This is an old story.. unfinished in a way. Unpolished… But I never quite knew what to do with it
KENNETH POULSON. YOU BASTARD.
Kenneth Poulson was a complete bastard. He knew. His colleagues knew. He no longer had to try. It came naturally.
He was 44. Not vain, but each morning he dressed for work meticulously. In front of a full length mirror. The image was that of a bastard. It reflected WHAT he was rather than who.
A quick, dry smile. cynical salute. That infuriating wink. “Kenneth Poulson..
…you are a complete bastard”.
He liked what he saw in the mirror. Steel.
Sandra Hart was sick and tired of bastards. She was one of THOSE girls. Men were just bastards to her. Now she was sneaking out on another one. Before he had chance to wake. And entertain his fists.
At 5.20 am on Sunday morning, Kenneth Poulson saluted the mirror, and clumped down the carpeted stairs.
At 5.30am he was astride his BMW. Sliding quietly into the still dark street. A policeman’s BMW is a quiet bike. And Poulson had respect for his neighbours.
Sandra muted the baby’s whimpering. Holding its head gently into her breast. As Poulson slipped out of his driveway, so Sandra Hart slipped out of hers.
Poulson liked Sundays. All those unsuspecting folk. Hung over from Saturday night. In search of cold milk, fruit juice. Sunday papers. Irritable people with bad breath, and a serious need to lie down.
Some of them were going to have a bastard of a Sunday.
Poulson had a full and satisfying day that Sunday. Sandra got him off to a good start.
“Shit!!!” She muttered vehemently. Slapped the wheel with both hands. Drew a long sigh-hiss. Poulson stood the bike. Never hurried. Bastardry is a practiced art. Time for them to think. Playact.
Not too long though. Long enough to feed the panic. It gave them time too, to check the cold blue of a vacant pair of eyes. Colleagues wore “shades”. Not Poulson. He liked them to see his cold eyes.
‘See! No emotion! In those eyes they saw no glimmer of hope.
Sandra rolled down the window. She had a pretty smile when her lips were not puffed and split. Soft brown eyes, under bovine lashes. She was very pretty. Usually.
She dropped her chin, and turned her face slightly away. Fumbled the license from her purse. While Poulson recited his caution.
The baby woke. Wailed. Tiny hands plucking at the tight shawl. Tiny face blue with demand.
“He’s hungry”. She shrugged. Sighed.
“GOD! I hate this life!”
But she held her face passive and said no more than “He’s hungry
Poulson circled the car. Observing. Registration. Tyres. Rough. Rust. Star-cracked windscreen. Unrestrained child. Just the facts.
‘Young woman. 25? Small boned Like a ~ doll! Reckless. Angry. Bashed.
She was talking. Talking into space. To no one in particular.
” Yes officer… .I did.. whatever you say I did. Just get it over with.. do whatever you like.”
He did. And to hammer it home, he smiled. A practiced, easy smile. Part of what he was. He tipped a polite salute, and wished Sandra Hart a nice day. Seventeen minutes later Poulson met Sandra again. Just for a top up. Crossing double yellow lines, and exceeding the speed limit in a 60km/h zone.
He made no report on the issue of assault on a police officer. Qr damage to his BMW. Or language likely to affront. She was upset. He could see that. Anyway, he understood.
Kenneth Poulson lived in a big house. A family of eight would still rattle. He used two rooms. Bedroom. Kitchen. Of an evening, he sat. That’s all. In a big, overstuffed armchair. He drank coffee, and smoked. That’s all.
Downstairs, a dusty lounge. Not locked or shuttered. Poulson simply did not notice it anymore. Seldom spent any time in there. The calendar pad on the mantelpiece had frozen time on December 24th 1989.
Marie had never regained consciousness. That was that. Hope, the baby had died unborn. At least she had a name. That was that.
He remembered the smell. Hot oil on spongy tar. Melted electrical cable. And the heady sweetness of overproof rum.
