MARCH 27, 2015
OUR LADY OF SORROWS
Scully shuts the office door, navigating through the maze of clutter to collapse into her desk chair, exhausted.
She’s off for the night, but her nerves are frayed, her blood hums with bitter cafeteria coffee. Going home doesn’t seem like a good idea in her current state. The love seat across from her desk will suffice as a bed, if she can manage to close her eyes long enough to sleep.
She’s reaching for her water bottle, ready to follow her caffeine binge with a Tylenol chaser, when her hand brushes the computer mouse and brings up the photo—an old picture of her and Mulder she keeps as her desktop background.
In fact, there’s no sign of him in this office. No school photos tucked into frames, no family portraits hung on the walls, not even one of the scant few baby pictures she kept. Photos might invite questions she doesn’t know how to answer.
And yet, he’s taken up permanent residence in her mind tonight. She’s thought about little else while going about her rounds.
I fucking hate you.
Her pulse throbs at her temples in time with the tick of the clock, a steady reminder that the longer she sits here, the less time she has to sleep.
I won’t be able to sleep.
Her nails patter against the desk in a rhythmic debate, before picking up the phone and dialing the familiar number, starting with a California area code. At first no one picks up, and she’s about to drop the receiver back in the cradle until she hears a faint whisper.
“Mom? It’s me…it’s Dana,” she adds, feeling awkward for having to clarify to one of the few who should know her voice by heart. It’s been too long.
“Dana! Of course! How are you?”
“I’m…I’m well, Mom. How are you? You sound sick.”
“Oh, just a cold, I think. Nothing to worry about. What are you doing up at this hour? It’s late.”
Scully smiles to herself, bathing in her mother’s familiar concern. “I just got off shift. I had a few minutes…I miss you,” she admits. “I wanted to hear your voice.”
“Oh…I miss you, too. It’s been a long time.”
And there it is, a pang of guilt so Catholic, Scully has to resist the urge to cross herself. Scully may be an accomplished doctor and a former FBI agent, but Margaret Scully has a knack for reducing her to a little girl with just a few carefully placed words. She takes a shaky breath.
“Yeah, I know…I’m sorry. It’s been busy.”
“How’s that sweet little boy of yours?”
“He’s not very little…or very sweet, actually,” Scully says, surprised at the shape of her own disdain. Margaret Scully knows her old-turned-new grandson only through the occasional long-distance phone call.
“Oh…I see.” Maggie’s measured pause speaks volumes. She won’t press the issue, but somehow, before this conversation is over, Scully will tell her everything. “Well, I hope he’s doing well in school. You know, Bill was saying…”
Her mother chats lightly, talking about Scully’s nephews and niece, her brother’s new job, her sister-in-law’s volunteer work at their church. Scully listens politely about a family that feels like they belong to a different person in a different life. In many ways, this is the problem exactly.
She hasn’t seen her siblings in years; they’ve barely spoken. First because it had to be this way, then because they’d simply fallen out of habit. She was the forgotten baby sister who’d given up her flesh and blood to be with her lunatic FBI partner. Such betrayal wasn’t easily forgiven.
There’s a lull in the conversation, and Scully feels the question fall from her lips, the reason she picked up the phone. “Mom? Can I ask you something?”
“Did you ever worry you weren’t doing a good job? As a mother, I mean.”
“Oh…I don’t know…I didn’t have much time to worry, Dana. Your father was away, and I had four of you to keep track of. Melissa and Charlie gave me fits,” she laughs, “but you’re all successful, happy, well-adjusted, so I…”
Scully has to bite her tongue to keep from laughing out loud at the thought.
“Well-adjusted.” We always had different definitions.
“Dana, honey? Are you there? Oh, this foolish phone…I think it cut out on me again.”
“No, I’m here. Sorry. I’ve just…it’s hard, Mom,” she finishes lamely, unspoken words closing her throat.
Maggie is nothing if not perceptive. “Dana, is everything OK?”
She swallows, knowing she can’t hide from her mother, even three-thousand miles away. It’s for the best that her family doesn’t know the full story, but it makes it difficult to convey the gravity of the boy’s situation—or the depth of Scully’s uncertainty about him. The words do the job for her, tumbling out of her before she can stop them.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what we were thinking…he’s been through so much, and I have no idea how to help him. I feel like everything I say just pushes him further away…he hates me, Mom.”
There’s a heavy pause, and Scully closes her eyes, listening to the rush of her own breath, waiting for absolution.
