table setting

TITLE: Hollow Day
AUTHOR: Kel
E-MAIL: ckelll@hotmail.com
RATING: PG
CLASSIFICATION: Pre-XF, Story
DISCLAIMER: Though they are with me, they belong not to me.
SPOILERS: Through Season 6.

SUMMARY: October 1973. Think Watergate. Think oil embargo. Think Samantha.

Thanks: To Tre, for her continuous support and enthusiasm, even when she has to order me to stop ranting. To Linda, for treating the characters in my story as if they were real people, which helps me to do the same. Thanks to Erin, who always comes through and still believes me when I say her check is in the mail.


Most of the gentry on the Vineyard were summer people, but there was one rich family that lived there year-round. The Mulders. They weren't exactly Kennedys or anything, but you could tell they were loaded. I'm sure they were the only people on Martha's Vineyard with a summer house someplace else. Mrs. Mulder was always redecorating. My dad was a house painter, which meant he was always over there painting.

I didn't mind that my dad painted the house, or even that he fixed the drips and put up the storm windows. But I burned with resentment because every year my mom would spend Thanksgiving over at the Mulders', cleaning and serving and doing all kinds of things that she should have been doing for us, and that the Mulders should have been doing for themselves.

My freshman year at UMass, when my mom picked me up at the ferry the day before Thanksgiving, that was the first thing I said to her.

"I *hope* you're not planning to spend my visit working for the Mulders."

"Oh, my God, Linda, you haven't heard!" my mother said. "Something terrible happened last night. Samantha was kidnapped."

"What? Mom, that's crazy," I said. My resentment of the Mulder family did not extend to the kids, and especially not to Samantha. I'd been baby-sitting for her almost since she was born. She was a great kid, but she wasn't one of those little blond cherubs, and while the Mulders were well-off but they weren't millionaires.

My mother's stricken face told me Samantha was missing, but I still couldn't believe someone had taken her. I thought I was very sophisticated back then, and I was thinking that only little beauty queens got kidnapped by perverts.

"She wasn't kidnapped, Mom, she would have screamed her head off."

I was convinced that if Sam was gone, she had run away. That made more sense to me. Sam was hiding somewhere.

Mom and I spent the rest of the ride talking about the Mulders. I knew we'd have to drop the subject when we got to the house because Dad had a low opinion of gossip and my brothers, Alan and Chip, would blab anything they heard all over the island.

By the time I walked in the door, I was grateful to live with a dad who didn't travel all the time and a mom who kept things together for us. Not exactly grateful for my brothers, but grateful neither of them was missing.

That was the first time my dad looked old to me and I think I surprised him with the intensity of my hug.

"Well, now, Linda," he said, "I'd guess you're glad to be home." Then he turned to my mother. "Mrs. Mulder phoned." Even my parents called them Mr. and Mrs. Mulder. "She was asking if you'd still be able to help out for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow."

"I suppose I can, Chuck. I hate to turn them down in their time of need," she said. She sounded tired. I think she'd been looking forward to a year where she'd only have to orchestrate one Thanksgiving.

"I'll do it," I said impulsively. "I've been there often enough. I know... where stuff is."

I did, of course, after eight years of baby-sitting. But my mother understood my other meaning. I knew about Mr. Mulder's business trips, and the tense whispers, and the visitor Fox and Samantha called "Mr. No-name."

"All right," Mom said. "If Mrs. Mulder agrees."

= = = =

Why the Mulders asked me to be there at eight in the morning I do not know. Their visitors weren't expected until twelve, and the meal was being delivered complete by Vineyard Rotisserie. I walked over, despite the cold. The cost of gas was outrageous.

"You can make Fox's breakfast," Mrs. Mulder told me. "And perhaps you'd care to vacuum--once the gentlemen leave."

The gentlemen. Visits by gentlemen were one of the reasons that the Mulder house always felt so ripe with secrecy. Today there were only two gentlemen, large men in gray suits who stood in the living room talking to Mr. Mulder. Clearly he hadn't been expecting them, as he was wearing a blue velour bathrobe over striped pajamas.

At least neither visitor was Mr. No-name. Of all the dark-suited men, he was the only one who showed an interest in Fox and Samantha, and he was also the one they disliked the most. I think he wanted them to like him, but he had a taunting manner that set them both on edge and he smelled like an ash tray.

There was something else, too, but I don't think the kids knew about it. I hope not, anyway. I had spent a month in the Mulders' summer house as an au pair, and I was pretty sure there was something going on between Mrs. Mulder and Mr. No-name.

I stayed in the kitchen, glad to keep my distance from the gray men. I drank a cup of tea and polished the good silver while I waited for Fox.

