A cloud of dust went straight up Harry’s nose, and he fought the sneeze for a few moments before it finally exploded out of him. “A-choo!” The lamp he was dusting rattled a bit. “Don’t mock me,” he mumbled to the lamp.
A few years ago, that would have been a simple case of talking to himself while doing household chores. Today, however, the opinions of inanimate objects were actually a sizable concern for Harry Callahan. His daughters often talked of long conversations with trees and computers, and Nita occasionally mentioned the rousing arguments Kit tended to get into with every piece of his family’s entertainment system. So Harry found himself apologizing when he bumped into tables and warning lamps not to mock him while he was dusting.
“Sorry I let it get this bad,” he told the lamp. “Betty always used to remind me to do the dusting. It’s just been hard lately.”
The lamp said nothing, which wasn’t surprising, because Harry knew he wouldn’t be able to understand it if it did reply. Maybe someday he would ask his daughters what the lamp thought of him.
He doubted he'd remember to.
Thinking of his wife made the feather duster go heavy in his hand, and Harry sat down on the couch with a thump to wait out the hot tears that filled his eyes. It had only been a few months, now, and while every article on grief he had read said that it would get easier with time and that the pain would eventually fade, that day felt no closer to coming. He still expected to see her beside him when he woke up in the morning, still had moments of confusion when he’d swear she just stepped out for milk and had to remind himself she wasn’t coming back.
Dusting was his chore, but oftentimes she would have to remind him to do it. Every time, he would sigh theatrically and say “I know, hon” and pick up the duster. He did the dusting because she despised it.
“I always get it up my nose,” Betty had said. “I’ll take out the trash if you do the dusting,” had been their agreement when they moved in to this house.
Harry sneezed again. He always got the dust up his nose too, but he didn’t mind doing it for her. At least with her reminding him it didn’t build up like this.
Dust. It was amazing the little things that sent that stab of pain through his heart these days. He was crying over dust. How could it possibly get better if something as stupid as dust was making him cry?
Harry briefly entertained the thought of delegating the dusting to Nita or Dairine, but that wasn’t fair to either of them. They had to deal with chores and grief, the same as him, and they had homework and wizardry on top of it.
There was that pang, again. Harry gave up on getting the dusting done all in one go and slumped back on the couch, forcing his kinked up back to relax a bit.
That was the kicker, wasn't it? They had wizardry to worry about. His little girls were off saving the world and casting spells, and he was worried about the dusting. “Nothing like a little perspective,” he said to the room at large.
Wizardry had bought Betty a precious few extra months. It had eased her pain and lengthened her life. He was grateful, truly, that whatever the girls had done had helped, even if he still didn’t fully understand what had happened. They had been helping, doing something productive that worked, while he was stuck in the waiting room, hoping that everything would go right.
It was wizardry that had helped, and he hadn't been able to do a damn thing.
He never revealed to anyone just how difficult it was to sit there, in the uncomfortable plastic chair, waiting for news. He wasn’t just worried about Betty, but Nita and Dairine as well. Under the cold flourescent lights, he was hoping and praying that all of them would make it through. That all of his girls were going to come home to him.
He wasn't a doctor and he wasn't a wizard. He was a florist. So when Betty came home from the hospital, he had a giant flower arrangement waiting for her. She laughed at him, and his daughters hugged him, and he shrugged sheepishly and regurgitated an old Internet joke about “You left and I thought you were never ever coming home so I panicked”, but despite the humor in his voice and the chuckles as they compared him to a Golden Retriever, he meant every word.
That was something he could do: take blooms and stems and craft something that would make them smile. That was a tiny bit of power he had in a world that was quickly slipping out of his control. Cancer and wizardry were equally out of his sphere of influence. They rearranged bodies and the Universe; he arranged flowers. A mere florist cannot do much against microscopic cells and cosmic forces, but he can sure stick some roses and daisies in a pot and make them look good together.
