Wednesday, October 14, 2015


By James Robert Smith

Larkin Tangle came from a very poor family. They had never known anything like wealth. They hadn't even given so much as a breath to the dream that they could crab their ways out of the slums to decent working class respectability.

Both of his parents were ignorant and also not terribly bright in any practical way. Both of them worked where they could, doing their best to hold down minimum wage jobs and never managing to be anything but the lowest of grunts. The same had been true of both sets of his grandparents. His grandmothers had been just like his mom--plain, tired women cast out of bone and pale flesh who found labor as cashiers, or dishwashers, or waitresses, or maids, depending on the year or the month or the opportunity. And his grandfathers had similarly never distinguished themselves, having been pretty much just drunken, worthless white trash who had gainful employment whenever they could find someone who didn't know their reputations. The men-folk worked hard but their weakness was the bottle.

However, his great grandfather on his father's side, and his great grandfather on his mother's side...there had been exceptionalism. They hadn't been just drunken, worthless white trash. His great grandfather Dunkel, and great-grandfather Tangle--who knew one another, and worked alongside one another--hadn't merely been typical white trash. They had also been violent, raging, brutish thieves and murderers.

Their names were still legend in the small town of Burnslott where Larkin resided. The local thugs heard the tales of their exploits and wished to avoid those stories of brawls and killings and rapes that had ended up with Ronny Dunkel beaten to death by a sheriff sick of his existence, and Cliven Tangle dancing at the end of a rope in the Federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. It was said the warden had personally made certain that the rope that hanged him had allowed his toes to just touch the floor so that it took him a very long time to tire and choke to death. It had all been an accident, the hangman had later explained. No member of the Tangle family had seen that, with the only witnesses being a small crowd consisting of prison officials, a few disinterested reporters, and the gleeful couple who had driven up from Tifton to see the execution of their son's murderer.

Beyond those two there was no further family history. The Tangles kept no written record--not even a family Bible, and none of them had ever been curious enough to thrash about in the local county files to discover anything about their ancestors. Not that any of them knew how to read much more than traffic signs and product labels. And they didn't speak often to the Dunkels, the two families having permanently stopped sharing stories around the time Great Grandpa Tangle was doing a bug-eyed ballet on the tips of his toes in the state capital.

And so, it was no surprise that with such a family history, Larkin Tangle had led a hard life. His own parents and siblings had ridden him mercilessly for his strange ways--he read books and did not drop out of high school when he reached sixteen years of age. And the locals shunned him because his family were so very poor. His clothes were often threadbare and patched, or thin and torn if he hadn't found needle and thread to repair them. And there were enough people who had heard the stories of Ronny Dunkel and Cliven Tangle, even though they'd been dead for going on seventy years. It was almost as if his great grandfathers were some kind of local version of Burke and Hare--which frankly was not too far off the mark.

The people, who lived in nice homes and drove expensive cars, and had pretty daughters, and sons who played football who were being prepped for college---those people didn't want Larkin's type hanging around the streets where they lived, much less associating with their kids. So things were tougher on the youth than they otherwise should have been. Even his teachers understood that he would receive just so much education and nothing more. They knew that they were allowed to give him a certain few moments of encouragement each month and not one word in excess. The principal knew about the Tangles; the school system had dealt with them, and the jails had housed them, and the local businesses had been forced to give them the bare minimum of employment.

For white folk in Burnslott, Georgia, things did not get much lower on the social totem.

...Larkin Tangle had led a hard life.


Lawrence Roy Aiken said...

I thought a better title might be, "Out of the Tangles," or simply "The Tangles." Just me. I loved how you touched on working class in-class distinctions, between reliable laborer and drunk no-accounts.

James Robert Smith said...

Thanks, Roy!

I wrote that in a hurry yesterday. Just tossed the title on as method of saving it. Yeah...both of your titles work well!

I often feel guilty for writing pulp instead of mainstream fiction. When these feelings of guilt are at their worst I am prompted by the muse to write things like this, "The Other Boy with Brown Hair", PORT CITY, and the West Virginia stuff.