by Joshua Ian Douvier
I think I'll always remember the smell of leaves. They smell of old pipe-smoke mingling with the far-off scent of pecan pie. I remember my Grandfather raking the yard, his battered pipe hanging delicately from his wizened mouth, smoke rising in a puff each time he exhaled, making him look like an elderly freight-train.
He used to sit me on a low branch of a tree and tell me stories while he raked. He talked of fantastic lands and far away battles, of great ladies and lords, and trolls, boggans, and other beasties. My grandfather would ask me if I saw these stories in my mind's eye, if I could sense the magic and wonder in the world around me. He always seemed disappointed when I told him I couldn't.
When my Grandfather wasn't raking, he was in his shop working some new toy for me or a household appliance for his wife. I remember once he built a clockwork toy soldier for me that walked around the room shouting battle-cries. When i asked my Grandfather how he made the soldier talk, he just smiled and said he didn't.
The years passed by, and I grew up, but I always visited my grandfather and helped him rake as he told me stories. He would take me to his shop to show me his newest invention, most of which annoyed him to no end because they didn't do exactly what he intended them to.
Then, one Autumn afternoon, as I drove up the driveway to my Grandparent's house, I noticed my Grandfather was not outside raking. I walked into their to find my Grandmother sitting in a chair, weeping. She told me she thought something was wrong with my Grandfather. She said that he didn't work in his shop anymore, and he was becoming increasingly confused and disoriented.
I drove my Grandfather to the doctor where that told me that he had alzheimer's disease. I asked what could be done to slow his decline, and the doctor told me that I should just "hope for the best." Later that day, i asked my Grandfather to tell me one of the stories he used entertain me with, but he had trouble remembering them.
Its the end of Winter now, and I weep inwardly as I spoon-feed my Grandfather his birthday meal. I know it is the last birthday he will ever see. The yard is covered with leaves now, as I cannot bear to rake them. At night, I tell him the stories he used to tell me, and sometimes I see a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. I love him so much, I can't bear to see him this way.
I visit my Grandfather for the last time on a humid afternoon in May. He's forgotten how to breath now, so he's on respirators Twenty-four hours a day now. I sit down next to his hospital bed and tell him that I'm married, and my wife is pregnant. I tell him I love him, that I always will. I expect no response, so I am shocked when I looks over at me. His eyes take on the shine that I remember from the days of my youth and he says: "Never forget the stories, and never, ever forget the magic." He then closes his eyes for the last time.
I always remember my Grandfather when I rake my lawn, my young son standing next to me. I smoke my Grandfather's old pipe now and tell my son the stories he used to tell me. The strange thing is, I believe in them now, after all these years, because every once in a while, I'll catch a fleeting image of something just out of the corner of my eye, and I'll smell the familiar smell of leaves. It's then that I know my Grandfather told the truth, and that he waits for me in that land of half-imagined creatures and walking dreams.