Alan Turnbull’s Five Stages of Grief • Jennifer Fliss

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Margie was going to be one of our volunteers, but I revoked that privilege when I found her in the stairwell making out with Louise.


When I catch her, Margie stammers something about her earring getting lost in the neck of her shirt and that Louise was just helping her find it.
I’m sure that’s what it was.

Margie is not into girls. She isn’t one of those kinds of people, she told me just the night before another, similar incident. She brushed her crimson nails along my Adam’s apple. I buttoned her cardigan all the way to the top.


All these women around me parading around in trousers and loafer-styled shoes, like men.

There is no way I would allow Margie to touch the other women as part of the special massage demonstration. I have to be responsible. Young female minds are impressionable. To hell with Margie if she thinks she can get away with such behavior! To think I was doing her a favor! When I told her about the new lesson, she got all excited. Worried her nylon stockings that barely hid her shapely legs, with her soft, soft fingers. Tennis, she told me; the legs and all. Well, screw her tennis and her calves and her special requests. She can in no way be allowed to touch the other women.


“Margie, can we talk?” I say when I find her loitering outside the gymnasium with a cherry-stained cigarette in her hand. The girls are all wearing these tiny white athletic shorts, their breasts angular under matching white sweaters. The white is supposed to evoke purity and virginity, but those exposed thighs where they start to spread out and upwards tell me otherwise.

“I’m not going to go ape,” I say. “Just tell me the truth.”

“You told me I could be one of the volunteers,” she said. “You know I’m interested in the massage arts. In the body.”

“Yes, Margie. But given what I saw…”

“What do you think you saw?” Margie questions me, her smoky eyes aflame.

“I can’t really say. It’s too much,” I say. “The point is, I know I’ve upset you. The stairwell, well, you can do what you want. Maybe if we can just come to an understanding. Come on up to my room later. We can sort this matter all out.”

“This matter?” Margie asks.

“Yes. I have some additional materials from the masseuse. She left them behind. For us. You know, for the group to use. Study. So we can…”



I’m drinking a white Russian out of one of my mother’s teacups. They’re lovely, really. Delicate crimson roses painted on equally delicate porcelain. I also take my coffee – though I take that black – from them in the mornings. But nighttime calls for the hard stuff.

My room has been lightly ransacked. There is an indentation on the bed; someone has been sitting here, on my bed, by my pillows. My desk has been rummaged through and the folder of massage worksheets is missing. Below me, two floors of susceptible young women are asleep. I hear a noise. A creaking of a door. Padding of footsteps.

I take my drink and descend the grand stone staircase down to the second floor. Margie’s door is ajar, light spilling into the hallway — an invitation. I accept and peer in to find Caroline laying on the ground as if the world has fallen on her, when it is only Margie and her tennis legs. I am about to step in to help, but quickly realize Caroline is not upset that Margie has fallen upon her. Margie’s cardigan has three buttons undone. Worksheets litter the floor. Illustrations of the body. Instructions on where to place hands. The two women don’t look up. I turn away and begin to head back down the hallway when my teacup slips from my fingers, splinters and scatters, but no one comes.
Margie never comes to my room — not that night and not since. And I am down another teacup in my mother’s set.


I am going to do better by her. A leopard can’t change its spots, but Margie is no leopard. Her purrs are too soft. So, after dinner one night, I present her with a gift, a small jewel box with raspberry ruby studs. But, here’s the thing: Margie doesn’t wear earrings, I notice now, and I wonder how I’d gotten that notion. But she takes them and thanks me, and a week later, I see a dried drop of blood on her neck beneath newly pierced ears.



Jennifer FlissJennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in PANK, The Rumpus, Bartleby Snopes, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She recently won the Fiction Southeast Hell’s Belles Short Fiction Prize. She can be found on Twitter at @JFlissCreative or via her website,

Photo courtesy of Global Pillage

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