Close Your Eyes

Submitted into Contest #101 in response to: Write a story in which the same line recurs three times.... view prompt

22 comments

Western

All the ingredients were there in front of Antonio. There was deli-sliced Land-O-Lakes white American cheese, Food Lion Virginia baked ham, organic salted butter, and Wonder Bread. Yes, Antonio wasn’t much of a gourmet chef, but he could make one mean grilled cheese sandwich. Today, there was one last ingredient: undying love.


“How much longer?” came a feeble voice from the back bedroom.


“Not long, my love. Your wait is almost over,” Antonio answered cheerfully, trying hard to disguise his sadness. 


Annette, “Nettie” to her friends, had been destined to be a wife. She wasn’t like the other girls in the 1970’s who wanted to burn their bras and keep their maiden names. She wanted to find the love of her life, bear his children, and fatten him up so the other girls would leave him alone. She wasn’t one to give her heart easily, but when the right man won it, she would give it to him for life.


*********


The first time she met Antonio, the encounter almost doomed the relationship from the start. The DeLeon's moved into the home once occupied by Antonio's best friend, Paul. It was unimaginable that a girl would live in Paul's old room and Antonio was more than ready to defend his far away friend's turf. He, however, had no idea what was in store for him as he approached the new girl on the block.


“Close your eyes,” the young boy insisted.


“I will not,” Annette replied, taken aback by the request. “I don’t even know you.”


“I’m Antonio,” he replied, introducing himself. “Now that you know me, close your eyes.”


To this day neither Antonio or Annette could explain why she did as he asked, but close her eyes she did. 


With Annette’s eyes tightly shut, Antonio pulled a frog from his back pocket and placed it on the unsuspecting girl’s head. To his great surprise, Annette didn’t scream or run or do anything he might have expected. No, Annette calmly pulled the frog from off her head with her left hand, while in a single motion punched Antonio flush in his eye with her right fist.


Love didn’t blossom that day or at any time during the next few years. It might have been the punch that kept them apart or maybe their ages as Antonio was just twelve on the day of the incident, Annette only eleven. It also might have been Annette’s fondness for baseball caps, baggie jeans and flannel shirts that kept destiny from knocking on Antonio or Annette’s door, but destined to be together they were. 


**********


Antonio had a very specific way of making grilled cheese, taught to him by his grandmother. Each step had to be followed exactly as he had been shown or he wouldn’t enjoy the cheesy perfection for which he was famous. On this day, it was critically important the sandwich be just right for Annette. Everything had to be perfect. 


The first step was to melt the butter. As a boy, he would use a saucepan on the stove, but for many years, heating it in a microwave did the trick. He then dipped each piece of Wonder Bread in the liquid gold, making sure it was saturated before moving on to the griddle. He would lay one piece down for each sandwich he intended to make, followed by putting two thickly sliced pieces of the aforementioned Land O’ Lakes white American cheese on the bread, ensuring each piece of cheese was centered. Next, he would add one slice of Food Lion’s ham. He wasn’t sure why their store brand luncheon meat was perfect for the sandwich, but it was undeniable that it was. He placed another piece of butter-soaked bread on top. Then—and only then—would he turn the griddle on, set exactly at 300 degrees, a temperature arrived at by years of trial and error.  


All that was left to do was to wait to flip the sandwich over.


**********


The first time Antonio made grilled cheese for Annette was the night of their senior prom. The two, long since past the frog incident, found themselves inseparable for most of high school. Each of the young lover’s friends planned dinners at expensive restaurants, but Annette insisted on having dinner at Antonio’s house, partaking in the cuisine that made her beau famous. Annette knew Antonio had spent every last cent he had on a tuxedo for himself and a corsage for her, so her secret gift to him was the intimate homemade meal request. 


“Oh my God,” Annette exclaimed as she took her first bite, her hands greasy with butter and melted cheese dripping on her plate. “This is the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever tasted.” Annette had been prepared to offer effusive praise, but her reaction was instantaneous and sincere.


“Told you,” Antonio replied, feigning smugness as he took a large bite of his own sandwich. The two raised their glasses, full of Annette’s favorite beverage, southern sweet tea, and making a toast celebrating the perfect pre-prom meal.


“Close your eyes,” Antonio said as he put down his glass. Annette, now everything to him but a stranger, did as he asked without question.


“Now, open your eyes,” came the next request, just a few seconds after the first. To Annette’s surprise, she found her eighteen-year-old boyfriend on one knee, holding a plush stuffed frog with a diamond engagement ring hanging from a gold chain around its green neck.


“Annette DeLeon, you are the love of my life, and I don’t want to wait a day longer to make it official. Will you be my wife and make me the happiest man in the world?” 


“That proposal is more cheesy than your sandwich,” Annette responded as Antonio’s heart dropped. “But, I would love to be your wife.” When she finished accepting his marriage proposal, Antonio sprung to his feet and embraced his new fiancée, giving her a respectful kiss on her forehead.


It would be almost three years before Antonio and Annette tied the knot, but both felt bonded to one another during the night of the prom and from the first bite of grilled cheese.


