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Jane & Marshall’s Murder Door

By: Todd Mercer

In the 1970s we bought silly clothes and hideous furniture. Brady couches, puke green and burnt orange color palettes. The cool people went big for the ugly look, so with reservations, we opted for it too. Then we had to live with it. I wore cartoonish pants called bell-bottoms, while Jane favored clashing patterns like a paisley blouse matched with a checked skirt. Sometimes my eyes jumped when I spoke to her.

We moved into our second yellow house (“Casa Amarillo”), an American Four-Square with a door to nowhere on the back side of the second floor. There was a balcony under it originally, torn off in a remodel. During the initial walk-through with the real estate agent, Jane opened it and almost stepped outside.

Nail it shut, hon?

No, Jane figured we’d be all right.

She was visualizing a rebuilt balcony. When we were young then young-ish Jane devoted much thought to upcoming house projects that I didn’t yet know I’d be spending every weekend on. She handled the Visualization Department, whereas I was the Boots on the Ground.

Before she became overwhelmingly busy with real estate work, we had a series of dogs. At Casa Amarillo it was Sparky. Sparky was awesome, but not in any measurable way. He slept all day and rattled his tags around the house all night and picked up the wrong leg to pee. He was prone to chase and/or fight any other dog, squirrel, cat, hedgehog, etc.

We moved in. I was painting on a Saturday, 18 feet or so off the ground, retouching trim close to the unusable door. Jane was in the bathroom and wanted to speak to me.

She opened the door, said my name. I was surprised to see her there. Had to look away after a second. My balance was only ever fair, and her outfit made me dizzy. A raging battle between earth-tone stripes and a neon Malaysian Batik print skirt. Either one fine alone, the two impossible together. She told me what we needed from the hardware store while I looked away.

On a branch of the tree closest to the house, a squirrel perched, chattering at us.

Because my head was turned, Sparky dove out the door and was already in mid-air flying by my face by the time I realized he’d jumped. He missed the squirrel by a good eight feet and missed the balcony that used to be there by at least thirty years.

Such a terrible squall when he hit the ground. Two broken legs.

Rushing down the ladder, the hem of my flappy bellbottom pants caught in a latch.

Sparky’s history was one cheat of certain death after another. Jane drove us first to the vet, where our little buddy was fitted with casts and a cone of shame. Then we went to the hospital where doctors reset my arm and stitched up my knee. Last stop was the hardware store, because the home improvement quest must always go on.


Todd Mercer writes Fiction and Poetry in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His collection Ingenue was published in 2020 by Celery City Press. Recent work appears in Blink Ink, Live Nude Poems, and Pangolin Review.


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