Shelby whizzed through the door with blonde hair flying and cleavage bouncing.
“Mama might be coming in to check on things this week!” she shouted over the clanging bell. The bell settled into miffed silence. Shelby and that bronze sentry always tried to out-yowl each other, and the bell always lost.
Shelby dropped a pile of files and art magazines on the desk. “Calm down.” Tipsy tapped Shelby’s yin and yang tattoo. Her off button. “We’re having a pretty good month.”
“It’s been okay, but it’s tourist season. We need to be slingin’ some art.”
“You’re a Picasso pimp. You’re a Hans Holbein hustla.” Tipsy did a suitable white girl bootie grind against Shelby’s rear end, but Shelby had no sense of humor when it came to appeasing Elizabeth Patterson. Besides, although Shelby could easily live off her family’s money, she took pride in her work. She’d been running the Good Queen Bess Art Gallery for her mother for years.
Tipsy had first visited the GQB in college. It occupied two floors of an old tenement building in the French Quarter. The neighbors included two other art galleries, an antiques dealer and a shop that sold high-end, handmade home accessories and lighting fixtures. Elizabeth Patterson had been the first person to sell Tipsy’s work in those post-college days of overflowing ideas. Tipsy adored everything about the GQB, from its foggy old windows to the smell of ceramic dust to the tiny bathroom where she had to pull her knees toward her chest to take a pee.
“We show some good stuff in GQB, but no geniuses,” said Shelby. “Only genius around here is the one working behind the counter.”
Here it comes, said Granna. If she weren’t so right I’d say that nag was walloped dead five times over.
“You painted anything yet?” Shelby continued as she alternately tossed some papers in the trash and added the rest to the pile under the desk.
Tipsy saw no need to pussyfoot around. “No.”
“Honey, you promised!”
“I’m trying. People keep saying to me, you’re going through a hard time, so pour it into your work. That doesn’t happen for me. When I’m stressed, or sad—” She shrugged. “I’m not good at the tortured artist routine.”
“I hear you. I’m not going to patronize you by going on about your creative outlets and all that bullshit. That last painting—”
“It felt like a fluke.”
“It sold for four grand in five days.”
Tipsy rubbed both hands across her face. That painting, Tipsy’s first real work in over eight years, had woken something in her. It had followed months of increasingly frenetic sketching. First a few times a week, then every day, until she’d come across Mary Pratt sitting on Ayers’s parents’ dock, holding the string of a bright blue birthday balloon. The image had burned a hole into Tipsy’s mind, like sunlight after she’d closed her eyes. It dogged her until she transferred it to canvas, just like in the old days. It hurt to think about it. In the act of rousing Tipsy, it forced her to face reality, and therefore abandon the passion it had revived. She’d asked Ayers to move out soon after, and hadn’t painted a thing since.
Shelby put her hands on her hips. “Look, Tipsy. I love you, so I’m telling you true. You should be exhibiting in this place. Not minding the desk and directing lost tourists to the carriage rides. How are you and the kids going to survive once you have to leave Miss Callie’s? Do you think Ayers will pay up?”
“I’m not getting anything else from him but the fourteen hundred bucks a month he pays me in child support.”
“So he lives high on the hog with his parents bankrolling him on the side, while you’re scraping by without any GD freakin’ alimony.”
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