He had been married eleven weeks and kept a keen awareness for the Greater Good and the Bigger Picture. These were the linchpins of his 30-week Life Plan 20/20 Workbook he had been following near-verbatim since August. He had insisted on taking his marriage seriously, and this constituted the first in what he thought would be a series of fully grown decisions.
His deep-down predilections were that of a boy’s, however, and his curiosity for the more illicit side of temptation ended up toying with lesser motivations.
Later that week he decided to stow away his half-smoked pack of cigarettes under his box spring before driving to the local hardware store. It was there, in the parking lot, where he subdued his lungs with the smoke and sediment of what he decided would be his very last non-emergency cig.
He had kicked the idea of such a sacrament around for twenty or thirty seconds in his head while tying his boots, in his coat room, minutes earlier. He enjoyed the cigarette and, feeling satisfied with the ritual, ashed the remains atop the potted plant, frozen, on display outside the automatic doors.
Tapping the slush from his boots, he wove through the columns of clearance shelves and display pyramids that lined the entrance, only stopping once to check the expiration date of the deceptively priced Value brand Small Dog: Complete Nutrition Dog Food formula which boasted a product code linked to a printable coupon that, to his limited knowledge, was uncalled for given its reduction to a seven kilo zipper bag.
Seeing as there was, in fact, no posted expiration date, he carried on toward the back where they housed the electronic equipment.
He realized he was still carrying the bag of dog food. Embarrassed, he put it down deviously among the swimming pool chemicals. For a moment, his cunning redeemed him.
He turned back around to grab a cart, then thought better of it. He didn’t need one, he thought.
At the rear of the store he found a cabinet wedged between two tables. Each table held transparent gallon jugs with a generic white label spelling out its viscous fillings and its expiration.
VEGETABLE GLYCERIN USP 99.7% VEGAN AND KOSHER FRIENDLY BB 2019 MA 13.
The wall unit had pristine glass doors whose sheen was telling of the contents’ newness. The doors were padlocked, and an emboldened sign above the handles pictured a smiling sales rep.
A visibly pubescent sales rep came over and unlocked it after checking his ID. He helped him pick out a marked down Chinese device and a doubly more expensive kit of required ancillaries which included e-juices, replacement coils, a sub-ohm tank, a regular tank intended for what he described as “throat hits”, and two jugs of vegetable glycerin.
He went back for the shopping cart. He used the self-service checkout and left.
A smoker was idling outside. The cherry burning between her middle and forefinger dour like a candlelight vigil for his own, most desirable companion.
The pavement was freshly salted on Monday morning but the smell of it lingered even in the car, even in his driveway. It was there that he thought maybe it wasn’t the salt.
Lugging his things inside, he sat down on top the hood of his deep freezer. He kept it in the hallway because living space was sparse within his housing budget and its installation made for shorter grocery trips as the kitchen was still a-ways down the hall and carrying grocery bags becomes an odious experience when performed as drunk as he often liked to be when he bought groceries.
Even when he wasn’t drunk he found it made for a seat preferable even to the leather furniture his roommate’s parents had bought for the living room. He enjoyed the humming sound that it made, and how it would rattle against his hanging feet.
That was his roommate, John. He couldn’t remember the last time John wasn’t home.
//I was out running errands.
He thought about pulling out the vaporizer and showing John, but he was ashamed to have it. He kept it tucked in the inner pocket of his coat, a location he designated to be its official hiding spot.
The next day, he could be heard coughing through the walls from the apartments both below and above him. They could also hear the sex. His wife was now visiting.
The odd time when she mounted him she would crudely shift back and forth, lengthwise, over his cock. She had told him this was best way to bring her to climax. He didn’t mind, but it made the mattress rock into his bedroom wall creating a raucous thd, thd, thd that even at seven fifteen in the morning his neighbors, sitting over their breakfast, despite their best efforts, could not dismiss as anything other than the act itself. He thought about this for a moment—how his neighbors might tap on the ceiling with a hockey stick again, beckoning them to be a little more respectful at this hour of the morning—and this caused him to doze off for what seemed to be only a few seconds, but a few seconds was seemingly all it took for him to lose about half the strength of his erection. He bent her over and revived himself. Tap, tap, they heard underneath them.
Lying there in their stupor, their breathing strained and in parallel, he wondered if she could smell his cigarette package hidden only a few inches under the mattress she was laying on, her legs dangling off the edge.
She had her arm sprawled across his chest and was speaking with a confidence only early morning sex bestowed her. She asked him about his weekend plans and he responded with tentative, inert predictions. There was now a mustiness in the air that reminded him of the chlorine in the hardware store, conveniently masking whatever tobacco scent may have lingered before.
An irritation then began in his throat and worked up to his mouth, idle. To his agony, she kept him from his want.
Apologetically, he cooked her dinner that evening; politely, she spared enough for him to keep in Tupperware for the next day. He thanked her by giving the neighbors something to rattle their temper about. Tap, tap, tap.
He worked privately on his craft. He was an online wellness consultant, and a successful one at that. If you’d asked him, he wouldn’t have an answer as to why he chose the profession he did. He’d probably say he had an eye for the market. The Man had an ideal constitution for such a profession, he’d tell you. Search engine optimization, social media savvy, and a background in web design served him well in the endeavor.
He taught himself to program C++ and Python out of The Underground Handbook: A Beginners Guide to Hacking, an e-book he was gifted one fateful Christmas in high school. He achieved local notoriety in his hometown the next year by twice accessing the local rec centre’s industrial control system, defrosting the ice rink both times, of which the second time he managed to catastrophically flood the old wooden bleachers that lined it.
