“Here’s why I don’t trust Biglund,” said Mulder. He was gnawing at a peanut as if it were a seed, much as a smoker might gnaw at a straw. They had reached the restless midpoint of the flight, at which he tended to tap the armrests, investigate the complimentaries and generally clatter around like a boy in church.
“He likes being a big fish in a small pond. That’s the through-line. Sure, maybe he has an interest in the cryptozoological. He definitely thinks he does. But that’s not what drives him. What he likes, what he really likes, is being at the top of a heap of losers.”
Scully looked up at him from the ‘85 file. She had two stages of listening to him talk. The stage at which she left her glasses on and the stage at which she took them off. The glasses remained on.
“What’s confounding,” said Mulder, “is that he doesn’t do anything with it. He has money, but he’s not a millionaire. He hasn’t defrauded anyone. He’s not violent. He hasn’t roped anyone into commune polygamy. So far as I can tell, he likes the attention and that’s about it.”
“Attention?” said Scully, “Or power?”
“Or status?” said Mulder. “Same things, different things. What’s the difference, Scully?”
“What’s the similarity?”
“Purpose,” he said. “Security. I don’t know. Humans are social animals, they feel safer when they have a wall of bodies between them and everything else. Wall of people, wall of money. That’s why they call it social capital.”
“That’s very biological of you.”
The peanut cracked and skittered out of his fingers, a piece landing atop the files in Scully’s lap. He sighed.
“Mulder,” she said, setting her glasses down. “Have you considered that perhaps you don’t understand him because you yourself don’t care about these things?”
“About what, security? The respect of my peers?”
“Well,” she said, a fondness in it. “You don’t tend to make decisions based on what other people will think, no.”
An almond now.
“You do?” he said. “I should warn you about this department, Scully.”
“I’m saying it’s just not so mysterious. People like to be liked.”
“Ah, but he likes being liked by the emotionally vulnerable, socially maladjusted and mentally ill. What does that tell you about him?”
“What should it tell me about you?”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Scully.”
He stared forward a moment. The head that crowned above the seat in front of him was both half-bald and snowed with dandruff. Weren’t they mutually exclusive? It seemed a bit unfair.
“It tells me he does it for a reason,” said Mulder. “It’s a pattern. Where there’s a pattern, there’s a principle. Maybe, anyway.”
“Hm,” she said.
“They’re too obviously easy marks. I mean they’re clinically easy marks.”
“And he what? Gets off on getting them killed?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“No deaths in Muleton.”
A longer pause. Mulder reached over and pulled a file from the middle of her stack. He didn’t open it. Instead, he had a flash of awareness of the physical calculus that he had just performed, an act safely away from legly, laply contact, but somehow still too intimate. It made him uncomfortable.
“I don’t cultivate anyone, you know,” said Mulder. “That’s the difference.”
Scully looked at him with a simple, serious sincerity.
“I know,” she said. She returned to her file.
“Death,” said Roger Biglund, “Is not exactly death. That’s what I’ve realized.”
A circle of people watched Biglund speak. Mostly women, mostly white, mostly middle-aged. A door squealed open at the other end of the YMCA gym.
“All the people, all the religions, they’ve all got words for things that aren’t death. In-between things. Limbo, you know.”
“Ghosts,” said a woman.
“Exactly, ghosts. And I think that’s what part of my trouble’s been. I’ve been thinking in terms of life and death, I’ve needed to categorize my experience into one or the other. By why should I? I don’t have to know what I saw. I can just know that I saw something. It was what it was. I don’t need other people to tell me what it was, you know?”
He spoke quickly, earnestly, with the sense that what he said was interesting.
“You might not know this Roger,” said a woman dressed like a Chico’s premonition. CLAIRE, her nametag said. “But experiencers sometimes say that although an NDE is an extraordinary thing, it happens to ordinary people, and it happens often. Our society might not have a good vocabulary for these experiences, but you are far, far from alone.”
Murmurs of agreement.
“But see,” said Biglund. “I mean that’s great, that’s great. Having other people. Having--what’s it?--corroboration. Corroboration. But I’m saying, even if none of you were here, it wouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. It was what it was.”
“I don’t think anyone would disagree, Roger,” said Claire.
