THE WIZARD OF ORDINARY THINGS • by Eliza Archer

I discovered his magic by accident. Tom didn’t like to show off. He was the sort of next-door neighbor you waved to when you both happened to arrive home at the same time. Nearing fifty, he spoke with eyes blue, clear, and serene. Tom Campbell was a “handyman,” vanishing each morning in his immaculate pickup truck. There was no Mrs. Campbell. Not even a dog or cat.

When I found my St. Francis statue toppled in the rose bed between our houses, I winced. Tom was watering his bloom-covered gardenia bush.

“Storm was bad last night,” he said. “Don’t try to pick that up yourself. It’s too heavy.”

“My father gave him to me,” I whispered. “I think it’s broken.”

I didn’t think it was broken. I knew. A telltale crack necklaced his throat. The one saint I remembered who died peacefully in bed was martyred in a Texas spring storm.

“It’ll be fine.” Tom stood over the statue, ignominiously lying in the baby weeds peeping through my mulch.

I wondered how Tom got his five gardenias to bloom all the time. I quit executing gardenias after my last two attempts died. On the internet, I found a helpful thread, describing countless other people’s efforts to grow a lone gardenia. Laughing over the desperation and confessions, I had felt better. Then Tom began to grow gardenias that not only thrived but seemed perpetually covered in gorgeous blooms that scented his whole front yard.

“I have to go to work.” I wiped a stupid tear from the corner of my eye. Who cries over a garden statue?

“It’ll be fine, Ellie,” he said. He smiled.

It reminded me of the rare sunny day on my last trip to Ireland with Da.

“All right. If you say so,” I said.

Sometimes the last straw wasn’t a piece of hay you were spinning into gold for an angry King. Sometimes it was St. Francis, that benign spirit beloved for his reverence for all living things. His joy in life itself, from sun to moon was a perpetual “Alleluia” of joy. My father Francis took his namesake seriously. Until his death, Da had celebrated October 4, the feast day of the little friar from Assisi, with as much pomp and reverence as March 17.

“I could have been pope,” Da told us, over his eightieth birthday dinner. “Did you know, I even studied for the Church, when I was a young man? But where would you all be then? I would be in that pope mobile in Rome. And you would be little angels, waiting on a cloud.”

The five Mahoney progeny looked grim.

“Da, I cannot imagine you as Pope,” said my brother Sean, eyeing the last fried mushroom as my brother Flynn’s hand hovered across the table.

“I would have been a good pope,” Da insisted. His voice shook then, all the time, from the palsy, but it still brought that jolt of attention to our ears. “It’s not all about the one thing or the other. It’s about your heart, Sean. The heart is all that matters. You have to have a joyful heart.”

“Right now, it would give me joy if Flynn let me have this mushroom,” Sean said. Everyone laughed except Da.

That had been our last family dinner; Da passed away a week later.

Since Da’s death, coming only months my divorce, I had felt joy oozing through the cracks. For weeks, even getting out of bed felt like pushing off heavy debris, fighting off the weighty possessions blown onto me as I slept. In dreams, I herded homeless cats, rescued drowning puppies from certain death.

When Tom moved in next door, I tried to make an effort to look competent again. Keeping my job no longer my only priority, I tried to make sure my yard was mowed, my roses tended.

“To know how Ellie feels, look at her garden,” Da had told my siblings. “She never talks, much. But her roses tell you everything. If there is nothing blooming in her garden, then neither is she.”

He knew. Last week I planted flower seeds.

When I came home, the first thing I noticed as I drove up was the tall form of St. Francis, once more shadowing my zinnia babies.

Moments later, I closed my car door, and took a closer look. St. Francis’s healing was miraculous. The crack around his neck wasn’t just repaired. It was gone, a seamless stretch of gray concrete telling no tales.

Gone too, I noticed seconds later, every tiny, scraggly weed in the garden bordering our property line.

On my front doorstep, I found three white gardenias sipping water from their red plastic cup. My note from the universe, signed by Tom Campbell, the wizard of ordinary things.


Eliza Archer is working on a novel. She drinks too much coffee.


Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    An engaging slice-of-life story. I felt it could have done with a further edit. There were some sentences that sounded clumsy to my ear, ‘March 17’ might not be too clear to everyone, and was Da’s death ‘before’ or ‘after’ the divorce? Overall though, the story left the warm fuzzy feeling required.

    • samantha

      You are right. I, for one, thought the writer meant St Patrick’s Day (March 17) as well given references to Ireland in the story and those about namesake saints (St Francis of Assisi) earlier.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    An engaging slice-of-life story. I felt it could have done with a further edit. There were some sentences that sounded clumsy to my ear, ‘March 17’ might not be too clear to everyone, and was Da’s death ‘before’ or ‘after’ the divorce? Overall though, the story left the warm fuzzy feeling required.

    • samantha

      You are right. I, for one, thought the writer meant St Patrick’s Day (March 17) as well given references to Ireland in the story and those about namesake saints (St Francis of Assisi) earlier.

  • samantha

    I liked the story a lot overall for it was positive and a nice read. Getting small messages from everyday things that in fact not so small ie. kindness. I will have to agree with Paul about taking for granted that readers are all aware of the religious references made.
    “The wizard of ordinary things” did not impress me a great deal both as a title and a closing line.

  • samantha

    I liked the story a lot overall for it was positive and a nice read. Getting small messages from everyday things that in fact not so small ie. kindness. I will have to agree with Paul about taking for granted that readers are all aware of the religious references made.
    “The wizard of ordinary things” did not impress me a great deal both as a title and a closing line.

  • D McMillan

    This is a lovely feel-good story. Just the thing for Monday morning. I will read it again then!

  • D McMillan

    This is a lovely feel-good story. Just the thing for Monday morning. I will read it again then!

  • As I read this I kept thinking behind it, about the novel you’re working on and if Ireland’s sons have anything to do with it. Had no trouble with the dates as I know them well. In a novel, there wouldn’t be an issue. Tom did his part as a character, I wished for something more (written) with the two of them, but that’s just my greed talking.
    Lovely!

  • As I read this I kept thinking behind it, about the novel you’re working on and if Ireland’s sons have anything to do with it. Had no trouble with the dates as I know them well. In a novel, there wouldn’t be an issue. Tom did his part as a character, I wished for something more (written) with the two of them, but that’s just my greed talking.
    Lovely!

  • Lydia

    Gentle and as lovely as the kindness of a stranger. Thank you.

  • Lydia

    Gentle and as lovely as the kindness of a stranger. Thank you.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I found this painfully cliche-ed and full of statements that seemed tacked together without a genuinely-purposeful narrative thread. Glad the happy hunky handyman was able to fix her statue, but it seemed somewhat less than miraculous; that title was pushing it. This might have been better without the dad-who-could-have-been-pope in the middle section, and with a little bit of Ellie’s more important backstory. Just throwing in a mention of the divorce wasn’t quite enough to make the bluebirds and sunshine a satisfying conclusion.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I found this painfully cliche-ed and full of statements that seemed tacked together without a genuinely-purposeful narrative thread. Glad the happy hunky handyman was able to fix her statue, but it seemed somewhat less than miraculous; that title was pushing it. This might have been better without the dad-who-could-have-been-pope in the middle section, and with a little bit of Ellie’s more important backstory. Just throwing in a mention of the divorce wasn’t quite enough to make the bluebirds and sunshine a satisfying conclusion.

  • Cranky Steven

    It seems to me the writer was trying to pack five pounds of apples in a three pound sack. Loved the title, got confused by the different streams.

  • Cranky Steven

    It seems to me the writer was trying to pack five pounds of apples in a three pound sack. Loved the title, got confused by the different streams.

  • joanna b.

    i found the “five Mahoney progeny who looked grim” to be the most interesting hook in the story. two brothers, who must have been at least 40 but could have been even 20 years older than that, still fighting over the last mushroom? now there’s a story. also, the father who could have been Pope? not bad either. the fantasy new neighbor who lifts Ellie out of her depression was for me a stock character. the story asked me to “feel” for Ellie and i just didn’t. 3 stars.

  • joanna b.

    i found the “five Mahoney progeny who looked grim” to be the most interesting hook in the story. two brothers, who must have been at least 40 but could have been even 20 years older than that, still fighting over the last mushroom? now there’s a story. also, the father who could have been Pope? not bad either. the fantasy new neighbor who lifts Ellie out of her depression was for me a stock character. the story asked me to “feel” for Ellie and i just didn’t. 3 stars.

