Water Valley is a small town--the main street is named Main Street, the one Thai restaurant fills the exotic culture quotient, and everyone looks forward to the annual Crappie Fest. But there are a ton of artists and musicians living there, and damn if they don't know how to have a good time on a Friday night. A band was playing downtown, and both Bozarts Gallery and the newly opened Yalo Studio had their doors open. We stayed in Yalo for quite a while, lured in by the works of John Henry Toney, Coulter Fussell, and Megan Kingery Patton and the buzz of lively conversation. It didn't hurt that they were serving champagne punch, homemade guacamole with chips and spicy salsa, and great juicy slices of watermelon.
The moment I saw Megan's work, my hunch was confirmed. This was the woman whose work I had fallen with a year ago, when I visited Taylor Arts. The series I'd seen was from her graduating show at Ole Miss, where she earned her BFA in 2002: a series of haunted and haunting images of girls. Christine, the owner, had explained that the canvasses were inspired in part by the premature passing of Megan's mother, the girls she left behind.
Megan also happens to waitress at one of the local hangouts, Ajax Diner. On my many trips back to Oxford, I'd always wanted to introduce myself and say I was a fan of her work. But I can be shy sometimes, believe it or not.
I walked to the very back of the long shotgun space, where a big portrait of two girls sat on an easel. "That's her and her sister," a man standing nearby said to me, before introducing himself as Megan's father. And then I looked down and--on the floor, leaned modestly against the easel's legs--there it was. The painting.
If you've ever been to my apartment, you know I only hang original work on the walls: my mother's prints, things from local DC galleries, work by friends I've met at art colonies over the years. For each of my first two books, I bought a work of art to celebrate publication. But I've been living so lean these past two years--ever since I quit my job and began to rely on my writing--that I haven't been able to buy anything. And I couldn't imagine being able to afford something to celebrate the release of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl come July.
I asked to be introduced to Megan, who is beautiful--tall, slender, with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. I nervously asked about the little painting at the back. Was it still for sale? How much?
"Oh, that old one? I'll give it to you for a hundred dollars."
"Really?" I said.
My heart bobbled up in my chest like a balloon. I could have kissed her. $100? I'll take it. I'll take it even though that's half of my whole Kroger budget for my time in Oxford. I'll take it even if it means I end up paying the interest to float it on my credit card bill until the next book payment arrives in July. I'll take it, I'll take it, I'll take it.
So here she is. My painting. My girl. My celebration of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl.
Thank you so much, Megan, for trusting me with her.