Suburban Station

Written in response to Angela’s photo prompt for Tell the Story Challenge. Her beautiful poetry can be found at Heartbreathings. As I’m in the midst of, and bogged down on both my works in progress, I was happy to attempt this piece of short fiction as an alternative. So based on the photo below, here is my story: Suburban Station.

I was a pop superstar. I had an agent and a stage name. I got discovered at age 16 when I made the cut for Next American Star and spent most of my twenties either in the studio or on the road. I was a household name. I had all the girls I could want but I never fell in love. I had a house in California and an apartment in New York. I owned three sports cars before I even got my driver’s license.

You know what comes with that kind of life. It’s a cliche, really. Late nights, parties, booze, drugs and then other drugs the next day just so you can get up to do it all over again. And of course, the inevitable hangers-on, the leeches that form your entourage, managing your affairs so you can concentrate on being creative while they suck away your fortunes. I still have some of mine. I guess I was lucky.

It’s been two years. I’m thirty-one now but I look a lot older than that. The drugs and the pills and everything else have taken a toll. One morning, I woke up and didn’t know where I was. A hotel, yes, but what city? I had stumbled to the bathroom and puked, only to find, when I pulled my head out of the toilet, some dude sleeping in the bathtub. I didn’t recognize him. Nor did I know any of the other partiers passed out in the room. Was it even my room? I checked the closet. Yeah, those were my clothes. I had to get out of here.

I left the hotel room, found out I was in Miami, and vaguely recalled playing Hard Rock Stadium the night before. I took a cab to the airport. Tour canceled, the star is unwell. That concert was my last. I fired my manager, I sold both my homes, all my cars and hoarded what was left of my wealth.

I went home to Philadelphia and bought a small townhouse. I go by my given name. At rush hour I take my guitar to Suburban Station and play for the passengers boarding the trains. Sometimes people look at me funny –like maybe I seem familiar or something. Nobody’s ever asked. The rest of the time I volunteer to teach music in after school programs for inner city kids. That’s where I met my girlfriend, Jill. She’s a teacher, too. And she’s the only one who knows my secret. I’m not sure how long my money will hold out, but for the first time in my life I am happy.

***

Self deprecating humor, solid advice

I decided to revisit a post I wrote back in 2016 and update it a little bit. When I started blogging, I used a self deprecating title and tagline to catch the reader’s eye —advice from WordPress’ Blogging 101 course. It was fun for a while, but in time I chose to make the blog more professional and eliminate the silliness. The blog was called: Meg Sorick Writes Better Than She Dresses and the tagline read: “She tried to look picturesque but only succeeded in being untidy.” To explain, here is the post I wrote in 2016:

Have you wondered what the deal is with the tagline for my blog: “She tried to look picturesque but only succeeded in being untidy?” It’s a quote from Oscar Wilde’s “A Picture of Dorian Grey” and refers to Victoria, Lord Henry Wotton’s wife. In the scene from which the quote was taken, Dorian is lounging around at Lord Henry’s house waiting for him when Victoria comes in. This is how the narrator describes her:

“She was a curious woman whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest. She was usually in love with somebody, and, as her passion was never returned, she had kept all her illusions. She tried to look picturesque, but only succeeded in being untidy.” There’s more of it, but that’s the bit I like.

I imagine you all read the blog title and the tagline and think to yourself, “that Meg must be a mess.” Well, not true, mostly. For one thing, I rarely wear dresses. Skirts, yes. I can match them with a black t-shirt. My friends and family do roll their eyes at me though, because I tend to wear the same or similar things all the time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look nice, I do. Those fitted black t-shirts from H&M are very flattering. And no I’m not too old to be shopping at H&M. Not for t-shirts, anyway. Besides, I am also cheap.

I guess I don’t easily tire of wearing the same things. I’ve always said I’d do well in an environment where someone told me what to wear. Like the army or prison, maybe. Frankly, it sure makes getting dressed in the morning easier and faster. I will not be the reason you are late getting out the door. Nevertheless, I assure you I am not untidy. I just really find those lines from ‘Dorian Grey’ amusing.

When you think of a writer, what image pops into your head? The disheveled man or woman, still in their bathrobe, sitting at the computer with coffee stains all over their notebooks and crumpled bits of paper strewn across the desk and overflowing the wastebasket? If you write full time, work from home and don’t actually have to see people face to face, would it be easy to slip into that habit? I think it could be. My office is in my home but seeing patients prevents me from sliding down that slippery slope of not bothering.

