FLOWERS FOR MOTHER: A HELLBOY TALE OF THANKSGIVING
Author’s notes: Martha Wilson, head nurse at the BPRD facility in Boston, is an original character of mine, first created for my Hellboy fanfic A Tale of ‘Demon’ Rights. She has since appeared in several others of my Hellboy fics, including the now completed ‘Abe Sapien’ chapter of Hellboy’s Family.
I had originally intended this to be another chapter in Hellboy’s Family, but decided to create this as an independent story to post for Thanksgiving. There will be some other characters appearing here that were developed by me for some of my other Hellboy fics. The actual holiday of Thanksgiving will play a role, but this will range beyond the holiday itself to build on general themes of love and family.
Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine; they were just borrowed to have some fun with and I promise they will be returned in good shape. In keeping with the theme of ‘Thanksgiving’, thanks should certainly be given to Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro, without whose work we would not have these wonderful characters to borrow and build tropes upon.
Flowers for Mother: A Hellboy Tale of Thanksgiving
Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense
November 22, 1951 (Thanksgiving Day)
Martha Wilson, whose past nursing experience was a military one, had just been newly appointed head nurse of the brand new Medical Wing installed in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense main headquarters in Boston. She had reported to her new position just before Thanksgiving and was still settling into her new office.
Unlike most of the nurses soon to be working under her, she had no family. Therefore, she saw no reason for Thanksgiving Day to be any different from any other day.
Bright and early that Thursday morning, she departed from her personal sleeping quarters in the Medical Wing and went to her office. She felt this would be as good a time as any to work on organizing her papers and files. She had served with BPRD chief surgeon Robert Patterson during the war and was pleased with her new position, trying to bury deep any regret she may have felt over her lack of friends or family to spend holidays with.
Trevor Broom, again the director of the BPRD since the relocation of its main headquarters to Boston, was no rigid taskmaster. Even though originally born in England, he had come to love Thanksgiving and only expected the most essential personnel to be working on such an important American holiday.
When it came to his attention that Martha was working that day instead of spending it with friends or family, he determined to speak with her; concerned that she was doing so out of a mistaken sense of duty to her new appointment. He had only met her once since her arrival. Robert Patterson had handled the interviewing and hiring for the Medical Wing and the new division existed in a completely separate section of the extensive Boston facility.
It was just a little after eleven o’clock in the morning when Martha was working on organizing her new file cabinets. Since this was a sort of officially unofficial duty, she was dressed in a navy blue sweater and slacks rather than her usual white uniform, her long dark-brown hair done up in a tight bun.
There came a knock at her office door. Upon opening it, Martha was surprised to find that it was Trevor Broom. He was dressed in an impeccable charcoal gray three-piece suit, his usually unruly brown-with-a-touch-of-gray hair neatly combed and his beard and mustache nicely trimmed.
“Professor, today of all days, I did not expect many to come around. Is there something you need?”
Broom smiled, “No, ma’am, there is not something I need. I am merely curious as to why you are working on this important holiday. I wanted to make certain you did not think I required this of you.”
“No, indeed, Professor,” Martha said, returning his smile, “It’s just that I don’t have anyone to spend the holiday with and thought this would be a great time to get at these new files of mine. Believe me, I enjoy the peace and quiet of a day like this.”
“I understand what you mean by peace and quiet, Nurse Wilson. However, it would be my great pleasure to extend to you the invitation to attend at my table for dinner. My assistant, Paul, who also is alone in this world, always joins my adopted son and me; there is always room for one more. Dinner will be served at four o’clock this afternoon.”
This invitation surprised Martha. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Professor; but I am hesitant to intrude into your personal life on this day.”
Broom laid a hand on her shoulder, “It will certainly be no intrusion, Martha. In the past, my son had become more than used to spending Thanksgiving with a large number of people; that is what we had in New Mexico. He is always looking forward to meeting someone new. Because of our isolation here, he does not get this chance as often as he did previously.”
Martha found Trevor Broom charming. “I had not heard of your adopted son before. How old is he?”
“He is almost exactly a month short of his seventh birthday,” Broom said, as he turned and closed the door to the office.
Broom turned back to Martha. “If I may be frank,” he continued, “I have always thought it best to introduce new personnel to my son before they hear about him from their colleagues; it saves everyone from a lot of misunderstandings and misinformation. You only arrived two days ago and I have had some duties that interfered with my introducing you. I think today is as good a day as any. It will be most gratifying to me if you accept and I’m sure my son will enjoy meeting you.”
Martha found it hard to say no. After he left, she pondered what he had to say about his adopted son, wondering what was so unusual about him that he had to be personally introduced to the people who worked for Broom. Even though she was aware of the unique nature of the Bureau and its operations, she was not yet aware that it contained any non-human residents.