**********


Sixty-seven years is longer than some lifetimes, but short when it is spent with the love of your life. There was, however, time to have three children. Antonio Jr., who now lived with his wife in Texas, was the oldest and had his mom’s spunk. Lisa, the middle child, taught art in San Francisco where she lived with her girlfriend, Monica. And there was Paul, the baby, named after a childhood friend, who never made it to his prom, buried in the town cemetery. 


For over forty years, Antonio and Annette brought fresh flowers to Paul’s grave every Sunday. The heartbroken parents spent an hour or so sharing all that had happened in the last week, leaving with the same promise to their baby. 


“We’ll see you next week,” they would say in unison, each kissing their hands and touching the gray headstone with Paul’s name etched in it. 


**********


On her last Sunday, Annette couldn’t get out of bed and into her wheelchair. The doctor, a family friend who was gracious enough to make a house call, was so kind and gentle when he used the word Antonio had been dreading to hear: hospice.  


“Thank you, doc,” Antonio said, trying to sound stronger than he was. “If it’s all right with you, we’ll talk it over and get back to you.”


“Of course,” came the compassionate reply, as the doctor shook Antonio’s hand and walked down the path to his car.


Heartbroken and fighting back tears, Antonio made his way back to the bedroom where his beloved wife lay in the bed they had shared for so long.


“Is there anything I can get you?” he asked, taking her hand, ring ever present, in his.


“I just want two things,” came her fragile reply. “I want one of your famous grilled cheese sandwiches, and I want to go see Paul.”


“As you wish,” Antonio replied, kissing her forehead before leaving for the kitchen.


One of the best parts of Antonio’s grilled cheese sandwiches was how quickly they appeared after a request; however this time, they cooked more quickly than Antonio could bear. While he waited for the second side to brown to perfection, he fixed two glasses of Annette’s favorite sweet tea. In her glass, he added the powder he had ground from more than thirty capsules of her pain medication. 


Almost in unison, the sandwich finished cooking just as the powder was fully dissolved into her tea. Antonio then took the longest walk of his life back to the bedroom where he would fulfill his love’s final wish. In his hands was a tray with the requested sandwich, a glass of sweet tea, and the same stuffed frog from a long ago proposal.


“Oh my God, this is the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever tasted,” Annette said, smiling for the first time in weeks.


“Told you,” Antonio replied, choking back tears.


Annette couldn’t eat more than one bite of the sandwich, but they both knew she would drink the whole glass of tea. In a show of her strength, she drank the entire glass in a few gulps. It wasn‘t long before the drugs started to take effect.  


At first she felt a pleasant relief from her perpetual pain, but shortly thereafter came the extreme drowsiness they both expected. Annette fought for every last moment, stoically staring into Antonio’s eyes, saying I love you without any words.


“Close your eyes,” Antonio said, tears flowing freely, as he gave his wife permission to take leave of the pain and see her son once again. Just as she had in the past, she obeyed her husband and drifted off to a sleep that would never end. 


After she was gone, Antonio was left to do the one thing he hadn’t had the heart to share with Annette. He slowly mixed the same powder he had given his wife into his own tea, drinking it down as vigorously as she had done. 


With a final kiss on her forehead, he laid next to Annette, and closed his eyes.


July 08, 2021 21:12

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

22 comments

Kristin Neubauer
22:31 Jul 08, 2021

This is a Thom Brodkin classic - a beautiful story filled with such deep emotion. The strongest parts of the piece (for me) lay in the descriptions of Antonio’s preparation of Annette’s final meal as well as the concluding scene. The description flowed so well and was so sensory. I could see, smell, hear the preparation and then practically taste it. I also love how you contrasted the painstaking preparation with such ordinary ingredients we could al identify. The parts of the story that worked less well for me were the descriptions of ...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
23:02 Jul 08, 2021

It’s fantastic feedback. I think you’re on to something. I’ll contemplate ways to clean it up. I really appreciate the extra eyes and detailed suggestions. It also is helpful to hear about the parts that worked. I’m a hard critic of my own work so hearing your positive feedback is great reinforcement.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Thom Brodkin
02:09 Jul 11, 2021

Hey, I know it’s asking a lot but can you give me a second read? I leaned it up a little and took some of your suggestions. I want to see if it works better now.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
K. Antonio
16:16 Jul 09, 2021

Ugh, this was beautiful, the descriptions were grand! The food descriptions and the preparations were great. I enjoyed the interplay of present and past. But I do agree with Kristin that I did feel like the parts that weren't cooking that highlighted their past moments together felt very much like "telling" in the sense that the appearance of certain past events felt like they were used more to justify/highlight or strengthen the meaning of something in the present. I think you could actually maybe add some type of visible break like a *...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
17:32 Jul 09, 2021

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kind words and constructive suggestions. I think they are all spot on. I am really weak in the technical aspects of writing so I miss a lot. Having people who are willing to take the time to share tips and suggestions is invaluable. Thank you so much.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Karen Kinley
01:27 Jul 09, 2021

