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The Boomerang Effect
Ruby Bieber defends the Second amendment with all her might. Will her defence smite her? 

“Our next speaker, Ruby Bieber, is not yet forty but already a successful Congresswoman. A mother of four, she has virtually pulled herself out of the gutter by sheer willpower. She is one of the brave people who dare to speak the truth. No cancel culture for the Honorable Lady! Today, she represents you and your un-woke values in Washington.”

 

Chewing on the end of a pen, Ruby evaluates the wording of the script for tomorrow’s event at the local Rifle Owners’ Association.  

 

All of it is true. She is a successful (and popular!) Congresswoman. She is a mother of four, barely out of her mid-thirties. And she is not afraid of speaking up for her constituents, especially in defense of the Second Amendment. At all times. At all costs.  

 

But she dislikes the “pulled herself out of the gutter” phrase. “Gutter” has such a foul-sounding ring to it. And although she has always admitted to growing up in a dirt-poor family, the word just doesn’t cut it for her.  

 

“We was so poor, chil’, that you and your Bubba had a tumbleweed for a pet,” her Ma used to say. 

Ruby’s Dad was not in the picture. Not ever. It was Amber, her Ma, who left town and went to earn a living operating pump at Oakdale Dam.  Meanwhile, MeeMaw Opal took over child-rearing. 

 

As dutiful Presbyterian, MeeMaw taught them to brush their teeth, pray to God, and wait for him to speak. Sadly, whenever Ruby talked to Him, He never answered. Like when she asked whether MeeMaw was telling the truth about the little-known 11th commandment instructions: “Thou shall only fornicate for the purpose of procreation.”

 

And as He was mute on the matter, she did the dirty with Brandon at sixteen. But guess what? True or not, she was still in the clear because she got pregnant the first time round! 

 

Eventually, she stopped asking Him but kept the habit of brushing her teeth after each meal, which led to her having a set of pearly chompers a catwalk model would die for. So, on life advice, MeeMaw came up trumps in one out of two! 

 

She keeps reading the script Jasper Kendall, her young assistant, left on her desk an hour before. A Purdue graduate, he’s been with Ruby for nearly a year. Given that she has only a high-school diploma, she earned aged thirty, Jasper writes her speeches, sees to the minutiae of her engagements, and runs her errands, including fetching her daily pumpkin skimmed latte with just a hint of vanilla. No sugar. 

“You must keep trim and attractive when you are a popular Conservative Congresswoman,” he keeps reminding her. 

 

“After you are introduced, an ovation will follow, and you will answer thank you, thank you very much.”

 

Ruby likes this part. She knows that “ovation” means clapping because she found the word in one of the previous speeches and asked Jasper about its meaning. 

“In Latin, it means to rejoice and shout with delight,” Jasper explained patiently like he always does. 

After a brief pause, Ruby continues.

 

“I am standing here today to reassure you that we will not listen to the foolish folk who wish to trample on our Second Amendment rights. Our nation is governed by a constitution - a document that separates us from monarchies, communist regimes, and dictatorships. That same constitution protects our right to bear arms. Yes, people have died, and yes, it is a tragedy. But so did people in cinema fires and road traffic accidents. Yet we don’t ban either. All these tragedies are essentially anomalies (Ruby knows that word, too), and just because they occasionally happen, we must not sacrifice our constitution.”

 

“Followed by another ovation,” the script says.  

Her eyes turn dreamy at the mental picture of the audience standing to the sound of her voice, clapping furiously.  

 

“Yes, apart from the gutter part, the speech is perfect! Just as perfect as Jasper’s tight little ass,” she smiles. 

“And don’t fear! We will not let those who want to tread on us do so without consequences. We will fight, and we will win!”

“Here, speak loud and clear and look directly at the spectators,” the script instructs. 

“Why, you ask me? Because everything you do creates either a positive or a negative outcome. Because whatever energy you put out, you get back. Some call it karma, but I prefer the boomerang effect. It’s like gravity – there, but so unnoticeable that we don’t even know it exists. But it does!” 

“Another round of applause,” the script indicates.  

 

Yes, Jasper is a brilliant speechwriter, worth his weight in gold. She would have never thought of it by herself. But what the hell is a boomerang? She opens Google and types the word. The online dictionary explains that it is a curved flat piece of wood that can be thrown so that it will return to the thrower, traditionally used by Australian Aboriginal people as a hunting weapon. 

 

“A brilliant idea to mention a weapon in a speech about defending gun rights,” she muses. One thing she has learned since becoming a Congresswoman is to check things before she says them out loud. She doesn’t want to make another gaffe on live TV, like when she said the former president, whom she hero-worships, was a ‘hexagon of virtue. Jasper later explained that the correct word was “paragon.” He also explained that what happened to her on the show was … wait a minute! What did he call it? Malpractice? No, malpractice is careless professional behavior. It sounded like malpractice, but it wasn’t… It’s on the tip of her tongue! Yes! There it is! Malapropism! 

 

Jasper reminded her of another Representative who’d accused the “gazpacho police” of patrolling the Capitol. At first, Ruby wasn’t sure what was wrong with that, but Jasper clarified that gazpacho was a cold Spanish soup made from tomatoes, peppers, and other salad vegetables while the word the Honorable Lady mal-appropriated was Gestapo. Ruby laughed, hoping Jasper would not think she was an uneducated ding-dong.  

