Jon Tobias is #40


I am reminded of one of my favorite Americans, Jerry Rubin, who said “People who can share money can share love.”  And on a more elemental level, cannot the same be said of breaking bread?  Here is what appears to be our final entry in our contest The Drinking Fountain, this one by Jon Tobias, a young man who aspires to be a novelist, and I have read enough of his work to know that it is quite likely what will happen.

The Angel of Bread

 by Jon Tobias

I don’t like mine completely toasted, just warm with butter, so when I bite into it there is some pull like a tiger stretching out lengths of pink meat as it lays safely over a fresh carcass. My father sets his construction helmet down on the counter and looks directly at me, though he is not speaking to me when he says, “Is that shit from the bagel nigger?”

“It’s fine, honey, he brings them food.”

“You know I don’t like him taking stuff from him.” He smacks the bagel out of my hand and steps on it. “You know I don’t like you fucking taking food from him.” I look down to see the front of my shirt balled into his clenched fist. I don’t know if I am shaking or if he is shaking me. Both probably.

“I am sorry.”

“Don’t cry, boy. I haven’t given you nothin’ to cry about yet.”

As soon as he lets go, I make a run for the door. In the parking lot outside the apartment all the other kids are snacking on sweet bread and bagels.

He comes every Wednesday. A black man in a blue van with no seats in the back. Instead, there are mountains of bread. Bagels, and loaves, and donuts, and French rolls, and sometimes generic Entenmann’s apple or cheese cakes with the white frosting. Sometimes there are even whole sheets of cinnamon buns.

Like Paul Revere waiting for the lanterns, there would be at least one of us looking out, and then another to make the call. “He’s here!”

We line up outside the back of the van, and the old black man with sunglasses and blue jeans and a white shirt and a denim baseball cap makes bags full of different kinds of bread to hand to us. For some of us, this was the only way we got cakes for our birthdays. For others, it was the difference between having that rumble and stomach knot at night before bed or the easy sleep that comes when you don’t have to think about food.

He tells us to share. And I think maybe that’s why Jesus’ loaves fed so many. No one dared take too big a bite. No one wanted anyone else to go without. That’s how we lived our lives, in increments of just enough.

Without warning we all hear glass shatter. My father stands with a bat in his hand. The side view mirror of the blue van glistens in the sun like my mother’s fake wedding ring. He points the bat at me.

“The fuck did I tell you?”

I drop my bag as a tide of children split as the van backs out and drives away.

I would have gone to bed hungry that night, but instead I go to my closet and pull a stale roll from a small bag hidden behind dirty clothes and eat slowly as I test the bruised apple of my stomach with my fingers.

7 thoughts on “Jon Tobias is #40

  1. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    I feel like you’re one of those writers who keeps adding to the first pure rush of words when you’d have done better to trust your instincts.

    You’ve got the voice you need; I think there’s a little bit of wobble when you step out of your own head because the dialogue doesn’t have quite the same strength.

    But Thorn is right; you ought to be going places.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      The mother’s reaction, in particular, seemed a bit off-kilter to me; the words she’s using to placate a man like that seem the ones most likely to inflame him–with the implication that the father can’t keep his own son fed.

  2. Laura says:

    So much to digest in this delicious piece. Each word is carefully chosen. The figurative language fits well and is not overdone. (Tiger imagery foreshadows violence, “bruised apple of my stomach” matches food themes, “mirror of the van glistens like my mother’s fake wedding ring” hints at backstory, etc.). It’s both personal and political. Key players represent the best and worst of America: Santas, bad dads, leaders, bystanders, helpers, victims…and kids / citizens, who become writers to “right / write the wrongs.”

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      I think we must take care though, as writers, not to overload a story with lush self-referential imagery eating up wordcount and crowding out the plot. It’s good to create hints of all the whats and why that came before and may come afterwards, but every writer must learn to be ruthless in sacrificing, as necessary, what may be very beautiful phrases and paragraphs in the interests of the whole.

  3. grant laurence says:

    Love your stuff Jon. You always draw me in and hold me there, whether I like it or not! Another fine entry from you.

  4. Katy says:

    I thought that your entry was very well thought out. I fully agree with Laura’s opinion, and I think that you have a ton of talent. They way you put words together is… engrossing, and that is essential in a good writer. Your word choice seems very authentic and ties the reader into the story. I thought that it was very unique how you actually made me feel what the character was feeling. So many authors struggle with that, but you have done a fine job. Well done.

    Don’t ever give up on your dream to become a novelist. Clearly you have the talent and the will to do well.
    Thorn and Sarah are right. You’re definitely going places.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      As a general observation and not meant to diminish Jon’s talent–it’s terrifyingly easy to touch a deep emotional vein in a reader or listener. This is why demagogues are so successful and why we find ourselves getting thick-throated, watching a car commercial.

      I’ve made myself cry over the deathless magic of my own prose, and then I’ve had to ball up the sodden Kleenex and hit the magic select and delete keys and force myself to concentrate on the heart of the matter. That’s why they call it “killing your darlings,” and never was a clichéd phrase more truthful.

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