Sarah took her coffee out onto the back porch and looked out over the sprawling vista. The sun was just beginning to crest on the horizon, and the hazy morning fog painted the landscape with an indistinct brush.
So many mornings like these rushed back to her—memories of dew-dampened shoes as she scampered after her father through the tall grass. Time and again they’d ambled to the pond at daybreak… drizzly springs, humid summers, cool autumns. Even once or twice in the winter. Sometimes they’d bring back a grand haul and Mom would make a sumptuous feast. More often than not, they’d sit at the edge of the water and talk.
So much fun. So many memories.
Now the frivolity of youth was gone. She had to consider more practical matters.
One last, deep breath of clean country air, then Sarah turned and headed inside. Dad sat at the table, right where she’d left him, his cup of coffee cool and untouched.
He jerked, startled out of whatever place his thoughts had wandered. His eyes widened. “Who—who are you? What are you doing in my house? Where’s Helen?” His gaze darted around the kitchen, and he rose on shaky legs. “Helen! What’d you do to her? Where is she?”
Sarah put her cup down and held her hands out to show she was no threat. “Dad, it’s me. Sarah. Your daughter.”
“My daughter is a baby. Helen!” He headed toward the hall and stumbled.
Sarah dashed forward and caught him before he crashed into the breakfront. He was so frail, she hardly had to expend any effort. She guided him back to his chair at the table and helped him get situated. “Are you all right? Did you get hurt?”
He looked up at her and his expression softened. “Sarah, honey. When did you get here?”
She smiled, kissed his forehead, and turned away before he could see the tears welling in her eyes. “More coffee, Dad? Something to eat?”
“How about eggs? Your mom made the best eggs. My efforts just never measured up.”
“Scrambled or over easy?”
“Over easy. Maybe toast and bacon?”
He shouldn’t eat bacon, but she didn’t argue. “Coming right up.” She put a pan on the stove, took butter and eggs out of the refrigerator. Popped a few pieces of bread in the toaster. “Dad, when did you last make eggs?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Last week, I think.”
It could have been last week, last month, last year—he would have no idea. Sarah’s stomach flopped thinking about it. The Formica counter had a scorch mark where it butted up to the stove. There’d been a fire.
Dear God, he could have burned the house down. He could have asphyxiated. The gas line could have exploded. She couldn’t lose him. Thinking of his death so soon after her mother had passed was a knife to her heart.
“Dad?” When he didn’t answer, she turned toward him. “Dad?”
But he was gone. The back door hung open.
Sarah darted outside and looked around. He was nowhere in sight. Where could he have gone to so quickly?
A splashing noise propelled her down the hill at breakneck speed. “Dad!” Would he know not to go near the pond? Would he remember how to swim if he fell in?
She thundered toward the water, and a family of ducks took flight.
“Sarah. What’s the matter with you? You’re scaring the birds.”
Relief washed over her and she ran to him, threw her arms around him, and sobbed his name into his robe. “Dad.”
He embraced her and patted her back. “Sssh. It’s all right. They’ll come back.”
She sniffled and choked out, “Some things you can’t get back.”
He kissed her head. “I’m sorry, baby girl.”
Sarah took a deep breath. He hadn’t called her that in years. She swiped at her eyes, straightened her shoulders, and plastered a bright smile on her face. “Let’s go get breakfast.”
“Do you think we could have eggs and toast. And maybe some bacon?”
“Sure, Dad. Whatever you want.” She guided him away from the water, up the hill, and onto the porch. The stench of blackened toast wafted to her from the open door. Thank God she hadn’t put the bacon on to cook yet, or she could have burned down the house.
He turned and looked out over the grounds. “My, my. Going to be a hot one. Sun’s already burning off the fog.”
She followed his gaze and noted he was right. The fog had lifted. Things were bright and clear.
If only she could say the same for her father.
This post inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Foggy.