“Dana,” her mother finally says, “do you remember when you were fourteen? You and your father… you argued constantly. When he was home—which wasn’t often, but it was enough—I thought I’d never hear the end of your bickering.”
Scully shakes her head, trying to remember, but fourteen feels so far away. That life has been reduced to snapshots, Kodachrome memories that belong to a camera. “I don’t know. That was a long time ago,” she murmurs.
“Well, I remember enough for both of us. The two of you were at each other’s throats. You were just as stubborn and strong-willed as your father, you know.”
Scully sniffs, smiling a little, biting her tongue for her mother’s sake. Her stubbornness comes honestly from both sides of the family.
“But you grew up. You got your degree. You learned to stand on your own.” Scully can hear the smile, the pride in her mother’s voice. “You were always your father’s little girl, no matter what. There was nothing you could say or do to change that.”
Scully finds herself struggling to keep her voice steady. “I…I know. But Mom…I can’t help it, I feel like I’m failing him.” She bites her lip, realizing she’s not sure if she means Isaac or her father.
“Oh, Dana. When your father passed away…all you wanted was his acceptance. It was written all over your face.”
The words fall on her heart like a stone, but it’s her next question that gives Scully pause.
“What makes you think Isaac is different? He’s a boy, but he’ll grow up, and he’s going to look up to you. All he wants is your love, your acceptance. I know you, Dana…you have more than enough to give.”
Scully swallows hard, not trusting herself to speak.
“Don’t give up on him, Dana.”
Scully’s voice is liquid and small. “Thanks, Mom.”
The significance of the moment is cut short by a hacking cough on Maggie’s end of the phone.
“Mom? Are you sure you’re OK?”
“Oh…I’m fine,” she responds when she’s regained her voice. “Nothing I haven’t weathered before.”
“Mom, please, get checked out. There’s a bug going around, and you can’t be too careful at your age,” Scully continues. “Is Bill there? Can he take you to the walk-in clinic?”
“Dana, I’m fine,” Maggie insists, and Scully knows the “at your age” comment has ruffled her feathers. “I got that flu shot last fall. I know you’re a doctor, but—“
“I’m not talking to you as a doctor, I’m talking to you as your daughter, Mom. Your very concerned daughter.”
A sigh on the other end of the line. “Bill isn’t here, but Tara is. She can take me to the clinic if it gets worse, but I’m going to be just fine,” she says. “You worry about taking care of that boy. And Mulder,” she adds, almost as an afterthought, lowering her voice. “I’m still waiting for that wedding invitation, you know.”
Scully rolls her eyes, amazed that this particular subject never fails to weasel its way into their long-distance phone calls. “Mom, please.”
“I’m just saying, Dana, I’m not getting any younger, and I’d love to see one of my daughters walk down the aisle before I go.”
The unspoken insinuation lingers. Melissa will never have that chance. She shuts her eyes against another wave of guilt.
Her lips twitch upward despite herself. The idea of Mulder in a tux, standing at the altar next to a Catholic priest and flanked by his three best men, makes her snort with the sheer improbability.
Frohicke would sob like a baby. Isaac could levitate the ring down the aisle on a pillow. They’d have to take out a preemptive restraining order on Bill just to get through the ceremony.
She stifles a laugh at the thought, until Maggie interrupts the fantasy with a sigh. “Such a modern woman, my Dana. Well, then. I suppose I should get going,” she coughs again, and the sound makes Scully wince.
“I love you, Mom. Take care of that cold,” she says, with the same sternness she might use with an unruly patient, before letting her voice soften. “I miss you. We’ll come out to visit soon.”
It’s a lie, and they both know it, but Maggie accepts it with grace. “We’d love to see you.”
“I know. Bye, Mom.”
Scully places the phone back in the cradle, unsure how a conversation with her mother can make her feel equally better and worse. She chides herself, making a mental note to call Maggie more often, knowing she won’t follow through.
Scully stands, yawning, and makes her way to the love seat where she curls into a ball, pulling her jacket over her shoulders as a makeshift blanket. She doesn’t expect sleep to come—she’s thinking about her mom, about Isaac, feeling the pull of her family’s weight on her heart—but it does, washing over her slowly, until her eyes flutter shut and her breathing evens.
She dreams of the military bases where she grew up, of her father’s strong and certain hands lifting her high on his shoulders, of William as a baby, and Isaac, spinning silver in the air. Memories weave themselves together, overlapping, until she can no longer discern past from present, and she sleeps.