Blood Brother


In the cool afternoon January sun, Leigh sits on a slab of limestone at the north shore of the San Francisco Bay and waits for a call from Dr. Greyz, her drop-dead gorgeous Ukrainian oncologist. The choppy blue water, carrying the scent of salt and seaweed, comforts her. The crown of Mount Tamalpais is shrouded in clouds. It could rain tonight.

Leigh expects good news.

In her pocket, she toys with a pewter coin inscribed with the words, “All shall be well.”

Dr. Greyz’s name lights up the screen of her cell phone.

“I am glad to have got you.” Even her quirky Ukrainian syntax is attractive.

“The news, it is not the best.”

Leigh winces and releases the coin into her pocket. She hears Dr. Greyz take in a breath.

“I hate to say, but neither of your brothers’ stem cells are a match.”

Leigh pulls the knit wool cap farther down her bald head.

“And there is no one in the international database. I am very sorry.”

Leigh’s brothers—Davey and Michael—neither a match? They’d volunteered, wanted to help. Of course, she’d just assumed one, or even both, might be able to donate their stem cells.

“Can we look again? In the database?” Leigh asks.

“If there is no one now, the chances of a match….” The doctor sighs.

Evening lights begin to suggest the fuzzy skyline of San Francisco and the bridges that span the bay. Strong currents sweep flocks of tidal birds farther from shore soon becoming little more than specks in the restless water.

Without thinking, Leigh says, “I have a third brother.”

“Another … another brother?” Dr. Greyz sounds breathless, as if she’s been running.

“I don’t know where he is.”

Leigh is too ashamed to tell her that she and Jimmy haven’t spoken in decades. Right now, in this fading winter afternoon, her lymphoma is mostly in remission; but it is a brief armistice after which—if she can find a donor—even bigger guns will be leveled at her. Radiation will shrink the last of the cancerous nodes, and chemicals will dissolve her immune system. If she wants to live, and she does, she will have to find Jimmy.

After all this time, she doesn’t know how she feels about seeing him. There is fear, guilt, maybe even shame. And if she can find him, will he agree to be tested? Want to see her? She wonders: Do I deserve his help? I said no when our mother asked me to take him. I was only nineteen; could I have made a difference? What have I ever really done to help him? Did he survive back street deals, addiction, overdose?

“He could be anywhere, or nowhere,” Leigh says.

A pair of pelicans fly toward the vast, open water of the Pacific. Leigh wonders: How do they survive out there? How do they find their way back?

She struggles to stand.           

“Find him. You must,” Dr. Greyz warns.