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An Acceptable Level of Happiness

3

Sunday is haircut day, which is a bit traumatic for all of us. We have several toys to keep Malcolm occupied, like a jumper set up in the doorframe of the kitchen, but he prefers much more to be held. So when neither of us can hold him he lets his displeasure be known with piercing shrieks and squeals. He won’t start truly crying unless he’s genuinely upset, which he will get if we leave him alone for too long. He doesn’t like to be confined.

Then there’s the matter of Mulder and his reaction to scissors and the razor. When he was first released from the hospital I took him to his old barber. He made it into a seat, and even let the barber tie the cloth around his neck. At the first flash of the scissors, though, he was up and out so fast for a moment I only stood in the waiting area dumbfounded, the baby in my arms.

He will, however, let me cut his hair and trim his beard—which he grew to cover his facial scars. I let him keep it as long as he lets me keep it neat. It emphasizes the leanness of his face, but also makes his lips look even more lush and full. There’s something undeniably sensual about his mouth surrounded by  dark, grey-streaked hair.

Sunday afternoon I spread an old sheet on the kitchen floor and tie a dishtowel around Mulder’s neck. He sits stiffly in the kitchen chair, his eyes on Malcolm. “Warn me,” he says, his hands clenching.

“I know.” I run my fingers through his hair, combing it out. I never start cutting right away. First I rub his temples and massage his scalp with my fingertips, trying to soothe him until his eyes close. I rub the base of his neck and his shoulders too, trying to reassure him that nothing’s going to hurt him here. He often says he’d know my hands anywhere.

“I’m picking up the scissors now,” I say when he’s relaxed. He acknowledges this with a grunt, his head tilted forward. I keep one hand combing through his thick hair and pick up the scissors with the other, and click them once or twice to get him used to the sound.

I keep one hand in his hair as I trim it, scraping my nails lightly against his scalp. There is one scar on his head and every time my fingertips pass over it my hands tremble. They cut him open everywhere.

I also murmur to him, telling him what I’m doing. “I’m doing your sideburns now. I’m cutting your bangs. I’m trimming the back.” He answers me with grunts, his eyes squeezed shut.

The worst is the beard trimmer. I think it’s the hum it makes when I turn it on, or maybe the vulnerability of a sharp object at his neck. I set down the scissors and pick up the trimmer. “I’m going to shave the back of your neck now.”

“Uh-huh.” He rubs his thighs with the heels of his hands.

“Hold still, Mulder.”

“I’m holding still.” He holds himself almost rigid, trying not to squirm as I touch the trimmer to the back of his neck.

When it’s time to trim his beard, I kneel in front of him. “Ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Tilt your head back a bit—there you go. You’re doing really well today, Mulder.”

“Uh-huh,” he says again.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to shave this completely?” I’m not crazy about the beard—I love his funny face—but I don’t mind it.

He opens his eyes to peer at me. Malcolm will do the same thing when I disturb him when he’s sleepy. “I’m sure.”

I’m careful with the trimmer around his mouth. “Though I will admit it does make you look like that absent-minded professor you almost were.”

He chuckles. “The Bizarro World Mulder.”

“You still could do it, you know. If you wanted.”

He opens his eyes again. “Do you want me to go back to work, Scully?”

“One of these days you’re going to get bored with staying at home.” I raise my eyes to him and shut off the trimmer. “There. I’m done.” I untie the dishtowel and dust his chest and shoulders for any stray hairs. “Doesn’t Daddy look better?” I ask Malcolm, who just squeals, recognizing that we’re finished.

Mulder stands and lifts Malcolm out of his jumper. For a moment Mulder buries his forehead in the baby’s soft neck, and Malcolm pats his face. Mulder takes a deep breath. “Okay. Thanks, Scully.”

“You’re welcome. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Oh, yeah,” he says with studied casualness, which would convince me if I didn’t know him so well. I’m not going to press him about it, though. “It wouldn’t do for me to become the neighborhood scary hermit guy, would it?”

“No, it wouldn’t.” I pick up the dropcloth from the floor and shake it out over the garbage can. “Do you ever think about going back to work?”