“Just because something is rare doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Even if no one else saw it that wouldn’t mean it wasn’t real. I think that’s important to learn.”
“So why are you here, then?” said another woman. She sat heavy in her chair and breathed with the help of an oxygen machine. An old, grey-edged name tag stuck to the side of the tank. Jerry, it said.
“Come on, Jerry,” said someone else.
“Well if he doesn’t need anyone, why’s he here?” said Jerry.
“Can’t you go one meeting--”
“Let’s let Roger talk,” said Claire.
“I mean look at him,” said Jerry. “How old are you?”
“Ah--” said Roger, bewildered. “Forty-one. I’m forty-one.”
“He’s forty-one! Incredible. I’m forty-one. Now look at this, see this difference? What does he know about it?”
“Jerry, it’s not your turn,” said Claire.
A few moments of silence. Biglund was an energetic, babyfaced forty-one, with a hairline that had ceded barely a centimeter of territory. His face was too round and too shiny to be handsome, but he had an almost exhausting air of health. And everyone in the room seemed suddenly aware of it.
“Well,” said Biglund. “I--don’t know if that’s quite fair. I mean I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t, you know, if I hadn’t had an experience. Sometimes I dream I’m dying again and I wake up, you know...sad, you know, sad that I’m not.” A pause. “Anyhow, I didn’t mean to offend.” A longer pause. “I’m just happy to be here. To share and to hear.”
“We all have our own experiences,” said Claire. “We’re glad to have you.”
“I’m all done then.”
It was a hot day in Santa Fe. A dry, flat, hair-iron heat. Jerry Pulaski sat on a bench outside the Y, gripping the handle of her oxygen cart and feeling sweat pool and drip beneath her breasts. Down her back. She squinted out across the parking lot.
“Would you like a ride?”
Biglund was wearing a pair of sunglasses, but he took them off as he asked.
“I’ve got one.”
“You mind if I sit here a second?”
Jerry sat and squinted and did not reply.
“No one’s coming,” said Biglund, conversational. “I know it. I know you wait until everyone’s gone. They think you have a niece or a daughter or someone, but you don’t.” He paused, looked away. Looked back. He sighed. “I don’t know how to give people their pride, just don’t know how. Don’t know what that means. So I’ll give you a ride if you like.”
“I don’t want a thing from you.”
Biglund pulled a tissue from the pocket of his slacks and pressed the sweat from his forehead. He sighed again. Sat down.
“What must you have thought,” he said distantly, some strange, soothsayer’s calm come over him. “Seeing those little Vietcong women? Those people were the enemy, but they let the women fight. What guilty pride you must have felt, watching them take out all those strapping American soldiers. Those stupid, cruel men.”
A pause. He stared out at the same patch of lot as Jerry.
“I wonder, did it break your heart to fire at them? Or was it the only thing that made it right, knowing that you might have hit someone that was worthy of it? I wonder, how does it feel to have maimed and murdered, to have ruined yourself...and to have it not count? I wonder how you drive past the VA office and stop yourself from screaming that you were there too.”
“You don’t know shit.”
“I know that if you were a man you’d have a purple heart and two hundred dollars more a month. The only reason you’re at these meetings and not theirs is that it wasn’t your job to kill. They talk about being ignored by their country, but they don’t know a thing. Do they?”
Jerry ignored him.
“Well I can’t fix it,” said Biglund, sounding more like himself again. “Can’t fix anything. Things are done and then they’re done. But you know, there are other things in this world. Other things than this world. I don’t know if they’re better, but they exist...and they’re different.”
He stood up.
“I sound like a nutcase, I know. I know. Sound like I’m selling something. But I might as well be nuts about something beautiful, you know? I can’t understand you Jerry, of course I can’t. But I know that this world hasn’t been beautiful to you. That’s all.”
He took a card from his shirt pocket and put it down on the bench beside her.
“Can’t fix anything, like I said. But I can offer you something else.”
Jerry said nothing. Biglund sighed a final time, put his sunglasses back on, and turned to leave.
“And I won’t pay for your cab, of course. That’s how pride works, I’m thinking. I’m learning.”