Snapping back to the present moment, Harry eyed the feather duster and sighed. The shelves wouldn’t dust themselves, no matter how nice it would be to ask Nita if they could possibly be persuaded to.
After the surgery, but before Betty’s death, they all sat down and had a conversation about the nature of the Universe, just the four of them. In a bizzare mix of theology and science, Nita and Dairine told them about entropy and thermodynamics, about Powers and Choices, the invention of Death and the Choice every species makes about it. Knowing why things die didn’t make it any easier to accept that they do, but Betty had nodded along and said something about how it was a good thing to know.
It made him understand a bit better what Nita and Dairine do when they vanish for a few days then come home exhausted. Some people’s kids play soccer or take piano lessons. Harry Callahan’s kids fight Death and its inventor.
He started going a little easier on them about grades after that.
“Good thing there’s wizards,” he had said. “Sounds like us ordinary people wouldn’t have much of a chance without you.” It was a flippant comment, but Nita and Dairine took it seriously.
“It’s not so simple,” Nita had said, at the same time Dairine exclaimed “There’s no such thing as ordinary!”
“You don’t have to be a wizard to reduce entropy,” Nita continued. “The little things, turning off the lights when you go out or cheering someone up, those are important too!” She grimaced, apparently realizing how absurd it sounded to compare flicking a light switch to some of the things she did.
“Does that all really help? It seems like it's just a drop in the bucket.” Harry said.
“But if every person does something, that’s a lot of drops.”
“Hey droplets,” Betty said, “I don’t know about you, but my stomach’s growling. What do you want for dinner?”
They ended up ordering Chinese and discussing the secrets of the universe over fried rice and sesame chicken.
“You don’t have to agree with something to accept it.”
Harry couldn’t remember where he had read that particular saying. Perhaps a fortune cookie or bumper sticker? The source didn’t really matter, but the saying had always bugged him.
There’s plenty of things I don’t agree with and don’t accept, his train of thought went. School shootings? Wars? Hatred? People who are rude to waiters? I can't just accept those! That would be giving up!
After Betty’s death, and while he was still trapped in the stages of grief, he realized what the saying meant. “You don’t have to agree with it, but like it or not, it exists in the same universe as you, so you can either accept its existence or live in denial.”
His girls and what they told him about their wizardly work only expanded the saying further: “You don’t have to agree with something to accept its existence, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up either. Acknowledgement and acceptance are not incompatible with attempts to change it.”
Harry began to understand that wizardry was about protecting life and slowing death, but at its core, it was conservation of energy. Every action was meant to stave off the heat death of the universe. They accepted it would happen eventually, but they tried their damndest to fight it anyway.
One day, instead of getting stuck in another depressive cycle, Harry chose to go out and buy energy-efficient lightbulbs and replace all the lights in the bathrooms. Conserve energy and fight entropy, the ordinary way. That’s got to be better for the psyche than just moping around, right? At the very least, it’s a lot more doable than what he really wanted to do: punch Death. Preferably in Its stupid face.
It didn’t make him feel better. Going to the hardware store didn’t feel like healthy coping, and the new lights just gave him a headache when he went to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Harry found Nita and Dairine wearing Betty’s old clothes once in a while. “It still smells like her,” Dairine said, pulling her hands into the sleeves of the oversized sweatshirt she had dug out.
He saw both of them go into the back closet and pull out Betty’s old ballet shoes and try them on, independently of each other.
He knew that Dairine would go to Nita’s room when she woke up in the middle of the night, restless and anxious.
He saw the way Nita’s room became a mess and Dairine’s became nearly obsessively organized.
He never mentioned that he noticed. He just hugged them and held them close and let them cope in their own ways.
Betty was always the religious one. She took the girls to church every Sunday, until they got old enough that they chose to stop going. Sometimes he joined them, sometimes he didn’t.
