Editor’s note: Kierstin Bridger is nothing if not arch.  And the 2011 winner of Telluride Arts’ Mark Fischer Poetry Prize is now a regular contributor (or becoming regular) to Telluride Inside… and Out. Kierstin joins our family of wonderful writers, among them, Word Woman Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “Feelosophy” major David Feela, and Denver-based writer Mark Stevens. Read all the way through her latest story to find the connection to April Fool’s Day. Promise, it’s there, buried within Kerstin’s purple prose.

Tara had the “mannequin look” down. She’d been perfecting it for years. Her body hair had been laser removed, her makeup tattooed and because it made showering and redressing easier, she kept her head shaved and any number of wigs in her handbag. That’s what she told people, but honestly, being a blonde pixie one day and a shy redhead the next was intoxicating. When she couldn’t be someone else, she ran. The sway and dimple of ordinary flesh repelled her so she ran at least 10 hard miles every day. She ran to work, to the store, to the gym.

She also ran up her credit card. The final touch was scheduled for today; eyelash extensions, so she wouldn’t have to futz with the daily hassle of glue and cutting the false ones in half. It all made perfect sense to her. She relished the elegance of efficiency, health, and magazine-model beauty, but her perfection seemed to put other women off. Tara told herself she’d rather stick a fork in her eye than devote her time to giggling over cocktail lunches, listening to the blather over exhausting schedules, nanny woes, or the drone of diet dilemmas. Planning, people…Planning and discipline! She wanted to shout.

This morning’s run was steep. She was desperate to feel the burn of tendon stretching, metatarsal touching down, the sweet asphalt smack and quick release. The momentary flight was addictive, as was the quick tempo of her heart through her birdcage chest. Her father had phoned earlier that morning. Her uncle Billy had shot himself in the foot… again.

This had to be the universe testing her patience. It was going to throw her whole day off schedule to have to travel to her podunk hometown to see her idiot uncle. She strapped on her latex barefoot method shoes. Before tapping her runner’s playlist she scrolled through her email and Facebook messages. Her pious country cousin had written as her status: “250 people lost their jobs at BPI due to removing ‘pink slime’ from meat. God be with those families during this time.”

Tara rolled her eyes back into her weary skull. Were we supposed to feel sorry for Nazi soldiers suddenly out of work because Europe was liberated, feel bad that cock handlers can’t make a decent living at the fights in this country anymore, cry for asbestos manufacturers, and ivory poachers because the elephants are all but gone? Her teeth clenched in a customary, almost soothing grind. She had planned to start her run with the mantra, Peace is within you, peace surrounds you. Now she was all drunken sailor under her breath, cursing her stupid cousin and her naïve concern.

Normally she hid the political diatribes, the gamers, the rednecks, the poor excuses, and most of all her family. Lately, she had been labeled anti-social and snobby a few too many times for comfort. She noticed her Friends list waning. It wasn’t the communication that had ever counted, it was the number. Her appearance was streamlined, that must be what irritated them. Apparently, her latest passion, harnessing the divine, was more than they could take.

Logically she knew working on the inside was what mattered. A hunger for attention and approval left her feeling pathetic. Transcendence was where it was at-anything to lose herself. People just didn’t get it. So what if people thought her too serious or boring. She didn’t drink, she didn’t party. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a meal with anyone but a client, not even at the Ashram where she had fasted.

Thinking it in such crystalline terms made her shudder. Maybe it was working. She was becoming removed. It was like her dirty little secret, no one could understand how it felt to control the uncontrollable. It felt better than a first kiss, a sneeze, better than a new dress, even better than Botox. She wondered if it might be enlightenment approaching or just a settling in of deep, intransigent apathy and disdain.

Hopefully not, the fact was she was starting to feel lighter and lighter. Her 20-minute-a-day meditation began to morph into 40 minutes. Letting go, allowing the concerns of the body to melt away into non-judgment was becoming almost too easy. Closing her eyes to the chaos of the outside world was the bliss she’d yearned for as long as she could remember.

Even though her Doctor had only suggested meditation, Tara thought levitation seemed a laudable next step though there was the irksome equation of water that still had her vexed. She had to hydrate to run and because she existed on a near ascetic’s diet she had to drink literally a gallon of water a-day. As a result she had to slip away to the powder room more often than a sustained meditation would allow.

The music on her smart phone was interrupted by the buzz of an incoming call. Her father’s voice sounded desperate and small. Billy had lost a lot of blood this time. He was in the hospital and lucid only in short bursts. She tried to visualize her irritation with her family as a black balloon she could pop, but the balloon reemerged and multiplied in her imagination with every hammer of the ball of her foot, with every splayed toe kiss of pavement.

Human connection made enlightenment more and more elusive. She started to shake. Detachment is key, detachment is the freaking key.

Billy was a practical joker. He had a bimbo from the bar over to his mother’s house, as he had recently moved back in. He was showing her how Annie Oakley must have wowed the crowds with her gunplay. Her Uncle’s sad and unfortunate props included a taxidermied St. Bernard set atop Tara’s grandmother’s washing machine . . . on spin cycle. Of course someone got hurt.

According to Tara’s father, Billy had gotten cantankerous and rude with the bimbo and shooed her off saying he was fine. So she left him there to bleed. He finally crawled to the phone to call his brother but Tara’s father, having been fooled too many times on April 1 to believe it was serious, told him to put a cold beer on it and call him in the morning.

Fifteen minutes after he’d hung up the phone Tara’s father heard the familiar yowl of an ambulance.

Regret was something that ran in the family, regret and extremes. The first time Billy shot himself he had just returned from Vietnam. He had a pistol in his pants, his waistband to be exact. He wanted to show off his fast draw, when it went off with an unexpected BLAM.

The second time there was even less sympathy, he’d been married to a waterbed of a woman for some years. Both smelled sickly sweet like pot and maple syrup, like the spring smoke of burning ditches. “Cleaning his arsenal” was his excuse, “Thought I’d emptied the chamber,” he’d said. The truth was he’d been hiding from his wife. He wanted to scare her when she opened the closet door. He got bored when she didn’t come right away and started spinning the trigger guard.

The moment Tara walked into the hospital and inhaled the familiar stench of ammonia and floor wax she felt queasy. The last thing she wanted was to get sucked back in. She took a tug of her water bottle and opened the door to her uncle’s room.

“Hey kid, get yer hide down to the fillin’ station, buy me the cheapest smokes they got.” It was his standard request. She’d been hearing it since she was old enough to cross the street on her own.

“What the hell happened to you?” he asked. She looked down at her shirt, thinking maybe she’d dribbled water on herself. She looked back up and into his crazy eyes. He had a double cheeseburger in his maw. “You’re skin and bones girl, here, have a bite.” She resisted the urge to vomit.

In and out of lucidity my ass. She frowned. He looks healthy enough to walk to the nearest bar. His foot did have a bandage, but still. He reached for her hand. “Tara, we’re worried.”

Then her Dad walked in the room, and her mom with big sad eyes, and then her aunt Theresa, and Kurt, wearing a “Denial is a big river’” T-shirt. He was as close as the family had to a shrink. The jig was up; she could feel it in her brittle little bones.

Her intervention wasn’t like the ones you see on TV.  It wasn’t sensitive and tearful. It was a one-way ticket to feeding tubes and the dreaded lock-down. She’d give anything to have seen it coming; at least she could have had a spare set of eyelashes in her purse, a warmer scarf for meditation, anything, a book on tape to escape, something to ease the loneliness. She was starving for a little comfort.

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