He cleaned up their bedroom, and moved out. To a guest room. Took his armchair from the lounge. Forced its angles, and weight up the spiral staircase. He cleared away, and stacked Marie’s life in cartons.
He was a good cop. Honest, proud. Incorruptible. Unemotional, and fair. A good cop.
Every night, in his armchair Kenneth Poulson relived Xmas eve. Marie was radiant. He touched her a lot. Couldn’t help himself. She liked being close-to-term pregnant. She was rushing happily. Last minute loose ends. Xmas drink, crackers, collect the ham from Ball the Butchers. “Won’t be long sweetheart!” And she closed the door forever.
Stranger things have happened. That Sandra Hart knocked on Kenneth Poulson’s door on the evening of December 15th was simply one of those things.
“Please?………My baby’s so hungry”. She didn’t recognise him. Too busy staring her own humiliation in the face. To beg of a stranger.
Poulson was dressed in a white terry cloth robe. The bastard was parked in the garage, and hung up neatly in his wardrobe.
He said nothing. Opened the door wide, and took the child in his arms. It disappeared into his bulk. Squalling ceased.
He made no mention that it was late. Asked no questions. Opened the nursery door. All done out in blue. Nodded. Left the door open, and padded into the kitchen to boil the kettle.
Sandra sat on a kitchen chair. Began to prattle. “I’m just……….I’m sorry .. .. erm……….. I’m so sorry !
He pushed a mug of coffee across the laminex. While Sandra stared at her own tiny white hands.
There was a surfeit of pain in the room.
It just came down and solidified the air. So they sat in silence, and felt it.
Poulson broke it after a long time.
“You’ll need a place to stay for a while.”
“Yes. For a little while.”
He made the invitation. Sandra accepted. She knew who he was now, and she said nothing. Suddenly she understood…….Something.
“They were twins!” She blurted. GOD! Why did I say that! He understood. “How?”
“He punched me…….. there.” Sandra touched a hand lightly on her navel. She wanted to cry! So much pain in the room!
Poulson stood, in his warm white robe. Her child in his arms, suckling from a bottle of warm milk.
His eyes were distant. Not empty. Full. Full of some heart achingly beautiful vision a long long way away.
Abruptly he snapped out of it. There had been a softness in his face for minutes. Now gone. His big hands now held, rather than cradled the child. It let out a snuffly cry. Poulson pushed the bundle at Sandra. She reached out, and snuggled it into her breast.
Then he was climbing the steel spiral. Hand slapping at the rail. Face set in stone.
A comfortable armchair. Old. Wide arms. Wide enough to balance a bread and butter plate. Full of vanilla creams. And a cup and saucer. Wide seat too. He felt small in it. Marie chuckled as he sat. He heard her as clearly as he heard her every night.
In four hours he would go out and get some more of those bastards. Killers. Idiots. Careless drunks and dopers.
Every day. Every day. Every day. That’s what Marie wanted. For him to get them. Round them up. Stop the damned slaughter!
He dropped his chin. Closed his eyes, and found her. Just as she was then. A tiny, pretty girl. Big with child. Bubbly and blonde. She chuckled, and he felt his eyelids kissed.
He seldom accepted the inevitability of sleep. He knew how to fight it. He could doze, but always snapped awake hard and fast. Before those sweet gentle dreams took hold. Dozing, he controlled the reverie.
But if he slept, the waking brought with it slimy trails of grief. Tonight, they had visitors, and with his guard down, Marie seduced him into sleep.
Sandra knew something was wrong the moment the bastard clumped down the stairs. Obviously he didn’t eat breakfast, or have coffee in the kitchen. He closed the front door quietly enough, but let the screen door slam back on its spring.
