not a single message from Bee. You close your eyes and sigh.

Ten minutes past nine. It starts to rain. Lightning cleaves the sky in two.

At fifteen past nine, the telephone rings. Your hands grapple for it in the dark—holding the receiver to your ear, you murmur tentatively: ‘Hello?’

‘Hello.’ The androgynous voice on the other end of the line sounds cold and businesslike; when they speak, it is as though every word they utter is a brittle twig they are being forced to chew upon. ‘This is the Liaison speaking. We are calling to inform you that a Mr Gareth has been carried away by the sea today. His wife has been informed. A network has been established for the transmission of this message. We are sorry for your loss.’ A sound, like that of a thousand bees buzzing, drones in the background. There is a moment of silence, and then the voice begins speaking again: ‘Hello. This is the Liaison speaking. We are calling to inform you, Mill Nazir, that a Mr Gareth has been…’

The call cuts off. You sit hunched next to the telephone, stone-faced. There is no time to process what has just happened—and it is as you are trying to write the phone call off as a practical joke that the telephone rings again.

This time, it is Bee. Her voice is cool and collected, just as it always is, just as it always has been—although there is a spike of nervousness beneath the calm. You listen to her as she tells you that Gareth took off with the dog in the middle of last night, after a fight, and that she had been too proud to call him once he had left. She received a phone call, she says, just now.

Gareth had shot himself.

Her voice cracks when she tells you—they couldn’t find the dog.

For a moment, all you can hear is static. All you can hear are the jubilant screams in your own head—a repetitive stream of, ‘he’s gone. he’s gone, he’s gone’. And amid the joy, a deep, pervading sense of guilt. A hollow thud in the pit of your stomach, and your expression contorted halfway between sobbing and laughter. Bee carries on speaking—‘funeral … called his mother … I was thinking about flying to Islamabad…’—but you are only half listening to her words. Her voice is musical and lithe; you could just as easily convince yourself that she is reciting poetry, rather than sketching out funeral plans. Twirling the phone’s black, spiraling cord between your fingers, you stare at it until it looks like the staircase to some distant intangible mezzanine, an especially-forged-for-you kind of hell. If hell is a white-tiled space filled with droning operators with rubbery bodies, you think dourly, connecting the switchboards of human lives together in the worst ways possible.

But if hell is so bad, you think, why does it make you feel so good? Heart thumping, pulse skittering like a telephone pole being constantly struck with lightning. You grab a fistful of your shirt, breathing in deeply the smell of turpentine and polished wood that fills your tiny apartment. Why does she always, always make you feel this way?

I’m in love with you, your brain is screaming now. I love you I love you I loveyou. You take several deep, calming breaths to keep every nerve of your body under control. Now isn't the time. She doesn't want to hear it. She doesn't want to hear it.

She mistakes the heavy breathing as sobbing. ‘I’m sorry,’ she says, not sounding particularly so—but hasn’t she always been this way? ‘I just didn't know who to call at this time of night. I mean—obviously, Sara’d be the first option’—she laughs affectedly—’but she … I dunno … I picked up the phone and ended up dialling you in. Hope you don’t mind.’

‘Not—not at all.’ Your mouth feels dry. The adrenaline is slowly seeping out of your bones; your muscles are left feeling flaccid and heavy, and there is a dull pounding at the base of your skull.

‘I know how upset you must be—I mean, of the three of us, Gareth was the closest to you, anyway. You knew each other since—middle school?’

‘Elementary, actually.’ You don’t bother correcting her. Neither of you had particularly liked each other—circumstance just kept bunching you together, so you had tolerated Gareth, and Gareth … well, you didn't care what he felt. You only knew that you hated him. It was as simple and mindless as that. 


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Sun Jul 29, 2018 1:03 am
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Vervain wrote a review...



Hey Pomp! Here as requested to drop a review. I have not read the other reviews, so pardon if I echo what they say. I read this piece a while back and didn't really know what to say about it. I was wondering if it would receive the feedback you wanted on it. I guess I'm here to help out with that now!

I want to spend the bulk of my space talking about the story itself.

It's not a bad story. In fact, it's really really freaking good. You write prose with such poetry that I find myself lost in the curves and arcs of your language, and I drift from paragraph to paragraph with such ease and interest. You explore emotion in these most intimate ways. But if we strip away the style down to the writing, the story itself, it's...

A story, I guess. You have very interesting points -- Mill, and Bee, and the idea of a Liaison calling about Gareth's death, and just the way Mill thinks about the world and experiences things -- but outside of that... If it weren't for the poetic style, I think I'd be rather bored by this story.

