birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Rainbows and Wonder

I’m snug in the wood-paneled bedroom, the pine darkened with age from ceiling to floor, creating a perfect cave for kids—or hungover adults. As if it weren’t dark enough, the plastic black-out roller shades dutifully do their job, hidden behind billowy curtains. This is the beach bedroom sulky teenagers dream about—the one that allows nonstop dreaming no matter the time of day. I’m upstairs, tucked into the iron twin bed in the back room, where I’ve spent many childhood nights reading books under the covers. Or where almost as many nights were spent listlessly thrown around with covers flayed back, my sunburned skin screaming with its own pulse. 

There’s a bookshelf at the foot of the bed. It’s one that has captivated my attention for forty years, the first thing I check when I enter the room, as if something would have changed since I was last here. I like that it hasn’t. There are paintings, charcoal drawings, ceramic dolphins, and cross-stitched art pieces flecking every wall. I never noticed how haphazardly hung they all are, at random heights and clusters. The one that always gets my attention, either because it’s directly across from my pillow, or perhaps because it shows a pair of doors, is a painting of an old Southern storefront. Doors, by themselves, are a curious thing to me. There’s something inviting about closed doors. And I love these weathered, ramshackle doors in particular. There are screen doors doing their best to seal away mosquitos, but as always the case with screen doors, they are slightly ajar, the screen buckled and torn. The top half of the weathered wooden doors is glass, painted in white, gold, and red lettering, the red drained to an anemic pink. “Rainbow is good bread,” the hand drawn, homemade ad attests. As if it wasn’t assertive enough, it’s repeated identically on the adjacent pane. Even the tiny strip of wood across each screen door hasn’t escaped the painter’s brush, claimed by a hand-painted Rainbow logo. What other brand could stand a chance against the draw of Wonder, except rainbows? 

The painting shows only the porch, the pair of front doors, and squatty bay windows flanking the entrance. Slatted blinds, half-open, show the abandoned building was left as if open for business, though shuttered long ago. The floorboards, once inviting, curl up into a snarling lip at the edge of the steps. 

I wonder where it was. It had to be an old strip of wooden buildings, shoulder to shoulder on Main Street, now far away from the center of action and activity. The artist, surely hoping to honor its presence before it faded forever from history, sealed his work with a handpainted logo of his own. In the corner is an unusual “GC” stamp, like the brand of a western cattleman, hemming the small letters that spell out “Gene Cox.” The unusual part of the painting is the wooden frame, flanked with curled rope on each corner. It’s the rope of seamen and boats, twisted into decorative loops and adding a salty flair that doesn’t fit the dusty Southern porch inside. Maybe it’s just “old Florida,” a phrase you hear a lot but rarely see, a low key, laid-back style of houses, of bare beaches, of a lifestyle long gone. It’s Old Florida I come to capture with every visit, trying to return to a life where time stands still in my safe, dark corner of the the pine bedroom.

Gifts of A Lifetime

Bookcase of the Past