“Nope.” I look at him over my shoulder and he shrugs, bouncing Malcolm a bit in his arms. “All I think about is keeping my boy happy. And my wife—or whatever you are today.”

“Your devoted slave,” I say, widening my eyes at him, and he laughs.

“That must be the Bizarro World Scully. Do you really think I would get bored with this? Taking care of you and taking care of Malcolm . . . it’s very . . .” He shakes his head thoughtfully. “I really couldn’t ask for anything more right now. I mean, could you?”

I smile at him. “No. I couldn’t.” Which is true.

***

Over the course of the week Mulder brings Christmas into our apartment. He sets up the tree, a six-foot Blue Spruce, in one corner of the living room. He strings it with tiny white lights but does not decorate it further, telling me I have to wait until Christmas Eve.

He hangs our stockings from the mantlepiece: a blue one for him, a green one for me, a red one for Malcolm, with our names embroidered across the tops. Mine, I am glad to see, says “Dana,” but his, of course, says “Mulder” in round gold script.

He hangs lights in our windows and a wreath on our front door. He brings me cups of hot cocoa stirred with a candy cane to drink while I’m at the computer, or greets me at the door with fresh cookies and flour on his shirt. He does not, thankfully, dress Malcolm as an elf or a itty-bitty reindeer, but one night he puts a sweater and a Santa hat on Malcolm and takes pictures. He plays Christmas albums, my favorite kinds: Celtic musicians, instrumental guitar, classic songs and old English carols. The pile of wrapped packages grows daily beneath the tree.

After our first conversation about early Christianity’s parallels with paganism, he has found the subject fascinating. He has all sorts of nuggets of information culled from the Internet. He tells me, “Did you know the Yule log is Scandinavian, not English? It was part of a festival for the return of the sun god.”

“Good thing we have a small fireplace,” I say.

He says, “The twelve days of Christmas is from Mesopotamia—they’d have a twelve-day festival to assist their main god defeat the monster of chaos at the turn of the year.”

“So what’s the significance of twelve lords a-leaping?” I say.

He says,”The Romans would put candles in green trees to celebrate Saturnalia, and then the Germans borrowed it for their midwinter festival, using evergreens instead.”

“You sure it’s not the other way around?” I say. “Maybe the Romans borrowed it from the Germans.”

“The Romans put intertwined holly and ivy bowers over their doors for Saturnalia too. Holly and ivy are fertility symbols—the holly is feminine and the ivy is masculine.” This he says with his half-teasing leer.

“Shocking,” I say with a grin, and lift Malcolm to my shoulder to pat his back.

Friday I come home and Mulder greets me at the door, sans both baby and cookies. “Hey, Scully,” he says in a low voice, and he gestures with his eyebrows over the door, looking up hopefully. I look up to see mistletoe hanging from the doorframe.

“Oh, Mulder,” I say in exasperation, but kiss him anyway. “So, what’s today’s lesson?”

“Today’s lesson,” Mulder says, walking me into the apartment and taking the cooler and briefcase from my hand, “is mistletoe.”

“Mistletoe. Okay.”

“The humble mistletoe was believed to be sacred by several European cultures. The Norse, because of the role it played in the
ir mythology, believed it represented the love that transcends death. In fact, when Norse warriors met beneath mistletoe they wouldn’t fight each other—which, considering the pugnacious nature of Norse warriors, was probably quite difficult to do.”

“That’s very nice, really,” I say, taking off my coat.

“The Druids used it in sacrificial rituals and believed it was sacred because it never touched the ground,” Mulder says as he puts away the bottles of milk into the freezer.

“I’ve heard of that. Is Malcolm sleeping?”

“He is. And the Celtic word for mistletoe meant ‘all-heal’ because they believed it could heal every disease and injury.” He takes my hands, balancing me as I step out of my shoes. “And the piece de resistance, Scully, is that to many European cultures mistletoe was an aphrodisiac.”

“An aphrodisiac,” I repeat. “Really.” Do I need to mention . . . no, I probably don’t.

“I present the mistletoe,” he says with a proper sense of drama, and I applaud him.

“Thank you very much. I feel edified.”

“Now,” he says seriously, “please tell me you’re taking this weekend off.”