Harry didn’t really consider himself religious or atheist. He didn’t know if there was a God, but if there was, He didn’t seem to have much of an effect on Harry’s daily life. He tried to live well and be a good person, prayed in times of crisis, and overall had a rather neutral view on religion itself.
Then Nita and Dairine became wizards, and he learned that there was a God. Many of them, in fact. And his girls had met these Powers in person.
One of these Powers was apparently a parrot at one point. And also Nita's Irish friend.
It was all a bit confusing.
The revelation of the existence of deities (Powers that Be, he reminded himself. It's more polite to use Their terminology) didn’t shake his world or give him a crisis of faith. For the most part, he just continued to live his life the way he had before, being kind and generous and worrying more about being a good person than following what some old book or church said.
There were times, though, especially in the months after the funeral, that he found himself sitting in the back row of an empty church. That was the best way he knew how to get close to these Powers. When Nita and Dairine were off-planet and the empty house was simply too much to bear, he would walk to the little church a few blocks over and pray.
“Please, I know you’re busy, what with having a whole Universe to look after, but please, take care of my girls,” he prayed. “I know they do this willingly, and I would never dream to take this away from them or ask them not to go, but please, help keep them safe. Please let them come home to me.”
He didn’t know if anyOne was listening, or if They even cared about one human’s prayers, or if They would do anything about it if They did hear. But it helped, just a bit, to know that there were Powers out there who might, just might, hear his words.
The Callahans had known Tom Swale and Carl Romeo long before they knew about wizardry, and finding out they had wizardry in common with the girls only strengthened their friendship.
Many times, Harry found himself in their kitchen, drinking their coffee and petting their dogs and feeling faintly embarrassed that he was imposing on the two Senior Wizards who probably had many better things to be doing than dealing with a grieving father. But every time, they welcomed him in and poured him a mug and gently reminded the dogs not to drool on his shoes.
Mostly, they just talked. About the weather, about the news, about the world. Sometimes, to reassure him, Tom and Carl would pull out their own Wizard’s Manuals and give him an update on Nita and Dairine, reading their status out from the thick volumes that resembled phone books more than any magical tomes.
“She arrived on Pecadm’s moon just fine, no problems with the transit, and as far as I can tell, the plans for what to do about the tides are going off without a hitch.”
“There was a spot of trouble with the volcano, but they all packed the extra shielding like we recommended so everyone on the team is fine, including her.”
“S’ree says girls’ night is going well and to stop being such a worrywart.”
Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Tom and Carl were either pulling strings for him or otherwise abusing their Senior privileges to get him those tidbits of information. He still wasn't completely up to speed on wizardry, but some of the interplanetery reports seemed seemed outside of their jurisdiction. Neither of them would ever admit to going above and beyond for him, though.
“We know what it’s like to be concerned about them,” Tom had said once, opening his Manual and muttering a few words that would let Harry see the page in English. It was a list of names of wizards around Nita and Dairine’s ages, partially censored for privacy. “Maybe we’re not parents in the diaper-changing and PTA sense, but we do have a lot of kids we look after.”
“How do you do it?” Harry had asked, staring at the sheer number of names on the list. “Knowing every day they all go out into danger and might not come back?”
Tom and Carl shared a look. “It’s not easy,” Carl said at last. “And it never gets easier.”
“We lost someone today, actually,” Tom said. “Kid in Maine, on Ordeal. Trying to stop a star from dying before its time.”
“What happened?” Harry asked.
Carl huffed. “As usual, the Lone Power happened,” he said. “She stopped Its avatar that was messing with the sun’s core, but the price of the spell was her life.”
“Christ. How old was she?”
Harry choked on his coffee. “T-there are wizards that young? They let kids become wizards that young? I thought you said Dairine was young to be a wizard! What are they doing giving it to kids that age?!”
“It’s rare, but not unheard of. The younger the wizard, the more power they have to start out with. She ended up saving an entire star system.” Tom sighed. “As for ‘letting’ her become a wizard… It was her choice—that’s the long and short of it. The Powers that Be saw a problem she could solve, and They offered her the power. They gave her all the warnings, and she took it.”