Trevor Broom returned to his office to find that a minor accident had occurred while he was away. Even though he and his assistant, Paul, tried to keep his office in order, Broom had always been a bit of a packrat and the room was filled with tables and stands covered with stacks of books and papers. Someone had knocked one of these over and a small religious statue had been broken in the process.
Broom, certain he understood exactly what had happened, left in search of Hellboy. He eventually found his red-skinned, be-horned adopted son curled up in a huge chair in their private sitting room. Dressed in his usual black garb, he was quietly reading the comic book Trevor Broom had given him as a gift earlier that morning.
“Son,” Broom said very sternly, “please come with me into my office.” Without waiting for any reply, he turned on his heel and went back to the office he had just left.
Hellboy, who had been sitting there for over an hour, was totally mystified by Trevor Broom’s tone. He had sounded annoyed, but Hellboy couldn’t for the life of him imagine what he had done recently to earn the kind of severity that his adoptive father never showed him without provocation.
Placing his comic book face down on the seat of his chair to save his place, Hellboy walked out of the sitting room to join Trevor Broom in his office.
Broom, a serious expression on his usually smiling face, was already seated behind his desk as Hellboy walked in. Taking in the mess on the floor and the broken statue, Hellboy knew why he had been summoned.
He could already hear the ‘I have asked you not to come in here, blah, blah…You are growing so fast that, blah, blah, blah…’ lecture that was going to come the second Trevor Broom opened his mouth.
Hellboy didn’t really mind being lectured by the loving and compassionate man who was raising him, but he also preferred being lectured about some wrong he had actually committed. He decided to cut to the end before Broom started in, “I know what you’re thinking, Father. That wasn’t me.”
Suppressing an affectionate grin, Trevor Broom looked up at the 6’2’’ giant his baby boy had become. “Son, I didn’t do this and Paul has been away since yesterday visiting the graves of his parents and grandmother. No one else comes in here without my permission. Who else could have done this?”
Hellboy walked closer to Trevor Broom’s desk. Unfortunately, as he did so his ungainly stone hand inadvertently brushed up against another stack of books, which slid to the floor with a dusty whump.
Broom sighed and shook his head, “Son, now do you see why I would prefer you not come in here? Last year, when we were staying in that house in Washington, we had a long discussion after you played around in my office and broke a very important relic. At that time you promised me…”
Hellboy clenched his fists, the stone one making an eerie grinding sound, and lashed his long, red tail. “Yeah, Pop, I know what I promised and I haven’t broken it,” he said through gritted teeth.
Broom arose from his seat and drew near Hellboy, “Son, I can understand why you don’t want to admit to this; but lying is not the answer. It would be better if you just told me what truly happened.”
Opening his mouth and then closing it again without saying anything, Hellboy eventually shrugged. “I’ve been telling the truth, but you don’t want to hear it.”
Broom wearily took off his wire-rimmed spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I will admit to accusing you on what is called ‘circumstantial evidence’. If I am wrong, I am truly sorry. It is more the somewhat disrespectful tone you are using that is the most irksome to me.”
Looking at Broom while he was addressing him, Hellboy couldn’t help noticing that the top of Broom’s head was about an inch below the level of his own eyes. He used to be so over-awed by this man who had been raising him for almost seven years, but was finding it more and more difficult to be in awe of someone who was at least three inches shorter than he was.
“Can I go now, Pop? Don’t see much use hanging around here, being called a liar.”
Taking a deep breath, Trevor Broom let it out very slowly before he spoke again. “Please, don’t call me ‘Pop’; I know you sometimes mean it affectionately, but so often it ends up sounding insulting.” He put his spectacles back on. “Yes, you may leave. The truth usually ends up sorting itself out in the end and on this day of all days I would rather not become involved in a battle of wills.”
“Father, I…” Hellboy then turned and walked out, muttering under his breath, “Aw, what’s the use.”
After Hellboy had stalked out, Trevor Broom had no idea how long he stood there; just staring at the Plaster of Paris remains of the smashed statue of Saint Michael the Archangel. He looked up again when there came a knock at the door.
“Can I come in again, Father?” Hellboy was standing just outside of the still open door to his office.
“Certainly, Son,” Broom sighed, “It was never my intention to make you feel unwelcome.”
Hellboy walked in carrying the Superman comic book he had been reading earlier. Handing it to Broom he said, “Here, I want you to take this back.”
Broom looked stunned at this request. “Why? This was a Thanksgiving gift. Regardless of how annoyed I was just now, I am still so grateful for my many blessings; you coming into my life being the very greatest blessing of all.” He looked up into Hellboy’s golden-yellow eyes and realized that both of them were almost on the verge of tears. “Please, Son, I want you to keep it.”
Hellboy looked away and then shook his head, “You said more than that when you gave it to me, Father; you said you were proud of me, too. Give it back when you’re proud of me again.”
Laying the comic book down on Broom’s desk, Hellboy turned and walked out once more.
