This story features the “Doc” and Wanda Jean Blanchett (#10 “Dead Handsome” and #24 “Unwrapped Christmas Gifts”). It also recalls Dan Swanson (#3 “Dignity and Courage”) and Trenton Collingsworth (#20, “Badge of Honor”). I like writing about Wanda because she’s the only villager who can rattle the “Doc.” Should you visit London, be sure to tour the incredible, new Globe Theater, brainchild of American film director, Sam Wanamaker.
by Karen Gilleland © 2015
Martin looked up from his desk, surprised to see the teenager, dark, curly hair cropped close around her face, brown knit sweater wrapping her tall, frail frame.
“Wanda Jean, what’s wrong?”
“I’m fine, ‘Doc.’ Our class is going to London to see a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theater.”
“My teacher’s asked for a medical release, because I’ve been absent so much.”
Martin stood up and walked toward the door. “I’ll get your notes.”
He came back, reading her file. “Sit on the couch, please.”
Listening to her heart, he said, “Your heartbeat is weak, but no more than usual.” He put the stethoscope away and sat down. “How are you coping with the pain from the fibromyalgia?”
She shook her head. “Been worse lately.”
“Hmm. I’ll look into some different medicine.”
“Whatever.” She hopped off the couch and took a seat across the desk from him.
He pulled out his prescription pad. “I don’t see any reason why you can’t go to London. I’ll write you a note.”
“Doubt if a note will make any difference.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t think much of Mr. Crenshaw, and I’m not exactly bashful about saying what I think.”
Amen to that, he thought.
“Besides, who wants to see ‘The Merchant of Venice’ anyway?”
“A production at the Globe Theater is special. You’ll enjoy the play.”
“We have to stay overnight. That means sharing a room with three other girls,” she snapped back. “There aren’t three other girls in the class I want to share with.”
Fiddling with the prescription pad, Martin said, “That’s not a medical condition, is it?”
“Mr. Crenshaw wants a guarantee I won’t get ill.”
“Ridiculous. You can’t be serious.”
She sat up straight in the chair, glaring at him, spitting out the words, “Don’t call me ridiculous.”
“Fine,” she snarled, stood up and stalked out.
Martin dialed a hospital in London. “Mr. Dan Swanson, please.” Several minutes passed before he heard a voice.
“Martin Ellingham, in Portwenn. Need a favor, Dan.”
“What can I do?”
“A teenage patient is supposed to go to London with her class. She suffers from fibromyalgia, but that’s in hand, sort of. The bigger problem is her weak heart, caused by rheumatic fever. Her teacher is afraid to take her along.”
“Where do I come in?”
“I’d like to assure him that, should Wanda become ill, you will go wherever necessary and treat her immediately.”
“Dan, as I recall, your student, Trenton Collingsworth, followed me around for an entire week. Chances are, the girl won’t need any help at all, but, as insurance—“
“How confident are you that she won’t need help?” Dan cut in.
“Umm, maybe seventy-five percent.”
“Not confident at all, then. Well, I do owe you. Collingsworth came back with a different attitude after that week with you. Fill me in on her condition.”
The two men talked awhile. When they finished, Martin typed out a letter on the computer, slipped it into an envelope and handed it to Morwenna. “Give this to Wanda Jean when she comes in.”
On Saturday, the sun sheltered behind a steel sky at the harbor. Martin noticed the girl on a bench, bundled in a heavy coat, knit cap pulled over her hair.
“Wanda Jean, is everything sorted about London, then?
“No.” Her eyes stayed on the boats drifting in the gloomy harbor.
“Mr. Crenshaw says he can’t take responsibility for my safety.”
“But I guaranteed him that you would receive immediate treatment, if needed.”
Martin stared at her, struck by the truth. She’s built up walls to protect herself against disappointment. He should have known. He’d built walls himself, but he’d kept his emotions inside them. She lashes out. Her fury wasn’t aimed at her parents, as his was, but at her illness.
“It was all rubbish about not wanting to share a room or see the play, wasn’t it?”
Her eyes stayed on the boats. “Can’t fool you, can I, ‘Doc’?” she said, dripping sarcasm.
“I’ll talk to Mr. Crenshaw.”
“No! Please!” She jumped up. “Don’t make waves for me, ‘Doc.’ Promise.”
He lowered his head, knew he couldn’t step on her dignity. “All right, I promise.” He turned and trudged up the hill.
Back in his office, eyes closed, thinking about the girl’s predicament, he heard Louisa come in. “Martin, we need to leave for the social in Truro soon.”
He opened his eyes, looked at his diary, saw the note. “Remind me what it’s about.”
“It’s a mixer for staff in our school district. Spouses are invited. I’ve arranged for a sitter to take care of James. You are still coming, aren’t you?”