When I first met him, Fox was a terror. I don't know if he was diagnosably hyperactive, but he was a loud, energetic, smart-mouthed boy. I saw a lot of him because he and Chip used to play together, but after a while Mom made them play outside. Too many things wound up broken when Fox was in the house.

That summer I'd spent with the Mulders, though, it was Samantha who had the fresh mouth. Fox was so quiet that he was forever startling me because I'd forget he was around at all. That was when Mr. No-name started calling him "the spy."

Fox took me by surprise again, and the swinging kitchen door interrupted my musing. He was dressed like my brothers, in blue jeans and flannel shirt, and he wore white sweat socks but no shoes. Well, my brothers would have worn shoes. My mom kept the thermostat at 65.

If I tell you he had been crying, you'll picture him red-eyed and runny-nosed, but it went way beyond that. His eyelids were so swollen that his face was distorted.

"Fox," I said. "Oh, Fox." I met him at the doorway and hugged him, and he stood there just as awkwardly as Chip had done the day before when I subjected him to the same torture.

"Hi, Linda," he said hoarsely. "How's college?"

I don't think he could have said anything more unexpected under the circumstances, but I managed to answer him.

"It's good."

He sat down at the kitchen table but shook his head at my offer of breakfast.

"I gotta read my book," he said. "For school."

"They'll find her," I assured him. I don't know if I believed it but it seemed like the thing to say. He looked at me and then back down at the book.

"For school," he mumbled.

I made toast for Fox. I was going to sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, the way I used to fix it for him and Sam, but that seemed like a bad idea. I put the plate of buttered toast by his book and looked for something else to do.

I started to take out the good china, to make sure everything was ready to use. At last the gentlemen left. I heard their hushed voices and then the sounds of the front door and the car engine. I'd be able to vacuum. The hum of the vacuum cleaner would be a soothing change from the silence and the clink of serving platters.

Mr. Mulder came into the kitchen as I was restacking the dishes in the cupboard.

"Good morning, Shirley," he said. Shirley was my mother's name, but I didn't correct him. "How about a cup of coffee?"

"Good morning, Mr. Mulder," I said. They had the same Pyrex percolator my parents used. I wondered if he would stand in the kitchen while it perked, and I wished I had thought to have some coffee ready for him.

"Good morning, Fox," Mr. Mulder said to his son.

"Morning, Dad," Fox said.

"You're not bothering Shirley, are you?" he asked.

Everyone handles grief differently, of course. Mr. Mulder's comments were heartbreakingly grotesque.

"I'm reading," Fox said.

I turned down the flame under the percolator and poured a cup of coffee for Mr. Mulder. When I left the kitchen and started the vacuum, it felt like an escape. I ran it methodically over the carpeting forming neat, straight furrows. I had finished the living room and moved into the dining room when I heard the insistent buzz of the doorbell.

Since my summer in Rhode Island, I was generally uncomfortable about the Mulders' phone calls and visitors, so I took a deep breath before I went to answer the door. But it wasn't one of the men in gray, it was Marshall Moody, from the Martha's Vineyard Police.

"Linda," he said, tipping his hat. "Terrible, isn't it? Terrible."

"Oh my God," I said, because I was sure he had come to say that they'd found her body. "Samantha?"

"Oh, no, honey, no. Nothing yet. Mrs. Mulder was going to give us a piece of clothing," he said. "Something to give the dogs a scent. I tried to get it last night, but she was in bed already and Mr. Mulder didn't want her disturbed."

Our eyes met, but we left our thoughts unspoken.

"I'll look," I said. I was thinking about Samantha's suede jacket. She was proud of it and she wore it all the time. It was probably in the downstairs closet, and I could give it to Marshall Moody without disturbing the family.

"I bet this will do fine," he said as he took it. "Dog handler's coming in from the mainland."

I went back to vacuuming, and finally I had to reluctantly admit that it was done. I put the machine away in its closet and went to the kitchen for some dust rags. Dusting would be so abysmally quiet.

Fox was still reading his book.

"Are you hungry yet?" I asked him.

"I ate the toast," he said. "Thanks."

I sat down at the table.

"Officer Moody said they're bringing in dogs. Bloodhounds, I guess," I said.

Earlier I'd seen it in his face, the effort that it cost him not to cry. It wasn't there any more. His face was a mask.

"I'm not supposed to talk about it," he said quietly.

I was a psychology major back then and I was certain that Fox's parents were wrong to force him into silence.

"What are you reading?" I asked.

Either of my brothers would have answered, "A book."

"*Great Expectations*," he said. "For school."

"Mrs. Garramone?" I asked. Mrs. Garramone's class always read *Great Expectations*. Mrs. Ludman's class only had to read *The Red Pony*.

"Yeah," he answered.

"How is it?"

"Long."

