This story was featured in Larry’s story collection Talk (Oberon Press). Copyright is held by the author.


AFTERNOON CRASHES into the 3:20 bell.

Neither looking nor listening back, though he can’t help but do both, the swarm fattening behind him, Ned arrives so soon at the park. Down the hill he sinks. A backstop slouches. He lets his arm bump the backstop as he goes by, if he ran he couldn’t run far enough. He quits walking. Stands on the infield about where a wrong-way facing pitcher would stand. Way off, where park ends, hydro towers shoot wires to one another.

He puts his hand in his pocket. Fingers the sharp point hidden inside.

He turns around. Kids charge, hurl themselves at the backstop, scramble up it for a better view, the backstop ringing like a bunch of those little cymbals. That girl from his class climbs too. All day long she sneaks cough drops, shiny bits stuck between her teeth. He is sorry for calling her Scurvy, even if he hasn’t said the name to anyone but himself, but before God thinking is doing so he has done it hasn’t he? Then on the backstop a boy slips and the boy below wears him on his head and the two boys become one large strange one.

Ned could laugh. He could laugh his way home, his face and clothes fine, no marks no rips, his hand free of his pocket. He could ride the footstool, supper cooking in the oven. Gravy Boat. He could laugh at that name.

But loud hyped up kids keep piling into the park. They want to get close but not dirty. They want to be scared happy. They trample the weeds to surround Ned, they steal his light and air. Someone blows a gum bubble. Juice from the hydro towers seems to crackle and snarl in Ned’s stomach and legs.

There is not much he can be forced to say anymore. The harder the force, the deeper his quiet.

The crowd splits open. Ned must look. In the split, slowly unbuttoning his shirt, is Tick Baylor. His buffalo grin says nobody knows like I know.

Tick’s shirt falls from his shoulders. Across his bare chest thick dark pen ink spells out TICK. His shirt hangs behind him, a piece still tucked in his jeans.

The grin drains from his face. You, he says.

Ned doesn’t ask why. As every Tick and his fists at every new school tells him, he, Ned, from morning till night, is why, why, and more why. Tick is the most steady and honest kid here, he never fakes it, never acts as if Ned can be anything but Ned, Ned can count on Tick. He almost tells Tick thanks.

Instead, he pulls the geometry set compass from his pocket. It pricks his leg on the way out.

Me, he says.

Now he laughs. The laugh catches, smears his throat. Tick comes at him. But Ned strikes first, quietly driving the compass point into his own cheek.

  1. A riveting, complex story on bullying extremely well told.

  2. I couldn’t picture it. All I got was he stuck a compass point in his cheek. Why was he there? Why didn’t he just go home. Dinner was waiting. Why was Tick ticked off at him. Because he was Ned and Ned is always Ned? I was not entertained.

  3. Good, but not an easy read. I had to go over it again. My only concern being, is it quickly comprehensive on a distracting commute story, or will the reader skip over it?

  4. I love this story! It’s deeply moving and disturbing. I love the way the author shows Ned’s inner life so vividly.

  5. Too intense — ‘didn’t get it’ right away. Perhaps a softer intro.
    Still, well written.

  6. Perseverance has its virtues, but not on this occasion.

    I read “Tick” four times in the belief that I was too stupid to understand it the first three. That others understood the story and the theme is humbling, but I am used to that. Like Winnie-The-Pooh, I find myself a bear of very little brain.

    I relished the imagery and the unusual choice of words in this complex story but I was nevertheless left with the sense that I still didn’t understand it to a point where I could honestly say that I enjoyed the reading experience.

    Clarity of thought and precision in expression go far in ensuring success at the cash register or box office. I depart from the KISS formula at my peril. I think Larry did on this occasion.

  7. I read this twice I don’t know what it’s about kids on the pitchers mound? One comment mentioned bullying I thought it was just a fight after school. Self-mutilation? Why is Ned sticking a compass pointing to his cheek so that tick won’t fight him? So that he can demonstrate that nothing can hurt him? A lot of scratching on the noggin with this one which doesn’t make it an enjoyable read. We are all getting different things from it and some of us are getting nothing. I think the writer is being self-indulgent with the abstraction. IMO

  8. Why, when a story doesn’t reveal itself fully (to some readers) on the first go-through, someone always labels it self-indulgent?

  9. A story shouldn’t have to be read twice or three times to be understood. If that’s the case the writer has not made himself clear. At that point one has to wonder if the writer hasn’t tried to make himself look clever and that makes him self indulgent. IMO

  10. NIC:
    As an undergraduate student, pencil sharpened, seat selected
    I entered into my first class on “Shakespearean Plays” ..King Lear to be precise….after two hours, I didn’t understand a bloody word of it. Now can I take from your arguement that Thd Bard was too clever by far, self indulgent and it was all his fault that I, the newbie, came close to failing the course…? By the way, I did read the play several times over before the genius was revealed.

  11. JAZZ: With all due respect to the writer, TICK is not Shakespeare. All writers are self indulgent; they like their pet words and superfluous phrases and profound meanings that only they understand but a good writer writes for the reader and dispenses with his self indulgence during the editing process. Would this story not have been better served without its garbled abstract delivery?

    Was Shakespeare self indulgent? Big time. IMO
    All the best. Nic

  12. Garbled?

  13. NIC:
    I move that the CommuterLit Alumni all tackle an unread book from any era, regardless of subject, length and source but with the prerequisite that it must be totally and utterly understood at first reading.
    Any takers…?

  14. JAZZ: I don’t understand your defending the notion that a work of fiction is okay to read two or three times before a reader understands what is going on in the story. Really? A story isn’t a math question.

  15. There’s a difference between difficult to understand and confusing. Confusing is the writer’s failure or ineptitude. Difficult to understand often means the reader is challenged or confronted with text, content or word choice that he or she isn’t familiar. Further study clarifies and enlightens. When a story is confusing very little is gained or revealed upon further reading.

  16. FRANK:
    What is ‘confusing’ to one reader can be clear to another.

  17. True.

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