In municipal court the plaintiff’s counsel alleged that the visiting team’s door has been left open that night, which caused a spillover onto the surrounding benches. What started out as something of a ‘fuck you’ sort of prank on his school’s hockey team ended up costing the town six weeks without an ice pad or a home game, an affliction unthinkable to a mid-size Ontario township. It cost the Man—then still a boy—four grand in legal fees, another five in damages, and a controversially lenient sentence of 150 hours of community service. A penalty which, in fact, was reasonably heavy-handed for a minor according to precedents established in the case law his defense attorney dug up
In each of the following cases the plaintiffs were successful in securing compensatory damages but were denied punitive damages under similar circumstances: R. v. S.W.  ONSC 887; R. v. Gloudon  CanLII 58410 (ON SC); Czarnogorski v. Stradwick  CanLII 13495 (ON SCSM). The learned JP rejected this defense on account of several aggravating factors, and the premeditated quality of the crime. This was thought to qualify the case as substantively “unique”.
It was during his subsequent court-ordered stint at the YMCA that he picked up a fruitfully deceptive new-age vocabulary while passing out cups of water to seniors at community tai-chi classes. After completing his sentence, he put his coding talents to work by designing his own alternative fitness app with all the requisite buzzwords embedded directly in the source code
<!DOCTYPE html> <html> <head> <title>The Muscle Monk: Your Personal Wellness Adviser</title> <meta name=”spirulina” content=”Chakra Alignment Strategy”/> <link rel=”healing soul” href=”upgrade/premium-package.css/> <meta name=”acai berries” content=”Book Now”/> <meta name=”wanderlust” content=”Virtual Yoga Studio”/> <style type=”urban outfitters” media=”all”> @import “white suburbia.css”, “bohemia.html”; </style> <meta name=”breastmilk birthstone” content=”Pre-Workout Meditation”/> <meta name=”nootropic facial” content=”That ‘Toned’ Look?”/> </head>
Which proved to be a gainful strategy as the app was sent to the top of search engine query results in its first week after going live. Within a month, it was listed on the first page of the App Store’s “Health & Fitness” section.
Having grossed over a thousand active users by graduation, he was able to ship himself to a quaint coastal university out of province with all expenses paid. The threat of legal prosecution a year later forced him to discontinue the app under the mysterious pretenses of fraud and “tortious interference”.
An investigative piece in the campus newspaper found that it was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. More passively, he still collects a modest income from one-on-one “teleconsulting” with his most besot Muscle Monk devotees.
John knocked at the bedroom door.
He apologized to his client and closed the video chat, ending that week’s consultation.
/Craig says he needs to speak with you.
//Tell him I’ll be right over, he coughed out.
Craig is the landlord. Craig respected him about as much as the Man respected the occupation of being a landlord.
He took the e-cigarette from his coat pocket and left it on his bedside table. He wouldn’t want Craig, of all people, to discover it.
Craig conveniently lived next door, and they met on his front porch. The wooden steps creaked as he ascended them. They spoke for five or six minutes, with Craig courteously easing into the subjects of discussion, which, in sequence, consisted of i) his repeated early morning noise violations, ii) last month’s truant rent payment, and iii) his impending eviction.
The injunction wasn’t framed as an eviction per se. More a demand to voluntarily terminate the lease agreement, seven months early.
Seeing as this didn’t mesh very well with the ascribed My Mission formula in his Life Plan 20/20 Workbook—of which he was now entering the 28th week—he began to shout in objection. At that moment, he was overcome with a temptation more violent and enduring than anything his memory could offer. He took great pleasure in imagining his hands rung around the landlord’s screwish neck.
Yet, fearing the involvement of police, and any attendant courtroom appearances, he paused to collect himself. He unballed his fist. Another criminal charge was something he couldn’t afford, carrying a sentence no measure of time or money or servitude could entirely repay let alone supply—he knew this, and was rightly merciful. This didn’t stop him, however, from teetering with the thought of taking one of the many unfinished smokes from Craig’s ash tray.
To his credit, Craig cited a litany of ongoing problems with his tenancy: extended guests, unapproved subletting, improper use, and a series of unrelenting nuisance complaints from neighboring units. “Rogue tenants”, as he called them, were a liability nightmare.
To his defense, the Man said he was recently married, and insisted that it was within his right to see his wife.
He had been drinking something spiked out of a vitamin water bottle during his client’s consultation, and for once the Man wished Craig would smell the booze on his lips. He searched Craig for any sign of surrender he could find, and, finding none, he left in fury.
That evening he would sit alone and smoke his first three emergency cigarettes.
The following morning, he sat on his mattress with his wife, recounting yesterday’s events. Vapor nor worse, there were nerves in his gut that no delivery of nicotine could settle.
He cracked his bathroom window. The last surviving smell of salt seeped in, tinted with the thawing of the earth beneath it. It had been a warm February, and, to the Man, the depths of winter had passed.
He drank the mixed contaminants from the Coke bottle in his hand, wiped his lips, and looked himself square in the face, gazing into his smudged and streaked medicine cabinet door. There was something in him that day, in the bathroom, that could not close up.
He was a charged man, acutely aware of what was best for him. He chucked the bottle in the waste bin, swirled mouthwash, and fished a cigarette from his jeans’ pocket in a funny, determined kind of way, as if somehow readying to prosecute the coming day for its brevity, or to indict the dropping rain for its dejection.
It had been nearly two months since his wife had left him alone on that bed, ending a marriage of thirteen weeks. This wasn’t all bad, he had since concluded. He had now returned to contemplating the Bigger Picture—a space of mind he had a habit of making himself belong to. Each incarnation came quicker than the last.