"What are you up to?" I asked.

He shrugged.

A creaking noise from the back door interrupted my interrogation.

The back door opened onto a little hallway off the kitchen, and I'd never known anyone to use it besides the kids. When I heard the door groan open I was expecting my brother Chip, or maybe another of Fox's friends. But it was the no-name man.

"Good morning," he said very pleasantly. As usual, his manner was cordial.

"Good morning," I said. Fox was suddenly engrossed in Dickens.

"Linda, isn't it?" No-name said. "I see you're keeping young Fox out of trouble."

I wanted to respond to his arrogance, give him some answer to put him in his place or even let him know I was onto him and Mrs. Mulder. My mother would have been horrified, but the real reason I didn't do it was because he intimidated me.

"Would you like some coffee?" I said.

He shook his head and lit a cigarette, leaning over Fox's shoulder to see what he was reading. Fox coughed pointedly.

"Interesting book," No-name said. "About a boy with a mistaken belief as to the identity of his benefactor."

Finally Fox looked up.

"I would tell my dad you're here, only I can't," he said. "Since I don't know your name."

That was why Fox and Samantha called him Mr. No-name. It wasn't simply because they didn't know his name but because of his pointed refusal to supply one.

"I'll tell him myself," No-name said.

= = = =

If I asked you about a Thanksgiving that happened more than two decades ago, how much would you remember? I remembered every detail of that day up until the no-name man left the kitchen. Then nothing until the next morning. There was a gap in my memory, but I didn't even realize it until my hypnotherapy.

I have very few regrets in life. After twenty years of marriage my husband is still my best friend. My girls are great and my career is going well. I'm a success by the standards of the world and by my own, but there was one change I wanted to make and I thought hypnosis might help.

The therapist spent almost an hour talking to me, and then she told me her plan. She wanted to use hypnosis bring me back in time, back to my freshman year in college.

That wasn't what I had expected from her, but I said we could give it a try.

= = = =

The voices from the living room were loud and angry. Fox had his nose back in the book. Desperate for distraction, I plucked the hot basket of coffee grounds out of the percolator so I could wash it. The running water was not enough to drown out the argument.

"How dare you!" That was Mrs. Mulder. "Did you take one minute to think about my feelings?"

"Why isn't he with the others?" Mr. Mulder asked just as loudly. "Why is he here at all?"

"We have all made sacrifices," the no-name man said. His voice was loud too, but it still seemed unctuous and controlled. "If not for me, do it for the boy."

"Get out of my house!" Mrs. Mulder screamed. "Get out!"

"Teena, stop it," Mr. Mulder told her.

"You still have one child," said No-name, and I was sure it was a threat.

I was leaning over the sink scouring the stem from the percolator when No-name came back through the kitchen.

"How are those big ears of yours?" I heard him say, but Fox didn't answer. I was determined to ignore him as well, but then I felt his hand on my arm.

"You like children, don't you, Linda? How would you like to earn some extra money? I've checked with the Mulders and they have no objection."

"I'm... busy," I said, but I turned off the water and faced him.

"Fox doesn't seem to be giving you any trouble. You'll behave, won't you, Fox? You'll have more fun with someone around to play with."

He went out through the back door and he returned carrying a bulky beige bundle that turned out to be a sleeping child in a camel's hair coat. The child didn't stir when No-name passed him over to me.

"I'll be back for him tonight," he said. "Tomorrow at the latest. Happy Thanksgiving."

The child's face pressed against my neck and he was literally ice-cold. I supposed he'd been sleeping in the car all this time and I found it alarming that he wasn't waking up. I was about to ask Fox to bring a blanket when I realized he was out of his chair and running after the no-name man, following him outside in his shirtsleeves and sock-feet.

"Where is she! Where's my sister!" he screamed.

"Fox, please." No-name sounded honestly sympathetic. "I'm sure your parents have explained how they expect you to conduct yourself."

"You know where she is!" Fox screamed again. "You know where she is, you bastard!"

That word had a lot more power back then. I'm sure most twelve-year-olds knew it, but it wasn't a word they would use in front of grown-ups. Fox's father rushed into the kitchen and then past me through the back door.

"Back in the house, Fox," he commanded.

"Dad, he knows! He knows where she is!" Fox pleaded.

I was watching the action out the window and my arms were starting to tire.

Mr. Mulder grabbed at Fox, but he didn't hit him, just dragged him toward the door.

"Get out of here," Mr. Mulder ordered the no-name man as he struggled with his son.

"Control your boy, Bill," No-name said smugly as he got into the car.

I wished I could disappear, but my snoring burden made that very difficult. I eased myself onto one of the chairs, settling the child on my lap and pulling off his mittens. With the door open I was freezing myself, but I tried to warm his icy fingers between my hands.