Broom called out after him, “Son, I never said I wasn’t…”
Hellboy stopped just outside the office door, but didn’t turn around. “It sure sounded like you were thinking it.” He stood stock-still for a moment, and then looked over his shoulder. “You know, Father, I do feel unwelcome; if you had a little less crap in here you might have more room for me.”
This parting shot cut through Broom’s heart like a knife. He closed his eyes to keep the tears back and when he opened them again, Hellboy was gone.
At one point during her reorganizing of her files and bookshelves, Martha looked up at the time and noted it was almost two o’clock in the afternoon. Deciding it would be a good idea to take her time getting showered and dressed up for the dinner invitation, she locked up the file cabinets she had been working on and went out into the main corridor of the Medical Wing.
However, rather than going directly to her private quarters, she decided to take another look at the newly constructed chapel Trevor Broom had added to the Medical Wing. It was located right inside the doors that separated the main corridor of the Medical Wing from the rest of the BPRD facility.
But as she walked up to the door of the chapel, she realized that she could hear a furious storm of weeping coming from inside. It sounded like the kind of weeping that would come from an angry or disappointed child, but the tone sounded unusually deep.
Just as she pulled the door open, the weeping trailed off and she heard a rather deep voice mutter, “Wish I had a mother; bet she would believe me, even if he doesn’t.” The extra emphasis on the word ‘he’ definitely made the speaker sound like an aggrieved child, no matter how deep the voice was.
The chapel contained no windows and the lighting inside was rather dim, relegated only to a few small fixtures lighting statues of saints. Whoever had entered earlier had not switched on the main lights located in the ceiling. Looking around for the one who had spoken these words, Martha then thought it might be better to depart the chapel. She hated intruding on another’s private moments.
As she pushed open the door to go out into the hallway again, a voice came from the darker area behind the small altar, “Hey, is there someone there?”
Martha reentered the chapel, “I apologize for disturbing you. I had no idea anyone would be in here.” As she spoke, a large man, dressed in black shirt and pants, rose up just to the left of the statue of Saint Francis of Assisi.
At first, the lighting made it hard to discern exactly what he looked like. However, as that man arose to his full height, she realized that this was not a human male standing before her; that this thing, whatever it was, had completely red skin and horns—large ones that grew out from its forehead and swept up and forward to eventually taper to sharp-looking points. Her alarm mounted even higher when she made out a tail and the enormous appendage it had in the place of its right hand.
This bizarre being then did something that totally changed her perception; it snuffled and drew the back of its normal-sized left hand across its nose. This was obviously the one she had heard weeping. Martha quickly put two and two together; no wonder Trevor Broom wanted to protect his adopted son from ‘misunderstandings and misinformation’. It positively amazed her that this giant of a ‘son’ was only six years old.
Unfortunately, Hellboy was more than used to panicking people who had never seen him before. Smiling at the woman in the blue sweater, with the old-fashioned hair bun, he said, “Sorry, lady; didn’t mean to scare you. I don’t bite, honest. You’re new here, I guess.”
Martha found his direct manner entirely disarming. “I’m Martha Wilson. I’ve just been appointed head nurse and only arrived here two days ago. When Professor Broom found I didn’t have any one to spend Thanksgiving with, he came to me earlier today and invited me to join at his table for dinner. I’m afraid I don’t know your name yet; I believe he planned on introducing us at dinner.”
“I’m called ‘Hellboy’; what else?” he said with an even broader smile. “You know, I was sort of thinking about staying away from dinner; but it might be kind of fun if you’re going to be there.”
As Hellboy wiped the back of his hand across his nose again, Martha reached into a pocket of her slacks and brought out a Kleenex. Moving closer, she handed it to him. “Here, this might help.”
As Hellboy took the tissue and blew his nose, Martha wondered what would have made him angry enough to want to stay away from Thanksgiving dinner. Martha sat in one of the chairs in the front row of the chapel and patted the chair next to her. “Want to sit and tell me what’s bothering you? I’m afraid I couldn’t help noticing when I came in here that you were upset about something.”
Hellboy shrugged and then laughed, “Tried to sit in one of those once and the darn thing collapsed.” He then sat cross-legged on the floor, right in front of the chair where Martha was seated. Leaning his right elbow against his knee, he propped his chin up with his huge right hand and idly picked at the carpet with the fingers of his left.
After sitting in silence for a while he said, “You know, when I was littler than I am now, and I used to be a way lot littler, I used to try to lie to my father ’cause I thought he wouldn’t love me anymore if I did something bad. But it didn’t work too good; he always knew I was lying. Then he would sit me on his lap and say how even though he was mad at what I did and mad that I lied about it, he wasn’t mad at me ’cause he would always love me.”
Heaving a huge sigh, Hellboy went back to picking at the carpet. Martha leaned forward in her seat and lifted his chin to look in his face. Gently brushing away the tears starting to fall again, she asked, “Don’t you believe that anymore, H.B.?”
