Thursday, 4 August 2011

Waiting For The Evening News by Tim Gautreaux

It's not often I find myself quoting from scripture. Ok, you got me, I've never done it before. But for this post the following scrap says it all:

Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 

I was watching the news. I forget what terrible thing was occurring, but it was something really bad. "What if that was all my fault somehow?" I thought and felt a story coming on. In the bookshop yesterday I was reading from a book of short stories by Tim Gautreaux. The collection was titled Waiting For The Evening News and the second story I read was called Waiting For The Evening News. A train engineer, drunk on cheap whisky, is flying through the night along a route he has travelled thousands of times before. He is contemplating the sameness of the journey and how it hardly matters if he is there or not when something catastrophic happens. The train derails and the chemical containers it is carrying smash to bits and start to burn. The engineer runs off into the woods because he is drunk and thinks he will be sacked. He hitches a lift with a priest (this is the Deep South - every other person is a Preacher!) and finds a motel for the night thinking he will call in when he is sober. We never really find out why the train derailed but the engineer, though drunk, is convinced it would have happened anyway and that it was not his fault. 

When he turns on the TV the next morning he is shocked to discover the train crash is all over the local news. It seems the chemical spill is pretty bad and the fire is out of control. Not only that the derailed cars destroyed a Seven Eleven and mashed half a small town. The engineer heads for New Orleans thinking he can hide there. Every newspaper he sees covers the story. Every bar has the wreck on TV. Some of the chemical cars have mixed their cargoes and created deadly mustard gas. People have died. His face is plastered all over the place. He is public enemy number one. It just keeps getting worse. His wife appears on the news, pleading for him to come back so he can paint their living room. The engineer rages at the TV claiming he didn't do anything. Eventually the priest appears again. They talk. He asks the engineer if he thinks running away, not being noticed, is the same thing as Innocence. Eventually, in a brilliant finale, the engineer turns himself in. He is arrested with TV cameras rolling whilst the action is played out behind him on the TV in his motel room. 

It's a great story and well worth reading despite the fact I've just told you what happens! 

What I found interesting was that it engaged with exactly the same theme I was hoping to use in my story. I'm still going to write mine. Rather than the Deep South it will be more South London. In fact I'm going to cease blogging right now to go and make a start...


  1. Reading this collection at the moment, and thoroughly enjoying it. Tim Gautreaux makes you take stock of yourself and your writing - his stuff is so centred in place, and character, with a sure grip on the vernacular... it's classic storytelling, about ordinary people making tough decisions. Sounds worthy, but it's not. It's also very funny.

  2. Hi Brian, massively underrated author I think. Sounds like you write too? Written some short fiction myself. If I could write like Gautreaux I think I would die happy!