Jon Tobias with a precarious entry as a finalist in Lost Love

Literati,  as a young(er) man, I first realized that Stevie Wonder was a genius because he came up with an album called “The Secret Life of Plants.”  I mean, to even imagine such a thing?  So recognizing genius was not such a stretch as I read and posted Jon Tobias, for perceiving that buildings write on the pavement, in a language all their own.  He is the first of six finalist entries:

The Language of Building

by Jon Tobias


How much do you love me?

I love you in the language tall buildings write on the pavement.


He shifts a little, trying to accept that what I have told him means something. I stand there like a Jenga tower slowly losing pieces, hoping that wherever my parts go, the new structure is sturdier than I am. Something he can stand on later without jumping, without wanting to.

Let’s go. We’re almost there.

He is a peach orchard that is in love with canaries, but has been planted in a mine field. He looks around before placing his hands in his pockets, and then crosses the street with me.

It’s the happiest place on earth.

It’s just the Army Supply store.

You love coming here.

The sensors in the doorway ding, and he turns left towards the survival wear. He picks up a ghillie suit.

I think it’s the same costume that Swamp Thing wore.

Shut up.

Fine. If that’s what you want.

He smiles, showing the gaps between every single tooth, and shakes his head. He is not saying no so much as he doesn’t know what else to do. He puts it back and says, You know what I wish?


I wish they made ghillie suits out of teddy bears, so that I can get people to hug me when I’m lonely.

I think everyone would need one at some point, huh Bub?

He laughs. Says, Yeah.

He wanders away.

So. Birthday boy. Anything but weapons.

He chooses rope. I was expecting boots and camo pants or a survival kit stocked with rations and a compass, something to fit inside the imaginary adventures he goes on. I think of him sitting on his bed with the closet door open looking at all his survival stuff, imagining being out in the wilderness and using all of it.

I look at his neck.

What is the rope for?

Don’t know yet.

We leave the store. He has the rope rolled up and wrapped around him like a sash.

Let me show you something.


You know about decoding messages?

Like Morse code?

There is more than that, man.

At the side of the building I hold my hands up to hoist him to a ledge. He climbs and I follow.

I walk him to the edge towards the back of the store.

Imagine you are on the tallest building looking down. I am going to show you the language of tall buildings. It is written in the hieroglyphics of chalk outlines.


He rubs his hands together and smirks.

The earth has said to this building, Give him this message from me.

What does it say?

You see how some outlines look like they are flying, and others are less so, the weird bend of the knee or the direction of the arm?


His eyes are still closed. I place my arm around his side, and hold him tight against me.

Every single one says, Stay.


The happiest place on earth:

Chewbaca was often known for his aghilliety

ghillie suit

13 thoughts on “Jon Tobias with a precarious entry as a finalist in Lost Love

  1. Jon Tobias says:

    I had intended for there to be a dedication to this story to a friend of mine. Corrine, when you read this, here it is. Thanks for knowing what I meant when everyone else didnt.

  2. Laura G says:

    This is so rich with imagery and metaphor, skillfully used as clues dropped like breadcrumbs throughout. The images are well aligned with the emotions you’re trying to convey. As a fellow writer, I think I get you, Jon. The caring for this person, the worry that he will harm himself, the love and guidance that nudge him on the good path. I like that the relationship is undefined, making it more universal…Could be a buddy, a lover, a son…Seems to me a vet needing to heal. Some readers like more clarity, but I like your style that explores the questions without giving too much away.

    • Thornton Sully says:

      I do hope all who comment do it with depth. Let the author know what worked, and what didn’t, and, if you liked the piece, what about it stood out in your mind? Thanks for giving an example of how this is done, Laura

    • Jon Tobias says:

      Thank you for getting me. I like the idea of a lack of clarity. It emphasizes the importance of being comfortable with the unknown. So long as there is enough information I hope that the language and the created space is enough to keep the reader and allow him or her to feel without having to have answers to everything.

    • Amanda Byzak says:

      I agree with Laura, and she has said it better than I ever could. The ambiguity of the characters and their relationship make it easy to step into. What is important between them is the love and sense of protection one feels for the other. And I love the message…if he ever finds himself looking down from a tall building, remember this moment and stay.

  3. Michael Stang says:

    Jon, this is really cool.
    As far as the story goes, I too get the consequence of military. I also (feel) the time line is in the future, maybe it’s the Austin skyline.
    But what makes me sit back for a moment and think, is the creativity it took to write this (the cool part). Figuring it all out, or as much as I need to, is an exploratory well worth the time but hey, I read people like Irving and Chabon, right, you fit right in.
    Good luck!

    • Michael Stang says:

      Jon, I feel the need to say this now that the contest is at an end. I understand the conflict between writing a story in the contest: Your best, absolute, wouldn’t change a thing, and all the noise about how it is the “best that could ever be,” and here is the thing, you got to do it again as a finalist. I was on the floor asking myself how I was going to top mine? It took everything I had. I was wiped!
      Digging deep to come up with another entry, like your first, is a real pain in the …
      However, the flash you did write was a sterling peek into the mind of a creative , I would be delighted to see more try their hats.
      I am honored to know you as a writer.

  4. Diane Cresswell says:

    Jon you took my breath away on this story. You had my imagination going into sidewalk painter, soldier with PTSD to suicide to children playing to magician. And it all flowed. I didn’t find a break anywhere and I was looking!!! Fantastic story that could definitely be taken into a full one. So much depth and texture to the vision you created.

  5. David jenkins says:

    The last time we parted I didn’t ask all those clarifying questions I thought of a week later in another poem. I was asking myself, “How come?” Now I know why I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t. Too much clarity, too much pain.

  6. Andrew Perez says:

    I feel like I’m always impressed by your words/language/sentence structure that I give backseat attention to everything else–not that the metaphors , themes, and arc are anything to shrug at. But now I’m noticing something that I hadn’t before about your writing: Your pacing. If I could drink beer the way you pace your stories, I’d have the buzz and night of my life. Good stuff, Jon.

  7. Martin A. David says:

    You say “lack of clarity”, but I say clarity is highly overrated. This piece really sings to me. The “meaning” is hidden in the space between the word and the page. I would love to see more of your work.

  8. Grant Laurence says:

    Sorry that I did not comment on this at the appropriate time, Jon. I have now, only now (really?) made the time to be consumed by your entry here….and Kyle is right – “brilliant” is very fitting indeed!

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