in spite of everything
which breathes and moves, since Doom
(with white longest hands
neatening each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds
--before leaving my room
i turn, and (stooping
through the morning) kiss
this pillow, dear
where our heads lived and were.
"Mom, what was Mulder like?"
Her teenage daughter was asking her what Mulder was like. But what could she say? Mulder did not fit into sentences cleanly. He stuck out at the edges, overlapping into nearby paragraphs. There were no words for Fox Mulder.
There were pictures though, taken while they stood together over corpses or argued in front of courthouses. Or separately, she, hanging over a metal table, dressed in green. Him, leaning against a wall, tired and yawning. The pictures piled up in the corners of the office. They came with crime scene reports and appeared mysteriously at the end of a roll when sent in for developing. They could never remember who took them, they simply were, and when she left the office with her few possessions tucked under her arm, those photographs were among them.
"Mulder was," she said and stopped, finding that's all there was to say. He was Mulder. If her husband heard her say that...if her naive little daughter, or her keenly perceptive son...she couldn't say that. It would give her away. "Why?" she said instead.
And her daughter handed her a picture, the only place Mulder existed now, the only way she'd be able to know him. He was standing on his desk, a rolled up x-file in his hand. Barely visible in the grainy photograph was a grey stick perched upside-down on the ceiling. A praying mantis epiphany. Mulder was glaring at the camera, eyes angry, mouth stubborn.
"I took this," she said, smiling with the memory. She had bought him a camera the year she had cancer, telling him to take pictures of the things she couldn't see with him. To bring them to her. But there were things young daughters didn't need to know.
"I took this that last year. He complained I wasn't taking him seriously, so I climbed up on top of his desk with him, nudged the mantis into his empty coffee cup and took it outside."
Mulder had stood there, looking betrayed that she would rescue his enemy and leave him standing on his desk like a screaming housewife. Before she released the awkward green stick, she had looked down into the mug. The insect's alien eyes were peering up at her in a foreign way, and she could understand Mulder's profound hatred for its strangeness.
When she came back into the office he was sitting behind his desk, looking soulful. "That's what you do for me," he had said, "you nudge me into safety when the big men with the newspapers come to squash me. Without you, I would be standing on the ceiling, oblivious and defiant." Though the words were strange she knew what he meant. She also knew it was true and that he resented her for it.
"He hated bugs," she said to her daughter. It was something safe to share. Something her husband wouldn't question. Something she could think about without all the rest of him creeping through as well.
Her husband walked through the room then. "What are my girls up to?" he asked. "Nothing," said their daughter, a look of conspiracy on her face.
She had sometimes worn that look. "I'm fine," she would say. "Mulder's fine," she had said while wearing that face.
She found herself troubled by this "nothing" because it certainly wasn't the truth. "Talking about the man who got away," would be the truth. "Wishing I was twenty years younger, wishing I was twenty-five years old," would be the truth. But "nothing" was certainly a lie.
"Going golfing," her husband announced, digging through the hall closet for golf clubs.
"I put them in the garage," she told him. Mulder had hated it when she moved his things.
"Have to put them in the Rover anyway," he said easily, heading toward the garage, the door clicking shut behind him.
"What was he like, Mom?" she was asked again.
What sort of punishment was this? Having to describe Mulder objectively, so that a thin girl of 13 could understand him. A girl who had never seen an alien or a government assassin could not understand Mulder. She herself just barely could. She had missed most of the aliens, seen too many assassins, and only occasionally understood Mulder in the way his creator might have.
"Was he nice?" her daughter asked.
Mulder's hands on her back, on her face, on her arms. Mulder slamming car doors and hotel doors and office doors. Mulder humming along to the car radio. Mulder lecturing from behind a slide projector. Mulder standing up against the screen, pointing at some tiny smudge, the picture curving over his handsome face, unfelt. Mulder, living, without any thought of the alternative.
"Honey, I don't understand," she said, but she did. She understood too well. Mulder was a fairy tale in this house. He always started, "Once upon a time..."
Her daughter put a book in her lap. There was a slip of paper marking a page. It was her high school yearbook, freshly inked and bound. The pictures of a new generation, a new possibility.
Dana Scully, who had kept her name because it was all she had left of him, cracked the book open. There on page 76, in a badly shot black and white photograph, was a boy. He stood with his arms over his head, face screwed up in concentration, a blurry basketball just ready to tip into the basket. He had a nose that some might say was too big for his face, but Scully knew he'd grow into it. His hair was dark and a little too long as it fell onto his forehead and obscured one eye. He had nice hands, though probably too small to palm a basketball. Strong arms, thin legs.
Dana looked at her daughter, seeing past the current hair style and hot-pink lip gloss. And there she was -- the woman she would be one day. The daughter who said she wanted to be a psychologist, who said she too would keep her own name if she got married, the daughter who hid behind the white Keds and the trips to the mall. This daughter picked up the picture of Mulder from where it sat between them on the couch and placed it next to this basketball boy.
Dana didn't need to look. The face of her partner had long ago been emblazoned across the back of her mind. Sometimes when she blinked, his face would appear, brief and lazy. When she started seeing him with open eyes, then she would worry.
She didn't scan the small type of the caption for his name. She didn't want to know. "Is he nice?" she asked instead, watching her daughter, wondering if she had found the photo then the boy or if it was the other way around.
"Sometimes," her daughter said, most likely knowing that wasn't the right thing to say to a mother, however true.
Dana closed the yearbook, its new bindings creaking and snapping. She leaned forward to put the book on the coffee table and wondered why fate laughed at her this way. The chance she never took had been given to her thirteen year-old daughter who would never be able to hold this boy the way she wanted. She would never be able to protect him or have him entirely convinced of her love. Her chance was being given to a child. Her child.
Her daughter got up from the couch, pulling the yearbook to her chest. All pink lip gloss and white Keds again, she went into the kitchen, searching for Doritos.
Dana Scully sat on the couch alone. Her own son, who looked nothing like Mulder, was camping with his girlfriend. Her husband, who didn't look enough like Mulder, was golfing with the rest of the pediatricians. And her daughter, all thirteen years of her, was getting into something Scully envied her for all over again.