At last Mr. Mulder got Fox back in the house and closed the door. Mr. Mulder's nose was crimson with the cold, but Fox was white.

"He knows, Dad," Fox said again. He wasn't struggling any more, just staring into his father's face.

"Sh," said Mr. Mulder. "Would you like some cocoa?"

"You know too," Fox said accusingly, and Mr. Mulder slapped him.

"Stop it, Fox," Mr. Mulder said. He didn't even sound angry.

"Please, Dad, bring her back," Fox begged. The tears were flowing and his voice cracked.

"Fox, don't make me hit you again," Mr. Mulder said wearily. Then he turned to me. "Shirley, make him some cocoa. Look at him, going outside with no jacket or shoes."

Now he sounded like the no-name man, avuncular but full of menace. And he didn't seem to notice that I had my arms full.

= = = =

Hollow Day, by Kel (2/3)

I suppose the Mulders served the dinner themselves that year, because I was upstairs with the boys. Mrs. Mulder decided that Fox must have caught pneumonia, running outside "half undressed," and she ordered him to his room. He certainly looked ill. Mr. Mulder carried the mystery child up the stairs for me and lay him on Samantha's canopied bed.

"Sick children can't come down to dinner," Mr. Mulder said. "The family will have to understand."

I decided to try once more to wake the mystery boy, and thank goodness he opened his eyes. "Mommy?" he said drowsily, and then he was out again. At least I wouldn't have to call an ambulance. When I went to check on Fox I found him lying on his bed in the dark staring at the ceiling.

"They put him in her room," Fox said in a hoarse monotone.

"How does that make you feel?" I asked. Remember, I was a psych major.

"Bring him in here, okay?" he asked. "I don't want him in her room."

I did as he asked. I didn't like leaving either kid alone anyway. The mystery boy woke up enough to walk, but he was stuporous and clumsy.

"I have to make pee-pee," he said thickly. I led him to the bathroom and left the door open a crack so I could make sure he didn't fall over. He looked at me blankly when I reminded him to wash his hands and then he came shuffling out with his pants unbuttoned.

"What's your name?" I asked him as I tried to close up his pants.

"Jeffrey," he said. "Is my mommy here?"

His blue corduroy pants were so tight around his middle that I couldn't get them fastened either.

"Your mommy?" I echoed.

"Mommy will always come back to me," he said, and then he started to cry.

I gathered him against my chest and he put his arms around me. At least he was a quiet crier. I rocked him a little, and then he pushed away from me.

"I have to be a good boy," he said. "I have to wear my party clothes and be a good boy."

His party clothes must have been torture to him. The tight blue pants barely reached his ankles, and the crew-necked sweater was too short to cover the open waistband of the pants.

"Mommy will come home," he said. "Mommy went to buy me new party clothes."

"What about your daddy?" I asked. His daddy had to be the no-name man, but I couldn't think of how to get that information from him.

"Daddy said wear my old party clothes," Jeffrey said.

Fox surprised me by joining us in the hallway outside of the bathroom. I didn't think he had any interest in the new boy beyond keeping him out of Samantha's room.

He kneeled next to Jeffrey and spoke to him very gently.

"Hi," he said. "My name is Fox."

"I'm Jeffrey," the little boy said, jerking a thumb at his chest.

"Do you want to see my room?" Fox asked him. Jeffrey nodded and followed him, scratching his head and yawning.

"You can sit on my bed," Fox said as Jeffrey scrambled up the side. "Look, here's a model I made."

Jeffrey took the model car, pushed it around the bed, and handed it back to Fox.

"What else?" he asked.

"Do you like planes?" Fox asked. I was surprised, because he never let Samantha play with the planes, only that red Mustang that Jeffrey didn't like either.

"Do you have a plane like Snoopy's?" Jeffrey asked.

"Uh, yeah," said Fox. "See?" He handed over a model of the Space Shuttle. Hard to believe a thing like that would be able to fly.

"This isn't Snoopy's plane," Jeffrey said. "Snoopy's plane has a fan in front."

"He got a new plane," Fox said. "It's faster."

"Do you have a Snoopy?" Jeffrey asked hopefully. "To ride on the plane?"

"I've got... Mr. Met," Fox offered. It was the New York Mets mascot, a little man with a big baseball for his head. "See, the head's on a spring." Fox made it bob for him. "You can have it."

At that Jeffrey showed a little interest, but it vanished when the doorbell rang downstairs.

"Mommy!" he cried, bouncing on the bed. "Mommy's here."

"Jeffrey, wait," I said. "Wait here with Fox."

"Like a good boy," Fox reminded him, and Jeffrey nodded seriously and clasped his hands together.

