Wendy J Dunn – Boomerang

WJD LE P&W Feb 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing February 2023

Boomerang, short story by Wendy J Dunn.

coffee ©photograph by Mark Ulyseas
Photograph by Mark Ulyseas

Linda stirred the spoon around the half-empty mug. Watching the coffee swirl, she listened to the slow approach of her father. Every so often, his dragged, paralysed leg made a muted, clopping sound, catching up with the other on the carpet.

‘I found this to show you, Linda.’ Emerging through the kitchen doorway, her father held out to her a sheet of newspaper in the hand left unparalysed by the stroke that had struck him down over twenty years ago. Linda reached for the paper.

‘There’s an article there you’ll find interesting. These nuns in Ireland, see, tortured children in their orphanage.’

 Linda put the newspaper down onto a pile of papers on the table. ‘Dad, a few bad nuns doesn’t mean the whole breed’s bad,’ she murmured. She wondered again why her father always wanted to prove to her that all religious people were sly and evil, as if determined to overturn the comfort of her beliefs. She almost laughed, thinking her father was the reason she had sought that comfort from her earliest years.

‘You know, Linda, my father was a cruel man. When I was seven, he made me help him drown these puppies I found…’

Linda’s eyes darted across to her father, hearing the often-repeated story — remembering the countless kittens she had watched him drown. Pondering too about how the same life pattern repeated itself generation after generation. It was so true; the sins of the parent were revisited upon their own children. Have I broken the circle in my own life?

Troubled, Linda looked down to see on the front page of the newspaper a brief article about mad cow disease.

‘Do you remember the trouble we had with our cows?’ Linda tossed him the next thought to pass though her mind, something — anything — to steer her father away from his father’s cruelties. To stop herself from thinking about her father’s cruelties. That’s in the past. He’s an old, sick man now.

Linda froze, aware of time speeding her to another place. One by one, something else replaced those final physical remnants of her youth: long hair for short, soft, firm skin for skin losing its elasticity, drooping breasts; the list went on and on. Was she guilty of squandering time? Who was it who’d spoken of the past and future being here in the now, that time in its transient nature flowed in a circular pattern, always returning to the source…


The pitch-black skies vibrated with thunder. Barely seconds afterwards, bolts of lightning illuminated the night — dramatically turning the evening sky, with its heavy rain clouds, into brief visions of fairy worlds painted gold to blue, then finally purple, before disappearing back into the night.

The teenage Linda was beyond caring about the beauties revealed by the summer’s storm. Back wedged tight against a wardrobe door, she sat in a foetal posture, arms wrapped around drawn-up knees, sobbing and sobbing.

To her left, a short wall formed an alcove in the room before it did a turn for the doorway, hiding her from the view of someone looking into the bedroom. Even though she hid to avoid yet another physical assault, the girl had no desire for self-preservation. Pain was one thing. If there was an easy way for her to gain death, she would have seized it with both hands. Breaking through her stifled sobs, amongst the often repeated ‘I didn’t mean to do it,’ was a continual chant: ‘God, please let me die, please let me die.’

She sobbed and rocked, rocked, and sobbed — saying over and over the almost incoherent words. The girl Linda forgot any other purpose of language other than to express despair and prayers for death.

Somewhere outside, the boom of her father’s voice competed with the roar of thunder.

‘Stupid bitch. Just wait ‘till I lay hands on her. I’ll kill her for the worthless slut she is! Stupid, stupid bitch!’

Linda involuntarily shivered.

Less than thirty minutes ago, she had been walking down her family’s long, gravel driveway. Kilometres away, a wind gathered strength and momentum, howling and whining, cutting through the surrounding countryside. Leaves lifted from the ground, swirling, hitting gently against Linda’s skin while her loose hair lifted and tickled her face.

Stopping, Linda looked up. Forks of lightning streaked across the darkening skies. One, two, three, four, she counted between the drums of thunder. Before the next loud boom, Linda heard the mooing of a distressed cow. Running towards the sound, the thunder hurt her ears and lightning bolts tore across the sky. Around her, the wind savagely keened, bowing tops of trees in its path, forcing her to fight her way forward. Safety told the girl that she was mad to be in this heavily treed garden in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. But how could she go inside and know she had left a frightened Sally and her newborn calf out in this savage storm?

Nearing the paddock fence, she could see the cow moving frantically around the corral, her terrified calf in danger of being trampled. The wooden corral, built on the property by the farmer who owned the property before selling it to Linda’s family, had a steep ramp. Once used for market days, when sheep were herded into the closed-in ramp, then up and over the fence into a waiting truck, Linda’s own family rarely used the corral and only for animals such as Sally.

Sally, gentle but dumb, was unlikely to use the ramp to gain her freedom. Good thing too — the drop might kill her. But, to the girl’s horror, she now saw the cow backing itself into the ramp. Linda ran, thinking that she could stop the Sally before she reached the top.

It didn’t cross her mind the frightened cow would become even more agitated at seeing her. So frightened it continued backing, almost in a clumsy run now, reaching the point where there was no place else to go but up and over. At this same moment, her father appeared, yelling above the wind: ‘What have you done!’ Both of them watched the cow going over the end of the ramp, falling with a tremendous crash on the outside of their property.

