Jon Tobias, finalist #5


Those who have entered this contest know you have tossed a pebble in the pond, sending ripples across placid waters. What you have done, taking part in this crucial dialog, is not an insignificant act.  It is the difference between compliance and defiance.

But to what end?

We are a nation eviscerated by 400 years of racism and a climate of xenophobia and homophobia. How shall me save ourselves?

The short answer: exercise the empathy muscle. The prompt “I was wrong” was an attempt on my part to let each finalist flex that muscle. I commend all of you for your efforts; your words are important, and really do matter.

Jon Tobias, in his finalist entry, demonstrates how easy it is to inflict damage when the empathy muscle has not been toned and honed. He titles his piece, simply:

I was wrong

by Jon Tobias



She shivers from the beach air, but I can’t even sense the cold. I put my arm around her as we walk.

“I don’t know. I guess I like it rough.” I don’t actually, but it seemed like a sexy, smooth thing to say, and she giggled and said, “Alright, a little vanilla, but I’ll take it,” after I said it.

“Mine is dirty talk.” I make a mental note of it trying to think of something else to say referencing me being a poet that hinted at me being good at that sort of thing. The moment passed.

We arrive at the last bar of the crawl.

We end up at her place and eat burritos off the coffee table in the living room. Eventually I go in to kiss her. She kisses me back. I stand. She stands with me. I walk her back to her bedroom trying to pull her clothes off as we go, trying to be smooth. She pulls off mine.

I think dirty talk.

I think rough sex.

Choking, hair pulling, hand tight over mouth like a muzzle on a living bear trap.

I say slut, say, dirty bitch, ask her if she likes it rough, bite her shoulder a little, describe fantasies I have about her into her right ear while I’m on top, left hand gripping a fistful of hair, right hand holding the back side of her shoulder.

She says, “Stop.”

She starts to cry.

I sit on the edge of the bed not knowing what to do or say.

I lean over to touch her, but she yells at me to go.

I put my clothes on.

She cries hard into her pillow.

I thought I was just doing what we talked about.

I was wrong.

Play this, and understand my motives for this contest, and the finalist prompt.

7 thoughts on “Jon Tobias, finalist #5

  1. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    There’s no doubt or question about your giftedness. You’re wonderful at catching the raw desperation of human beings trying to find the pathway into one another’s realities, and I think you lay bare, from the immediate inside moment, the urgency of the need to connect and the pain of failing.

    If you take time, after letting the first flood out, to go back and remove only what is not necessary, you’ll be unstoppable.

  2. Miryam says:

    Lesson to be learned here is, “Never eat burritos before making love.”
    (or be sure to have some bean-o)
    Thanks for your clever story Jon. Your character wasn’t wrong!

  3. Riley Sampson says:

    The piece is beautifully bare. A narrator’s narrative is a hard thing to keep subdued, but you’ve certainly done it here.

    • Riley Sampson says:

      And as a note to the next finalist: though it’s a coincidence, the last words of the last four pieces have all been or included “I was wrong.” Not to criticize anyone, but it’s become somewhat predictable.

  4. grant laurence says:

    You are a gifted writer, Jon – no doubt about that, however, I would say that this piece is too obvious, “too” built around the prompt.

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