As I descended the stairs I could hear the murmur of guests in the dining room. I found Mr. Mulder in the kitchen, staring at an electric coffee urn.

"Mr. Mulder? Jeffrey thinks his mother will be here tonight," I said.

"Jeffrey?" he echoed.

"The little boy, Jeffrey," I reminded him.

"Keep him quiet," Mr. Mulder said. "Keep both of them upstairs."

I nodded. I felt like the governess in a gothic novel, protecting my young charges from sinister forces I didn't understand.

"I'm going to bring them something to eat," I said, and he nodded blankly.

Hurriedly, I got out the peanut butter and jelly and started to put together some sandwiches. I was suddenly famished.

"Shirley," Mr. Mulder addressed me. Now I wished I had corrected him the first time. "Do you know how to work this?" He waved helplessly at the coffeemaker.

"Sure," I said. I didn't bother asking him how much to make, just decided to set it up for a full pot. I was measuring out the coffee when Mrs. Mulder joined us in the kitchen.

"How is Fox?" she asked.

Do you know, in that moment I wanted to call my dad to pick me up and take me home. Tell Mom to put two extra settings on the table, for Fox and Jeffrey. I felt like I was in one of those plays without scenery that the drama department staged once a month.

"How is Fox?" I repeated the question.

"His pneumonia," she said. "Fox is ill with pneumonia."

"Damn it, Teena, I told you chicken pox," Mr. Mulder said. "Shirley, you'd better get back to the children."

"Shirley? This isn't Shirley!" Mrs. Mulder looked frightened and confused. "What's wrong with you, Bill? This is Linda."

"It's okay," I said inanely. "A lot of people call me by my mother's name." I picked up the plate of sandwiches, thinking I'd come back down later if we needed something else.

Before I could leave, another woman came into the kitchen.

"We need more ice," she said brightly. "And don't think I'm going to let a few germs keep me away from my favorite niece and nephew!"

"I'm sorry, Alice," Mrs. Mulder said. "Doctor's orders. Strict quarantine."

"Teena, that is ridiculous. I'll take my chances," the woman insisted.

"We can't take the risk of exposing the children to germs," Mr. Mulder said. "The doctor said that could be dangerous in their present state."

"They should be in a hospital," the woman persisted. "What's going on here?"

"Do you think so?" Mrs. Mulder asked, very concerned.

"Ladies, back to the matter at hand," Mr. Mulder said. "We need more ice, and we need someone to tend bar. Later on we'll check if the children are awake for visitors."

"Oh, if they're sleeping..." said the woman called Alice. "I understand if they need to rest."

Apparently it was settled as simply as that. I wondered how much Mrs. Mulder had had to drink already.

I carried the peanut butter sandwiches up the stairs. Little Jeffrey was kneeling on the chair by Fox's desk, coloring carefully. The older boy appeared engrossed by the process.

"How's that, Fox?" Jeffrey asked.

"That's super, Jeff. Let's put your name on it so everyone knows who made the great picture," Fox said.

"I can do that!" Jeffrey said. Taking a crayon he began to write in large purple letters.

"Wow, that's great," Fox said. "Now put your last name."

Jeffrey's pursed his lips.

"Do I have to?" he asked.

"Well, I have another friend named Jeffrey," Fox explained. "I don't want people to think he made your picture."

First Jeffrey smiled proudly, and then his face clouded with worry.

"I don't know how to write my second name," he confessed.

"I'll write it for you," Fox said. "Okay? Tell me your second name."

"Spender. But I don't know what's after the big S."

I was holding my breath as I took it all in. At last Mr. No-name had a name.

"There you go," said Fox, writing it out under the big sprawling JEFFREY that meandered across the picture. "Now I can hang it on my wall."

"That's my mommy," Jeffrey informed him.

"She's beautiful, Jeff. Hey, I bet you know your address, right? In case you get lost and have to tell a policeman?" Fox said.

"Is my mommy lost?" Jeffrey asked. "Will the policeman bring her back?"

"Your mommy's okay," Fox said. "Where do you live?"

"I'm hungry," Jeffrey said. "I want mashed potatoes."

"How about some peanut butter?" I offered.

I was very glad when Fox took a sandwich.

"Mm," he said, tasting it. "Try it, Jeff."

"Daddy said mashed potatoes," Jeff complained.

"Come on, Jeff, where do you live?" Fox prompted him impatiently.

"U.S.A. America," Jeffrey said, fingering the snap on his open pants distractedly.

I remembering thinking that I would like to specialize in child psychology. Their exchange was fascinating.

"What's the name of your school?" Fox asked urgently. "You must know that."

Jeffrey was tugging at the waistband of his corduroy pants, straining to get another inch from the elastic.

