The Need to Apologize in Advance

G. Tarsiscis Janetka

September 29, 2022


I don’t know why I waste the money on a lower berth, I can never sleep on trains, I can never sleep at night for that matter — it’s dark and there’s always fighting. I thought this time would be different, that this time I could enjoy a peaceful night with the rails below me, mountains beside and sky above, which, I know, is absurd, but it would all be fine if everyone would just go to sleep — for god’s sake it’s the middle of the night and there’s protocol for this kind of thing. Everything would be fine if they’d sleep, but with them awake, what can I do but sit up in this echoing club car, knowing my bed is unoccupied, unsullied by human excess? It’s a breeze to know exactly what everyone is up to — or not up to — during the day, but at night they prowl the dark cars back and forth, back and forth, throwing the weight off of everything, leaving this mess. I always think I’ll be able to sleep (and I could if they’d do what they’re supposed to) but that remains a pipe dream and so I sit here and compose this letter which I hope finds you well and able to reply in kind. Give me strength, for if I fail it’ll be curtains for us all.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news and hope you’re not the kind to kill the messenger.

It’s black outside, blacker than possible, leaving my reflection in constant judgment. The lights of passing stations cut off my view of myself and leave a haunted trail on the retina. These brief collisions with the heavens always manage to escape me, culled by the incessant humming of the rails and the whispered voices. Through the din I thank god for Eleanora’s vocal exercises, drifting back from the next car, breaking the monotonous white noise. Despite flawless performances she’s always nervous to sing to the passengers. Pulling musty tunes back through the noose, her voice floats through the air, growing ghostly with resonance as the melodies constrict her fresh face into ecstasy. But that nervousness between shows — between songs, between any gap in her performance — leaves her gasping for air. I suppose that’s what keeps her going. Perhaps I appear in a similar manner, but I never catch it in my reflection. Her voice, her passion — kept alive in every vibration — caresses me, putting her on public display for those seeking to cash in and leave her for dead.

This daydreaming is far from sleep but pure enough to let me forget the safety of every other passenger, if only for a moment. I need something to hold and she’s a wonderment. I’ve heard it all and I’ve seen it all and it’s made me grow deaf while I pray, pray for her to continue to sing of numberless, slumberless hours and shadows.

With the first hints of daybreak three newcomers, a woman and two men, climb into the car. The woman meets my eye as she walks past and I know she’s watching me now from her seat in the back corner. She’s intrigued by me and would be fascinated to talk to me if she could break away but they won’t let her, terrified how inadequate they would appear after we share words and moments and existences. Their Brooks Brothers suits ooze with vanity, greed, selfishness, and self-absorption as my intellectual threat sharpens their hold on the girl. A charming hat had obscured her face, but when she passed by I caught a floral scent. The hat must be beside her now, the dawn streaming on to her full face, powering this train. It’s a face of harmony and little white flowers and I bleed to take her in before she burns out.

Until then, hardened steel rolls over itself again and again, raising high the blank faces of the countless laborers beneath. With each mile laid, initiations, births, deaths, had faded into the previously pristine land, giving them nothing but the pains in their homes and their hands. Please, please go to bed. All of us need our rest, need to carry on with our work, our lives, the pain in our homes and our hands. It’s a comfort to feel the warmth of her eyes on me. We have so much to share, such potential — why don’t they go to bed and allow her to come to me? Instead, her false front laughs politely, lemon-bathed hair falling past her eyes. The gentle movement of a hand clears her vision as she asks if this vanity is all they have to offer, if angels could ever return to Earth.

It’s a shame hot meals aren’t served anymore. The attendant stands there dumbly, yet is more than capable of preparing rich, satisfying meals that would make his mother proud. He was useless in the fields with his disfigured right hand, so she took him into her world, into the one place she was allowed to express beauty. While belittled and beaten, he escaped hours of dizzying labor in the sun that surely would have done him in. No one has ordered a drink for hours but he keeps the shaker going, picking it up every few moments, giving it a few shakes before replacing it exactly where it was.

I make do with cold sandwiches and stolen glances. And the blessings of Eleanora’s last breath.

Sometimes, over the rolling hum of the wheels, I hear a bass.

The notes are low and soft and perfect.

They are no damn better than I am, no different. In the mirror, meet your enemy.

We are bound for the same stop. At that time it will be much easier for her to leave them.

I can see glimmers over the horizon. Soon the great weight will be in motion. The food will be hot, and the blue gas lamps will be put to rest.

Perhaps this has gone on far too long. We’re all old and used now and none of us can sleep.

G. Tarsiscis Janetka is a writer from Chicago who drinks a great amount of green tea. His work has been featured in XRAY, Helix, The Phoenix, among other publications. More of his writing can be found at He is currently seeking representation for his first novel.