Another beautiful love story, similar to the story arc in "Silence" that I just read! You have a way of writing emotion so that the reader is taken along the love journey with your protagonist. Not an easy feat! I loved the great detail you provided with the making of the sandwich. There's a reverence to it that acts as a metaphor for his love for his wife. Now, about the pacing. I feel like you spent a lot of time setting up the way they met with the frog, but there wasn't much payoff. The frog incident is basically insignificant in the st...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
01:50 Jul 09, 2021

I struggled with the flashbacks because I wanted to make the story about the present but you’re right I need to fix the flow. I’m glad you enjoyed it. You know how much that means to me.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
21:07 Jul 19, 2021

:O :OO :OOO *infinite ~ s h o o k ~ expressions* oh, this was beautiful. oh, this was amazing. oh, oh, oh. i thought i'd seen good writing, but then i saw this. world views? toss 'em out the window. where is a win? where is a shortlist? where? i only have one criticism- one, when i'm the most grammar-nerdy female to ever grace this site- and that's, of course, dialogue. seriously, dialogue is so hard, so i understand this. some of the lines were a bit stiff, such as this line, "'that proposal is more cheesy than your sandwich,” annette respo...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
22:36 Jul 19, 2021

I don’t have enough kind words to thank you for your feedback. There was a lot of my soul in this story and for you to see it made my day. You are 100% right about the dialogue. It is definitely one of the weakest aspects of my writing and I think your suggestion was actually very good. I hope you are blessed today because you most assuredly blessed me.

Reply

19:07 Jul 20, 2021

a fantastic writer wastin' a paragraph on me is a blessing enough, thom! :D

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Karen Kinley
19:53 Jul 09, 2021

Hey, Thom! Could you give my latest another read? Let me know if I put the right amount of foreshadowing in there? Thanks, friend!

Reply

Thom Brodkin
20:07 Jul 09, 2021

First of all I'm glad I read it again. There are so many layers to this story. The dog might be the best part. It gives you the slightest respite from the dreariness of the rest of the story, just enough to make you not lose hope. As for the foreshadowing it was also perfect. I felt it the first re-read but had to re-read it a second time to even identify it. You also did it while preserving the gut punch at the end. Really well done. This is a contender this week for sure.

Reply

Karen Kinley
20:39 Jul 09, 2021

Once again, Thom, thanks so much for being such a good cheerleader! And thanks also for the feedback. I feel like your comments helped to make my story so much better. Glad you liked the dog. I had fun researching Hank! (I'm a small dog person.) As for being a "contender," I would love to at least get shortlisted like you did! Good luck to both of us! 🤞🏼

Reply

Thom Brodkin
02:11 Jul 11, 2021

Can I ask the same of you? I’ve tried to take my feedback and make it better. Did I?

Reply

Karen Kinley
03:44 Jul 11, 2021

The beginning is a little more concise, but other than that, I can't see any difference. The one thing that throws me off is the double use of the name Paul (his friend who moved and his deceased child). Was that intentional? I'm not sure I get it, to be honest. I'm sorry, Thom, but it still feels abrupt when they go from frog-loving kids to nearly-engaged prom dates. Overall, though, I still love the story. I hope my comments help, rather than sound discouraging.

Reply

Thom Brodkin
03:54 Jul 11, 2021

I want to get better and I need friends who care enough to tell me the truth. Every suggestion is a good one. Please keep doing it. It really means the world to me.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Zilla Babbitt
16:25 Jul 09, 2021

Hey Thom, I just wanted to come say hi and tell you that I had a dream you won last night. And I was so thrilled. Fingers crossed, prayers said!

Reply

Thom Brodkin
19:26 Jul 09, 2021

This is the nicest comment I've ever had. You have always been the gold standard for me. I'm not going to lie, I hope your dream is prophetic but even if it isn't this post will always make me smile.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Erin Mc Laughlin
23:10 Jul 14, 2021

This is excellent. You've really mastered the strategy of interspersing flashbacks with the present effectively. The story is heart-wrenchingly emotional, and you build suspense and the stakes from start to finish. Incredibly well done.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Beth Connor
15:32 Jul 12, 2021

So I started reading this one shortly after hearing the news that a friend's wife had passed, and had to stop (I imagined what could be coming with your set-up) Reading it now, (and the comments) I can tell you have put a lot of work into it. I love how you carried"Close your eyes" throughout the story- that tied it together wonderfully. Your story evoked so many strong emotions. Well done!

Reply

Show 0 replies
H L Mc Quaid
12:07 Jul 11, 2021

Hi Thom, This is a tender story that made me think of Grandma, 'cause she made a killer grilled cheese. :) I'll echo what others said about using Paul as the childhood friend, and their son's name (a confusion that's easily remedied). My main observation is that you could make more of yours sentences active rather than passive, which will help with pacing and clarity. Example of passive voice: All the ingredients were there in front of Antonio. Re-written as active: Antonio carefully laid all the ingredients in front of him. When yo...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Kristin Neubauer
10:52 Jul 11, 2021

This is great, Thom. It reads really well now. Breaking the flashbacks up with asterisks works well and is a simple fix. Great job!

Reply

Show 0 replies