“How is he today?” Flora clutched her fingers together in a knot, touching her chin with her thumbs.
“He’s been asking for you.” Dr. George Gleason, his hands tucked characteristically into his white lab coat pockets, tipped his head toward a man in a wheelchair across the wide room sitting in a pool of sunshine
“By name?” Flora’s hands transformed from an anguished fist into a hopeful prayer.
“Yes, he seemed most eager to speak with you,” Gleason lightly touched Flora’s shoulder, gesturing her forward with his other hand. “He is the most lucid I’ve seen him in a long time.”
Before joining her great-grandfather, Flora turned to give the doctor a quick hug.
Jakob Schumacher had been a resident of Lakeside Rehabilitation Center since Flora was a teenager. Every Thursday afternoon, she was there to visit him, even when he didn’t remember who she was. Those days of unfamiliarity had become more and more frequent. That Jakob had asked specifically for her was a miracle to Flora.
“Opa,” Flora knelt on the floor beside Jakob’s chair, taking one of his gnarled hands in hers, touching it to her cheek. “It’s good to see you.”
Raising her hand, Jakob kissed it then patted her head like he did when she was a child.
“It is a good day, my little flower,” Jakob said, using his nickname for Flora. His smile was genuine, and his eyes clear and bright.
“I wanted to talk with you about something important,” he said, pointing to a nearby cluster of armchairs. “Let’s go over there where we can speak privately.”
Flora wheeled him over to the quiet corner, adjusting one of the chairs so she could face him while they talked.
Jakob rolled his chair forward until their knees were touching.
“Do you remember the fairytale I used to tell you when you were young?” Jakob grasped Flora’s knees. His grip stronger than she expected.
“Yes, of course,” she said, resting her hands on his until he relaxed. “The Shoemaker and the Elves. I used to pretend that the story was about us, the Schumachers.”
Jakob looked around to make sure no one was listening to them. Leaning in closer, he whispered, “it was.”
Flora frowned, her head tilted in puzzlement. She leaned forward too, her forehead almost touching Jakob’s.
“Opa, how can that be?” she said. “That fairytale is more than 200 years old.”
“Yes!” Jakob nodded his head with child-like excitement. “Seven generations to be precise.”
Flora sat back, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Just as I am your great-grandfather,” Jakob began. “The shoemaker in the story was my great-grandfather.”
“So, it was just a family story?” Flora sat up smiling. “There weren’t really any elves.”
Jakob giggled, sitting back in his chair.
“Oh, child,” he said. “They were real. They still are.”
Flora looked around the room trying to find Dr. Gleason.
“Opa,” she started. “Dad never said anything about those stories being real, neither did Grumps.”
“Pfft,” Jakob waved his hand in the air. “Those spötters. The elves are real, I tell you.”
“It’s okay, Opa,” Flora said, patting his knee. “I believe you.”
Jakob grabbed her hand.
“That’s why I wanted you to come,” he said, an urgency in his voice that worried Flora. “I want you to get something for me.”
“Yes, of course,” she said as she gently stroked the back of his withered hand. “Anything.”
Once again Jakob scanned the room for eavesdroppers, then whispered to Flora what she was to do.
That evening, Flora studied the item Jakob asked her to retrieve from her father’s attic. A plain box with weathered letters painted on the side, “Schumacher 1802.” Inside was a collection of well-used, wooden shoe forms. The name of a customer, “Menard,” written on the side of one mold.
“Find my old shoe box – the one that has all the wooden shoe form in it, the ones I got out when I would tell you stories – and bring it to me here,” he said. “Before you do, take molds out and leave them overnight. Put out a small plate of treats – cheese, bread and hard sausages – and a stein of ale also. Do this every night until you come visit again. When you bring me the box later, tell me what happened.”
Spread across her coffee table were the wooden molds and a tray of food.
“I can’t make up a story, he’d know I’m lying,” Flora said to herself that night. “If I tell him the truth that nothing happened, it will devastate him. Maybe I’ll have a better plan in the morning.”
The following week, Flora waited in the lobby at Lakeside waiting to talk to Dr. Gleason, the wooden shoe box resting on her lap.
As they walked toward Jakob’s room, Gleason warned Flora about her Opa’s downward turn.
“He is very confused today,” Gleason said. “After you left last week, his condition quickly reverted to its usual cognitive state. He will probably not recognize you.”
“Can I still leave this for him?” Flora indicated the box she was carrying. “He was very adamant about it the last time I was here.”
“Jakob has never shown any violent tendencies, toward himself or others,” Gleason said. “I feel that it would be comforting to him, even if he doesn’t recognize why.”
“Hello,” Jakob said as they entered his room, seemingly not recognizing either of them.
“Jakob,” Gleason said. “You have a visitor, and she has brought you a gift.”
Flora moved into the room, placing the box on top of a dresser near Jakob’s bed. Taking a seat beside Jakob, she looked up at Gleason.
He nodded as if giving her permission to speak.
“Opa, it’s Flora,” she began. “Dr. Gleason said you might not remember me.”
She shook her head, unsure how to proceed.
“I brought you the shoe box you wanted,” she said, a strangled sob cracking her voice. “I just want you to know, I believe.”
She studied his face for some sign of understanding.
“I did what you asked,” she continued. “I put out the molds and the food. I don’t know if this will make sense to you, but I really do believe. I… I saw them.”
Flora looked over at Gleason again, then back to her grandfather.
“That is all you can do for now,” Gleason said.
As Flora rose from her chair, Jakob took her hand.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. “It was nice meeting you.”
“I’ll be back next week,” she said, giving his hand three quick squeezes.
When she leaned in to kiss his cheek, she saw the briefest twitch of a smile and a quick wink.
“The magic is real,” Jakob whispered.
“I love you, Opa,” Flora said, not giving away his secret.
As she drove home later that day, Flora planned to stop at the grocery store for more cheese and beer.