by Patrick Douglas Legay

People were facing out from their front porches, talking low and drinking from tall cans or plastic wine stems. The lawnmowers and leaf blowers had been quiet for hours, though the air still held the smell of cut grass. On its way down, the sun threw a bright golden streak across the houses on the east side of the street. Vehicles rarely passed.  

But a man’s voice, loud with anger, was hurrying down the sidewalk. A man in his early thirties, speaking into his smartphone. He was lashing out, then pleading, and then lashing out. He listened, his voice changed and he said, “Babe, babe, slow down… slowdown slow down slow down.” Then she must have slowed down because he said, “You’ve won.” He trotted ahead, and said, “Why? You’ve won, babe, you’ve won.”

He stopped and was listening again. He pulled the phone right down to his lips and snapped, “Jeanie, you put what on my phone?” He looked at the device in his palm for a moment.

He pressed the phone back to his ear, listened, shook his head, took a few brisk steps, gulped his Adam’s apple and said, “Fine. Then I’m gonna go home and break everything. I’m gonna wreck the apartment… Good. Call the police then. Call the police.”

He hung up and put the phone in his pocket.

Someone was following him. Steps from behind matched his pace. It was a man with long grey locks and a beer can in his hand. He shouted like it was a joke, “Hey buddy, you do know threatening damage to property s’a crime, right?”

The younger man stopped and turned around. “Da fuck you say to me?” 
“She’s got you,” the grey locks said. 
“Fuck you.” He turned and walked again. 
The older man followed, lagging a little behind, sighed, and said, “Boy, are you going to regret this, going back there now.” 
The younger man stopped and turned back again. 
Grey locks added, “That’s all I’m saying… I’ve been there.” He was taller than the younger man and was now offering a little white business card. 
The younger man reached out, took it, flipped it over, and read. “Life coach… you’re a life coach?”
“It ain’t my first canoe trip, pal.”

They were sitting on the porch, drinking. The younger man was talking. The life coach was sitting beside him on the other plastic chair, listening, nodding, smoking.

“So now she thinks I’m the asshole… and yeah I admit I allowed things with this other person to get inappropriate, but she was being so cold to me… like a dead fish…” The younger man, the asshole, smiled, but then got serious again. “She should have known I was unhappy… I can’t close myself off to the world. And she’s got no fucking right to put that spyware shit on my phone. That’s like a huge trust violation, right?” 
“I see,” said the life coach, blowing smoke. It was almost dark, and the wind had picked up. Big, billowy clouds were passing over the street, glowing in the remaining light. 
The asshole took a drink, looked out onto the street and said, “I told her my needs weren’t being met. I was open about that.”
“What did she say?”
“She just interrogated the shit out of me about it. Like made it a big negative thing I wish I had never brought up… And I was just telling the truth… That her controlling behavior was driving us apart… That like she’s just not an effusive person, you know, doesn’t bring a flow of energy to a room.” 
“And she’ll say she’s depressed all the time just as an excuse to get out of doing things.”
“That sounds rough.”
“Yeah…” The asshole took a long drink. “It’s a lie anyhow… That you can get what you need from just one person for your whole life.”
“That’s one way to see it,” the life coach said. 
“Women don’t seem to see it like that.” 
“You gotta meet more women.”
“Yeah and maybe you can hook me up with some, eh? That’s the idea?”
“I can talk you through it, if that’s what you want.”
“I don’t need to be talked through it.” He finished his beer. 
“I didn’t think so.” The life coach handed him a fresh one from the ice bucket. 
He opened it and chugged it all the way down without stopping. He burped, crushed the can between his palms, wiped his mouth and said, “I guess I still need another.”
The life coach tossed him one. 
“Thanks.” He opened it, took a gulp, set the can on the porch railing in front of him and said, “She lives just up the street, you know.”
“No. LJ.”
“The other one?”
“How far up the street?”
“Well, like a few blocks or more.”
“So, how’d that come about?” 
“It came about the way it comes about… Jeanie was the hottest girl I could get, until I met LJ.” 
“Oh yeah?”
“Yup. For sure. She’s a 10, LJ is, for sure man. Jeanie’s like a low 8, but LJ, man, whoa, god, fuck, whoa, you wouldn’t believe.” He drew an hour-glass shape in front of him with both palms.
“I’d believe it.”
“I bet.”
“Ok, so what do you want from Jeanie?”
“I dunno. For her to have more energy, more passion about life, be more of a changemaker, like take a little pride in herself… And be more open, want to do things… Like an open relationship.”
“Is she into that?”
“You talked about it?”
“What about LJ?”
“Well, I dunno… She sorta seems stuck on the idea that Jeanie and my relationship is like… you know, like basically a little open.”
“A little open?”