"Pay attention! I'm asking you a question," Fox said sharply.

Jeff turned away from him.

"Fix my pants?" he asked me.

"Stand up," I told him. He slid off the bed and stood like a toy soldier, sucking in his stomach and throwing his shoulders back. I fastened the snap. "There you go."

"Jeff, what's the name of your school?" Fox asked. He sounded friendly again, but Jeff wasn't ready to forgive him.

"I'm thirsty," he announced in a whine.

"Me too," said Fox. "I'll go get us some drinks."

I knew I wasn't supposed to let him go downstairs.

"I'll do it," I said. Was I protecting them or was I an accomplice?

The boys were both coloring when I came back. My own mother would have had a fit if she'd seen me bringing a quart of milk and a plate of mashed potatoes into the bedroom, and I can only imagine what Mrs. Mulder would have said.

Fox's picture was a red brick building. On the top of the page he'd written "Monroe Elementary School."

Jeff looked up from his own coloring and nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "That's my school."

The afternoon dragged on, even though Fox's unexpected interest in the younger boy made my job easier. I felt nervous about letting the kids eat upstairs and I was worried that one of them would run downstairs before I could stop him. I could hear murmurs from downstairs and I kept expecting one of the grown-ups to come up and check on the children.

Fox was relentless and quite ingenious, but Jeff couldn't tell him very much. He'd been asleep for the entire drive from his house to Fox's and he didn't know how long it took. He loved Sesame Street, but he didn't know the name of the station where he watched the show.

In addition to mashed potatoes and Mommy, Jeffrey's dad had promised him that he would not have to miss Snoopy in the Macy's parade. I think Fox felt as uneasy as I did as we sat in his parents' bedroom and watched the parade on their TV.

"My dad's name is Bill," Fox said conversationally. "He works for the government."

"Uh-huh," Jeffrey said, engrossed in a Fritos commercial.

"What about your daddy?"

Jeffrey's eyes narrowed and he gave Fox a hurt look before turning back to the TV.

"What about your phone number? Since we're friends?" Fox was overplaying it, and Jeffrey was beginning to squirm.

"Maybe they'll show Snoopy again," Jeffrey suggested hopefully.

I heard footsteps on the stairs, and I felt a flash of anxiety because we had taken over the master bedroom. I saw Fox stiffen and his eyes darted to the doorway before he fixed them on the television screen.

Mr. Mulder came as far as the doorway, and he leaned against the door frame as he took in the scene. Fox was stretched out on the floor, and Jeffrey and I were sitting on the bed.

"The TV," I explained, even though he hadn't said anything. He'd have to understand that I needed the television to keep Jeffrey amused and quiet.

"What's the score?" he asked, sounding more tired than threatening.

"Game hasn't started. We're watching the parade," Fox said.

"We're friends," Jeffrey added, and Mr. Mulder didn't seem to like that.

"You have some homework, don't you, Fox? Better get cracking," he said.

Fox went back to his room, and Jeff and I stayed in the big bedroom until the parade was over. The next show was a special about magicians, but Jeffrey wasn't interested.

I didn't want to keep Fox from his homework, even though I thought his father was being unreasonable, so reluctantly I brought Jeffrey back to Samantha's room.

To my dismay, he immediately gravitated to the large Victorian dollhouse. I was afraid he'd break something, but he reached for the sturdy plastic dolls, showing no interest in the delicate furnishings.

Jeffrey was absorbed in his play, moving the doll family around from room to room and talking softly to himself. When Fox appeared in the doorway, I was ready for an outburst, but he entered quietly and sat down on the floor by the dollhouse.

"This one is the dad," Fox said, picking up the father doll.

Jeffrey held up the mother.

"Here's the mommy. She's flying up into the sky," he said.

"Okay," said Fox. "What's the dad going to do?"

"Uh, put him in the car," Jeff said. Fox tried to give him the father doll, but Jeff wasn't interested.

Fox put the father doll in the pink convertible.

"This one's you, Jeff," he said. "He'll go in the car with the father."

"No," said Jeff. "The father has to go to camp."

"Camp? Army camp?" Fox asked excitedly. "Is the dad in the army?"

"Camp David," Jeff said, putting the boy doll in one of the bedrooms.

"Oh," said Fox. He lifted the father out of the car. "What's his name, Jeff?"

"That's the dad, remember?" Jeff answered.

At the sound of feet on the staircase, Fox dropped the doll and distanced himself from the dollhouse. Mr. Mulder pushed open the door.

"Everyone behaving, Linda?" he asked me.

"Yes sir, no problems," I said.

"Dolls? You like to play with dolls, Jeffrey?" he asked.

Jeffrey shook his head.

"No," he said emphatically, pushing himself away from the dollhouse too.