“I’m not sure,” he said in a very small voice, sniffling a little, “If he could always tell when I was lying, how’s come he can’t tell when I’m telling the truth? He thinks I broke my promise to stay out of his office when he wasn’t there and now he thinks I’m lying about it. But I don’t know why all that junk got knocked over, honest I don’t.”
Sliding to the floor next to Hellboy, Martha put her right arm around his shoulder. “Would it help if I said that I think you are telling the truth?”
“Maybe,” he said in an even smaller voice and then leaning in toward her, he allowed Martha to wrap her arms around him while he leaned his head on her shoulder and sobbed as if his heart would break. Martha gently stroked the top of his head; carefully avoiding the points of his horns. She noted the incongruity of the fact that even though he had no hair on the top of his head and no facial hair, that he had enough hair in the back to pull into a little knot.
After the sobs finally died down, Martha handed him another Kleenex and he blew his nose again. “Feel better now?” she asked.
“Not really,” he sighed, but then he laughed, “Well, maybe just a little. I guess I better get back before Father starts to miss me.” He let go of Martha and heaved himself up from the floor.
Martha stood with him and stretched up to kiss his cheek. “Look, H.B., I’m sure your father never intended to hurt your feelings like this. He used to forgive you when you lied to him, do you think you could forgive him for making an honest mistake?”
Hellboy nodded, “Yeah, I think so.”
They both walked toward the door that exited into the corridor. But Hellboy stopped Martha just before they walked out. “Thanks for letting me talk to you, Marty. It really helped.”
Martha touched his shoulder, “You’re welcome; and H.B., if you ever need someone to talk to again you can always find me around the Medical Wing somewhere.”
“Maybe I’ll do that,” with a wave of his huge right hand, Hellboy exited out through the double doors into the main BPRD facility. He stopped and stood in thought for a while before turning and walking a different direction than would lead to the private area where he lived with Trevor Broom.
There were two different security stations for the facility: one that stood at the main entrance and announced it as United States, Dept. of Public Health, Environmental Research Division and another that stood further in, with a full-sized mural of the sword-in-fist logo of the BPRD done in mosaic tile on the floor. It was to this second security station that Hellboy eventually made his way.
“Hi, Uncle Stan. Happy Thanksgiving,” Hellboy said as he walked up to the man at the desk.
“Well, Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Hellboy. What are you doing out this direction? Isn’t it almost time for your dinner?”
“Yeah, almost, but I kind of wanted to ask you a question.” Hellboy hesitated for a moment, but then went on in a rush; “Let’s say a guy wanted to get his mother something for Thanksgiving, what’s the kind of thing he would get her?”
Wondering why Hellboy was asking this, Stan said, “Flowers; most guys get their mothers flowers for holidays like this.”
“Really, flowers?” Hellboy scuffed at the tile mosaic with the toe of one of his boots. “Where does a guy get these flowers, anyway?”
Even more curious at this conversation than before, Stan replied, “The guy usually has them delivered to her from a florist. Tell me, Hellboy; is there someone you want flowers delivered to? Is that why you’re asking all these questions?”
Hellboy scuffed his toe at the mosaic again, “Yeah, I kind of did want to give something to Martha Wilson, the new head nurse. But I kind of wanted to do it like right now. Is it too late for that?”
Stan shook his head, “It might be, Hellboy. This is kind of short notice for a florist. Do you have any money to buy something like that?”
Hellboy dug into the pocket of his black leather pants and drew out a ten-dollar bill. This had been a Halloween gift from Trevor Broom and Hellboy had been saving this money for something special; originally considering that ‘something special’ to be something for himself. Looking wistfully at the money for just a second, Hellboy handed it to Stan. “See what you can do with this.”
Stan took the money. “If I can get the flowers, what do you want the card to say?”
Hellboy hated trying to find the words for what he wanted to say. “How about ‘To Marty, Thanks for being there, H.B.’, will that do?” he said after a few moments.
“Yeah, that should do just fine. I’ll call around and see what I can do, okay?”
Hellboy smiled, “Thanks a lot, Uncle Stan.” He then slowly walked back to the area that contained Trevor Broom’s private quarters. He certainly had a lot to think about.
Paul Johanssen, Broom’s personal assistant, returned to the BPRD facility a little after three o’clock to find a very pensive Trevor Broom in his office straightening up the stacks of books and papers. Noting, as he entered the office, that one of the stands was pushed aside and had a leg broken off, Paul said, “Well, Professor, I guess that stand with the weak leg finally collapsed.”
Trevor Broom looked up from what he was doing. “Stand with the weak leg?” he repeated, “I didn’t know we had a stand with a weak leg.”
Paul stooped to examine the broken stand, “Don’t you remember me telling you about it around a week ago. I said we should beware of placing any more heavy books on it because one of the legs had the bolts coming loose that attached it.”