The life coach opened a new tall can and chugged it all the way down. He belched horrendously, crushed the empty into his chest, opened a new one, took a gulp and said, “You’ve put yourself in a pinch. But there’s some things you can do to give it a go.”

“First thing is text Jeanie. Tell her you’re not coming home, tell her you’re sorry for getting upset over the phone, but you just have so many feelings about her and all that — we’ll work out the wording — and say you think it’s best if she spent some time on her own, you know, give you some space, but you’ll contact her when you feel it’s right.”
“Damage control, bud. Like I said, she may have already called someone about your threat, so a record of you saying the opposite could help, and also you’re the one saying there should be space, but you’re not saying it’s anything more permanent than that.”
“Ok, that’s good. But where will I stay?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere but with either of them. We’ll figure that out later.”
“Ok, then what?”
“Then you leave it. Occupy yourself with something that doesn’t involve them. Best case scenario she responds before long, you start a back-and-forth, and go from there. Worst case is no response, then you hit her with a sudden voice call. She answers, you take it from there — we’ll work out the angles beforehand — if she won’t answer, we’ll try something else.”
“Ok. I’ll think about it.”
“You’re also liable for more trouble with LJ.”
“LJ? How?”
“Yup. With your relationship with Jeanie up in the air, you might get hooked into something formal with LJ — just to keep seeing her, like her saying now’s the time to decide whether it’s her or me sort of thing.”
“Yeah, but I could make that work if I needed.”
“Then why not just do that?”
“Huh? I don’t want to break up with Jeanie.”
“You don’t?”
“Why not?”
“I told you, man. She’s fucking great. I love her. She’s great with my parents. She’s great for me.”
“Ok, but it seems like you’re saying Plan B isn’t all that bad either.”
“So it seems like your main pickle is figuring out what you want.”
“Yeah, how do you just ‘figure out what you want?’”
“Don’t get stuck on what you think you should want.”
“What I should want?”
“Jeanie’s what I should want?”
“Uh… that’s what you gotta answer, bud.”
“Look. I got another idea. For you, for your own well-being, you need to take your mind elsewhere, experience something outside… Here let me show you something.” The life coach stood up and motioned to follow him into the house.

The younger man was shaky and stumbled when he got up. “You want me to drop acid with you or some shiiiit?”

They went down a hallway of creaking hardwood. The life coach turned his head and spoke as they went. “Nope. Haha. Not that. What I’m talking about is reconnecting with nature. With your natural being as a man.”

They entered a living room decorated with African stuff, but not real African stuff. It was Pottery Barn African stuff. Sculptures of lions, antelope, and cartoonish people with spears on the coffee table, the end table, and the bookcase. There were masks with grotesque faces dotting every wall. The bookcase had books on hunting, animals, and guns, and also a lot of self-help type stuff, with titles like How to Make Friends and Influence PeopleGetting to Yes, and Conversational Jiu-Jitsu (which, unlike the others, was bound with cerlox and labelled by a label maker). 

“Whoa,” said the asshole. 
The life coach was digging for something between the couch cushions. 
“Reconnecting with nature… like hippie shit?”
“No, sir. The opposite.” He pulled out a set of keys from the cushions and unlocked the cabinet on the wall. It was a rack of hunting rifles. He pulled one out and offered it muzzle up. 
“I mean killing prey.”

They got up early, drove for five hours and a bit, parked in a shallow ditch, and after some target practice at the end of an old logging road, were now walking in the wilderness with their backpacks full of beer. 

The asshole was hungover as fuck, and his back was twinging from the life coach’s uncomfortable as fuck pull-out bed. He tried to sleep on the way in the truck, but the suspension was shot and the life coach drove too fast. 

He was walking slow and groaning. The life coach was a little ahead through the trees. “We got a proper oasis up ahead, don’t you worry, son.”

“What if I gotta take a shit?” 
“Then you find yourself a spot that looks good for shitting and you take a shit. Here’s the spade and toilet paper.”

The asshole went off behind some trees. When he got back, the life coach was sitting on a mound of moss, smoking a cigarette.  

Now the life coach fell behind, but would call up in a stage whisper to “go a little left,” or “keep going,” and so on. 

Then the asshole was coming down the slope through the trees. He saw something at the bottom, something chewing and looking up at him with big, sweet brown eyes and a black button nose.

It was a doe. She was still chewing, smelling the men, who seemed like something she should keep away from, but her stomach felt hollow, this good berry tree hadn’t yet been picked over, and the smelly men were stopping at a distance. She stretched her neck down for some low ones.  