"No, no, of course not," Mr. Mulder said amiably. "Linda, why don't you take these fellows back to my bedroom. I bet they'd like to see the football game."

I've never understood football and Jeffrey looked miserable but we watched dutifully. Even Fox was only mildly interested.

"Not much of a game," he said. "Except for Csonka."

We stared at the set, glassy-eyed with boredom. I was certain that Mr. Mulder would be back to check on us, and I was right.

He returned after about half an hour, carrying a tray.

"How's the game, son?" He put a hand on Fox's shoulder. "I thought you three would be ready for a snack."

"I don't want it," Jeffrey said. "My belly hurts."

"Just have some milk," Mr. Mulder told him. "You too, Fox."

There were three glasses.

"Thanks, Dad." Fox took a glass of milk and I did the same.

"Drink it," Mr. Mulder said. He put the tray down on the dresser and gave the third glass to Jeffrey.

"Do I have to?" Jeff asked.

"Drink it," Mr. Mulder said. "Drink it now. I want to take the glasses back."

We drank. The milk had been flavored and sweetened, and I found it cloying, but Jeffrey finished the big glass without further complaint.

"What's in it, Dad?" Fox asked. "It's really good."

Thank heaven the boys liked it, I thought. I'd let them finish my glass as soon as Mr. Mulder left the room.

"Mrs. Mulder made this herself, Linda." Mr. Mulder was looking directly into my eyes. "Don't you like it?"

I finished the glass.

= = = =

Hollow Day, by Kel (3/3)

The next day I found out that Mom had called over to the Mulders' to ask out how late they'd need me. Mr. Mulder told her not to hold dinner and said he would drive me home.

Mom waited up for me, and she didn't recognize the car that dropped me off. And when I walked in the house, I was smoking a cigarette, just as bold as brass.

As I've explained, I don't remember anything from that night. Mom told me about it the next morning.

I still can't remember, but my therapist taped our session. When I play the cassette I hear myself repeat my mother's words to me that night:

"Get rid of that filthy thing and get up to bed. It's almost midnight."

= = = =

Dad was in his glory the next morning, preparing his special waffles. I knew it would take an hour to tidy up his mess, but Mom was a good sport about it.

We had a wonderful, lazy family breakfast, and after we finished eating, no one wanted to leave the table.

"If we wait a little longer, it'll be time for lunch," said my brother Alan, stretching and patting his stomach.

"Dad can make us lunch," I volunteered him. "How about it, Mom?" It was a joke. I think Mom would have had a stroke if she'd have to clean up after him twice in one day, and everyone knew we were having turkey sandwiches for lunch.

"I am not a cook," Dad said, and we groaned. Everyone was doing Nixon impersonations back then.

There was a tap at the door. Our back door opened directly into the kitchen, and I could see Fox Mulder through the glass.

"Come on in, Fox," my mother called. "Have some breakfast." We always had leftovers when Dad made waffles.

Fox looked awkward as he came into our kitchen, and he shifted from foot to foot as if he was giving an oral report in school.

"My mom said to bring this to Linda," he said. "So here." He gave me a business-sized envelope. "I'll wait outside for Chip, if that's all right."

"Want a waffle?"

Everyone stared, because the invitation was from Alan. The only sentence Alan had ever addressed directly to Fox was, "Say Uncle." But Alan was growing up, and Fox had just lost his sister.

Fox looked at Chip, who shrugged. Fox took a seat next to him and Dad pushed the plate of waffles in his direction.

"*King Kong* was on yesterday," Chip said. "Did you get to see it?"

Fox looked utterly perplexed for a moment, and then he looked at me.

"I think so," he said. "I think we watched TV."

That should have been my first clue that something was wrong. I should have been alarmed that I couldn't remember, but for some reason I wasn't troubled by the lapse.

"We watched TV," I said, because that seemed like a safe guess. "We had turkey."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I think we did."

= = = =

There were five hundred dollars in the envelope Fox gave me. Some of it paid for the charcoal suit I bought for my interview at Loeb Rhoades. I got the position, and I made enough money that summer to buy a new Pacer. When I returned to school I switched my major to finance.

I started dating Ken that year and we were married in the summer of '77. Times were lean while he was in law school, but by the time I graduated from Wharton he was earning more in bonuses than my father made in ten years of hard work.

When we bought our house in Greenwich, Connecticut, I learned from my mom that Mrs. Mulder was living there as well, but I didn't seek her out. What was the point? "Remember me, I used to clean your house?" I think not.

My family grew and prospered. I'm not the type to pour my heart out to a stranger, and I wouldn't have started therapy if Ken and the girls hadn't nagged me into it.

"You've tried everything else to quit smoking," my husband challenged me. "What do you have to lose?"

