On What Matters

Entry by: EmmaM

12th January 2017
Chris lingered outside the coffee shop, stamping his feet and rubbing his hands together to keep warm. He had been there for several minutes, trying to persuade himself to go inside.

He glanced down the street and saw that it was nearly empty. It was late afternoon on a wintry Tuesday and the light was beginning to drain from the sky. It had been a grey day, without even an attempt by the sun to nudge through the barrier of clouds. The rain had behaved like a petulant child, falling in bursts and then sulkily withdrawing. The wind circled him, sneaking its icy fingers into any small gap in his clothing.

Chris took a deep breath and pushed the door to the coffee shop, a small bell jingling as he entered. He spotted Paul sitting at a table in corner, with his back to the door and his shoulders hunched. He had a newspaper open in front him and was idly stirring his coffee.

Paul looked up as Chris approached and jumped to his feet to greet him, knocking over his chair and then flustering as he righted it. "Oh sorry, what an idiot."

Chris gave his brother an awkward pat on the arm. He never knew how to greet him. "Good to see you."

"And you," Paul said, meeting his eye and then quickly looking away.

They sat down on opposite sides of the table. A waitress appeared and took Chris's order, then scurried away.

"How's Cindy?" Paul asked. "And the kids?"

"They're fine, thanks."

There was silence for a few moments, expanding between them and pushing them apart. Paul began drumming his fingers on the table, then took a deep breath and looked directly at his brother. "Look, it's probably better if we get straight to the point isn't it?"

Chris nodded. "Okay."

"So I guess the doctors gave you the results?"

Chris nodded again. "Yes."

"So you know that you're the best match?"


"And you know about my prognosis?"

"Yes." Chris felt like a defendant being cross-examined, each question guiding him closer and closer to a conclusion that would incriminate him.

Paul paused and looked down, clenching and unclenching his fingers. "So I guess what I need to know is..... will you do it?"

Chris had thought of nothing else for the last week, arguments looping round and round his head like a whirling dervish, but he still didn't have an answer for his brother. Cindy had planted her feet firmly in the "against" camp and launched a persuasive and emotive campaign, playing to his role as a husband and father. But there was a little voice in his mind that even Cindy's loudest indignations couldn't silence. A niggling little voice whispering about family loyalty.

The waitress arrived with Chris's coffee, setting it down on the table in front of him.

"So," Paul said, once she'd gone. "Will you?"

"I.... I don't know," Chris said. "I'm sorry, I just don't know."

"You don't know?" Paul frowned at him.

"I'm sorry," Chris said again. "It's been going round and round in my head for days, I don't know what to do."

"You can help me!" There was anger in Paul's voice, bandaged around his desperation. "My life won't be worth living if I don't get a transplant and you're the only family member that matched!"

Chris felt a flicker of irritation. "Look, of course I want to help you, but it's not just you, or me, that I have to think about. You're not the only thing that matters. You won't be surprised that Cindy is dead against this. She keeps going on about the risks for the donor, and that it's not fair on the kids to put myself in danger."

"Well that doesn't surprise me," Paul said. "She's never liked me."

"Well you never gave her much reason to!"

Paul opened his mouth to reply, then obviously thought better of it and swallowed his unspoken words. "You're right. She has no reason to see me as anything other than a useless drunk." His body drooped with self pity.

The two brothers were silent for a few moments, like chess players contemplating their next move. Anyone looking at them would have known instantly that they were related. They were both tall and slim, never having properly grown out of their gangly teenage years. They had the same big hands and wide faces, even the same short black haircut. And yet life had led them down very different paths, one to family and a successful career, the other to alcohol and depression. Neither had expected that their paths would suddenly cross again when an illness rudely tugged at their blood ties.

Paul broke the silence between them, and when he spoke it was with composure. "Chris, I know this is a huge thing to ask. And I know that we haven't been close all these years. I'm really, really sorry to be putting you, and Cindy, in this position. But this is my life. I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't this serious. Please, I'm begging you."

Chris looked into his brother's imploring eyes. He had felt so many emotions towards him over their lives. He recalled his childish joy when, aged eight, his parents had finally rewarded him with the sibling he had been asking for. The pleasure of having a playmate had faded a few years later when Chris became a teenager and the gulf of adolescence had stretched between the two brothers. As they grew older and Paul set out on the path to self-destruction, Chris spent many years vacillating between concern, anger and resentment. Finally, as middle age approached, Chris had settled into an uncomfortable indifference. He never thought that his brother would be able to make him feel the way he did now. Guilty.

He thought of Cindy and the kids, the family that he had created. He had more love for them than he had ever had for Paul. Cindy was adamant that they should be his priority, that he shouldn't place himself at risk for someone whose only link to his life was dirty, dusty memories. He agreed with her, in principle, and he had tried to say no to Paul, to refuse even to have the initial tests. But the shackles of loyalty meant that every step he took away from his brother seemed to lead right back to him, and Chris had found himself in a hospital bed with needles sticking into his arms. He had secretly, guiltily, hoped that he wouldn't be a match, that he could shrug and say he'd offered but couldn't help. But the results had come back maddeningly positive. Two men who couldn't be more different, but whose bodies remembered that they were made exactly the same way.

Paul was watching him, expectantly.

"Okay," Chris said, eventually. "I've made my decision."