He chopped the onions and held back tears. He'd blame them on the onions if they broke forth while Mary was around. The usual breakfast ritual had become so ingrained - so accustomed to it that without thinking, he'd come down to the kitchen, opened the garden door and started pulling out the food until... he remembered.
A week. Had it only been a week? He stopped chopping and rested his hip against her stool. He slumped into his memory.
The dogs playing in the garden. Zoey chasing them out the door and down the path to the chicken coop. Returning with fresh eggs ready for omelet making. A typical Saturday morning. Since she was an infant Saturday breakfasts had been their job. She had, early on, become an omelet connoisseur. In fact, he smiled at the memory, the chickens had been her idea " 'Cause then, Dad, we can always have really fresh eggs for our omelets!"
Together they had researched chickens and egg laying. Learning how to get a permit to raise them here in town. Even at 8 Zoey had been able to talk anyone into anything. They had gone to their neighbors and he had listened as she convinced them to sigh the permit application she'd printed in her best third grade penmanship.
So last Saturday she'd brought the eggs in and, for the first time ever, she sat down on the overstuffed chair on the porch rather than coming in and taking up her perch on the stool. He'd checked on her and found her pale, running a temperature. He'd given her a blanket and finished the omelets on his own. When he returned with steaming plates, she was asleep but something wasn't right. He sat with her a moment before going to the phone.
"Mary? It's Jeff. Zoey's sick. Can you come with us to Urgent Care?"
Mary, his sister, was the closest thing to a mom that Zoey had ever had.
By the time she arrived, Zoey was unresponsive, he'd bundled her up in a blanket and was standing at the street Zoey limp in his arms. Mary took one look at his face and stomped on the gas - skipping Urgent Care and going straight to the Emergency Room.
The rest of the morning was a blur... but even now - even as a memory - he could still feel his soul slipping with Zoey's as though down a drain. And then, when they came to tell him, he knew and he felt as though his soul had died.