"Ray Succre currently lives on the southern Oregon coast with his wife and son. He has been published in Aesthetica, BlazeVOX, and Pank, as well as in numerous others across as many countries. His novel Tatterdemalion (Cauliay Publishing) was recently released in print and is available most places. He tries hard.
For inquiry, publication history, and information, visit me online: http://raysuccre.blogspot.com"
He’s fond of stating California
greeted him with a heat wave,
thirteen cents in pocket, but yet
a Cadillac and house were attained
in the months post arrival.
“I worked it out, things were
great back then, but it all turned.
And to shit. It always does and will.”
I agree so he won’t pistol-whip
my afternoon with poisonous
I get the notion California carried him
out like chunks of broken cement.
He talks and grows angrier, then
slows to measure a sixties notion
of karma as the sole punishment
for those most internal of misdeeds:
“A painful consequence for
an infraction of the rules in
a painful, changing game
that is always inside you.”
He rates, criticizes, and complains
as if these acts were on sale.
Always the review, never the art.
“I go ahead ten mental years and
use hindsight on now,” he says,
“and I act on what I think I’ll know.
This pushes my head at a warped
lens, and seeing through,
it’s a lot of shit, this time of me.”
Though my turns are ultimate topples,
pikeflip to layout, the knees unhinging,
ankles in revolutions like a turning toy crank,
even to the marvel of falling I still
perform a marvelous drop.
I dive in, diminutive splash, suffer a layer of
potato mash and apple flesh,
peas, chicken strings, cosmos of cubed-carrots
that the acid has rounded, as
the cords in my reddening eyes
work the image of sesame seeds past.
I bottom, arch, and navigate up through flecks
of spring onion. Treading a meniscus of
greasy broth. I surface, where the oils part,
swimming in the biley, crystallizing tang of it all.
How by-the-instant my arms tire,
breaths furling into topside foam,
and then up into steam streamed into heat.
I dive to the cooler level; I know heat can
leach the very voice from a throat.
I reach the wall, ascend, and ladder out.
A man congratulates, and soon I am banging my
ears to clear them, clearing my mind for next
This is the manner of my sturdiest passion,
and a soily will strongly realized.
Maisy had left for the restroom, and I stood there, waiting to be seated.
"Just one today?" the Groan asked.
"No, two. Smoking."
Lloyd’s Boilerpot was a coastal hick-joint with a restaurant and tavern
in its guts. I was seated.
"Menus?" the Groan inquired.
"Just one. For my wife. And two coffees."
“Sure thing. Guess it's a good thing they got Lucky outta here." she said.
"Good thing they got Lucky outta here."
"Be right back with the coffee." she said before spilling off, a head
of patchy hair above showing, withered cleavage. The Groan
was a misshapen woman that someone had tried to wrap in a dress
and help with a nametag.
Maisy returned. I told her a menu was coming. She discovered we were out
“I’ll buy some in the tavern half.” I said.
The tavern’s weight had settled over years and the door into the tavern
only opened halfway, catching the faded carpet.
I slid in, found the machines. One was an old 45 jukebox
and the other was the cigarette machine. They were set up
beside one another.
I put in a five, the machine spit it out. I reinserted the five,
the machine spit it out. I put it in backward, the machine spit it out,
face down, creased, spit it out, spit it out.
There was an old crone in the bar, staring at me from a barstool and
brushing her hair with a large, teal brush. She kept drawing her
lower lip inward, as if it were a piece of food that hadn’t made it in.
I approached the bartender.
"I don't think the machine over there will take these new fives.
Could I exchange it?" I asked.
"The cigarette machine?"
The bartender’s face dented into her head like bruises on fruit
that had fallen from a truck on the highway.
The hairbrushing woman was beside me, still staring a hole in my head.
"Yes, the cigarette machine." I repeated.
"Son, that machine won't take the new fives." the bartender replied,
waving her hand at me. One of her ears bent, then straightened.
"I know,” I said, “Could I exchange it?"
"Could... what?" She didn’t understand.
An old light wedged in the dingey ceiling phased out, shot back on.
"Could I trade my new five... for an old five, is what I’m asking."
"Trade me fives? What for?"
The crew of men at the bar were noontimers, lifers. They didn't care
to notice me, but the bar crone with the Barbie fixation watched me
as she crotch-slid off the stool and dragged herself off into the dark.
"What for? ...So I can buy a pack of cigarettes."I repeated, frustrated.
The bartender stroked one of her eyebrows.
"Well, that machine is set at four-fifty."
A buzzing sound began just below my left ear and the anger began,
rising steady, my coals stirred, my forehead swimming.
"I— goddamnit, yeah, I know."
"Here son, why don't you just give me your five and I'll get another."
the bartender suggested.
Someone in the back yelled fuck. No one moved.
"...okay." I said, agitated.
I gave it to her.
She gave it to me.
Then, the bar crone with the teal hairbrush was leaning against
the cigarette machine, brushing her hair, waiting for me.
I approached, hoping she wasn't going to advance on me.
"How ya been, valentine?" she gagged.
"Uh, hey. I need to—" She moved out of my way.
I put the old five in and the machine whirred.
I pressed a button that was hot to the touch.
The machine began to click and hum.
The bar crone carefully worked a dollar into the jukebox,
slid it through the slot with a tampon knowledge.
She picked a track from memory.
My cigarettes still hadn't been dispensed but the machine was
working on something. A new, spinning noise had joined
A Yardbirds song began to play. She was watching me, playing
wryness, acting the old fuckhole. Did she feed the shirking men
who I could see stuffed in those dim corners and sitting on flat beer?
Was she theirs?
I looked at her and she hopped and snorted.
"Fuggin' hey!" she exclaimed.
“Okay.” I replied.
My cigarettes fell out of the machine onto the floor.
I retrieved them, turned, and left the tavern quickly.
In the restaurant, as I approached the booth and my wife, the Groan
crept up next to me with a strange smile.
"You know, I'm tryin' to quit but shit, you know what I mean."
A cook peeked out at her from a slat in the wall with slow,
lichen eyes and a swollen left cheek.
"Uh, keep at it, I guess.” I said. The groan made her noise.
"At least Lucky's outta here. Thank stars." she said.
“Yeah, no shit.” I responded, leaving her there. My wife had
overheard this odd bit of verbal transfer.
I sat down in the booth.
"Who’s Lucky?" Maisy asked me.
"I don’t know. But we have to leave."
"Well, I haven't ordered yet. Why?"
"Yeah, let's go."
I went into that tavern again, four years later, for the same reason,
and while standing at the cigarette machine, a man crept up
behind me, stated angrily that he wouldn’t stand for my stealing
I turned, and while looking at him,
vanished into smoke and falling shit.