Broom, who had originally thought that this leg had snapped off when Hellboy knocked over the stand, now came to realize that the stand had fallen when the leg broke off under the weight of the books and papers sitting on it. He returned to his desk and sat down behind it.
“Well, at least nothing much seems to have been damaged,” Paul said as he straightened up again.
“Oh, no,” muttered Broom, “Nothing much was damaged except one cheap plaster statue and poor Hellboy’s feelings. I accused him of coming in here without permission and knocking the stand over. And to make matters even worse, I accused him of lying when he claimed he didn’t do it.”
He looked down at his hands as they rested on his desk. “Damn; how could I have been so lacking in judgment that I couldn’t even recognize when he was telling the truth? I better go find him and see if I can salvage our Thanksgiving.”
Picking up the comic book Hellboy had returned to him earlier that day, Broom went out of the office; feeling even more grateful and proud than he had earlier when he had originally given Hellboy the gift.
A Private House somewhere in Boston, Massachusetts
November 27, 2003 (Thanksgiving Day)
Martha Wilson, now almost ninety years old, shifted uncomfortably in her bed. She knew she didn’t have much longer to live. Yet, she was pleased to look back at a long and full life.
She had retired from nursing in September of 1978 at age sixty-five. In December of that same year, she married the one true love of her life, surgeon Robert Patterson, just before he retired from his position as chief surgeon of the BPRD Boston Medical Wing. Martha was again left alone when her beloved Robert had passed away early in 2001, after twenty-two happy years of marriage.
Having dedicated most of their lives to their respective careers and then marrying so late, Martha and Robert never had any children of their own; but often befriended the children of others. The most significant of these relationships had been with the one they only ever referred to as H.B.
After Hellboy moved with his adoptive father from Boston to Newark toward the beginning of 1961, they missed him terribly and looked forward to their occasional meetings—which unfortunately became less and less frequent as the decades passed by.
However, one thing never failed over all those years: H.B. always sent Martha flowers. These arrived for almost any important occasion—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, her birthday, even Mother’s Day. The cards that came with these always had the same message: ‘Thanks for always being there’.
Occasionally there would be letters or phone calls for Martha, mostly when this H.B. was having difficulties with the man who was raising him and just needed a kind heart to confide in. But even these had become less frequent as Hellboy began to try to resolve his problems on his own or had discovered others he could confide in; yet, the flowers never failed.
Martha again shifted uneasily and reached to ring a bell near the bed. A young nurse, Joan Pleyell, entered at the summons. She had been tending to Martha ever since she had developed cancer over a year before. “Nothing yet?” asked Martha.
Joan shrugged, “No, nothing has arrived. But I wouldn’t be too worried; this H.B.’s never failed yet. The flowers will come eventually.” Joan examined Martha, not liking what she found. She was afraid if the flowers didn’t come soon, Martha might not be alive to see them.
After Joan changed the plastic intravenous bags containing her nutrition, hydration, and medication, Martha fell asleep and dreamt of that first Thanksgiving she spent with H.B. in 1951; the one when he had sent her that beautiful orchid corsage she proudly wore on her black lace dress all through dinner.
About three o’clock in the afternoon, Joan heard a car pull up. When she looked out the front window, she saw a large, oddly shaped man get out, almost completely covered in a black hooded cloak.
“Thanks for driving me here, Walt,” she heard him address the driver of the car, “I’m hoping I won’t be too long, but I’m not sure.” She noted, as he came toward the door, that she could only see his left hand and not much of it at that.
Joan pulled open the door as the cloaked stranger approached. “Uh, hello,” he said in a deep voice, “I’ve come to see Martha Wilson, if that’s okay.”
Joan shook her head, “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. She is really very unwell and not up to taking visitors. If you have a message you could leave, I’ll give it to her when she wakes again.”
The man’s left hand disappeared inside his cloak and came out again clutching an arrangement of beautiful fall flowers. “Could you give her these for me, please?”
Joan took the flowers into her hand and then looked more closely at the large man in the black cloak.
“You’re H.B., aren’t you?” she said after a while. “My name is Joan; I’m the nurse that has been attending to Martha since she became too unwell to care for herself. Maybe you had better come in. Martha has spoken so highly of you since I’ve come to her, that I doubt she would be pleased if I turned you away.”
She held the front door open wider as he stepped over the threshold. He stopped her just as she followed him inside. “She’s told you all about me? Really?”
“No, not exactly all,” Joan said as she went into the hallway, indicating he follow her. “Martha made it more than clear that she had engaged in some sort of top secret work after the war. I’ve always figured she was nursing for some sort of intelligence outfit and that’s how she met this H.B. who sent all those flowers, letters, and cards over the years. But let me tell you, that without giving away any details or real information, you’re all she ever talks about.”