Time and money were the obvious answers. I found a psychologist who specialized in hypnotherapy, and I told her that my single goal was to kick the habit.

I was hoping she'd put me under and I'd walk away a free woman.

"It's not quite that easy," the therapist said. "Give me a month."

We spent an hour talking about what cigarettes meant to me.

"Kids start smoking because they think it will fill a need," she explained. "Cigarettes make them feel independent or rebellious. Or just cool."

"I don't feel independent, I feel like an addict," I answered.

I left our first meeting feeling totally skeptical about the treatment, but I was too stubborn to give up. The next session was more revealing.

"Cigarettes are for players. If you're not a player--Oh, God, that's stupid," I said, interrupting my own thought.

"Go on," she said, but I didn't want to. I had let her use a hypnotic technique, and now I wondered if she had implanted the unfamiliar phrase in my head.

I almost quit treatment right then, but instead I insisted on taping the rest of our sessions.

Listening to the tapes, I can find no instance where she tried to direct my response. She asked me to remember back to my first cigarette, and I told her it was my freshman year.

"You were away from home," she commented.

"No. It was Thanksgiving."

The memory returned. That cold, ugly Thanksgiving and those two lost boys. And Samantha.

"Who is Samantha?" the therapist asked.

"Just a kid I used to baby-sit," I said.

A neat kid full of energy and curiosity. A kid who felt equally at home playing with dolls or whacking a softball. A rich kid who should have grown up to be a doctor or a senator--or maybe the first woman in the major league. But she disappeared like the morning mist over the dunes.

It worked, by the way. I never smoked again. My psychologist suggested an extra session or two, but I declined. I had kicked the habit, and that was all I was looking for.

I thought of Samantha, but only occasionally. I celebrated my healthy new lifestyle by joining a gym, and when it offered a class in self defense, I signed up my daughters as well as myself.

One night Ken called to tell me he'd be working late. I didn't worry about him the way I used to when he commuted to the city, but I found myself at loose ends. I always fed the kids early, and as I sat at the table to eat my dinner, I picked up a days-old copy of the Greenwich Time to keep myself company.

It was folded to the obituaries. My husband is only two years older than me, but he has that habit, scanning the death notices. One name leaped off the page at me: Mulder. Teena Mulder was dead.

I'd have to give Mom a call because she might as well hear it from me, but that could wait for the morning. I read through the dry account, amazingly devoid of details until the last sentence.

"Survived by a son, Fox, of Alexandria, Virginia," I read. I decided to call him.

As the phone rang I reconsidered my hasty impulse and I was relieved to hear the hum of a recording. I left my message, identifying myself as Linda Mitchell, Chip's sister, but before I could hang up there was a click.

"I'm here," Fox said. He sounded as empty and exhausted as he had that Thanksgiving morning, but his voice was deeper.

"I'm so sorry about your mother," I said.

He answered slowly, and I wondered if he'd only taken my call so he wouldn't have to return it later. But he wanted to talk.

"She wanted to work in TV, remember?" he said. "Like Mary Tyler Moore."

I remembered. But he wasn't talking about his mother.

He pumped me, searching for details and perspective, looking to validate his own recollections and impressions.

"She was a good hitter, for a little kid," he said.

"She was good," I confirmed, and then I continued tentatively. "Couldn't catch worth a darn, though."

He laughed.

"That's right. Or throw."

We talked for over an hour. He said he wanted to remember everything, good and bad.

"She was a real person," he said. "I don't want to turn her into a myth."

"Did they ever find out what happened?" I asked him.

"Oh. She's dead," he said. Again he sounded weary and spent.

"I'm sorry," I said. That wasn't really what I'd been trying to ask him, because I knew she had to be dead.

"Nothing was the same, after she was gone," he said.

"I know. I know, Fox. Remember that Thanksgiving? When I helped out instead of my mom?"

"Yes." Long, deep sigh. "That was our last Thanksgiving together."

"No, not the year that I was there," I corrected him. "The year I started college. Seventy-three."

"Seventy-three," he repeated. "That's when she was taken."

"Uh-huh. Right before Thanksgiving," I said.

"Linda, no," he said. "The Tuesday after. November twenty-seventh."

"I remember it, Fox," I said. I couldn't swear to the dates, but I knew I came home before Thanksgiving, and Samantha was gone.

"You're wrong," he said. "I don't know what you remember, but you're wrong."

His voice was filled with sorrow and fatigue.

"You sound tired," I said.

"Yeah. Tired," he agreed.

"Good night, Fox."

"Good night. Thank you for calling," he said.

I hung up the phone. November 27. What day was Thanksgiving that year? I'd have to check. I knew what I remembered.

When I found myself reaching for a cigarette, I decided to go to bed early.

end


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