I'm not, because I love your writing and poesy, but I am, because you spend so many lines on the microwave, on Mill going out to the bazaar, on emails and groceries, on Mill's interpretation of the telephone line, of -- all these things that really don't, in the end, have a bearing on how we interpret the story. Why so important that Mill is reheating soup, that it appears as the very second line of the story? Why so important the emails, when they don't seem to have any bearing on the reader or the story? If we got more of a punch as to why their workshop was cancelled, what it means that the flight was delayed, maybe those lines would have meaning to us. As is, they mean little other than to signify that Mill has a life outside the story.

But... is that really necessary? The story shows us here that Mill has an unhealthy, almost obsessive emotional connection to Bee -- and if that's not what you're going for in the first bit, maybe revise, but I think it is -- and it might make sense, on a day Mill thinks almost only about Bee, that there be little to no significance given to non-Bee moments of their day. We don't really need throwaway lines if they don't give depth to the story itself.

I do find it rather abrupt that Gareth is dead, especially as Mill was just thinking about him; I know it's the story, and it's part of their obsession with Bee, but it just feels... quick. Almost like the death was supposed to come later, at a more pivotal point, instead of building up to the pivotal point. It feels... premature.

Like I said, I love your language, I love your poesy, and I especially love your storytelling. You can tell a second-person short like no one else I have ever met or read -- you're just so fluid and so natural and you make it not even obvious we're reading second-person, we just nod along and go "yes, I do that".

But the story itself is bogged down by lines that mean nothing, by things that come too quickly. Think of it more like a poem -- you have economy of space here. Use your space wisely, and have every word sink into the story with its own weight of importance. Cut things that don't move in any direction, and leave us with a more fluid story that's less about Mill going to the bazaar and more about the effect Gareth's death has on Mill and Bee. As is, it kind of falls flat and leaves your readers wanting a little more.

And, as always, keep writing!




Pompadour says...


<3 thank you for this!



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Sun Apr 29, 2018 5:12 am
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Elinor wrote a review...



Hey Pompadour,

I noticed this has been sitting with only one review for a while, so I thought I'd jump in my thoughts. First of all, I wanted to tell you that this was really lovely. I enjoyed reading it, and really felt the emotion of it all.

I think the strongest part of your story is the atmosphere. You are really very effective at painting a picture and making me, as a reader, feel not only like I'm there, but because this is second person, like I am the protagonist. The last thing I engaged with that did this effectively was the BBC podcast series The Walk - I really recommend checking it out if you get the chance.

I haven't gotten to your second part yet, so I'm not sure where this story is going to lead (although I'm excited to see where it does) but I don't think it romanticizes suicide. You have a protagonist who's clearly depressed, and I think your writing does an effective job at portraying this. She has all these tasks she needs to get to, but she doesn't really have the emotional energy to them. It's poetic really, and I was wondering while reading this if you mainly write poetry.

I would like to know a little bit more about the characters themselves. You have three that you're juggling - the protagonist, Bee and Gareth, and I don't feel as though I know them too well. The protagonist envies Bee, but they seem to be friends of some sort, which would be an interesting dynamic to dive into. I like the use of second person, but in the second person stories I've read, there's still character building so you feel like you're really diving into someone's shoes. Because there's no information about her, I feel like I'm inserting myself in her stead. I don't know if this is intentional, but I imagine my view is probably different from someone else's. Also the protagonist and Gareth also supposed to have some sort of romantic history?

Can't wait to look at the second part and keep up the good work. Please let me know if you have any questions!

All the best.




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Mon Apr 02, 2018 4:40 am
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Hattable wrote a review...



Hey, Pomp!

Here to try and review your work. I'm not sure how well I'll be able to touch on the points that your author note asks for, but I can definitely offer a hand with grammar stuff! *finger guns* I will still try to touch on your A/N requests at the end of this review.

Starting off, I really like the first paragraph! The imagery is great, and it's a nice hook to bring me into the story. I do have a couple notes, however.

The microwave hums; the tape recorder clicks as you press the ‘record’ button, and the kitchen suddenly seems louder, the clatter clang clatter coming together in a dissonant harmony. Rain licking the windows in blind rage.