He heard her sigh, and he nodded. “Yes, what time do we need to leave?”
“About six,” and she glanced at her watch. “One hour.”
Wearing a blue dress with white and yellow flowers on the full skirt, Louisa tucked her arm into Martin’s as they entered the hall. Soft music was playing, and people were talking, laughing, drinking wine. Louisa nudged Martin toward a group near the wall.
“Louisa, nice to see you,” said a curvy, blond woman in a clinging, purple dress, and the others joined in the welcome.
“This is my husband, Doctor Martin Ellingham,” she said, introducing him around the circle.
Hearing the name Brian Crenshaw, Martin’s eyes widened. Louisa’s hand still on his arm, he edged into the space next to the slim man in tan shirt, sporting a tie with an image of Shakespeare.
“Mr. Crenshaw, I believe I wrote you about a student recently.”
“Ah, Doctor Ellingham, I didn’t make the connection.” He leaned into Martin and confided softly, “Yes, Wanda Jean. I’m afraid I can’t shoulder responsibility for an overnight trip.” He shook his head, shrugged. “I’m sure you understand.”
Martin stifled his anger. No waves, he reminded himself. “Of course, but as I explained, a colleague in London promises to be on call should any emergency arise.”
A waiter carrying a tray approached. Louisa accepted a glass of white wine, but Martin shook his head and turned his attention back to Mr. Crenshaw, who was saying, “Is it fair to the other students who attend class regularly to allow someone who is absent so frequently to enjoy the same privileges?”
Martin’s body tensed, thinking of the pain the girl endured everyday. He felt Louisa’s fingers dig into his arm, took a deep breath, smiled. “You’re probably right. I suppose she prefers other activities anyway — sports, ballet, horseback riding?”
“No, no, I doubt it. Much too strenuous, in my opinion.”
“Really? What a shame, then, that she’ll miss out on the play, one activity that doesn’t require physical prowess.” Martin’s eyes beamed innocently at Mr. Crenshaw.
The man shifted his feet. “I suppose the risk wouldn’t be too great, with, as you say, a doctor standing by.”
Martin patted the teacher’s back heartily, before he had a chance to reconsider. “I applaud your spirit. I’m sure Wanda Jean will be very grateful.”
Turning to Louisa, he said, “I’ll get you another glass of wine, shall I?” and snatched her half-empty glass and walked over to the bar, squelching the urge to strangle Mr. Crenshaw.
Two weeks later, Wanda Jean came into his office, looking even taller in the long, denim dress, with a bright red-and-orange scarf loose around her neck. “Got a minute, ‘Doc’?”
“Yes,” he said, putting down his pen. “How was London?”
“Awesome, and we didn’t need to call your doctor friend.”
“Good.” He felt a sense of relief and knew by her smirk that Wanda picked up on it.
She tossed her hair and began talking. “The performance was magical.” Words tumbled out, one thought after another, hardly a breath in between. He felt the energy behind her excitement, even when he missed the words.
“. . . and the theater! They rebuilt the Globe exactly as it was in Shakespeare’s time. No electric lights. That’s why they performed in the afternoons. No toilets. That’s why—actually that was disgusting. They have toilets now. Did you know the term ‘auditorium’ came from the fact that plays were written for people to hear more than to see, and actors catered to people in the pricier seats at the side of the stage—“
She stopped. “Of course, you know all that.”
A smile crossed Martin’s face, and she laughed. “Like I said, ‘Doc,’ when you smile, you are dead handsome.”
He coughed and looked down at some paperwork.
She put her hands on the edge of the desk and leaned over. “I have a gift for you.”
“No, not necessary,” he said quickly.
“Shush. I wasn’t very nice to you, and I’d like to make it up.”
“Fine,” he said, recalling what it had cost him to be polite to her teacher.
“Thank you.” Standing straight, shoulders back, chin lifted, she began speaking with great feeling, gesturing with her scarf:
“’Tarry a little; there is something else.
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh’”
Her voice, clear and ringing, continued through the passionate speech. When she stopped speaking, her eyes crinkled.
Martin drew a deep breath. “Portia. The court scene.” Beautiful, he thought, impressed by her talented recital.
“Knew you’d be surprised,” she grinned, “but I didn’t realize I was that good.”
He raised his eyebrows, thinking how easily she pulled his thoughts out of the air. “So long, Portia.”
She laughed and turned to leave, tossing out another quote from the play: “’All that glitters is not gold.’”
She stopped and met his eyes, her voice quiet. “Not sure what you said to Mr. Crenshaw, but thank you. Glitter or no, ‘Doc,’ you are pure gold.” She floated out the door, trailing the scarf in her dramatic exit.
Martin leaned back in his chair, pleased by her happiness, thinking of another of Portia’s lines: “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
— THE END —
“Doc Martin” is owned by Buffalo Pictures.
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