“It’d be more problematic if it wasn’t her choice like that,” Carl said. “If we just up and said ‘you need to have existed for this many days before you are allowed to be a wizard’, that’d be spitting in the face of every child on every world. Being young and being capable are not mutually exclusive. Beyond that, denying them the potential to do good and find out for themselves, well, that lets down all life in the Universe.”
“Still, five years old.” Harry shook his head. “It’s hard to fathom.”
“Usually, in a case like that, a local Advisory would step in and help out, because let’s face it, even though someone that age has power, they just don’t have the life experience. They'd help with learning spells and support them as they got used to wizardry.” Tom said. “But she was good, and she was smart; independent enough that no red flags got raised until it was too late. A kid that age, she can talk about magic and spells and what the butterflies said to her that morning, and her parents won't bat an eye. Somehow, that let her fall through the cracks.”
“We’re working to figure out how to keep it from happening again,” Carl said. “It’s a grim reminder that despite everything, the Powers that Be are still fallible. The Manual system picked up her talking to her parents about wizardry and thought that was enough. Obviously, it wasn’t, or an Advisory would have gone out and, well, advised her.”
“And she’d still be alive.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But she might have had a better chance.”
They all fell silent; even the dogs acknowledged the solemn mood and didn’t raise a fuss.
“I think you need this more than I do,” Harry said, standing, and drew Tom and Carl into a hug.
Meeting Filif had made Harry a bit self-conscious about his work, but Filif assured him, after a conversation with the flowers in his shop, that flowers didn’t mind being cut from their parent plant and arranged. In fact, they greatly appreciated getting to be pretty and cheer people up.
With that in mind, sometimes after work, Harry would gather up all the flowers that he couldn’t sell for one reason or another (missing a few petals, bent stem, bit wilted but still pretty) and just walk around town, giving them to people who looked down. A teenager going through a breakup, a mother whose son just went off to college, students who were stressed about exams.
A lot of them just took the flower and went on with their lives. Most of them smiled. A few looked at him like he was crazy.
Some of them stopped and chatted with Harry, and he would ask them about their day and their lives and tell them about his work as a florist.
He liked to hope that the world was just a tiny bit happier because he did that.
One of the hardest things after Betty died was how quiet the house was when it was empty. The silence seeped into his soul and pressed down around him like a blanket; a tangible reminder of what wasn’t there.
Thankfully, the house wasn’t empty as often these days. The exchange program was over, but that didn’t stop Filif, Sker’ret, and Roshaun ke How The Heck Does He Expect Anyone To Remember All Those Names from stopping in once in a while to say hi. Kit was practically a son by now, and a lot of their other friends popped in frequently. Harry found himself learning to cook a wide variety of dishes in self-defense, simply to be able to accommodate the wide variety of tastes, allergies, and nutritional requirements that found themselves around his dinner table.
Much to his surprise, Roshaun became fascinated with his culinary exploits, and he found himself in the amusing position of teaching an alien prince how to cook basic Earth dishes. At first, he thought it was just a novelty — the independence of preparing your own meals after a lifetime of having them made for you. Then he overheard Roshaun mumble something about how it was “easier to know it’s not poisoned this way”. Harry supposed that, no matter what the reasoning behind it, it was no less amusing to walk into the kitchen and see Roshaun covered in flour and wrinkling his nose at the stove in his latest attempt at pancakes.
Eventually, Harry took a week off of work to remodel the basement and add more room for guests down there. Filif and Sker’ret and Roshaun had their “pup tents” that were bigger on the inside, but not every wizard was that lucky. Between the occasional off-world visitors, Kit, Kit’s sister, the Irish kid, the skinny black kid, the floating dolphin, the floating whale, and goodness knows who else, it became clear that one extra bedroom was just not enough for everyone.
