Scully returns to an apartment dense with industriousness. An empty science kit box lies neglected on the coffee table and the air is infused with vinegar. Mulder and Emily sit on old newspaper on the kitchen floor, scattering sand around a black funnel pipe and a few scattered plastic ponies. Scully pauses to watch, unseen by either of them.
‘That’s it, Emily, that’s looking good,’ Mulder encourages as Emily pats the wet sand around the wide base of the funnel.
‘It looks like poop.’ Emily states with disgust, and Mulder laughs.
‘It’s not poop! I think it’s magic sand. See how it catches the light there?’
‘Oh yeah! It’ll protect the ponies.’ Emily stands her toys to attention. ‘But what if the lava goes on the ceiling? Mommy won’t like that.’
‘I don’t think she’ll mind.’
‘But what if it goes on the table? Or on Sassy dog?’ Her little voice pipes with concern. She gestures to a stuffed animal who supervises from the kitchen table.
‘It won’t, Emily. I promise. Do you trust me?’
She nods seriously. ‘Yes, I do.’
‘Ok then.’ They share a high five. Scully clears her throat, and they both look up.
‘What’s going on here?’
‘Mommy!’ Emily runs and tugs Scully’s hand. ‘You gotta see this! Quick! We’re making a volcano!’
Scully allows herself to be dragged into the kitchen, trying to remain nonchalant as her eyes glisten with joy. Mulder and Emily share an enchantment which Scully always interrupts when she returns from her weekend hospital shifts. Emily clings to him, asks him to read to her, to take her to bed, as the dynamics shift to include Scully once more. Each time Scully feels a tightness in her chest and doubt in her stomach. She will scold herself for being hurt by a four-year-old who needs to cling onto any semblance of security as they both find the rhythm of their recently established family.
‘A volcano!’ She exclaims, surveying the mess. ‘What’s all this?’
‘This is the sand around the volcano. It’s actually magic sand which will protect the ponies from the lava. See how it’s kind of sparkly?’
‘Of course,’ Scully affirms, crouching to examine in more detail. ‘We use magic sand at the hospital sometimes to treat the kids.’
‘Really?’ Emily exclaims before her eyes narrow. ‘I never saw any when I was in hospital….’
‘You’re right, I was teasing.’ Guilt at her levity fires hot within her, but is immediately numbed when Emily idly lays a thin arm around Scully’s neck and pulls her close. Scully catches Mulder’s eye and sees her own surprised happiness reflected back.
‘You’re here just in time,’ he says. ‘We’re about to pour in the vinegar.’
‘Ah yes, a classic acid-based reaction.’ Scully says seriously.
‘That old chestnut.’
Silence descends as Mulder pours the vinegar into the little funnel. Nothing. Emily turns to walk away when suddenly white froth spills out from the top, cascading down onto the magic sand. A stream of white jets into the air, half as high as the kitchen table, and the ponies find themselves surrounded by lava.
‘Wow, cool!’ Emily shouts! ‘Look out ponies, get to safety!’
As the stream dies down, the ponies find themselves galloping away to the safety of the couch, and Mulder and Scully are left with the damage.
‘Well that was about,’ Mulder checks his watch, ‘eight minutes of entertainment.’
‘And at least eighteen minutes of cleaning,’ Scully adds, kneeling to fold up the soggy newspaper.
‘I’m glad you got home in time for the grand finale.’
‘Me too. Very glad.’ Scully smiles as wet sand drips from her hands, making heavy circles on the floor. They wink at her under the kitchen light as she passes.