She heard the Rollerdoor, and the powerful hum of the big bike. Then quiet. “Thank Christ I’m not driving.” It was a silly, cynical thought. lt hadn’t occurred to even ask his name! Mean, ignorant bastards
Early morning sun touched the yellow topped breakfast bar. She had found eggs, and bread, and tomato. The toast was dry, and the scrambled eggs like curds in water. Wasted.
She filled the day with busy. What a beautiful house! With the drapes open, and light let into the corners, it was huge.
Twin Cornwell sofas, drapes and carpets in shades of buttercup and sage. Antique Oak bridge table, set with coffee cups and fruit bowl. Oak barrell chairs set around the breakfast bar, elevated by two steps to the sunken lounge. Dusty as a mausoleum.
By 4pm Sandra had breathed life, and sound, and colour, and warmth into his house. She had always had the knack of banishing shadows.
Of course he damn well noticed! Just a mean ungrateful bastard. Didn’t say a word. Just clumped on upstairs with that hand slapping the polished oak balustrade.
Then everyday. Down in the morning, up at night. He made his own sandwiches and coffee. Never offered any. Made them and went.
He took days off on Tuesdays, and sat day and night in the armchair upstairs. He answered when Sandra spoke to him. Answered like a cop, and left it at that.
Being ignored in this big house was better than being punched out in a hovel. Anyway, what choice? She’d sold the car unregistered for $200. Hardly any money. No home. No transport. Best to stay on for a little while.
And he wasn’t bad to look at either!
December 24th was a Saturday. Poulson was very busy saving lives. Getting them off the road and stopping the slaughter.
He never tired of the satisfaction. Knowing how they felt when they first saw him in their mirror. That jolt. He always rode full into the mirror. Coming up quick and close before signaling them.
Sandra spent the day with trees, and decorations. And baking. He’d probably clump upstairs…. and then what?
Sit in that damned armchair and wait till Christmas day.
Sandra was no Pandora. She had no inclination to pry into Poulsons possessions. That she knew his name was due to the fact that it was written on the inside of his crash hat.
Twice, these two weeks, he’d left a generous amount of money on the table. Housekeeping. And she had gone shopping in a taxi.
She had no idea that Marie was dead five years today. The house bore no trace of any other than Kenneth Poulson. And now Sandra Hart. Any joy in this house was a reflection of her own genetic sunshine.
He was late home. It was dark, and Sandra was curled up reading. Baby sound asleep beside the chair. ln a wicker basket.
Two trees, draped with coloured lights. Little winking stars. It felt good. Christmassy.
Even before his shadow crossed the front window, she knew something was not right. His clump had a trail to it. Poulson was not a foot dragger. Always clump, clump, clump, precise. Not now.
He fumbled the screen door. It clattered. And the front door swung inwards under its own power. Poulson filled the doorway, swaying. Tottered a little, and let his shoulder hold him against the door jamb.
He was all in.
She ran to him before he fell. Up close, Sandra was the height of his armpit.
Yet she held him up. She grabbed cushions from the chair, pushing them to the floor before his weight dragged her down.
His face was strangely empty, and ash-grey. Deep, deep shock.
Policemen don’t cry. Real men don’t eat quiche.
On Xmas eve 1994 Kenneth Poulson finally confronted his own grief. Coincidence? Fate? Divine intervention?
It was not Marie in her neat red Laser. Not Marie he had dragged from the wreck. Kicked out the windscreen and lifted her body through the window.
Like a little porcelain doll!
And the heady sweetness of rum. And scattered, tattered presents.
He was a good cop. Efficient, cool. Unemotional.
And when he had seen HER from the doorway, as he struggled to stand. For a moment…with the twinkling trees, and the smell of Xmas in the house…
Just for a moment
Tiny, and blonde. In a pink flannel nightie.
It was six months before he came to her bedroom. The armchair long gone to the Salvos.
They had learnt to laugh together Sandra Hart and Kenneth Poulson And on a chilly night in June, naked and warm under his arm, Sandra laughed again.
“Kenneth Poulson! You are a complete bastard”