They had gradually been clearing the basement out, taking boxes of old books to the thrift store, fixing up the old bicycles, and generally making it a more usable space instead of just a cluttered storage area, but as the Callahan house became a wizardly hub, Harry began to feel embarrassed at not having as much room to offer as he’d like. So the last of the junk got given away or moved out of sight, the walls got a new coat of drywall and paint, some nice hardwood finally covered the concrete floor, and Harry installed some new light fixtures. LED lights, this time.
They didn't seem to give him as many headaches as the bathroom bulbs, and they were supposedly even more energy-efficient. Hopefully the wizardly guests would appreciate that.
He put in a few guest beds from IKEA and laughed a bit when Nita and Kit and Dairine attempted to help; apparently wizardly Manuals and knowledge of the structure of the Universe didn’t help much when confronted with IKEA manuals and the structure of Swedish furniture. He then tacked up some posters and curtains to make the bare walls more homey, put spare towels and sheets in the closet, and resigned himself to not knowing who or what would be in the basement when he woke up in the morning.
Still, the thank-you notes from the wizards who used the guest beds when they were simply too tired to get home made it worth every penny and hour he put into the project.
When Harry came into the kitchen one morning to find Sker’ret draped over a couple of chairs, eyestalks drooping and every set of legs slumped, he didn’t hesitate to pull up a chair and ask what had his favorite purple arthropod so down.
“I’m the only purple arthropod you know,” Sker’ret had grumbled, but it broke the ice. He confessed that his work as Stationmaster had him overloaded and overworked, and he just needed a break. “Doing nothing is almost worse, though,” Sker’ret said. “It just makes me think about everything I’m going to need to do when I get back.”
Harry had thought for a moment, inquired about the status of Sker’ret’s mochteroof, then congratulated Sker’ret on his new position as temporary assistant at his flower shop.
Sker’ret hadn’t objected, and after he had his human disguise on, Harry took him to work with him, introduced him as a friend of his daughter’s who was in town for the week, and set him to work.
“How do you manage with just one pair of arms?” Sker’ret asked, trying to get a bouquet properly arranged in its vase.
“Lots of practice,” Harry replied.
The bell above the door rang. Harry had his back to the entrance, fussing over a pot filled with some snapdragons, and he didn’t look at who entered. He shivered - it felt like a cold draft had blown through the shop. Was it cooling off outside? “Welcome, be with you in just a moment,” he called over his shoulder.
Beside him, Sker’ret’s back stiffened in a way that had nothing to do with issues with the motchteroof. “Harry,” he hissed.
“The person who just came in,” Sker’ret whispered.
Harry took a look over his shoulder. The stranger didn’t look too remarkable. Tall, thin, bright red hair a bit like Dairine’s. He was staring intently at a display of lilies. The shop still felt chilly. He turned back to the flowers. “What about him?”
“The aura about him, that’s the Lone Power.”
Harry nearly beheaded an innocent snapdragon with his clenched fist. “What?” He repeated. “Who? Are you telling me the Power that invented death is in my flower shop?”
“Yes. It’s not an avatar or an overshadowed human, it’s Him Himself.”
Harry stole another glance at the Lone Power, who seemed quite content to examine the lilies and pay them no mind.
“Hold my flower, please,” Harry said, passing the potted snapdragons to Sker’ret.
Sker’ret nearly fumbled it, still adjusting to having two hands instead of tons of legs, but got a grip and clutched the pot to his chest. “I’ve got it,” he said. “Wait, you’re not going to-”
“I’ve got this.”
The length of the shop seemed both long and short as Harry’s mind raced to keep up with what he was about to do. What do you even say to the creator of Death when he’s in your shop? “Can I help you find anything?” didn’t seem right. “Can I punch you in the face for taking away my wife?” didn’t either.
A small, frantic part of Harry’s brain told him this was a terrible idea. He tuned it out.
