Brewster's Way 4
They called the baby Eliza, after Annie’s great grandmother. She’d been an actress and something of an adventurer. Somehow Annie and Brewster got it into their heads that they’d like their kid to grow up the same way.
The day Brewster went to collect them he felt like a king. He’d left Lifestyle Up North’s offices and discovered rattles and other baby paraphernalia tied to the bumper of his Mondeo and DAD spray-painted onto the side doors with Xmas foam. Even Mickey, by this time on his death bed, sent him a parcel of cigars and champagne.
The journey to the hospital was the culmination of a nine months rite-of-passage which had transformed Brewster from being kid-unfriendly to concerned parent-to-be, writing dud letters for the Lifestyle’s letters page in support of inner-city farm projects and extra cash for community playgrounds. He’d even changed his e-mail address to BDITWFW@aol.com - Best Dad In The Whole Fucking World@aol.com.
Brewster was floating that morning - locked in an imaginary world of parental bliss, a world filled with evenings sat in front of an open fire with Annie and Eliza, a world in which he, Mike Brewster, would carefully nurture and raise this holy female child. As he drove he plotted each and every step of their three lives together - lives signposted by Easter parades, birthdays, holidays and Christmas trees. He imagined the lay-line working its magic and invigorating his daughter with superhuman gifts. He saw Eliza on Broadway, collecting Oscars and Tonys, and, in her later years, surrounded by healthy, vibrant children of her own, all of them as clever and as beautiful as their mother. And in his idle dreams about this future life Brewster saw these children running open-armed to greet their distinguished grandfather (the former editor of a national daily, at least) whose single greatest achievement was to help produce this bountiful crop of responsible human beings for the greater good of the planet. Even caught up in the mid-afternoon traffic, as he negotiated his way out of the city’s snarling one-way system, he acknowledged the road-rage sentiments of other drivers with a smile, a wave of his hand, and his sincere wish that they all lead full and healthy lives. Brewster had metamorphosed into that strangest and most bizarre of specimens - a man at peace with the world, a state of being brought about by the anticipation and hope generated by parenthood.
But there was a problem.
After the delivery there had been concerns about Eliza’s heart. It was weak, the doctors said, and the baby had spent the first few hours of her life wearing an oxygen mask in one of those plastic fish tanks for new-borns. Instead of going home, it was explained that Annie and Eliza would be kept in hospital for a few extra days under observation, which, as Brewster’s parents kindly pointed out, wasn’t normal – wasn’t normal at all. Yet, in the days that followed Eliza’s birth the heart problem was gradually played down. Further tests and X-rays were carried out but nothing untoward showed up. Eventually Eliza was lifted out of the fish tank and given a bed next to her mother. The doctors revised their opinion. ‘There doesn’t seem to be a problem with her heart after all’, they said. ‘But you can never be too careful’. Brewster and Annie gave out a nervous laugh at this. No, they said. You never can be too careful. And they were thankful to these doctors because Brewster and Annie been going out of their minds with worry and now that worry could be well and truly erased.
Deep down, though, Brewster knew it wasn’t over - had a feeling that things weren’t right. It played on his mind when he was sitting in the hospital and it continued when he kissed Annie goodnight and returned to Karma Cottage. But he didn’t tell Annie because he didn’t want her to worry - didn’t want her to believe he was capable of thinking such things.
One night, just as Brewster was climbing into bed, he received a call. Eliza had been rushed into intensive care. Annie was hysterical, shouting his name.
Brewster threw on a shirt and began to drive the ten miles from Karma Cottage to the maternity wing. It was raining heavily. To Brewster, everything was a blur. The rain on the windscreen merged with the tears seeping from his eyes. He was driving fast – too fast – his anxiety crushing the accelerator pedal to the floor of his Mondeo. His thoughts began to spiral into a maelstrom of anger – anger tinged with fear, regret and sadness. This wasn’t who he wanted to be, he told himself - the man who killed his own child. Because that’s how Brewster was starting to frame the events of his life - a compendium of heartache and false starts, all of it erupting when he was eleven years old, when he stood in front of the class and said he didn’t believe in God.
He slammed on the brakes, brought the car to a screeching halt, and sat for a moment with his head against the steering wheel, wondering what he had to do to convince God that Eliza should live. He got out of the car and looked up. Swirling black clouds shunted across the night sky. ‘I know it’s you’ he shouted. ‘I know what you’re doing. And I know why you’re doing it. I know, dammit! I know what you’re all about!’
He shook his fist. He shouted as loudly as he could. ‘Ok’, he said, ‘perhaps I made a mistake. But I was eleven years old. I was still working stuff out. How can you hold that against me ? What kind of a miserable bastard are you ? To punish someone for something so trivial, something that happened all those years ago ? You fraud! You don’t scare me – you never have and you never will! You know, if there’s a problem with Eliza when I get to the hospital I’m going to hold you responsible, do you hear ? I’m going to blame you for the rest of my fucking life!’
He leaned against the car, exhausted, sobbing, brought his fist down hard (a little too hard as it turned out) on to the roof. Then he jumped in, fired the engine, and sped away, into the rain, into the night, into the last fragment of a personal lifelong quest for truth.
When Brewster arrived - dazed, angry, dripping wet, his hand throbbing, and still wearing his pyjama trousers - Annie was sitting in bed cradling Eliza. She was laughing along with one of the nurses who was gazing tenderly at the well-wrapped bundle in Annie’s arms.
It took Brewster a few seconds to register what was happening. Then Annie looked up, saw him and began to cry. Everything was ok, she said, as he embraced her. It had all been another false alarm. Eliza was doing fine.
Two days later they returned to Karma Cottage. Despite the roof and the wiring and the beams with woodworm and Brewster’s dad’s warnings they remained there for thirty years. Perhaps the lay line did indeed work its magic, because Eliza became an actress and Annie started a new career, writing best selling books about nature and the environment. Brewster didn’t quite manage to become the editor of a big national daily but he didn’t really care. He’d found his big story – the story of his life, of Annie, Eliza and himself. Instead, he went freelance, writing about whatever he cared to write about, which is what he’d always wanted to do from the beginning. No longer was he the budding journalist who didn’t believe in God – now he was the freelance journalist who’d given God a right mouthful and lived to tell the tale.
He still contributed a regular column for Lifestyle Up North – a column entitled Brewster’s Way for the Going Out section in which he visited churches and cathedrals and rated them out of ten. He was a generous reviewer, of course, never offering a score of less than six…just to be on the safe side...in case someone, or something, was keeping score.