“Here, let me show you something,” Joan pulled open the door to a small sitting room next to the kitchen, indicating that H.B. enter it. “The ‘shrine’, that’s what I call this room,” she said as she switched on the light. He saw walls covered in mounted and framed photographs, the older ones in black-and-white; photographs of every flower arrangement he had ever sent Martha.
One photograph was set apart from the rest; this one in black-and-white showed Martha as a woman in her late thirties posed next to a British-looking gentleman dressed in a dark gray suit. She was dressed in a black lace dress, with a corsage pinned to her breast, her long dark hair done up into a loose chignon rather than her usual tight bun.
One odd thing about this beautifully framed photograph was that it had all the earmarks of one that originally had a third person that had later been cut out of the picture. Martha, who would originally have been the middle of these three, had her head turned slightly away from the British gentleman and was smiling up at whoever it was that had been cropped out. Joan was more convinced than ever that H.B. had been that third person.
H.B. contemplated this picture in silence for a while; Joan could swear that she heard him sniffle a little when he eventually turned away. A large chair then caught his eye—one that did not match the other furniture. Laughing, he said, “Jeez, don’t tell me she even kept this huge thing. Well, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea, after all; it’s probably the only chair I can sit in.”
Turning back to Joan, he said, “How is she? I’m not really supposed to know she’s sick, but I kind of sort of found out and I just had to see her again, you know.”
“She’s sleeping just now,” Joan said as she went back out from the sitting room. H.B. followed Joan into the hallway and watched her enter the kitchen. Eventually coming back out with the flowers arranged in a large cut-glass vase, she went into the room where he assumed Martha was asleep.
After entering the room, Joan left the flowers on a table near the bed, where Martha would see them when she woke up; if she wakes up, Joan thought to herself. Briefly examining her, she determined that her condition was not much worse than it had been before.
Going back out, she found that H.B. had returned to the sitting room, collapsing down into the large chair that had so amused him earlier. Looking at the large cloak, which was still all she could see of him, she could hear the ragged breathing of someone who was struggling valiantly not to cry.
“Nurse Joan,” he said, when he had noticed that she came in again, “Can’t I go in and sit with Marty? I’m real good at sitting quiet and watching sick people sleep, honest. Kind of got used to that back in ’59 when my father had cancer. Marty was the head nurse in the place where he stayed and she took good care of him and of me, too. Let me sit with her like I sat with him, please? I first met her on Thanksgiving, you know.”
Joan found it hard to deny such a plea. “Okay, H.B., I’ll let you go in for a while. But I must warn you that she is really very ill; there is a distinct possibility that she may not wake again. Even if she does, I doubt she will be with us for much more than a day or two at the most. Let’s get this chair of yours and bring it into her room.”
H.B. helped Joan drag the chair into Martha’s room. She let him set the chair up as close to Martha’s bed as it would fit. At first, he tried to avoid looking too close at the white-haired woman in the bed who seemed way too thin to be Martha Wilson, but he forced himself to look; after all, he had said he wanted to see her. After he sat down, Joan pointed out the bell. “Please ring for me when she wakes. I will have to administer some medication when that happens.” He noted that Joan had said ‘when she wakes’ not ‘if she wakes’; somehow that made him feel just a little better.
“Why don’t you take off that cloak, H.B.,” Joan said, right before she went out, “I have to keep Martha’s room pretty hot, and you’ll be suffocating in that thing before long.”
She heard him grunt, “Don’t worry about me Nurse Joan, hot is part of the climate of my hometown. It’s better all around if I keep the cloak. Not really supposed to be here in the first place, you know.”
For some reason, this made Joan smile a little. “Tell me, H.B., where is this hometown? Can’t have been Boston, if it was as hot as all that.”
This time his grunt sounded a little more like a chuckle, “New Mexico; where else?”
After Joan went out, closing the door after her, Hellboy pulled off the glove on his left hand and gently brushed this hand against Martha’s cheek. Her skin felt way too cold to his touch. He then very carefully, so as not to wake her, took her left hand into his own and sat for a long time just holding it and watching her sleep. Eventually he closed his eyes and dozed off.
While she slept, Martha drifted in and out of dreams of all the Thanksgivings she had spent with Trevor Broom and her beloved H.B.; including the one in 1978 when Hellboy had been possessed by a very powerful demon that had claimed to be his ‘real’ father. Martha came out of retirement to help nurse him after he had almost died several times during that possession. She had always thought it more than mere luck that he had awoken from his life-threatening coma right on Thanksgiving Day.
At one point, she came to realize that her left hand was being clasped very tightly in a hand that was extraordinarily warm. Opening her eyes, the first thing she saw was a vase full of the most beautiful fall flowers; the flowers that she had been so eagerly awaiting, having the usual card affixed to them that read: ‘To Marty, Thanks for always being there, H.B.’