  • Samantha Memi

    Occasionally in the history of civilisation there comes a work which is so profound in its insight that its arrival needs to be
    proclaimed from the rooftops. Were it not for the inclement weather I would do just that. But as it’s raining I’ll just give it 5 stars.

  • Samantha Memi

    Occasionally in the history of civilisation there comes a work which is so profound in its insight that its arrival needs to be
    proclaimed from the rooftops. Were it not for the inclement weather I would do just that. But as it’s raining I’ll just give it 5 stars.

  • Jen

    A beautiful Sunday story. I’d be interested in reading your novel.

  • Jen

    A beautiful Sunday story. I’d be interested in reading your novel.

  • (Been gone for 2 days) I liked the voice and cadence of the story, but I thought it unfocused with the story of Da included. And the miraculous healing of the statue, I wanted more than a miracle. I didn’t get the significance of the date the 17th

  • (Been gone for 2 days) I liked the voice and cadence of the story, but I thought it unfocused with the story of Da included. And the miraculous healing of the statue, I wanted more than a miracle. I didn’t get the significance of the date the 17th

  • I think that the story leans heavily on third party references (some religious) without support rather than metaphor or simile. I got hung up on several sentences. One in particular seems to be missing a word. “Since Da’s death, coming only months {after/before} my divorce…”

    I think that this story could do with a little thinning of the Da segment and possibly focusing on the ‘thing/emotion’ that was missing from her life to be filled with the ordinary wizardry/attention of Tom.

  • I think that the story leans heavily on third party references (some religious) without support rather than metaphor or simile. I got hung up on several sentences. One in particular seems to be missing a word. “Since Da’s death, coming only months {after/before} my divorce…”

    I think that this story could do with a little thinning of the Da segment and possibly focusing on the ‘thing/emotion’ that was missing from her life to be filled with the ordinary wizardry/attention of Tom.

  • Paul Owen

    A delightful story, Eliza. Thank you!

  • Paul Owen

    A delightful story, Eliza. Thank you!

  • Susan

    Finally, a story that is excellent. I found one typo, but other than that, an engaging and well written piece. It could have been a bit longer, but so enjoyable and Eliza has a magical way with words. Nice work! Best of luck with your novel!! 🙂

  • Susan

    Finally, a story that is excellent. I found one typo, but other than that, an engaging and well written piece. It could have been a bit longer, but so enjoyable and Eliza has a magical way with words. Nice work! Best of luck with your novel!! 🙂

  • MPmcgurty

    Somewhere in this piece are a couple, maybe three, good stories. Trouble is they were not intertwined smoothly enough to make a good combo. I loved the family scene so much, but it had too much detail for the rest of the story; it distracted me from the point of it.

    I’m with another (or more) reader who said this needed editing. Some for comment above, but also for sentences like this: “I quit executing gardenias after my last two attempts died.” Another was “Nearing fifty, he spoke with eyes blue, clear, and serene.” The last one might be because

    I did like the ending paragraph a lot. I’d like to see more of your writing, Eliza.

  • MPmcgurty

    Somewhere in this piece are a couple, maybe three, good stories. Trouble is they were not intertwined smoothly enough to make a good combo. I loved the family scene so much, but it had too much detail for the rest of the story; it distracted me from the point of it.

    I’m with another (or more) reader who said this needed editing. Some for comment above, but also for sentences like this: “I quit executing gardenias after my last two attempts died.” Another was “Nearing fifty, he spoke with eyes blue, clear, and serene.” The last one might be because

    I did like the ending paragraph a lot. I’d like to see more of your writing, Eliza.

  • Alexis A. Hunter

    What a lovely little story. <3

  • Alexis A. Hunter

    What a lovely little story. <3

  • Mccasey

    I enjoyed reading this story-a good one to read on a rainy day.

    • Elizabeth S.

      Thank you for all the feedback!

  • Mccasey

    I enjoyed reading this story-a good one to read on a rainy day.

    • Elizabeth S.

      Thank you for all the feedback!