Toni Kief, from a small Midwestern town and a family of high spirits and laughter. Presently lives in the Washington state, she plans to stay for the view, trees, and friends. Her life story includes years in Insurance claims as one of the first women outside casualty investigators. A longtime civil rights activist, she shares stories about lunches with politicians, leaders, and artists. Toni didn’t start writing until she was sixty years old as a challenge. She joined a writer’s group that specialized in flash fiction, presently writing novels. Toni prefers to write about people of “a certain age.” Finally retired she continues to gathers stories prime for embellishment in extraordinary situations. Toni is a founding director of The Writers Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest.
September 2018 Issue #1: Hotel for Single Ladies (Third Place for 2019 Story of the Year!)
November 2018 Issue #2 (Theme: Poetry): Silent No More
May 2019 Issue #5 (Theme: Transitions): The Colonel
Things were supposed to be different; I was to marry a sweet boy who would grow to be a good man. I had no idea a pleasant walk in the park and ice cream soda- blind date could change my entire existence. I took the blame for a long time. I was young and really thought I had broken his heart. I was confused by his expressions of love, as he explained that was what life was about and I would learn. I didn’t want to be mean, but it just didn’t seem right. Over time it got creepy, his being everywhere. I knew something was wrong, so I changed my phone number, and moved, then moved again. I often wondered what small decision, what tiny little thing I had done to lead him on. He would leave notes and flowers professing love, and then the gifts turned to small dead animals. We were on a one-way path and I changed the map.
I could regret running over him but I was trapped. It wasn’t planned, but backing up the second time was a mistake in judgment and the third time was just showing off. I screwed up my own defense that night. This is the last time I will allow the thought that if I had done it sooner I would be getting out younger and still have the sight in my right eye. Funny, I spent more time paying for his life than running from him. I must stop rehashing the past it can’t be changed.
As I check out of the Hotel for Single Ladies after a ten-year stint, I have no home, no children thank god and no love left in me. I inventory what I do have; a room at the halfway house, the recognition of the value of time and the strength to endure anything. I will never recover the years I spent on someone I didn’t really know. He robbed me of my dreams and I took away his ability to breathe.
To rebuild from now I have to leave the supposed to bes at this gate. I have freedom and the knowledge that the dreams of youth are just fantasies. I have today, and with luck tomorrow and I can’t worry about what comes after that. I don’t know why I thought the husband, house and family was the ideal, when life always has its own plan. Spending years with the sisters at the hotel, I learned everyone has a story that could break your heart and mine wasn’t the worst.
Where to now? I’ll catch the van to the halfway house and then tomorrow the Department of Motor Vehicles. I’m going to need more than a prison ID if this new life is going to take off. My expectations are wide open, and I think I am better for it. I kiss the bitter memories goodbye at the gate and start my life with the first step.
Spit and polished in his dress blue uniform, the Colonel sat on the bench in the bracing air as he watched the sunset. The blue edge of night slipped into darkness as his last labored breath escaped his lips in a sigh. A solitary man finally released from loving one woman and the only witness was the white winter moon. When the groundskeeper found him, he was gone. The Colonel maintained control to the end.
His last thoughts were of the 15 year old dark-haired beauty whose laugh sounded like a pocket full of change. He was 18 when they met and already scheduled to leave for basic training. Margie wasn’t allowed to date until she was 16, so he spent every afternoon on her front porch. They would hold hands and talk into the night or until her father sent him home.
The morning he caught the bus for the Marines they shared a lingering kiss and he left with a youthful sense of urgency. He wrote every day and she sent him nine letters. After ten weeks, he returned to Toledo with a ring. He visited her father, dressed in his new uniform and asked for her hand. Mr. Adamson replied, “Sorry son, I won’t have a 16-year-old widow in my home; she is too young for marriage, and you know it.” He was told to leave and from that moment Margie couldn’t accept his calls. Soon she stopped writing. He felt ostracized as he simmered in his raging sense of injustice.
Then she was simply gone. He buried his love for Margie deep into his own private abyss, and in his pain he believed he was eternally hers. For a few years the Colonel continued to write even though each letter was sent back with a handwritten message, “Not at this address-Return to sender”. At the end of his first tour he decided to transfer his passion and loyalty to the Corps.
Over decades of service he forgave her with a mature understanding of the limitations of youth. Never forgotten, were the precious memories packed in a box which was kept with him as he served all over the world. A poor substitute for the missing love.
No tears were shed, yet there was a jarring sense of loss at the nursing home. Always ramrod straight the Colonel was a fixture known by all. They knew he never married and never had a visitor so only staff and residents gathered at a memorial in the community room. They sadly realized no one really knew the charming stoic man. Outrageous stories were created as they explained the possible secrets that made him the Colonel.
All of his money and possessions were left to the home. When the administrator entered his stark, neat room there was a note next to a carved wooden box with a golden thread outlining a lily. Staff and patients gathered with hopes of a revelation about the Colonel. He requested the box be cremated with him. The small diamond ring was to go to Janine, the high school volunteer. He added that her laughter reminded him of someone from long ago. Everyone hushed as Janine read a note “True love is eternal; you don’t always know who loves you best. So keep your eyes open and stay kind. The only true regret is missed opportunity.” In the center of the curious crowd, Janine reached over and opened the box. There was a unified gasp, as the girl leafed through a presidential commendation, medals, yellowed photos of a pretty girl, eleven letters and, wrapped in plastic, a human heart.