The Tiny Town Beauty Pageant and Government Grant Contest

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Photo by Paul Martini.

Story by Dessa Hadenfeldt

Bluff had been looking forward to this since the moment she heard she was incorporated. Backstage was thrilling, and everywhere she looked there was color. And smells. She could feel them going to her head. Fresh and salt water sprays. Palm and aspen leaves. Cactus and apple fruits. Earth rich with mulch that sat thick on the back of tongues and her own fine dust that tickled nostrils. Past winners heaved their ever-growing weight around to whisper tips and tricks to the rookies. Territories and states ran through the halls holding hands or talked together in huddles outside. This. This was where she belonged.

Looking down at her daywear landscape, Bluff spun into the mirror. Her reds were bright. The violet Four O’clocks sipping at water spared by the already bloated sage… perfect. The curves of canyons mysterious and shadowed. Every wall of stone stood tall and strong. Her softness caught by the airy motion of her walk and small puffs of clay at her feet. Just enough frill. No need to be outrageous.

All the towns primping and the charge in the air brought the young town from Washington to rain. One from California had a full-on electrical fire right across her hills. It was all very scary. Bluff and the other towns rushing to dab with tissue or spray with water. If they were going to do this, it would be together. No need to kick anytown when it was down, and congeniality definitely got one farther than attitude ‘round here.

Just a few moments between the hustle and bustle of the greenroom and the opening of the curtains. Bluff readied herself with one more look at her surroundings. She didn’t want to brag, but she was pretty certain she had a chance at top scores in the evening landscape portion. Black sky so bright with stars she was aware her shape would disappear until she turned, caught the spotlight just right, and cast a graceful shadow towards the audience. Her talent was real but fun and required many pieces she had laid out across her space. Hide drums, feathered hairpieces, turquoise pendants, kitten-soft moccasins. Everything where she would need it to be. The steps of her dance were an amalgam of tribal choreography. Bluff had been working on it for years in anticipation of this. Win, lose, or draw, her people would be proud of Bluff. Her fans. Her posse. Her loves. She had their support, always. She felt ready. The music swelled…

— Dessa Hadenfeldt, a Bluff resident and grant enthusiast, is following the town’s application for a Community Development Block Grant with the emotional investment people often reserve for watching The Voice.