Summary: “..something lives only as long as the last person who remembers it.” ~Albert Hosteen
Category: Vignette, MA
Distribution: Okay. Keep headers in tact and drop me a note.
Spoilers: This takes place directly after Sein Und Zeit so anything related to Teena Mulder
Feedback: Hell yeah. folieadeux98[at]gmail[dot]com
Disclaimer: Not mine. Sadly, no money made. Mulder is David’s.
Note: Thanks much to Phantagrae who kindly beta’d this and made sure my lousy punctuation (or lack thereof) didn’t get in the way of my idea. Thank-you to Wench Teejay, my weekly geeky good time.
“You are the memory, Fox. It lives in you.” – Bill Mulder
He stood on the step staring at her front door, his eyes settled on the brass doorknob. A speck of bright light bounced off the gleaming metal, casting a tiny orb onto the toe of his shoe. He moved his toe slightly watching the spot dip and swerve. Forcing his eyes forward, he stared at the brass plate and knocker. His reflection bounced back at him with a fractured expression. He smiled ruefully at the irony of it. His chest expanded slowly as he pulled his shoulders back and forced his lungs to fill with air. He wondered briefly if she did that – filled her lungs with poison in defiance of her fear.
He promptly pushed the thought away and slid his key in the lock. Turning the deadbolt quickly, he pushed his way inside. He paused on the threshold as the warm familiar air of her house wafted by him, mixing with the outside air, forming an invisible cyclone around him. Closing the door behind him, he slid off his jacket and laid it on the hall bench. He’d promised himself that he would not take too much time doing this, that he would be quick and efficient, without unnecessary emotions. Just like she’d do it, like she had done it when it had been her turn.
He sat in the hallway, his back propped against the wall, watching her. It was late spring and the yearly housecleaning was in full force. The scene was misleading in its normalcy. A woman in an apron and a freshly washed house dress ripping sheets from a little girl’s twin bed, shaking puffs of dust in the air that floated in the sunshine before disappearing to wherever those particles went. Her jaw was set tight and her face was determined. Only twin paths of tears betrayed her calm exterior.
He kept silent, a skill he was beginning to hone as the weeks wore on and his sister didn’t return. Every day the house grew more and more silent while they all pretended. What they were pretending was something he had yet to figure out.
Pulling a handwritten list from the back pocket of his jeans he unfolded the tasks before him. The paper was worn and soft in his hands – the scribbles covering it reflected the jumbled uneven thoughts of the last week. In an effort to organize himself he had underlined the tasks he felt were most important.
DO HARDEST FIRST
Making his way to the dining room, he spied the large stack of flattened boxes Rosemary had been gathering in anticipation of his visit. Rosemary Reed was his mother’s neighbor and come to find out, closest friend. Her clear friendly voice on his answering machine had been a bit of a shock. He knew little of his mother’s daily life, probably about as much as she knew of his. They preferred it that way, it kept things tidy. Just the way she liked it.
He returned Rosemary’s call and gratefully accepted her offer to help tie up some loose ends. She phoned any acquaintances to inform them of his mother’s death, a task he had dreaded and had been all too happy to parcel out.
They had lost contact with any family on his father’s side after the divorce and Teena Mulder rarely spoke about any of her own family. The Mulder clan were not big family reunion types. The idea of them sitting around a big table with a host of relatives was not something he could begin to picture. He flashed on the idea of his family tree – a withered spindly group of roots – wound down to a single knotty finger. The notion that it would end with him was moderately comforting on good days, and overwhelming on bad ones.
Grabbing some boxes and a roll of tape, Mulder made his way to his mother’s room. He tried not to notice the scattered remnants of the police investigation as he passed through her house. The idea of her house filled with people she didn’t know caused a reaction in him he hadn’t expected. How many times had he callously strolled through someone’s house as they lay on the kitchen floor? Certainly more then he cared to remember.
He spoke to his mother as he climbed the stairs to her room. He found himself doing it all the time now, performing these one sided conversations in his head, or whispered aloud when he was alone, like now. It had occurred to him that he spoke to her now more than when she was alive. Another avenue of thought he would try to avoid.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry strangers were in your house. I’m sorry I wasn’t here first.”
Entering her room felt like standing next to her. Every possession setting off bittersweet land mines in his brain. The intimacy overwhelmed him, and he made his way to her bed and sat down. Dropping his items on the floor, he laid back, legs dangling uncomfortably over the side.
“Mom, are you sure you don’t want anything else?” Mulder looked around the summer house, its corners still crowded with the clutter of past vacations: beach balls, water wings, brightly colored beach towels. Standing in the middle of the living room, holding a large box in his arms, he stared at his mother in disbelief.
Taking a quick look around, Teena Mulder’s face remained blank, a barely perceptible tightness around her mouth. “I’m sure.”
“Why don’t you think about it for a few days, Mom? Don’t decide now.”
“Fox” she turned to face him, her voice steady, “I will never set foot in this house again.”
He believed her.
Shaking himself from his reverie, he sat upright and got busy taping boxes together. He moved quickly through her dresser drawers putting clothes in boxes without stopping to look at them. Taping them up, he marked each one as he finished and stacked them in the hallway. He made several more trips to the dining room for more boxes before the room began to look empty.
PACK WHAT YOU WANT TO KEEP
Grabbing more boxes, he made his way to the living room. The drapes were pulled and it was shady and cool, small slices of sunshine peeking through gaps here and there. He avoided opening the drapes and instead turned on the several lamps scattered around the room.
Turning to the book shelves, he brushed his fingertips over the titles. The bindings were beginning to gather dust, something his mother would hate. Many of the titles were familiar to him, remains of an interrupted childhood. Encyclopedia Britannica: a sixth grade prize for selling the most raffle tickets for a school event he could no longer remember. The Time Life books his dad bought him for his birthday when he turned twelve. Pulling out the most worn of the group, he brought it to his face and breathed in the fake leather smell.