Her father turned. ‘You stupid, bloody bitch! You killed the cow!’

Linda took one look at her father’s bulging eyes and reddening face and ran as fast as her legs could take her. Weeping, Linda sneaked in through the house’s back door, seeking refuge in her older sister’s room. Believing she had killed their precious cow, and her father had yet another reason to think her worthless, her despair broke within her like heavy waves crashing onto rocks.


For Linda, some memories were so nightmarish it was easier to pretend that she had dreamed them rather than own them as a memory. At other times, she had difficulties even distinguishing between the two — her dreadful dreams and her frequently dreadful, long-ago reality. Dreams and reality… two climbing plants, fighting for possession of a solitary post, so intertwined it was almost impossible to separate one from another—entanglement beginning where the eye (or consciousness) could not see, under the ground, the roots fighting for survival. Painfully delving at this point could mean dreams and reality—the imagined and the real—being sucked into a repressed void that woke her screaming in the night.

She stood up, hurriedly wiping away her tears, when her father found her in the room. She was just sixteen, but this didn’t stop him from breaking her spirit. Before this horrible night, she’d bravely speak her mind, gritting her teeth when the belt came off and the beating began. She had discovered early in life, covering herself as if with the cloak of Perseus, that there was a deep place within — somewhere she could step beyond her body, and hide. In the past, her spirit retreated to this place, eventually re-emerging triumphant. It reaffirmed her hard-won beliefs she was strong and courageous — beliefs stones to this place.

Now Linda found she deluded herself. Her father, even though always maddened by her silence, usually stopped the whipping before it went too far. But this night not only was the belt used but, when that didn’t have the desired effect, her father’s powerful fists hit out at her, punching her to the ground.

As these blows continued falling on her body, she felt her interior fortress, that ‘mock castle’, which hid and protected her spirit, tremble. Pain trickled through to her consciousness, eroding away at the fortress’ foundations. The trickle then became a tidal wave of agony, ripping away the last delusion of protection. Drowning now in her own fear, the girl had no will or strength to stop going under.


‘Linda- did you hear what I said?’

‘What, dad?’ As if with an electric jolt, Linda returned to her father’s kitchen.

‘Off with the fairies, I ‘spose—just like when you were a kid.’

She looked at him; content she no longer hated him. The terrible stroke had gone a long way toward that—striking him down when she was nineteen. She saw it then as a deserved judgement. Twenty-one years later, it was no longer so black and white. Was it just because of duty she was here?


There was another memory, another memory of a summer’s storm. Two little girls sat side by side in an open window, swinging their chubby, infant legs over the sill, watching a magic show in the sky. Behind them, their father’s loud voice boomed. One girl listened with fascination as he told them of the Viking god Thor.

‘Listen, girls. All that noise is mighty Thor, banging away at his anvil in his blacksmith shop.’

The younger girl listened to the loud hammering of thunder, rattling the slash window above her head, while having visions of a giant, bearded being – imagined in her mind to be like a twin to her own father. The god’s beads of work-toiled sweat turned into the hot raindrops now pattering on her legs.

He broke off this connection, this gift of storytelling, his way of expressing love when she was nine. It was one of Linda’s clearer memories — the child Linda standing falteringly in her brother’s bedroom doorway as her father told her little brother a blood stirring ghost story. When Linda moved, he looked at her for the first time. He stopped the tale. ‘This is not for you — you’re too old!’ Knowing the warning signs by then, Linda fled to her bedroom. But her father couldn’t take his gift for storytelling back. By the time she was nine, she’d already made it hers.

Much later, when she was a woman with growing children, she understood better the circumstances of his life that had made him bitter, self-destructive, and destructive to those he loved — circumstances boomeranging back his own father’s cruelty.

All his life, her father could not see that one thing making life worth living is learning to improve upon a previous pattern—to understand the mistakes of an earlier generation so as not to repeat them. Recognising the boomerangs thrown out so we return the right ones.

Linda gazed at her father, thankful life had given her these long years to free herself from hating him. And when she had stopped hating him, forgiveness finally came — and freeing her from the past. Yes, we stand today in the harvest of our yesterday’s, bearing all the seeds for our tomorrows. But human beings always have a choice, determining which seeds they bear for future harvests. She pushed away from under her nose the pile of newspapers, walked to the bench to refill the coffee cup, and returned to listening to her father’s stories.

© Wendy J Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn is an award-winning Australian author, playwright and poet. Her first Tudor novels were two Anne Boleyn novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This? and The Light in the Labyrinth. Wendy’s most recent publications are two novels inspired by the life of Katherine of Aragon: her Falling Pomegranate Seeds duology: The Duty of Daughters (a finalist in the 2020 Chaucer award) and All Manner of Things (2021), Silver Medallist in the 2021 international Readers’ Favorite Award for historical personage, Silver Medallist in The Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award (Tudor and Stuart category), a finalist in the 2022 Eric Hoffer Award and a first place win for Tudor fiction in the international 2021 Chaucer Award. Wendy tutors in writing at the Swinburne University of Technology. She’s currently writing a novel set in 2010. Of course, it includes a Tudor story. She is also writing her first full length Tudor biography, commissioned by Pen and Sword.

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