by Karen Gilleland © 2014
I’d like to extend warm wishes to all of you “Doc Martin” fans that you may be blessed with the gifts of love, joy and peace during this Christmas season. This story is my “unwrapped Christmas Gift” to all of you.
Notes: It’s been exactly a year since I wrote my first FanFiction, “Christmas Memories,” which took place on Christmas eve. This story takes place the next day. You may remember Wanda Jean Blanchett from FanFiction #10, “Dead Handsome,” and there’s an echo of a theme from #16, “Close Encounters.”
Enjoy the story and the season.
Church bells chiming. Crisp air stirring on a cloudless Christmas morning. Louisa, in a red, woolen dress, wearing the gold heart Martin had given her, linked arms with her husband as he carried James out of the church.
“This is nice, isn’t it, Martin, attending Christmas service as a family. Spending our first Christmas day together.”
“Umm,” said Martin.
The church-goers gathered in front of tables set with pasties and coffee. “Morning, Louisa, ‘Doc,’” said Bert Large, as he and Jennifer nudged through the crowd and stopped to chat. Martin nodded, but after a few minutes, he slipped away with James to a secluded spot by a tree.
The baby dozed, and Martin let his gaze follow the villagers. He wondered if Mrs. Harvey’s sinus infection had cleared up. Tommy Sutton was coughing. He should be in bed, thought Martin. Mr. Mitchell hobbled over to a bench and sat beside two white-haired women. He looks good for his age, but I’d like to take a look at that leg of his.
Engaged in these thoughts, Martin stiffened at the sound of an unexpected voice. “Hi ‘Doc,’ I know what you’re doing,” said Wanda Jean Blanchett.
“What do you mean?” he asked, looking at the teenager, huddled in a dark brown coat, hair stuffed into a knit cap.
“I’ve been watching you. You’re diagnosing the villagers. No need to worry about Mr. Mitchell. They’ll have to shoot him on Judgment Day.”
“You’re sure about that, are you?”
“Yes, the one you should worry about is Miss Hocking.”
Glancing about the crowd, Martin asked, “Which one is she?”
“She’s not here. That’s the problem. She never misses Christmas service.”
“Could be any number of reasons why she hasn’t turned up.”
“No, ‘Doc,’ if she isn’t here, she’s ill,” insisted Wanda Jean, hands on her hips, eyes locked on Martin’s.
“Umm,” said Martin, shifting James in his arms and wondering why he felt compelled to pay attention to this young woman’s conjectures. “Where does Miss Hocking live?”
“Bodmin Moor. She’s elderly and she lives alone. I called, but no answer.”
Martin stood quiet for a full minute, weighing his plans to spend Christmas day with his family against going on some wild goose chase, but he couldn’t shake the unease Wanda had implanted in his mind. “All right, I’ll go and check on Miss Hocking.”
“Knew you’d do the right thing, ‘Doc.’ I already wrote down the directions.” Wanda grinned and handed him a slip of paper.
Martin walked over to Louisa. “May I have a word?” he whispered.
Louisa stepped away from the group, raised an eyebrow and said, “What is it, Martin?”
“Miss Hocking wasn’t at the service, and Wanda Jean thinks she must be ill. I promised to drive out and check.”
“Martin, you promised me –” Cutting off the sentence, Louisa shrugged and said, “Never mind. Go.”
“I’m sorry.” He handed the baby to Louisa. “I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
Martin hurried to surgery for his medical bag and headed out. After driving some distance, he worried that he’d passed the place, until rounding a curve, he spotted the sign announcing Rose Lane. He stepped on the brake, made a sharp turn into the lane and saw the two-story, stone house, set amid a beautifully kept garden.
Knocking at the door, Martin listened for footsteps, but heard nothing. He jiggled the knob and peered in the front window. Nothing. As I thought, a wild goose chase. Nevertheless, he walked around to the back, where he found the kitchen door unlocked. He stepped inside and shouted, “Hello, it’s Doctor Ellingham. Anybody here?”
No response. He ventured into the front room, where dozens of splashy, flowering plants caused him to sneeze. He held his handkerchief over his nose and mouth to fend off the heady fragrance.
Martin called out again as he climbed the stairs. Miss Hocking, dressed in a burgundy suit, was lying on the floor. He dashed over to her, took hold of her wrist and let out a sigh of relief, although her pulse was very weak. He noticed a lump on her forehead and a bluish cast to her fingernails. He held smelling salts under her nose, and she blinked.
“Miss Hocking,” he said in a loud voice, “what happened?”
“Dizzy,” she murmured. “Passed out. Head hurts.”
“I think you hit your head against the wall. I’ll call an ambulance.” Martin checked vital signs and managed to keep the woman awake until the ambulance arrived and he’d given the paramedics a report of his examination.
