This story is dedicated to my brother, Paul John Heller (1937 – 2013)
by Karen Gilleland © 2014
Martin, dressed in a dark gray suit with rust-colored tie, came out of the bathroom and walked into the bedroom to find a bra, tee shirt and socks strewn across the floor. “Louisa,” he called to her in James’ room. “Why do you leave your clothing about on the floor?”
“In future, could you please drop your clothes into the laundry bin instead of the floor.”
“I’ll try, Martin, but habits aren’t easy to break.”
Martin walked down to the reception area. Morwenna opened the front door, came in and tossed her bag onto the desk. “Morning, Doc. You have a full schedule, but the good news is that the biscuit lady is coming in today.”
“Why must that woman always bring biscuits? I’ve told her time and again it isn’t necessary.”
“Don’t tell her again. We all love her biscuits. She schedules appointments right after lunch so we can enjoy the biscuits warm from the oven.”
Patients began arriving. Just after lunch, Mrs. Keast, in her eighties, short white hair curled about her face, and dressed in a blue print housedress, walked into the reception area carrying a plate of biscuits. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Keast,” said Morwenna. “The doctor is ready for you.
“Thank you, Morwenna. You’re looking lovely today, as usual.”
“Right back at you,” Morwenna replied and gave her a thumbs-up sign.
“Thank you,” he said with a frown, moving the plate pointedly to the far left-hand corner of the desk. “How are you feeling today?”
“The walk up the hill has tired me, I must admit, and my heart feels a bit fluttery.”
“Please, take a seat on the couch. I want to listen to your heart.” After he finished his examination, Martin picked up her file and read notations from previous visits. Then he asked the woman to sit down at the desk. “Mrs. Keast, your heart rate is weak and erratic. I must insist you go to hospital. I’m going to call an ambulance.”
“No, no, Doctor, I am not going to hospital. You have been treating me just fine all these months. Anyway, I can’t go now. I’ve left the water on in the garden.”
“Mrs. Keast, your heart condition has deteriorated, and I would be failing in my duty if I did not insist that you go to hospital. I should have insisted before now. I will make arrangements for an ambulance to pick you up at your house.”
“No, I –”
Mrs. Keast looked at him and shrugged her shoulders.
“You can’t walk back home. I will drive you as soon as I call the ambulance.” Martin dialed 999. He instructed the dispatcher to alert Mr. Angove, in Cardiology, to expect a patient who would likely need a stint.
Martin drove Mrs. Keast to her home, a short distance on the other side of the village. He turned off the water in the garden while Mrs. Keast went into the house. She took an envelope out of a bureau and put it, along with a few articles of clothing and toiletries, into an overnight bag. When Martin came inside, she said, “I’ll fix a pot of tea while we wait.”
“That’s not necessary. You need to rest.”
“Nonsense. It will take only a minute. I’m not an invalid, you know.”
Martin raised his eyebrows and shook his head, but he sat down at the table and allowed Mrs. Keast to fuss with the tea things. He looked around at the spotless kitchen, recipe books filling a bookcase along one wall. “I take it you live alone.”
“Yes, my Charlie died 15 years ago. Jessie, my daughter, and Jason, my son, both have jobs and families in London.”
The tea ready, Mrs. Keast joined Martin at the table. “I’m sorry I don’t have any biscuits to offer you,” she said. “I bake everyday, but I give everything away – except for one biscuit that I taste to be sure the batch came out properly.”
“Please, don’t bother about anything. You really shouldn’t be baking everyday.”
Mrs. Keast smiled at him and said. “Doctor, I’m not like you. I don’t save people’s lives. I’m not famous in any way. But it pleases me to think that after I’m gone, people will remember me as the ‘biscuit lady’ who, now and again, brightened their day with a batch of coconut twists or chocolate drops.”
The Doc took a sip of tea and asked, “Mrs. Keast, why have you refused to go to hospital as I’ve advised many times? Tests are necessary to pinpoint the cause of your heart problems. I really should have insisted that you go before now. By waiting, you have put your life at risk.”
“Please, Doctor, you won’t understand, but I believe the Lord is in charge of my life, and I won’t leave this world one minute before or one minute after He is ready for me to go.”
“I appreciate all the help you have given me. I truly do. The medicines have allowed me to feel good most days. I’ve been able to take care of myself and do what I enjoy most. Baking. I’m sorry you haven’t ever tried one of the biscuits I’ve made for you.”
Surprised, Martin stuttered. “Ah, umm –“
“It’s all right, Doctor. I figured if you had ever tried one, you would have told me.”
Sirens sounded in the street; and within minutes, two paramedics entered the house. They assisted Mrs. Keast onto the gurney and took her out to the ambulance. The Doc gave the paramedics instructions to take the patient directly to the cardiac unit. “Mr. Angove is expecting her.”
Martin leaned down to Mrs. Keast and said, “I’ll come and see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Doctor, that will be nice. Please, don’t you worry. As soon as I’m home, I’ll make you a batch of my special orange-walnut biscuits. And I’ll make sure you eat one.”
“Yes.” The Doc drove back to surgery. Several patients sat chatting in the reception area. “I’ve rescheduled your later patients, Doc,” said Morwenna. “Mr. Brock, you can go through.”
The last patient left surgery, and Morwenna said goodnight and locked the door on her way out.
The telephone rang, and Martin answered. “Ellingham.”
“Doctor Ellingham, this is Peter Angove, Truro Cardiology. You referred a patient, Lillian Keast, by ambulance. We ran the standard tests and were preparing to insert a stint. I am sorry to tell you that Mrs. Keast expired a few minutes ago. We found a list of relatives and phone numbers in her bag, so we will notify the next of kin. She appeared very peaceful at the end. I wanted you to know.”
“Yes, thank you for calling.” Martin hung up the phone and sat at the desk, head slumped down. As he turned slightly, he spotted the plate of biscuits on the corner of his desk. He stood up and walked around to the front of the desk, picked up the plate and walked into the sitting room. He sat down on the sofa, chin resting on his tented fingers. Then he took the film wrapping off the plate and ate a lemon crisp.
“Sorry, Martin,” said Louisa, and she stooped down to pick up the socks.
“Louisa, don’t do that. Leave your socks where they are, and come have a biscuit.”
“Martin, is everything all right?”
“Mrs. Keast died at hospital a little while ago.”
“I’m sorry,” Louisa paused, then said, “Lillian, the biscuit lady. A lovely and generous woman. She made the best biscuits in the village.”
“Yes. She often brought me a plate of biscuits. I never ate one until now. They’re delicious. The best I’ve ever tasted. I’m sorry I won’t be able to tell her.”
Louisa sat down on the sofa beside Martin.
“I saw your socks on the floor,” he said, nodding toward them, “and I was annoyed because I had asked you this morning not to leave clothing lying around.”
Louisa started to apologize, but Martin touched her lips. “I saw the socks on the floor, and I had a terrifying thought.” He stopped, eyes locked onto hers. “What if the socks weren’t there?”
– THE END –
“Doc Martin” is owned by Buffalo Pictures.