The taxi driver smelled of grease, fat and … I wrinkled my nose at the smell. Rotting fish. I’d know that smell until the day I died. I tried just breathing out of my mouth as he clicked the meter and asked where I was heading.
“Drop me off at Franklin and Watson Street. I can walk from there.” I said, thankful I would only have to endure the smell for about 10 minutes.
“As you wish sir.” He said as he turned out of the airport.
I sighed. It felt like ages ago I was in a meeting making one of the biggest presentations of my life. The research team had just discovered an enzyme from a plant in South America that increased the bodies natural production of insulin in the diabetic test subject. It was a medical breakthrough that could lead to the cure of diabetes. I was just about to explain how the enzyme worked when my phone buzzed for the 8th time in a row, after the caller had left just as many voicemails.
I sighed looking at the 831 area code but I didn’t recognizing the number. I handed the presentation off to my assistant who, when I said that she would explain it, looked at me wide eyed, that I was giving her the chance. She hated public speaking, but it was she and her partner who had initially discovered the increased insulin, and she could explain it probably better than I could have.
As I stepped out of the office to call whomever it was that needed to speak to me so badly, I also remembered why I never answered any calls that rang with that area code. It was the area code of home, and Father and I had had a fight for the ages when I told him I had accepted the position in Phoenix. He had all but disowned me for not staying and working in the family business.
When I stepped out of the room, I hit the redial, praying it wouldn’t be my father on the other end.
“Joe!” The voice exclaimed and I sighed with relief to hear Nick’s voice on the other end.
“What’s so important that you called 8 times in a row? I was in the middle of a presentation.”
“Joey.” My brother said, his voice, laced with sadness. “I wouldn’t call if it was anyone else, but … it’s Aunt Betty.”
My stomach dropped and I leaned against the wall. “What happened?”
“She slipped down the stairs in front of the house. She broke her hip, and then … well when she got to the hospital, she had three strokes. She’s in a coma Joey. The docs don’t know if she’ll wake up.”
I sighed. “Whose there with her?”
“Just me. Dad, well, you know him. He won’t take a day off from fishing. I told him I would stay with her while he and the boys go out this morning.”
“I’ll fly out this afternoon. I have to make some arrangements here at the lab first. I’ll meet you at Aunt Betty’s ok?”
“Ya. Ya. No problem at all. See you tonight.”
I heard the other end of the line click before I could push the end call button on my phone. I stood there for a moment and just felt my heart beat through my chest. I took a deep breath to settle myself and walked back into the meeting.
When Sarah, my assistant, looked to me I said, “I’m sorry. That was my brother, and I must excuse myself from this presentation. I have a family emergency I must attend to. Sarah, will be able to finish the presentation and answer any questions that you have. Sarah, if you need anything have Laura give me a call.”
Sarah nodded at me with sad eyes and I turned and left the room. If it was anyone other than Aunt Betty, ok, or Nick, I would have stayed and finished the presentation until a funeral was scheduled. But it was Aunt Betty, and if there was any chance I could thank her one last time for everything she had done for me, I would walk out of the most important presentation of my career.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I only vaguely remember calling my wife and telling her what happened, packing and boarding the plane. All I could think about was Aunt Betty. She was the one who supported me the most in my decision to leave Monterey. She alone understood that not everyone was meant to be a fisherman. Sure the others said they understood, but Father just believed that if you were a Marvelli then you were supposed to be a fisherman.
The taxi driver pulled up to the curb at the end of Watson Street and I handed him his fare. When I got out, the air couldn’t even remedy the fish smell from the cab. The wind that blew up the hill was filled with the briny air of the bay, and the smell of someone frying fish downtown.
I sighed again and lifted my bag up over my shoulder as I headed down the street to Aunt Betty’s house. I didn’t know who would be there waiting for me, but I just hoped it wouldn’t be my Father. Maybe Nick or his wife would be there. Anyone but my Father would be fine. I even found myself wishing Uncle Nickalo would be there, but he had died a few years ago, from a heart attack while working the boat. My sister wouldn’t be there because even she got wrapped up in the family business. She did the books and was probably still at the office.
When I arrived at the house, I stood and stared at it. It looked mostly the same as it had when I left for Phoenix 10 years ago; The red shutters were fading, the stucco walls were cracking and chipping, and not to mention, the plants had all died many months before. The ground however looked like Aunt Betty had quite a healthy population of gophers in the yard and she probably hadn’t had the time or energy to battle them herself. Father wouldn’t have helped her. Why would he? Everything was about that damn boat. Then the door opened and Nick stepped out.
“Hey Nick.” I said too quiet for him to hear me.
“Joey.” He mouthed as he walked up and wrapped his arms around me.
When he pulled back I saw his eyes were red and swollen.
“Aunt Betty,” his voice hitched. He didn’t need to finish the sentence.
The world fell out around me. All I saw were images of Aunt Betty protecting me from my Father.
Then I felt the stream of tears fall down my cheeks.
(This is a work of fiction.The characters and events portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.)