For the first sentence here, I'd replace the semicolon with a comma. The semicolon stunts the flow, looks weird so early on, and doesn't really offer much. It actually made the “clatter clang clatter coming together in a dissnant harmony” (great wording btw) kind of confusing. I'm assuming that the microwave's humming is part of this harmony? Hence my suggestion to replace the semicolon.
If I'm wrong in this assumption, then I guess the semicolon is fine, but yee--

Also, “Rain licking the windows in a blind rage” feels like an... incomplete sentence? I think it could be fixed by saying the rain “licks” the windows, rather than “licking”. This also aligns it well with the present tense feeling of the rest of the paragraph.

and you revel in the feeling of nature bringing out its claws, of pushing you into a sort of isolation that is beyond the critical social gaze

Here, if you subtract the bit about nature, it reads like “you revel in the feeling of pushing you [...]” and that doesn't sound right. When I read it the first time, I took that you meant to say something like “you revel in the feeling of nature […] pushing you [...]”, in which case the “of” before “pushing” should be removed.

I may be completely wrong in my interpretation of this sentence, in which case I apologize! But if I'm right, then this change would make it read more smoothly.

in blue overalls and sporting a greasy sixties pompadour

Wow, great self-insertion!

They don't make them like this anymore these days, you tell yourself. They make them suit and tie and salt and pepper hair.

For this portion, I'd recommend dropping “these days”, as “anymore” kind of implies that. It feels repetitive and redundant. As for the second sentence here, I'd suggest changing it to “suit and tie, salt and pepper hair”, to cut down on all the 'and's. It's also just how I'd write it//it sounds better to my brain, but I'm not here to force my personal writing techniques on you! This is just a suggestion!

The whole paragraph that I swiped this from, by the way, feels rather clunky. Not in length, but in words and ideas. It's not too bad, but it's close to winding, so you might want to check for places you could break it up.

‘the funeral parlour that is the world, that is you, that is I, that is everything within it.'

Nightvale vibes from this – nice.

Being stuck in traffic for more than an hour gave you enough time to read through the collection your email has amassed during the day.

Although the story is in present tense for the most part (it seems), I believe this should be “your email had amassed during the day”, simply because the amassing of emails has since passed? I'm not 100% sure on that and my mind is kind of all over the place suddenly ((had to run off halfway through this review)), but yeah.

If that's wrong, please let me know! Lel

A network has been established for the transmission of this message. We are sorry for your loss.’ A sound, like that of a thousand bees buzzing, drones in the background. There is a moment of silence, and then the voice begins speaking again: ‘Hello. This is the Liaison speaking. We are calling to inform you, Mill Nazir, that a Mr Gareth has been…’

I think “A sound, like that of a thousand bees [...]” would drop to a new line, and the story can continue just fine after that. (Also, good dialogue!)

Given that Gareth shot himself, though, I'm not sure why the Liaison would say he's “been carried away by the sea”? Unless that's code or typical Liaison speech that I'm unfamiliar with (I'm not really familiar with Liaisons as it is)-- I'd taken it to mean that he'd disappeared on the ocean.

Her voice cracks when she tells you—they couldn’t find the dog.

Is her voice cracking while she relays what happened to Gareth, and the dog is a side-note here? Or does her voice crack as she says they can't find the dog? If it's the latter, I think it would be best written with a “that” in place of the dash. But it's entirely up to you! It may not even be a necessary change.

A hollow thud in the pit of your stomach, and your expression contorted halfway between sobbing and laughter. Bee carries on speaking—

I'm fairly certain “Bee carries on speaking” should start a new line.

‘Elementary, actually.’ You don’t bother correcting her.

This sounds like we just did correct her, though? If it's a thought, then Maybe remove the quotations and slap it in italics? Or don't even bother with italics, as it'd fit the style of the rest of the work that way.

And done!

You've got a great vocabulary, and you execute it well in this work. Really, really well. The imagery is fantastic, and you touch more senses than just sight (smell is explored quite a bit in the market and the apartment).
The pacing is also great. It was a bit choppy at the start, but that may have just been my personal perception of it, with the repetition of “Four o'clock” and the microwave humming. Nothing against the work, just how my brain takes such repetitions as a restart of the scene. It's weird. If you've watched, like, A Ghost Story, then you might get the sense? Not sure.

My only issue with this work is that your paragraphs are full of points where a break feels good, or even necessary, and instead of dropping to start a new line, they just go on, ignoring the bus stop. If you could fix this, and maybe free up the dialogue a bit (as most of it is landlocked by paragraphs), then the flow could really benefit. There's still good flow as it is, but yeah--

The ending was a bit sudden, even for a single part, but I can't have seen it going on for much longer without a scene change, and that would've extended it even more, so this ending was alright.


I'm sorry that I'm not that good at touching on the topics you asked about in your author note! I hope this review was still helpful, though!

Keep up the great work, Pompa!
- Hatt





I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.
— Flannery O'Connor