“I have been threatened with bodily restraint if I show my face in the office before the second of January.” Doggett actually waved his handcuffs at me, saying he’d attach me to Mulder if it came to that. I’m not going to tell Mulder that but it amused the hell out of me.

“And you didn’t bring anything home, right?” Mulder inspects my face when I hesitate. “Right, Scully?”

“Just some things I wanted to look up – Mulder!” I cry as he lunges for my briefcase, and we wrestle over it for a moment before he concedes and I retreat, my briefcase clutched to my chest, both of us laughing.

“You’re going to get eight hours of sleep a night if it kills me, Scully,” he says, flopping down onto the couch. He holds out his arms and gestures me to him. “Come on, love. Lie down for a spell.”

“Do the eight hours begin now?” I say but go to him and lie down on top of him, my head on his chest. He wraps his arms around me and kisses the top of my head.

“The eight hours begin . . . now,” he says, checking his watch. I fake a deep snore and he laughs. We lie silently for a while, holding each other.

“Mulder,” I say softly.

“You’re still awake?”

“I am. Malcolm’s going to be hungry any minute now. Do you really want to go to my mom’s party on Tuesday?”

“She’s expecting us, Scully.”

“I know . . . but there are going to be so many people.”

“Mostly your family, as I recall.”

“And it’s formal. My mom hasn’t thrown a formal party since my father died.”

“Don’t you like the way I look in a tux?”

I sigh and nuzzle my nose against his chest. “I love the way you look in a tux.”

“And somebody’s getting a new party dress for Christmas . . .” He rubs my cheek and I smile. This was one of his few purchases that he consulted me about, though I haven’t seen the actual dress yet. He only asked me about color and size. “And this way everybody who’s been complaining about not seeing Malcolm can oo and ah over him to their heart’s content.”

“That’s true.”

We lie there for a while longer as Mulder strokes my back. He says, “‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ is on tonight.”

“Mm.”

“I like that one.”

“Mm.” I feel like I could fall asleep right here.

“The guy who sings the Grinch song is the same guy who does the voice for Tony the Tiger in the Frosted Flakes commercials.”

“Indeed.”

“And the narrator is Boris Karloff.”

“Mm.”

“It’s got some good songs. I love the songs.” He sings very softly and slowly, “‘You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch . . . you really are a heel . . .'” He pauses. “I don’t remember what comes next.”

I take a deep breath, letting go of the idea of a nap, and sing against his chest, “‘You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a heel. You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. Gri-inch. You’re a bad banana with a,'” deep breath, “‘greasy black peeeeel . . .'”

“Isn’t there something about a seasick crocodile?”

“Third verse. ‘You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch. Your heart’s an empty hole. Your brain is full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Gri-inch. I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pollllle . . .'”

“Scully, I am so impressed that you know this.”

I tap his nose with my fingertip. “I like to keep you guessing. ‘You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch. You have termites in your smile. You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Gri-inch.'”

“I knew it! I knew there was something about a seasick crocodile.”

“‘Given the choice between the two of you,'” deep breath, “‘I’d take the seasick crocodiiiiile . . .'”

Mulder is grinning at me like I hung the moon, and he takes my face between his hands and kisses me. “I love you,” he says, and then tucks in his chin like he expects to be reprimanded.

This won’t do at all. I slide up his body and plant my elbows on either side of his head, and kiss him for all I’m worth.

It perks him up, as I hoped it would. He grasps my hips and massages them as we kiss. I comb my hands through his hair, glad that the irritation on my breasts has gone down somewhat so I can enjoy this. One of Mulder’s hands slides up my side and stops just beneath my breast, and his thumb strokes the outer curve experimentally. I moan to encourage him and he interprets it correctly, cupping my breast and circling it with his palm.

Of course Malcolm chooses this moment to wake up, wailing and hungry. I push myself off Mulder and he groans with frustration. On the way to the bedroom I whip off my blouse so the milk won’t stain it. I am tossing every one of these nursing bras the moment Malcolm is weaned.

“You know, Scully,” Mulder says, not moving from the couch, “one of these days I hope you tear off your clothes for *me*.”

“One of these days,” I say and go into the bedroom to get my hungry baby.

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