Leaving Deneb by Jenya Doudareva

Two deer along the trail yesterday. First, they hesitated as I passed them – muscles tensed and ears on alert, but eventually decided against fleeing, evidently, and carried on wiggling their ears and feeding. I wondered if covering one of my eyes would allow me to come closer to them without disturbing their peace. “Don’t bother, Apex Predator” – said one of them, chewing loudly, – “We both know you are squeamish and ineffective without your baubles”.

Today I am sitting on damp grass in a park – it’s my lunch time. My water has suffocated stale so I pour it into a small crevice in the ground next to me and take out a stopwatch to time how long it will take for my miniature lake to disappear. About the deer yesterday – do they actively worry about predators? Or is it a sort of an unexplainable urge to run that takes them over when an animal that matches predator characteristics approaches? Do deer have names for one another? Do they have an inner life? I know I barely do. My water takes two minutes and thirteen seconds to be soaked up.

There are so many people around me, and it’s nice: all squinting in the sun, eating their lunches brought from homes, cooked by them or by loved ones. People rushing. People strolling. People sitting still, like me. Today, I’m almost done. My civic duty project is wrapping up tomorrow. I’ve had sixty days to conduct all the necessary prep and to learn to use the assigned tools. And also to get to know my client. I sort of always imagined it to be more difficult, I guess, or that I would feel strongly one way or the other, but as it stands, I don’t.

My client, Dulfin, he seems like a fine guy. I spent a few weeks doing all of the fancy formal evaluations with him, multiple-choice questionnaires and paperwork and all, and even did the suggested (but not required) informal interviews. All have been recorded and submitted for review. I didn’t get any comments back from the bureau, which either means that they found my work to be satisfactory, or that no one even bothers to read these. And I don’t think I have much trouble understanding his motivation. It’s very thought out and logical.

He is not insane – he is bored, so his decision makes sense in a sense that it’s the only way to leave the overall Deneb area. A lot of people think it’s a disease of the mind, to want to leave, but since the day I met Dulfin I don’t even think I care one way or the other.

Am I a little underwhelmed by the method? Maybe? But then again, I think I prefer it this way – to be hands-off. I am not a coward, but paperwork is my strength, and tomorrow all I need to do is have the client sign a waiver, put the date and the initials above the dotted line, and wait, and then call the services. A buddy of mine was so giddy when he had to do his thing – he had to learn to use a damn machete. But then, when the day came, predictably, it didn’t go clean. Oh no. His client screamed, struggled at the last moment. I think my buddy vomited a lot. There was an excessive amount of cleanup involved that I am not prepared for.

I will not come into contact with bodily fluids. Dulfin, you will be missed but you will be forgotten.

“Well, that’s just typical, Apex Predator”, says the deer wearing a cobalt silk tailored suit. “Can you be any more morose? What a pointless life if you can’t even be excited for bodily fluids. I eat grass, but who doesn’t sneak a peek at a decomposing roadkill? Poke it a little bit? See the maggots and wave them hello? Gives you a certain thrill to be alive.”

My tiny lake is all gone now. Now a lady is rushing past me, her shoes clickity clacking. A pizza slice in her hand. And then it happens – she drops the pizza. I love the sound that it makes – the slice sloppily slaps the pavement. The woman is flustered, she looks around to see if anyone noticed, and quickly rushes to retrieve her intended lunch. She peels it off. The slice leaves a messy print of cheese and tomato sauce on the ground.

And even if there was a way to leave Deneb and travel far away – we’ve got time ever since that year we stopped decomposing through natural causes – where would I go and is it boring there and are there deer?


Jenya is an engineer who likes to tinker with technology and with words. This is her twelfth Vending Machine Press appearance. Her poems are available on Amazon and have also been featured in Clementine Poetry Journal, and her paper on algorithms for safe irradiation of brain tumours is available in an operations research journal somewhere.