Looking past the flowers, she then noticed that her hand was indeed being held by a large, cloaked figure seated in the huge chair that had been especially used by Hellboy when he visited his father when Trevor Broom had cancer in 1959; the one that Martha had brought with her when she retired.
“H.B., is that you?” she barely managed to whisper, realizing that she was starting to become weaker.
At this, Hellboy sat up a little straighter and then slid to his knees next to her bed.
“Hey, Marty, you know I couldn’t spend another Thanksgiving without seeing my best girl, right?” Martha smiled at this, but was too weak to say anything further right then.
Letting go of Martha’s hand, Hellboy rang for Joan, who immediately entered. He stood up from the side of the bed and pulled the large chair back out of her way so she could examine Martha and change the intravenous bag that contained her medication.
Sometimes Martha would fall back to sleep right after these ministrations, but Hellboy once more knelt by the side of her bed, again taking her left hand. A little stronger than when she had awakened, Martha extended her right hand and gently caressed the face inside of the hooded cloak.
“Take that stupid thing off, H.B.,” she sighed, “I want to see your face one more time before I die.”
Hellboy didn’t answer her or remove the hood; he just buried his face in the bedclothes and sobbed as if his heart would break, clutching her hand even tighter.
“Marty, please don’t die,” he eventually gasped out, “Please don’t. Who will be there for me? Who? Pop and I aren’t really speaking anymore, Liz’s got herself stuck in a mental hospital, Katie’s off chasing goblins somewhere in Pittsburgh and I haven’t seen her in four years, and Abe’s just plain too busy reading his books. You’ve always been there for me; please don’t leave me all alone, please.”
“This is why I didn’t want you to know about me.” Martha gently stroked the back of Hellboy’s head through the hood of his cloak. “I was afraid you would take it this hard, but there’s not much I can do about it, dear. You know if it were up to me, I would never leave you; just like I could wish that you lived in a world where you didn’t have to bury yourself underground or wear that silly cloak.”
Rapidly becoming weaker again, Martha stopped speaking and just stroked Hellboy’s head. After a while, she looked up at Joan, who was attempting not to be too intrusive. “Joan, dear, please go out into the hallway for a while. I really need to be alone with him. I’ll have H.B. ring if I need anything.”
Joan nodded, turned, and went out. She went to sit in the kitchen so she would not inadvertently overhear any of their conversation.
After Joan left, Martha tenderly coaxed Hellboy to raise his head again. She reached out and pushed the hood back from the face that fifty-two years before had so frightened her—the face that was now as beloved to her as any son’s would be.
Unlike herself, age never changed that face a great deal; the only real differences being that since age ten he had filed his horns down to nothing but flat nubs on his forehead and he had also gained many battle scars. Also, unlike age six, he now had facial hair consisting of sideburns and a goatee beard.
Pulling his head down toward hers, Martha kissed his cheek. “Remember that first day we met and you said you thought you could forgive Trevor for an honest mistake? See if you can’t do that now; it’s not good that you’re not speaking. Remember, H.B., regardless of everything, even regardless of his anger, Trevor loves you more than anything and he’s not getting any younger.”
Hellboy shook his head; “He locks me in like some goddamned prisoner to keep me from running away to visit Liz. Then he trots me out again when some stupid monster has to be destroyed, like I’m some sort of trained monkey. What kind of love is that? You know, Marty, I used to think he just loved me because of me; but now I’m not so sure anymore.”
“Oh, H.B.,” Martha said, shaking her head, “You’re still making the same mistake with him that you made when you were six. Trevor’s not some plaster saint; you can’t keep shoving him up on that big pedestal you keep putting him on and then blame him for falling off once in a while.”
After this brief but heartfelt lecture, Martha fell back against her pillows with a small groan of pain.
“Aw, Jeez, Marty,” Hellboy said with a twinge of guilt, “Here I am bugging you with my stupid problems with Pop, when I really should be letting you rest.”
“Look at it this way, H.B.,” Martha said with a weak grin, “There’s really not much wrong with me that death won’t cure. I would much rather be here for you one more time, than live a few more minutes.”
Tears came to Hellboy’s eyes again. Snuffling, he drew the back of his left hand across his nose. Smiling, her heart filled with so many memories, Martha handed him a Kleenex from the box on the table next to her bed; the same table with the beautiful vase of flowers he had just brought her.
As he blew his nose, she softly touched his cheek. “You know, H.B., it might be a good thing if you started carrying your own Kleenex.”
Taking Martha’s hand, Hellboy kissed her palm and held it to his cheek before he spoke again.
“You know, Marty, I really came here today ’cause there’s something I’ve always wanted to say, but I’ve never said it. I want you to know that…”
Hellboy abruptly ceased speaking; there was something about Martha that wasn’t quite right. As he let go of her hand, it just fell limply to the bed. He felt for the pulse at the side of her neck, but could sense nothing. Her eyes were still open, but no longer appeared to focus on anything. A terrible dread made Hellboy’s mouth go completely dry.