When he reached the red-haired man, he stopped and examined the same lilies for a moment. It was colder closer to him, maybe that aura Sker’ret mentioned. “Hello,” he finally said.
“Hello,” the Lone Power said. “You have nice lilies here.”
Harry blinked. That wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. He didn’t know what, if any reaction, he was even expecting. (You have nice lilies. Was that a threat? “Nice flowers, shame if something like Death were to happen to them.”)
A lump formed in Harry’s throat as his brain started to process just Who he was talking to. “Thanks,” he managed to choke out. “I found a new supplier who manages to keep them fresher.”
“It shows. The other shops in town only have wilted ones.”
“It's tough, this time of year, to keep the temperature right for them.”
This was Harry’s life, apparently. Making small talk with the Lone Power about lilies.
Harry glanced at a shelf above the lilies, where a shiny vase was sitting. In the distorted reflection, he could see Sker’ret, frozen where he left him, but with a look of concentration on his artificially human face that made Harry think he was readying some kind of spell. It felt good to have backup.
Harry decided to dispense with the small talk. “I know you,” he said in a low voice, mindful of the other customers in the shop. “My daughters have talked about you.”
“Hm,” the Lone Power grunted. “I suppose they probably have.”
“My wife is gone because of you.”
“This world is filled with violence and pain and terrible people doing terrible things. People suffer and die every day. And I am getting grey hairs wondering if my daughters are going to come home every night just because they’re trying to do something about it.” It wasn’t the most eloquent speech he had ever made, but he thought it was decent considering the way his throat caught and hot tears stung the corner of his eyes.
Harry stopped and took a deep breath to compose himself before continuing. “Those lilies you’re admiring? They’re probably going to end up on someone’s grave. And it’s your fault.”
Is that all you have to say? Harry thought, face turning red. All that pain, all that death on your shoulders, and that's all you have to say?
As if He heard Harry’s thought (and maybe He did, Harry still didn’t know much about how these Powers operated), the Lone Power finally diverted his gaze from the lilies and turned it on Harry. “Are you going to keep talking or do you intend to do something about it?” He said levelly.
Those eyes were filled with fire and darkness, and the chill intensified. There was a rustle as Sker’ret shifted behind him. Harry stared at the Lone Power, and the Lone Power stared at Harry.
Well, he had always wanted to punch the guy in the snoot. Why not now?
Harry recalled all those months of anger and hurt after Betty’s death. The pathetic helplessness he felt at not being able to do a single thing to aid his wife or daughters in the fight against the force that was eating her from the inside out. Cursing the fact that he was just a florist, not a doctor or wizard.
The nights spent crying into his pillow because he didn’t want Nita and Dairine to hear him, because he had to be strong for them.
Learning how to live his life without his other half in it.
Doing the dusting without being reminded.
He remembered all the pain, and the grief, and the terrible things he went through. He remembered every ounce of hurt, making it through every dreadful day that never seemed to end.
Standing here, in his flower shop, between lilies and daises and roses, staring a cosmic force in the face, Harry had a realization. He had made it through the pain, and he wasn't hurting as badly any more.
The ache in his chest that had pervaded his being for months simply wasn’t there. If he thought about it, he could feel the scar where it had been, and that scar of Betty’s death would never go away, but it wasn’t actively hurting. All of that anger and frustration and helplessness and pain had run its course.
He still hates that it happened. He hates that he was helpless and that his wife died and that his daughters don’t have a mother any more. He will always miss Betty. However, he can’t change that she’s gone.
He doesn’t agree with Death, not one bit, but he can accept that it exists.
So Harry Callahan – florist, father, human – looked at the Lone Power and saw Him.
He saw the lines on that terrible face, the dark circles under those dark eyes and the frown lines around that mouth that looked a second away from twisting into a snarl. He saw the slump of His shoulders and the loose thread on His jacket.
This physical manifestation of the celestial Power that invented death looked tired.
