I wrote most of my story “One Day, One Week, An Hour,” on my iPhone. In our house with our four kids, I would hear things being said or see things being done that, I realized, needed to be documented.
“What do monkey’s hands look like?” one of the kids asked from the dining room, and I had to stop whatever I was doing, thinking for a moment, Why would anyone ask that question? What sort of homework or project could the kids be working on? And come to think of it, what exactly DO monkey’s hands look like?
That’s the sort of thing that needs to be recorded. So I took out my phone and sent myself an email. I began to do this regularly. Small moments of wonder, silliness, sometimes unintended significance. I documented each one in a short email.
In the mornings, when I wrote, I’d take these short emails—rarely more than a few sentences long—and they’d turn into whole scenes. Short scenes, sometimes, maybe a paragraph or two. Sometimes they’d turn into a scene a few pages long. The short emails from my phone were, though, almost always the trigger for what I wrote those mornings at my desk.
I wrote scene after scene this way until I realized I had some sort of novel underway. Unstructured, out of order, without a plan for a beginning, middle, or end, I kept writing these scenes for months and months.
Meanwhile, by day and night I documented the offhandedly bizarre behavior not just of the kids, but of my wife and me. We live a strange existence, four kids (at that time aged 8-11) who, because we are remarried, come and go every other day, on a rhythm that now is second nature to us, but leaves most people dumbstruck when we tell them our schedule.
“The kids are with you every other day?” people will ask, and it seems strange to them, even if they too are divorced. “We do every other week and I’ve heard of people who have their kids three days on, four days off. But every other day?”
Yes, we always say, my wife and me. We’ve done it forever. We’re with the kids every day. You’re either always sending them to school, or getting them from home, and sure, no one wants to be divorced, but there’s a continuity to it.
And while to me as a parent there is tremendous continuity in this schedule, it may actually be that very schedule, and the frequent if short absences of the children, that led me to see in such a strange light so much of what they do. They plow into the house in a crashing near roar, asking about monkey’s hands and the size of a nostril and duct taping one another to stray pieces of furniture.
It is, to say the least, a notable change from the relative quiet we experience when they are gone.
And so I kept writing. Short emails to myself as I stood aside in the kitchen, listening and watching. A series of scenes in the early morning inspired by those notes.
Eventually, as is often the case, I found a plot for the novel, which rambles along from scene to scene on a rhythm and toward a point unclear to the reader. The story, which is taken from the novel, is the same. The family at the center of the story isn’t trying to achieve some grand ambition. They’re not on the verge of disaster or panic.
They are, quite simply, crashing along, moment to moment, sometimes in silence, sometimes with a roar.
Eric Barnes is the author of the novels Something Pretty, Something Beautiful (Outpost19) and Shimmer (Unbridled Books). His stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, Best American Short Stories, and more. He is publisher of The Daily News and The Nashville Ledger. His story "One Day, One Week, An Hour" appears in issue 298.2.
Painting by Henri Charles Guérard