“Sam, quit bothering your brother and let him open his presents.” Bill Mulder’s voice meant business and the little girl sat down swiftly, an annoyed look on her face. Folding her arms across her
chest, she swung one foot rapidly back and forth under her chair. “Come on, Fox. Hurry up.” Samantha whined.
Giving his sister a devilish glare, Fox Mulder deliberately slowed his movements until the wrapping paper ripped in millimeter increments. “Is this fast enough?”
“Fox, stop teasing your sister and act your age.” Teena Mulder stood with her hands on her hips, frowning at her son.
“Yes, ma’am.” Fox quickly opened the rest of his present and stared in shock at the books. Pulling out one book, he gazed at the colored picture of the Apollo spacecraft on the cover. Standing promptly, he made his way to where his father sat and gave him a quick, happy hug. “Thanks, Dad.”
“You’re welcome, Son.”
Mulder slowly opened the well-worn book and read the inscription, still visible so many lifetimes later. “Fox, Happy Birthday. Love, Mom & Dad”. Little did they know how fast everything would change after that day. Except that his father must have known by then; must have been planning for the future even while he sat eating birthday cake with his family. Mulder stared blankly at the bookshelves, letting the enormity of that idea flow over and through him.
“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Fox! Happy birthday to you! And many more…”
Abruptly scooping up the rest of the Time Life books, Mulder placed them in the box. He told himself he would not do this and here he was, rendered dazed by a nearly thirty-year-old book. Pulling himself upright, he took an expansive breath and cleared his head. Looking through the rest of the bookshelf, he put three books into his box and packed the rest in boxes for Goodwill. Feeling mildly proud of himself, he took his half-full box and moved on to the next bookshelf.
It contained mostly gardening and travel books. His mother never traveled, but she loved to look at picture books of other countries. As far as he knew, she had never been anywhere but Oxford, to visit him once when he was at school. She had stayed a week and seemed to enjoy herself. She spent hours walking in the gardens throughout the campus. He’d been so proud of himself that trip. Proud of his ability to make her happy, to share this new part of himself with her. He had tried to get her to stay longer, to extend her trip another week, but she had refused. She told him that the trip was already perfect and that extending it was not necessary.
Spotting a picture book on sailboats, Mulder thumbed through the pages, seeing if it might be something Scully would like. He had not told her he was doing this today. She’d be frustrated with him for not telling her, she’d want to help him if she could. But he wasn’t ready for her to be here just yet. There was too much of his mother here still, too much mist and haze, too much something… something intangible.
He’d always been sensitive about his mother around Scully. He felt a need to protect her from Scully’s level gaze, that gaze that saw everything and said nothing. His enormous love for his mother was matched only by his rage with her, combined with a need to protect her from further pain. Scully’s relationship with her own mother was the antithesis of his and he was sensitive to the disparity.
The sound of the doorbell disrupted his thoughts and jerked him back to the present. Tossing the sailboat book into his box, he made his way to the front door. Expecting to see Rosemary, he was surprised to find a young man carrying a box of groceries.
“Grocery delivery,” the boy said.
“I have Mrs. Mulder’s weekly grocery delivery. Is she here?”
Mulder stood dumbly, his hand still on the doorknob, unsure how to proceed.
“Right. Well, I’m her son, and I’m sorry, but my mother passed – she died last week. I…I didn’t realize she had groceries delivered…” Mulder’s voice faded and he forced himself to quit speaking.
“Oh,” the young man said. He looked down at his feet, then up at Mulder. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do if this happens.”
Mulder just stared at the kid – thinking how unsure he was himself of what you were supposed to do when this happened.
“Did you know my mother?” he finally asked.
“No, no, not really. She seemed like a nice lady, though. Do you mind if I put these boxes down? I need to call my boss – I’m not sure if there’s something I’m supposed to do.”
“Something you’re supposed to do?” Mulder had no idea what the kid could be talking about. Surely they weren’t going to charge him for her groceries?
“You know, like paperwork or something…”
Mulder pulled out his wallet and placed a card on top of one of the boxes, “I’ll tell you what, if there’s something that needs to be done – which I doubt – why don’t you tell your boss to call
that number. Okay?”
The kid looked at the card, spotting the large “F.B.I.” almost immediately (they usually did) and looked back at Mulder, a light in his eyes. “Hey, your mom told me about you. Said you were important, you know, said you worked for the F.B.I.”
Suddenly he felt like sitting down. It was too bright outside, this boy was too pleasant, his voice too loud. “Yeah, yeah, that’s me. Thanks, call if you…” Mulder shut the door on the too bright figure. Turning around, he braced his back against the door and found himself slowly sinking to the floor.
“Oh, Mom.” He exhaled softly as his body folded onto itself. Pulling up his legs, he rested his arms on his knees and laid his head back against the door. He was sure he wouldn’t be able to cry like this again, that he was all cried out, but here it was, the familiar burn in his sinuses and the rush of slippery saliva flooding his mouth.
Why didn’t she tell him? Why didn’t she hold on just a little bit longer? Why wouldn’t she ever let him help her? The usual barrage of “what-ifs” that his mind seemed never to tire asking engulfed him and he cried. He cried for the cruelty of his mother’s life, for the future that stretched out before him without her. No more chances, no more answers, no more questions. No more anything,
just packing of boxes and disassembling of a life that seemed pointless and cruel. Who would remember them? Who would remember her? He’d never totally seen her, charted her depths or understood her, and now she was disappearing in front of his very eyes–into boxes and charity shops, and now her groceries were stopping and soon she would be gone. Vanished. Like she never existed.