Imagine what that would do to one’s self esteem after a while. Not getting dressed, not fixing your hair or putting on makeup. Who cares? No one’s going to see me… That’s just one step away from: “I’m not worth it.” I wrote a post in December about treating your writing like a job. Making time for it, being disciplined so that it doesn’t get shoved onto the pile of unfulfilled dreams. Let this advice be another aspect of that discipline: Take care of yourself. Get up and stretch, get some exercise. Come home and shower and make yourself presentable. Wear perfume, just for yourself. Put on makeup so that when you walk by the mirror you won’t be terrified (ok, that’s just me, you probably look fine without makeup). Guys – shave (or at least groom, if your a beard guy), ditch the sweatpants and put on clean jeans and a nice shirt.

Don’t let your writing space turn into a dump, either. Granted, when you’re in the middle of a project, a certain amount of clutter is inevitable but don’t let it get out of hand. Wipe up the coffee stains, empty the wastebasket and whisk the crumbs off the keyboard. Wait till you see how much better that feels. You wouldn’t get away with that if it was your desk in an office building, right? Pretend that it is.

Will these habits help me find inspiration? Cure writer’s block? Help me edit more clearly? I say yes. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

Frozen In Time

A short story by Meg Sorick.

Bright. Blindingly bright. He felt awful —his head was pounding, his stomach was roiling and his mouth tasted like blood and bile. And he was cold. Very, very cold. Alex shielded his eyes from the sun and tried to remember what had happened. The party? Yes. The fight with Valerie? Oh, yes. He couldn’t remember leaving and —god, he hadn’t actually tried to drive in that state, had he?— crashing the car.

He tentatively opened his eyes. The front of the car seemed undamaged. A look in the rear view mirror told another story, though. The back windshield was a spiderweb of smashed glass and the trunk of the car was pushed up and backwards so as to obscure the view. Alex returned his gaze forward. The sun was just coming up over trees that shimmered with a thick glaze of ice. It had apparently snowed heavily overnight, though he couldn’t remember that either. The effect was disorienting. He couldn’t get his bearings. Where was he? The car hadn’t gone into the ditch, rather it seemed to be stopped in the middle of this unfamiliar road. He tried turning the ignition. Dead. Not even a cough. Wishful thinking.

Where was his phone? He found it lying on the floor in front of the passenger seat, screen cracked but operational. He sliced his finger trying to swipe it open. Cursing, he stuck the bloody digit in his mouth. To his dismay, he discovered that he had no cellular signal. How could he have driven so far away from the party to lose coverage? He checked again, moved the phone in all different directions but it was no use. He wondered, without much hope, if Valerie would be looking for him.

After checking himself over to assess the extent of his injuries, Alex unbuckled the seatbelt and tried the door. The impact had jammed it forward but with a huge shove and a creaking groan, it finally opened. He gingerly stepped out into the snow and looked around. Behind the car, the faint imprint of his spin-out was just perceptible beneath the deep snow cover. Further beyond, was the apparent cause of the accident —a train, stopped on the tracks that crossed the road.

“I must have run through the crossing and nearly made it,” Alex said aloud as he examined the back of the car. Twisted metal and plastic protruded from the wreck. He turned his gaze to the motionless behemoth, its engine quiet, just a residual trail of smoke rising from it’s stack. Smoke? A steam train? “What the…? What is this, some kind of tourist attraction?” Alex muttered as he stared in confusion. “Where is everyone?”

He took a step forward, struggling in the deep snow. “Hello?” he called out. Only the soughing of the trees was the response. A chill not from the cold crept up his spine. He checked the phone and again got only a bloody finger for his trouble. By the time he reached the train, the cold air breathed in through exertion was hurting his lungs and he’d lost the feeling in his feet. Soon, he realized, the cold would turn deadly. He either had to find help here at the train or find a spot where his phone picked up a signal. Surely, the train, even if it was an antique, would have some sort of modern communication system.

As quickly as he could manage, Alex trudged to the front of the train. Finding a step and hand bar to grab onto, he hoisted himself into the engineer’s compartment. The space was empty but fortunately slightly warmer thanks to the coal still burning in the firebox. He saw no electronics, not even a radio that he might use to call for help. Alex took a minute to thaw out and consider his options. He could only assume that the engineers had gone back into the passenger cars to check on the people.

After he’d warmed himself sufficiently, he once again braved the cold and snow to forge a path to the first car. Pulling himself up by the handrail, he pushed the doors open into the compartment. The cold penetrated to his bones as he stared into the blank, frozen eyes of the passengers. Every single one of them was dead. Not just dead, frozen in time. Frozen with newspapers in their hands, teacups raised to their lips, leaning over to whisper in their neighbor’s ear. Nothing in nature could freeze a living, breathing human so quickly. Alex slumped against the doorway of the last car to steady himself. As the cold stiffened his limbs and thickened his blood, his last thought was of Valerie and he wondered if she’d ever forgive him.