Adrienne Marie Barrios

The Sixth Stage of Grief is Pretending

Miriam woke up. It had been a long time since Miriam had simply woken up—no alarm, no cat pawing at her head with nails that tended to get sharp long before Miriam would remember to trim them. She simply woke up. And then she remembered.

No matter.

Miriam got out of bed, put on her housecoat, fastened its many metal buttons, and walked to the bathroom inside her room. She turned on the light and sat on the toilet to pee and waited with the door open. And then she remembered.

Who closes the door when they live alone, anyway?

Miriam brushed her teeth, put on her socks and slippers, and walked down the hall to the kitchen to get her Prilosec. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard silence this loud. She didn’t care for it. She swallowed her Prilosec and walked past the untouched litter box over to the television, dug through the little junk bowl for her lighting-to-aux adapter, plugged in her iPhone X, and switched on her small speakers using the silver knob at the back. Count Basie, on low. Miriam returned to the kitchen to make her breakfast—or, rather, assemble. She took her jar of overnight oats out of the fridge and spooned a small amount into a small bowl. She spooned in some pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s. She eyed the lemon curd, looked at the nutritional info, and put it back in the fridge. She topped it with pumpkin seeds. She sat at her small wooden table and ate in near silence, whiffs of big band hits drifting in from the other room. No one bothered her at all.

And isn’t that nice?

Miriam cleared her dishes and put them in the sink. She stood for approximately four minutes in the kitchen while the water boiled for her tea. She stood staring at the cabinet of cat food, small cans stacked neatly in rows each seven high, the second shelf full of various flavors and textures he’d never liked. Her monthly order had come only two days before. The electric kettle beeped five times and Miriam poured the hot water over the loose-leaf tea in her travel mug, setting the timer on her watch for seven minutes. She liked her tea strong. She covered it and left it to steep as she walked back to the bedroom to change. She unbuttoned the many metal buttons on her robe, hung it in the closet, and put on her easiest clothes—leggings, an oversized dark-red sweater still spotted with loose fur. She dragged a brush through her hair. The timer buzzed on her wrist, and she walked back to the kitchen. She removed the tea, discarded the leaves in the waste bin, washed the strainer, and stirred in some monk fruit extract and evaporated milk. She looked at the time. She put the red lid on her travel mug and gathered her things, setting them on the console table by the front door. She grabbed her brown leather boots from the shelf underneath, set her slippers in their place, and sat on the opposing bench—filled with bags of cat litter—to zip them up. She put on her coat, fastened its many buttons, and slid a pair of gloves in her pocket. She grabbed her travel mug and her purse and walked out the door. As she went to lock it from the outside, she remembered her phone and pushed back through the door into her dark, silent apartment—no cat trying to sneak out, no meows, no purring. A single cloud of fur swirled in the sudden whoosh of air from the pressure of the door, and it caught the light leaking through the curtains on the front window, and she imagined him there one last time, jumping for the illusion of something alive floating in the ether, and she imagined her chest bursting in that very instant. She grabbed her phone and unplugged the speakers with a loud pop, not bothering to turn them off, and left, pretending he might be there when she returned.

And wouldn’t that be something?

Adrienne Marie Barrios has work forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, superfroot mag, and Sledgehammer Lit. She is editor-in-chief of Reservoir Road Literary Review and edits short stories and award-winning novels. Find her online at