 

To tell the truth, she was not a ding-dong, but she was uneducated. Not because she was not smart enough but because she got knocked up in the ninth grade and had to leave her full-time education. When Tucker, her first-born, was one, she started an apprenticeship in a hair salon and then got pregnant again – with Tyler. And then again with twins – Todd and Tennyson. By twenty-eight, she and Brandon had four boys, all under twelve. At thirty, she was promoted to stylist and colorist, and Brandon started earning good money running his Dad’s sawmill. So they both relinquished the upbringing of their brood to MeeMaw Opal, who became their babysitter, cook, nurse, friend, and spiritual shepherd. Amber kept operating the pumps at Oakdale Dam. 

 

A year after that, when she thought she would take over the salon and turn it into a spa with hot tubs, foot massages, body wraps, and mud baths, she was offered to run for a seat in the state legislature and two years later, in the national one. 

 

And here she is now - Ruby Bieber, who barely finished high school but who could write an encyclopedia about shampooing and conditioning and a dictionary of chemical coloring processes, getting ready to talk to some big shots about the Second Amendment and something called the boomerang effect. 

 

She is unsure how it all happened because, born and raised in Middlebury, population 2,513, she had barely noticed national and international calamities and triumphs before she became the Honorable Ruby Bieber. She voted Republican because MeeMaw and her mother did. But politics figured low on the list of things that mattered to her, somewhere between power tools and public libraries. Suppose someone had asked her about her ambitions ten years ago; she’d probably have answered that she was too busy just living and raising four kids to have any, never mind talking about them.

 

But a quick learner, she learned that the Second Amendment was very important in her State, especially the part granting the American people the right to bear arms. If possible, concealed. So she made it her campaign slogan and, forever after, spoke about that God-given right at rallies, in Congress, and on talk shows. And to prove her point, she kept a collection of Smith & Wesson Model 10s and Remington Model 870 Pump-Action Shotguns in an unlocked cabinet in her now much more ample, six-bedroom, four-bathroom house. And, being a loving mother, she’s taught her kids how to use guns, trusting that they will use them wisely. Hopefully, to shoot bears or defend our Great Nation’s borders from foreign invasions. 

 

Ruby knows she is right because she’s convinced that good guys with guns have stopped bad guys with guns all the time going back to the ole’ Wild West. And besides, it is not guns that kill people but people who kill people. So there. 

 

She thinks about the boomerang effect Jasper mentioned in the speech. Was it the Aboriginal Australians’ God-given right to carry concealed boomerangs? If so, where? She’s seen pictures of the bushmen, and all they wore were strings around their waists. 

 

“I’ll ask Jasper,” she thinks. 

She is about to go back to the speech when the door to her office bursts open. Jasper, his hair disheveled, runs in. He is not wearing his customary Dries Van Noten navy blue jacket and tie. This fact alone indicates that something terrible must have happened. 

 

“Ruby!” he shouts. 

“Ruby! There’s been an incident!”

The sheath of papers in her hand falls onto the floor. She stumbles but manages to get up.

“Wheeeereeee?” the word is one prolonged gasp.  

“The school, Ruby. Osborne Senior…”

Ruby’s legs buckle. She is about to fall but manages to hold on to the edge of the desk. 

“Please, God, please! I hope Tucker didn’t take one of the guns to school to show off. He’s still waiting for his permit. It’ll ruin my career!” she screams in her head and aloud enquires: “What kind of an incident?” 

 

“A shooting, Ruby…” Jasper stammers. 

Fear blossoms in her mind, its predatory cold fingers squeezing her heart then creeping into her guts. If they squeeze any harder, the pumpkin latte will come out in a torrent.   

“Tucker?” she whispers. 

“Was it Tucker?”

Jasper is silent for a full minute. 

“Tell… me…damn…you! Was… Tucker… the…. shooter?” she slices the sentences word by word, intense panic marking each pause.

Jasper shakes his head.

“No…” he says finally. 

Ruby feels the icy claws loosen their grip on her insides. She can breathe again. A whoosh of air escapes her lungs as she sits down. The latte stays in. 

Jasper looks at her with renewed dread, then says: “Tucker is one of the victims…And so is Todd…”

 

The arctic sensation she thought was gone unfurls itself from her inner core again. A  pulse throbs in her ears, and a bitter tang of despair fills her mouth. Then comes the latte, completely covering the sheets with tomorrow’s speech. 

 

All she can think of is the boomerang effect… And her boys… Because it no longer matters if you call it karma or any other name. She is sure that damn thing has no menu, and in the end, one gets served what one deserves. And Ruby knows that she does. Oh, how she deserves it!  

Image by Laura Chouette

JB Polk is Polish by birth, a citizen of the world by choice. The first story short-listed for the Hennessy Awards, Ireland, in 1996. She regularly contributed to Women's Quality Fiction, Books Ireland, and IncoGnito. She was also the co-founder of   Virginia House Writers, Dublin, and helped establish the OKI Literary Awards.   Her creative writing was interrupted as she moved to Latin America and started contributing to magazines and newspapers and then wrote textbooks for  Latin American Ministries of Education. Since she went back to writing fiction in 2020, 53 of her stories have been accepted for publication.

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