Driving away from the house, Martin puzzled over something he’d noticed, but couldn’t bring into focus. As he passed a nearby house with flowers in the window, the missing piece clicked in his brain. Flowers, the bluish cast to her fingernails. Plant-food poisoning.
Martin swerved into a wide spot, turned toward Truro and tromped on the accelerator. When he arrived at hospital, he jumped out and caught the paramedics as they were wheeling the patient down the hall.
“Wait a moment,” Martin shouted. He leaned over the woman and asked, “Miss Hocking, were you feeding your plants this morning?”
“I think you may have inhaled fertilizer, creating a condition known as methemoglobinemia, which means your blood cells aren’t getting enough oxygen.”
Doctor Sharma, the physician on call, met the medical team in the hallway. Martin explained his suspicions, and Doctor Sharma ordered blood tests. The results confirmed Martin’s diagnosis, and the two doctors discussed treatment. Satisfied that Miss Hocking was in good hands, Martin took his leave.
Before pulling out of the parking lot, Martin looked at a phone number on the slip of paper he’d put in his pocket. He tapped out the number and grimaced as a child screeched into the mouthpiece, “Wanda Jean! Telephone!”
When Wanda’s voice came on the line, Martin said, “I wanted you to know that Miss Hocking did need help. She’s at hospital, but she’ll be all right.”
Wanda chided him in her cheeky manner, “Gosh, ‘Doc,’ don’t go giving me a swelled head. Next thing, you’ll be saying I saved her life.”
Shaking his head at the girl’s uncanny ability to pull his thoughts out of the air, Martin said, “Merry Christmas, Wanda Jean,” and clicked off.
It was after six o’clock when Martin walked through the kitchen door and heard squeals from the sitting room. He stepped quietly to the doorway. Christmas tree lights glowed in the darkening room, and holiday music played softly on the radio.
James was propped up in his infant seat, and Louisa, in jeans and a tee, was sprawled on the floor blowing a balloon at the baby, making silly noises. James batted at the balloon and squealed.
“Martin, you’re home,” said Louisa, twisting to look at him, a frown on her face, “at last.”
“I’m sorry. Miss Hocking was in bad shape. I went to hospital to make sure she was diagnosed properly.”
Louisa sat up, crossed-legged, still tapping the balloon back and forth. “Sorry, I thought you were making excuses to avoid playtime with James.”
Martin shrugged. “I admit I’m more comfortable attending patients than playing with babies.”
“Martin, that’s going to change. James took a long nap, and he’s ready to party. Take off your jacket and tie and come sit on the floor. It’s time to get down and dirty.”
“Me, on the floor?”
Guilty about missing Christmas day with Louisa and James, Martin threw his hands up and said, “Yes, Ma’am.”
He hung his jacket on the back of a chair, took off his tie and lay down in front of James. Louisa handed him the balloon, and he flicked it toward the baby, who sat still, lower lip quivering.
“See, I’m no good at play. He wants you,” complained Martin, about to stand up, thinking he was off the hook.
“You have to make faces and noises,” Louisa said, catching his arm.
“You’re not serious.”
“Dead serious. James won’t have fun unless you have fun yourself.”
Martin tilted his head, made a face and clicked, “Gggg, James, coo-coo-coo.” The baby laughed, and Martin tapped the balloon over to him.
Louisa stood up and said, “You two have fun. I’ll fix dinner.” She set a pile of toys nearby. “When he tires of the balloon, try the train. He likes the sound of the choo-choo.”
A while later, Louisa came in to find Martin, lying on his back, bouncing James up and down. “You and James can wash up now,” said Louisa. “It’s time for James to settle down.”
“You heard Mum, James. Bath, bottle, book, bed. Sound good?” The baby laughed, and Martin said, “I’ll take that as an affirmative,” and he carried James upstairs.
Holding his son in his arms, Martin read The Snowman, a story about a boy named James who built a snowman that came to life. As Martin’s voice became softer and softer, the baby fell fast asleep.
Martin and Louisa enjoyed a quiet meal; and a little later, the two, yawning, were ready to turn in. “Merry Christmas, Martin,” said Louisa, switching off the light.
“Merry Christmas,” he answered. After a moment, he looked at her and said, “Thank you for the gifts.”
“No, er, I mean, yes, thanks for these pajamas — but what I meant was — thanks for tonight — I mean — for James — for giving me back my childhood – I mean — for helping me to understand what childhood should be like.” He closed his eyes, feeling helpless, but managed to add, “Fun.”
Louisa rolled over close to Martin and traced her finger around his lips. “I always knew there was a fun guy underneath that suit.”
“Is that so?” Martin kissed her fingertips and whispered, “Well, I’m not wearing a suit now.”
— THE END —
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