By Portwenn Hydra
Authors' Note: Doc Martin and all of its characters, themes and plotlines are the property of Buffalo Pictures. This work of fiction is written for purely entertainment purposes and no infringement of legal rights is intended.
It had been a long day, and I had a hundred things on my mind as I tidied up the consulting room. The missing lab report on Mr. Sturgis's biopsy, the worrying call I had received from Matthew Thatcher this morning, whether there were any more tongue depressors in the cupboard, would I have a chance this weekend to have the oil changed in the car, what to buy Louisa for her birthday next week, did we have any more couscous, and how to keep James Henry from crawling up the staircase. While I pondered the myriad of niggling little issues crowding my brain, I put my supplies away, filled out another lab request form, and took some patient notes out to the file cabinet beside Morwenna's desk.
When my filing was done, and I had left a note for Morwenna about ordering more latex gloves from the chemist, I made my nightly rounds switching off the lights and making sure all was in readiness for the next day's surgery. I stopped for a moment to straighten the photo of Louisa and James that now sat on the shelf behind my desk and to wipe the fingerprints off with my handkerchief. I felt myself smiling, briefly, thinking about how much better my life was these days having Louisa and James Henry here under my roof.
I glanced at the clock on the mantle in the consulting room – I was surprised to find that it was nearly six. Time to get supper started, I supposed. Louisa had promised she and James would be back from their mysterious expedition to Truro by six-thirty and I wanted to have the meal on the table when they arrived to avoid going to sleep on a full stomach. Louisa still teased me mercilessly about what she called my "carbohydrate curfew" but eating early and putting James down to sleep right after gave Louisa and me some time together in the evening, time that I had come to treasure.
As I checked to make sure the practice computer had been shut down properly, I saw that Morwenna had set our personal post aside when she opened the letters addressed to the surgery. There were a couple of bills, a letter obviously from Louisa's father on Dartmoor Prison stationery, a square ivory envelope that looked ominously like a formal invitation, and a long white envelope for me with a London postmark and no return address. I picked these up along with the latest issue of Lancet to peruse after supper, and was ready to close up for the night when I heard a loud knock on the front door.
As it was well after closing, I was tempted to ignore it and hope that whoever was out there would go away. Instead, the knocking persisted and with a resigned sigh that came from knowing I was the only doctor in this village and that the person on the other side might indeed have a legitimate medical emergency, I crossed the empty waiting room and switched on a light. When I opened the front door, it was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping in surprise. I could hardly believe what my eyes were telling me because the woman standing in front of me was the last person I ever would have expected to see on my doorstep.
"Pay the taxi man, won't you, Martin?" my mother said, in her own inimitable way as I stood there, speechless, gawping at her.
This spurred me to look away from her, to see the hapless Tommy of Tommy's Taxis hoisting two enormous cases out of the boot of the car parked on the road in front of my house. Obedience, at least to her, had been ingrained in me since babyhood, and I was incapable of dismissing, or even questioning, her direction.
"Hiya, Doc," said Tommy, as I approached him. "How's it hanging?"
"How much?" I said, ignoring his greeting, still frantically trying to process what it meant that my mother was here.
"Sixteen quid," he replied. He looked at me with beady eyes as I opened my wallet and pulled out the appropriate notes. He shoved them in his pocket and put his hand out again. "Aren't you forgettin' something?"
I looked at him with some disgust, seeing his smirking face and his hopeful eyes. "I suppose you want a tip."
"That's the general idea, Doc," he said brightly.
"I don't recall receiving one from you last summer when I saved your life, not to mention your wife's, from your idiotic bio-fuel scheme. I guess that makes us even." I turned on my heel and lugged Mum's cases up to the front door, leaving Tommy sputtering in my wake.
She had already entered the surgery and was standing in the middle of the waiting area, her nose turned up as if she'd smelled something foul. I set the bags down heavily and stared at her. She was pale; no Iberian suntan for this English rose. And Mum was a rose – lovely to look at perhaps but prickly with thorns that would leave you bleeding. She looked worn, or maybe just older. Well that shouldn't be surprising; she'd be seventy-one in August. As a physician, I couldn't help wonder if there was a medical cause for her pallor and evident malaise but diagnosing her would have to wait until I could perform a thorough examination.
I said nothing as I watched her remove her navy belted coat and the red silk scarf that framed her face and set them on the chair. As I stood there, observing, I couldn't help recalling the pain of our last encounter. I had with great effort put those feelings behind me when she and Dad had left Portwenn, or so I'd thought. But merely seeing her stand there, in my surgery, caused all the bitterness, shame, despair and hurt to bubble back to the surface from whatever place in my soul in which I had been able, at least for a time, to lock them away. And though I now stood six foot three in my stocking feet and had left home nearly forty years ago when I was sent away to school, I was somehow, still, at the core, the same thumb-sucking, bedwetting, bullied boy of my childhood, the one she'd evidently despised so completely despite my endless, desperate yearning to please her.
I was wary now, taken completely off guard by her sudden appearance, without warning of any kind. I had no idea what to expect, except not to get my hopes up. Not that I had any particular hope to get up.
