She said, “It tickles a little.”
Yes, that’s what she said. Now of course you’ll want to pause there and consider what was said before that sentence and what tickles and what part of her is being tickled. Fine, do that. Try to create some context, and do it quickly, before your mind gets carried away and takes you places that might prove to be dangerously wrong or scandalously right.
Ask yourself, “Who is ‘she’?” That’ll help. This is a different story if “she” is three years old or twenty-four or seventy-eight.
And what is “it”? Really, “it” could be anything.
Is there disappointment in “a little”? As in, it should tickle a lot. Or is there disappointment in “tickles,” because “it” should do more than that, or less, or something different?
What if the words carry no disappointment? Maybe they’re a statement of fact, an observation. Can they be neutral?
Are we done now? Good. Now forget all that. What matters most is to whom the words were said, and when. You should have known that. Check this out:
Maybe it was last night. That adds some urgency, doesn’t it. And maybe those words were said to me. Maybe they were whispered to me. Yeah, that’s the good stuff.
Now let’s push it a little, just for kicks. Maybe they were whispered last night by someone at the carnival, someone – come on, push it further, blow it up – someone too old to be waiting in that line with all the kids but doing it anyway. Someone waiting to sit on the clown’s lap, say, waiting to make a request for a balloon animal and a birthday surprise. Someone who sat there a few seconds longer than necessary and then whispered those words we’ve been wondering about.
So as I said: maybe those words were whispered to me.
And maybe I responded.
And maybe I’ve tucked my response away somewhere safe.
And maybe now you should stop wondering about things that don’t concern you.
Aaron J. Housholder teaches writing and literature at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Relief Journal, Wyvern Lit, Chicago Literati, River Teeth, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @ProfAJH.