For all that Fox Mulder thought a lot about female fear, there was a certain kind that had taken him a very long time to notice. Or perhaps simply believe. A very long time for a young man possessed of an athletic body and an ineffable romantic charisma, at any rate. It was not the fear that you were trying to sleep with her, but improbably: the fear that you weren’t. The fear of the reasons that you weren’t.
He could tell, more or less, when a woman was attracted to him, but he tended to treat it with a kind of rueful camaraderie. As if it were absurd to consider a liaison any kind of real possibility, as if he’d had surgery the day before. I also wish I could sleep with you, his manner said. But I can’t and you can’t and isn’t life funny? Let’s have a drink.
Most women saw it for the roundabout rejection that it was. Were deterred. Fox Mulder would not make a move to save his life, and if your ego could not handle that, then you tended to leave Fox Mulder alone. He liked women like Henderson down at the QDU. Competent, humorful women with just enough sincerity in their flirting to be flattering, but old enough to take themselves off the table for him.
Diana though. Diana didn’t take herself off the table. Diana was both self-sufficient and in awe of him for the right reasons. The reasons he considered right, that is. Diana did not appear fascinated by him, but by the questions he was asking. Diana did not mind that he could only be relied upon to show up at her doorstep at a maximum of once a week. Diana was not insulted by his oblique, joking ways of talking about sex and whether he wanted it. Diana laughed. Diana gave him room. Diana kissed him first and she looked him dead in the eye when she did it.
Diana was being bizarre.
She had been oddly short with him ever since they’d arrived in New Mexico. She had not gone with him to visit Horace. Had said she’d had someone to talk to at the university. Not so strange. But she’d been almost disinterested at his excitement over dinner, and had left for her own room.
He knocked on the door, wishing for something playful to accompany it. Foxes knocked in fairy tales didn’t they? No, of course not. That was wolves. Devil deceivers, always wanting to be let in, always devouring. Sex. Stones in their bellies. Foxes were the clever fools. The Foolish Mr. F--
She opened the door, and he could see that she’d been reading at her table. Scattered books about mind reading, and papers full of notes. A wave of fondness went through him. She looked at him in that bemused, but slightly wary way she’d been looking at him the last few days and he realized it had been almost three weeks since they’d last properly slept together.
“Everything okay?” he said.
“Of course, Fox,” she said.
“You want to tell me what you found?” he said.
“No,” she said.
He examined her a moment, and he knew she wouldn’t kiss him this time.
“Okay,” he said, and closed the door behind him.
“Fee-fi-fo-fum,” he says, punctuating each word with a knock upon her door.
“It’s open,” she says. He steps inside, taking stock of her all cross-legged and investigative on the bed. Such a funny, girlish posture for a woman in such a serious suit. The sight of her toes through the beige of her hose just another thing he can’t bear these days.
“Have you no self-preservation, Scully?”
She smiles, but doesn’t reply, absorbed in whatever it is she’s reading on her computer. He leans against the bureau opposite her.
“There’s another match tonight,” he says. “I’m going to check it out. Something’s up with that boxing.”
“Maybe. Maybe something else. You coming?”
“Mulder, don’t you think we’re picking up an awful lot of disconnected things, here?”
“Who says they’re disconnected?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “Boxing, giants, snow…”
“Biglund. I could have told you there’d be a body.”
“I think you did.” A pause. “Well, the EPA sent me their findings on the snow, though I’m not sure what it means. It’s an illusion.”
“It’s reflecting blue. It’s common in deep snow, in fact. Red light gets absorbed and blue gets reflected back.”
“But that wasn’t deep snow.”
“No,” she agrees. “But something about it is...degraded. Whatever’s happened to the snow, it’s causing it to refract light in such a way that it appears blue. But it’s still just snow.”
“Just snow,” he echoes. “What would do that?”
“Truthfully? I don’t know. But it’s something else to look for, I suppose.”
She stands and begins to gather up the papers a bit. He stands from his position against the bureau too. Against The Bureau. Another memoir in there.
She passes him on the way to the bathroom, and he feels the sleeves of their jackets brush. So very brief. One bit of rayon meets another, like it has a thousand times before. Still, he thinks she would have avoided it a year ago. Somewhere along the line, Scully’s stopped staying out of his way.
“Boxing, Scully,” he says. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Changing, Mulder,” she says. She nods at him. “Fifteen minutes.”