"So," I said. I was never a sparkling conversationalist, and I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that she was here.
"Martin," she replied, without a trace of affection.
"Er, come through this way," I suggested, ushering her into the consulting room and seating myself behind my desk. Here I felt a little bit more in control, ensconced in my usual place of authority. This was my house and my surgery and my consulting room and I tried to remind myself that this place was mine to command.
I took a deep breath. "Take a seat."
She glanced briefly around the consulting room before sitting gracefully on one of the chairs facing my desk. She still said nothing and her face was blank and revealed nothing.
"So," I said again. "What brings you to Cornwall?"
"You, of course," she said. "Heaven knows there's no other reason to drag one's self out here to the back of beyond."
"I see. It has been quite some time, years in fact, since you were here last. And I hadn't heard from you ... I didn't know to expect you." I hated the pathetic tentativeness that crept into my voice as I said this. Put some steel in your spine, man, I told myself, and then mentally recoiled, realizing those were my father's words, his familiar exhortation.
She shifted in her chair and looked into the distance. "It was a sudden decision."
"No time for a letter, or a call?"
She did not reply, so I pressed on. "The divorce; it's final, then?"
"Yes. Did you hear about it from your father?"
"No. Not from him. Joan. He must have spoken to her."
"And how is Joan?" she said venomously. "Chickens laying?" She pursed her lips.
I swallowed hard. "Dead. Joan is dead. Last July."
A ghost of a smile passed over her lips. "I see. Well despite your, shall we say, reduced circumstances, you've ended up sitting pretty."
"What do you mean?" Not that I expected any great outpouring of grief, but this reaction to the tragic news of Joan's death was weird even for Mum.
"Well that was quite a property Joan had. You've inherited a pretty penny."
"It's not like that," I protested.
"Don't tell me you're going to keep it? You? A farmer? That would be something to see."
"No, of course not. But I didn't inherit. She left the farm to Ruth."
"Ruth! An even less likely candidate for a farmer, I must say. Whatever must she have been thinking?"
I was fairly certain now she had not come to tell me she had been wrong and to mend our fractured relationship. This was not a trip for reconciliation. I took a deep breath, trying to keep the angry words crowding my brain from exploding out of my mouth.
"Mummy. Mum, why are you here? In the last decade, you've been to visit only once and then you scarcely spoke to anyone. Now you show up again out of the blue after more than three years without so much as an email. I think I have a right to know why you came."
She looked at me and sighed again. She looked away, far away, as though in her mind she was in another country altogether. Finally she spoke. "I've lost everything."
"What?" I was shocked. This was not at all what I expected. "But the villa. Surely you have that, don't you? Isn't that what you kept in the divorce?"
"Martin, the economy in Portugal has been terrible. Housing prices in the Algarve were plummeting and I was advised, by my friend, Armando da Silva is his name, to sell the villa, while it was still possible to sell. I didn't get back what we spent on the place but I did get some money." She looked down at her hands, twisting them in her lap.
"What happened to it?" I asked, already imagining the unctuous Portuguese lover with some disgust.
She hesitated again, fisting her hands unattractively in her skirt – an obvious sign of distress in a woman as fastidious as Mum. "I gave the money to Armando to invest. He was sure he knew exactly how to preserve it for us. And since I don't speak Portuguese, it was easier to leave it to him. Easier but perhaps not wise. He . . . he lost it all. Nothing left. I had to sell my jewelry to buy my plane ticket back to England." There was an unfamiliar note of desperation in her voice.
"I see." I could just picture some smarmy Latin lothario preying on her vanity whilst making off with her nest egg. It made me physically sick.
"I had nowhere else to turn but to you. And what is the point exactly of having a son who is a doctor if he can't provide for me in my golden years." She sounded like a martyr rather than a supplicant.
"What are you expecting, then?" I folded my hands on the desktop and looked at her with what I hoped was some gravity.
"Martin, I need money. A regular remittance. Enough to live somewhere warm. Just a little place, somewhere cheap. I'll get out of your hair if you can do that for me."
"But you can't expect . . . I mean, that isn't realistic." My mind was racing. Never could I have anticipated this. I had already bailed my Dad out to save Joan's farm. I'd never expected to have to take on Mum's support as well.
"Just think about it, about the fact that I have no one else to turn to." she said, with an ominous air of finality. "I'm tired, Martin." Her voice was resigned. "Take my cases up to your room, won't you? I will have a lie down and we can talk about this in more detail later."
"That's not possible. . ." I sputtered. The house was stretched to the limit with Louisa and James Henry and I living here plus the surgery too. Where on Earth would we put her?
She sighed heavily and looked away. "Well if it is such an inconvenience, I suppose I could stay in your spare room. Surely you can't deny me that."
"But you don't understand. There's not just me to consider, now; there's also Louisa and James."
"Louisa and James?" She sounded puzzled at first, but before I could explain, she reached some conclusion of her own. "So it's come to this, has it, Martin? How far the mighty have fallen!"
"What do you mean?"
"It was bad enough you gave up your surgical practice, your place in London, and exiled yourself to this . . . this ridiculous little backwater, but now you've stooped to taking in lodgers!"
To be continued . . .