“Come back, Marty,” he finally managed to whisper, “Please, come back, please.” But Hellboy knew it was too late, he had waited too long to say what he had really wanted to say. Reaching for the button in an absolute panic, he rang for Joan, knowing in his heart of hearts this was a futile gesture.
He just barely managed to snatch his cloak back on as Joan entered. The small glimpse that she had of him as she hurried in to Martha’s room filled her heart with both curiosity and dread, but the other things she had to attend to drove it out. H.B. stood motionless, watching Joan’s fruitless administration of resuscitation. “She’s really gone, isn’t she?” he asked forlornly, when she had ceased her efforts.
Joan nodded, not able to speak. She thought to herself that the pain she was experiencing was the very reason why they taught you in nursing school not to get too attached to the terminally ill patients you cared for. She looked surreptitiously at the one she only knew as H.B.; realizing that the being concealed in that cloak, regardless of what he was, had a very large heart beating in his breast.
After hiding a distraught H.B. in the kitchen, Joan called Martha’s attending physician. She then went out to the car that H.B. had arrived in and aroused the driver. “You’re a friend of H.B.’s aren’t you?” she asked him when he had awakened.
“Sure am,” he replied, “Saved my daughter from a horrid giant rat back in ‘78, he did.”
“Well, he’s in the kitchen right now in mighty need of a friend. The woman he came to visit just passed away and I’m afraid he’s taking it really hard.” Walter Carlton followed Joan into the house and when she pointed out the kitchen, he went in and attempted to console an inconsolable guy.
Trevor Broom had become more than annoyed when he could not locate Hellboy anywhere in the BPRD main headquarters in Newark. Originally thinking that he had again run off to visit Liz Sherman, Broom eventually found out that Hellboy had become aware of Martha Wilson’s illness. Engaging a driver to take him to her residence in Boston, he eventually came to ring the doorbell.
Joan had come to the door; assuming that the one who had rang the bell was the expected physician. However, she immediately recognized the British gentleman from the old black-and-white photograph, despite the fact that the man who stood before her was much older than his picture. Noting the stern look on his face as she let him in, she spoke before he addressed her.
“H.B.’s in the kitchen with the friend who drove him here. I can understand that you’re annoyed with him right now, but Martha’s just passed away and he’s almost beside himself with grief. If I were you, I’d give him a little more time.”
His anger almost completely dissipating, Trevor Broom shook his head. “I knew Martha was very ill, but she had begged me not to tell him. She knew he would not deal well with this grief; he doesn’t deal well with any grief, but this would be especially distressing. May I use your phone? I have some arrangements to make locally as we will not be able to get back to Newark tonight.”
After having made several phone calls, Broom approached Joan. “Is it still possible to visit with Martha’s body? I was almost as close to her as my son was; it would be a very great comfort to me.” Joan nodded and showed him where her room was located.
After Broom had been in the room a while, the door opened, and Hellboy entered. Not one hard word was spoken between them. Trevor Broom held out his arms and the adopted son, who was now at least a foot taller than he was, threw himself into them and wept on the shoulder of the man who had always been as a father to him; grieving the loss of the woman who in the most difficult times of his life had stood in the place of the mother he had never had.
Later they, along with Walter Carlton, went to the still existent BPRD facility in Boston and enjoyed the belated Thanksgiving dinner that Trevor Broom had arranged earlier. For regardless of how rocky the relationship had become at times, both Trevor Broom and Hellboy were still extremely grateful for that irreplaceable bond that would always exist between them as father and son.
Joan Pleyell always kept secret who had been at Martha Wilson’s deathbed, but she never forgot him, nor did he her. Every Thanksgiving, including the very next in 2004 after the unfortunate death of Trevor Broom, she received flowers complete with card: ‘To Nurse Joan, Thanks for being there, H.B.’
Author’s afterword: The Thanksgiving in 1978 that was mentioned in passing above is detailed in the ‘Abe Sapien’ chapter of Hellboy’s Family. The character of Walter Carlton, whose daughter was saved by Hellboy, also derives from that same ‘Abe Sapien’ chapter. Nurse, Martha Wilson, and surgeon, Robert Patterson, originally derived from my Hellboy fic A Tale of ‘Demon’ Rights, where their characters were mainly functional to the plot. However, their characters have developed somewhat and are also a part of the ongoing saga of Hellboy’s Family. Their eventual post-retirement marriage is detailed in the concluding part to the ‘Abe Sapien’ chapter.
Part Six of the ongoing ‘Liz Sherman’ chapter of Hellboy’s Family is in some ways a sequel to this and contains an account of the Thanksgiving dinner shared by Hellboy, Broom, and Walter Carlton that is mentioned in passing at the end of the above narrative.
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