The asshole rushed to get his gun off his shoulder, and shot.

The bullet sliced across the back of her neck, ripping it open in one lash, and the sound popped an instant later. She didn’t cry out. The pain quieted her. She just took off, dumb with fright, and ran as best she could, exploding with adrenaline, her sight was blurred, her muscles heavy, and her breath gargled with blood. She was running to the water.

The men followed the line of bloody leaves until it ran out, but found no body. They looked for a while longer, then the life coach told him again that everyone misses their first chance and the asshole swore. 

“You always got more time to line up than you think.”

They were amongst some tall, ancient spruces, and they were coming up to a drop off down into a gully, but the life coach said to keep going. After a few steps, he said “Stop,” and told him to “look up, we’re here.”

“I don’t see anything but pine trees…”
“Look harder — see that flat green part?” 
The life coach reached over and found a wire nailed to a trunk. He pulled, a trap door opened in the flat green part, and a ladder slid down. “Look out,” he said.
“Whoa. You got a secret treehouse?”
“Yup. A deer blind.”

They went up the ladder. There were two worn-out faux leather swivel chairs, a coffee table, ashtray, binoculars, a cooler in one corner, and a metal box in another. 

The life coach propped open the shutters on their hinges, so they could see out on the sides, and sat in a chair. He aimed his rifle out one side, made shooting noises like a little boy playing army and said, “This way you can shoot at what comes drinking at the bog down there.” Then he swiveled his chair around to the opposite side, aimed, made some more shooting noises and said, “And here you can shoot at what comes along the track there… but keep that muzzle up when you turn in, careful we don’t shoot each other swiveling.”

“This is fucking awesome.”
“Had it for years,” the life coach said, emptying the backpacks into the cooler. “Me and a former client built it, then pulled it out here on his ATV. You can shoot lots of things here. Deer, ducks, loons.”
“Anything else?”
“What more ya need?” 
“A fucking lion.”
“Heh, I hear ya. Might be a bobcat come through, but we’d never see it long enough.”
“Nice. A fucking bobcat.” The asshole aimed out the window, shaking the barrel, “Pow. Kapow. Pow.”
When he put two beers on the coffee table, the asshole pushed his away and said, “I’m good for now.”
Before the life coach sat back down, he handed him the metal box. 
“A lunch box?”
The asshole opened it and didn’t find any lunch. Vintage porn mags. Mostly 80s Penthouse. All creased and wavy.
“Sweet.” He flipped through the pages, clicking his teeth and saying, “Daamn,” then showed one to the life coach and said, “Man, I’d love to get her.”
“Man, look at those nipples. So hot.”
“Yup, I know. Got ’em memorized. Seen ’em a thousand times. ”
“That’s just it, right?”
“The-only-seeing-one-chick-for-life thing. They get memorized and that’s it.”
“Well, if you think of her the same as a still shot in a porn mag, then maybe you don’t really like her all that much.”
The asshole shook his head, and reached into his empty pants pocket. “Fuck,” he said. 
“I fucking forgot my phone at your place when you rushed me outta there.”
“Jesus, boy. Maybe just let yourself be free of entanglements for a little while.” 

The life coach finished his beer, took another from the cooler, opened it and chugged it down. He belched, wiped his mouth, and took another can. 
“I don’t charge for my services, but some tell me I should,” said the life coach.
“Oh yeah?”
“Yup. But, I’m here to help. I think people should help one another.”
“And my thinking is that if anyone don’t feel my help is valuable, then maybe they shouldn’t get it in the first place.”
“Ok… What do you mean help?”
“Well, anything really, useful advice, assistance, depends on what’s needed and what you want to do… But, as an example, I need some lumber to re-build my back deck at the house — I’m worried my poor 87 year old momma is gonna fall through those rotten planks when she visits, she loves sitting out there — or some new insulated windows so my heat bills ain’t so bad, or a truck, the old Chev’s on its last legs, costs too much to keep running, really.”
“Are you fucking serious?”

The life coach stared at him with a hard look and said nothing. It was quiet. He didn’t move, didn’t even take a drink. Just sat there staring.

“Alright,” said the asshole. “We’ll talk about it. But I still have to be won over more by your ‘help everybody’ philosophy. And how bout this to start — we bag this deer, I’ll buy dinner.” 

They sat quietly for awhile, then the asshole picked up his beer, opened it, and chugged. He choked, some came back up, he tried to swallow it back and keep chugging, but vomited all over the cooler. 