To punch him now felt a little too much like kicking someone when they were down. The world had enough pain and anger in it already. He didn't need to add to it.
So, Harry Callahan did the only other thing he could do. Harry Callahan did the thing he knew would hurt the Lone Power the most. Harry Callahan did the wizardly thing to do.
He said, “I forgive you.”
The Lone Power’s head snapped up, and Harry was treated to the rare sight of a completely speechless Power.
Rather than wait for the Power to recover, Harry turned back to the display of lilies and selected a handful, then presented them to the Lone Power. “Here, on the house.”
The Lone Power took the flowers, still gobsmacked. When his hand brushed against Harry’s, he got a jolt like static electricity, but neither of them reacted.
“Neither of us can change that Death and entropy are in the universe,” Harry said. “But that doesn’t mean Life has to be filled with pain and anger all the time.” He looked the Lone Power in the face and found the strength to smile. “You have a good day, now.”
With that, he turned and went back to the snapdragons, taking the pot back from Sker’ret. The bell over the door rang, signaling the Lone Power’s exit.
“What the heck just happened?” Sker’ret asked.
“I chose to not punch him in the face,” Harry replied, and said no more on the matter.
Later, he did have to say more on the matter, because Nita called him from whatever planet she was on erranty at, frantic because she got a message from Sker’ret saying that the Lone Power was in his shop, and dad are you alright, he didn’t pull anything did he? I swear to the Powers that Be in a Bucket, say the word and I will go turn him into an ottoman.
Harry just said no sweetie, everything’s fine, no turning celestial beings into furniture please. “He was looking at the lilies, so I gave him some, and we talked about entropy a bit. No big deal.”
“THE LONE POWER WAS AT YOUR WORK. IT’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL, DAD.”
“It’s fine, he didn’t cause any trouble, and anyway, Sker’ret was there.”
“STILL NOT FINE.”
That night, Dairine became very confused when she came home, asked her dad if he had left some white lilies on Mom’s grave, and instead of answering, he let out a slow breath and muttered “that bastard didn't.”
A tiny puff of dust went up Harry’s nose, and he fought the tickle in vain before he sneezed into his sleeve. “Ah-choo!”
The layer of dust wasn’t as thick as it had occasionally been. He was getting better at remembering to do the dusting.
“Sorry if that tickles,” he said to a lamp as he swept the duster over it. The lamp didn’t answer in any way he could understand, but he didn’t particularly expect it to. Nita didn’t seem to talk to lamps that much, but Kit had once said that the lamp liked Harry well enough, so he endeavored to be polite to it in turn.
Living room now dust-free, Harry sat down heavily on the couch to take a break. After the dusting came the vacuuming, and he wasn’t particularly looking forward to that. He’d never say anything to Filif’s face (or rather, the top of his branches under the baseball cap of the day), but the house did tend to get covered in traces of loose soil after he had spent some time in the garden.
A pun about “putting down roots” passed through Harry’s mind, and he laughed out loud. Oh Betty, I wish you could see our house and the people that come through it, he thought. The hole in his heart was there, no doubt, but the thought didn’t bring piercing pain like it once did.
The empty house still felt strange, in those moments when there were no wizards passing through. He still occasionally woke up disoriented, wondering why the other half of the bed was empty.
But then there were days like today, when the emptiness just represented a break in which to do the dusting. Speaking of which, the shelves in the bedroom wouldn’t dust themselves. Nita had asked, and they said no.
That was the best way he knew how to honor his wife’s memory: remembering to do the dusting. Clean the house. Put his local environment in a more ordered state. Fight entropy and pain and spread happiness and forgiveness instead.
That’s all anyone can do, right?
Harry Callahan. Father. Florist. Widower. Ordinary human being.
Every day, by waking up and doing the dusting and going to work and living his life, he worked to prove that just because you’re a florist instead of a wizard, that doesn’t mean you can’t make the world a better place.