“Jesus,” said the life coach.
“Fuck. Sorry… Oh, it stinks too.” He rinsed the puke off the cooler with the rest of his beer. “Sorry,” he said again.
The life coach took the porn mags from the asshole’s lap and put them back in their box.
“We bring anything other than beer?”
“No,” the life coach said, sipping. 

A bird landed on the tree below them, and the life coach lined it up with the sights of his gun. It took off again, and he relaxed.

“Where do you think that stupid deer got to?”
“Dying a painful death.”
“Nah, it’s still out there, running.”
“Keep quiet,” said the life coach, swiveling around on his chair and looking down the sights of his gun out onto the trees. 

The asshole swiveled too and looked out. After a while, the life coach turned back to look at the bog, but the asshole didn’t. He stayed scanning the trees with his rifle. He heard a rustle, saw something move, followed with his gun and said, “It’s that frikkin deer.”

“Where?” the life coach swiveled back.
The asshole concentrated through one eye down the sights, leaned back in his chair, relaxed his shoulders, and shot. The bullet travelled far enough to hit a tree in the same moment the life coach screamed horribly shrill and fell off his chair, holding his ear. 
“You blew my fucking drum, asshole!”
“The barrel was at my ear!”
“Holy shit.” He looked down at his rifle. “I didn’t know that was a thing.”
“Just shut the fuck up.” The life coach stood over him for a second, then stumbled across to the ladder, rifle in hand. 

He sat and listened for a second to the sound of the life coach swearing and stomping through the brush, then he took his rifle and went down the ladder. 

The life coach chain-smoked the whole drive back. One hand on the wheel and the other for the cigarette, or to wipe blood from his ear with the rag he got from the glove compartment. The asshole asked him if he was alright, but he never answered, just kept driving with one hand and that crazed look on his face.

It got dark, and even though it was bumpy, he eventually dozed, and woke to the life coach putting it in park in the driveway. The front door to the house was open. 

The place had been trashed. The masks and pictures, everything from the walls, were in pieces on the floor all the way down the hall and everywhere in the living room. The bookshelf was knocked over, the books spread over the floor and stuff from the fridge had been thrown against the walls. A lot of eggs had been smashed against the gun cabinet, but it was left closed. The word “Asshole” was smeared in dried mustard in big block letters on one wall. Directly below it sat a stool with candles, burnt out, and the asshole’s smartphone standing up in the middle like it was some kind of a shrine. 

The life coach was transfixed, mouthing the word from the wall, then said, “Get the fuck out.” 

“Me? Why?”
“This has nothing… Fine. No wonder you live alone in this big house, old man. You’re so fucking full of yourself.” The asshole moved to retrieve the smartphone, but before he could the life coach grabbed it, cocked back his arm, and smashed it as hard as he could against the hardwood. 
“What the fuck?”  

The life coach shoved him and said, “Go,” then shoved him again and said, “Now!” The asshole took an awkward swing, and grazed him with a clumsy punch. The life coach growled and hit back hard. He instantly crumpled, and the life coach was over him, kicking him, stomping him, punching down lefts and rights and calling him a “fucking idiot.” The asshole, lying on the ground, put his arms up, and whined, “Stoopp.” 

The life coach stopped, picked him up under the shoulders, dragged him down the hall, flung him out onto the porch, and slammed the door.

He lied there a few moments, then got up on his arms, crawled to the steps and pulled himself up to sit. He sat clutching his ribs and rubbing his eye socket. A man in his underwear, smoking on the porch next door, could see him through the shrubs. The man got up and went inside. The asshole got to his feet and went to the sidewalk.  

There was no one out and LJ wasn’t answering no matter how hard he knocked on her door or rapped on her windows. So he walked, and eventually hailed a cab. When he got home to the apartment, eye swollen, mouth bleeding and face looking pathetic, Jeanie and all of her stuff were gone. 

His clothes had been dumped on the floor of the bedroom. There was no dresser. In the living room, the rug was gone, the walls were bare, the broom and dustpan were in the middle of the floor, and the couch was tipped over. 

He held a bag of frozen peas to his eye and rummaged through the fridge for some of that leftover pasta Jeanie had made with black olives and smoked salmon. He heated it up in a microwaveable bowl, then stood there chewing, nodding, and saying, “Mmmm,” as he surveyed the fridge magnets holding up the pictures she left.

About the Author:

Patrick  Douglas Legay’s writing has appeared in The Writing Disorder, Apeiron Review, and Dance Macabre. During weekdays, and some evenings and weekends, he works as a union staffer, dreaming of workplace democracy for all (like it’s his job).