Twigs and Scissors
Don’t you dare scream for your mommy, or we will REALLY kill you!
“You know, I could kill you right now, little boy,” Patrick said, holding long, sharp metal scissors to a boy’s throat. “Yeah, I could slice your throat right now and nobody would know,” said Little Rudy. He held a pocket knife in the air, pointing to the boy. Rudy was six years old, just a year older than my brother, Patrick. The young, blond hostage had large blue eyes that glistened with tears, which streamed down his dirty cheeks, moistening Patrick’s milk chocolate hand. He didn’t open his mouth or make a sound as my little brother tried acting like the cool cousin next to Little Rudy. “Don’t you dare scream for your mommy, or we will REALLY kill you!” said Rudy. “Yeah!” Patrick said, agreeing with Rudy’s every move.
It was another summer Sunday at Zilker Park, and the whole family was out for a barbeque. My dad was with my aunts and uncles, drinking some beer and talking about the good old days when they were all young. “That was the best day of my life!” my dad said at the end of each childhood story, and raised his beer in the air as if he was in that moment.
I was eight years old, off in my own world while my cousins smothered their faces in huge slices of watermelon. The picnic ground was pure dirt with pebbles and I was sitting down on it, staring at the train tracks that ran along the edge of a hill. They were only small sized tracks that journeyed around the park, but the train could hold up to two hundred mothers, fathers, grandparents, and little happy children. The train itself was a green, miniature kiddy train, and although the ride was slow and three miles long, every family seemed to enjoy riding the Zilker Park train. Not me, though.
I, on the other hand, enjoyed sitting on the heated ground with my pink dress browning from the absorption of the soft dirt surrounding me, and my feet bare to keep me cool from the scorching summer heat. I was engaged in conducting a science experiment while all the others were off swimming in the creek and playing catch with tennis balls. So, I thought to myself, if a penny gets mashed when you put it on train tracks, then what would happen if I put a twig across these tracks? It seemed like a simple experiment, and if my hypothesis was correct, the twig would break. Well, I couldn’t find a twig, so the closest thing I could gather from the ground was a large branch. I set it down across the tracks and quickly forgot about it when I noticed my father talking to a large woman with long, blonde hair that was held out of her face by black sunglasses. She held a lit Virginia Slim in one hand and scissors in the other. The cigarette was halfway smoked, but the long ash held on to its life as it curved down from the lit end. Her round face was dark red and fuming with anger. Small wrinkles produced along her forehead and the edges of her blue eyes as she shook in a violent rage.
“Are those your children?” asked the woman, pointing to Patrick and Little Rudy. My dad looked at them, then back at her. “Yes. My son and nephew,” he said. “Did they do something stupid? Goddamn it. Patrick! Rudy! Get your asses over here.”
“Well,” she sneered, pointing at my father with her cigarette still in hand. “Your children decided to corner my son in the restroom and threaten him with scissors.” She said, raising a large pair of sharp, metal scissors. My dad had a Busch beer in one hand and a long barbeque fork with half an onion stuck on the end in the other. “I could have you in jail for a long time, you son of a bitch. They could have killed my son! You need to learn how to raise these devil children.” The deep, southern accent of hers made me shudder at the word “devil.” Before my dad could apologize, she stormed away and threw the scissors in the tin trashcan. She took one last puff of her Virginia Slim and threw it on the dirt, completely unashed
Patrick, slowly walking towards my dad and looking around at the other picnic tables, acted as if nothing had happened. My dad set his beer and fork down and slapped Patrick’s back with his huge, monster hands. “What the fuck is WRONG with you?!” he said. He slapped his back a few more times while yelling, “Goddamn you, you stupid idiot!”
His red Nissan Sentra was parked right in front of the picnic area under a large oak tree. My father threw his crying son into the car, drowning out the family’s raging yells towards Patrick and Little Rudy. “You are gonna to stay here until we leave,” he said, rolling down the windows for air, the least he could do. My uncle Rody just looked at his son Rudy, drank his beer, and laughed at the whole situation. “Rudy, next time you are staying with your mom. This is your last barbeque, you little asshole,” Uncle Rody said. He walked over to the barbeque pit, picked up a piece of chicken and took a bite. “Mark!” Rody said to my father. “This needs more salt.”
The Sunday barbeque went on as if nothing had happened, except little angry remarks my aunts and older cousins made about the scissors my brother had. They didn’t seem to notice Rudy’s behavior as much because they were used to him being this way. The family gave up on trying to help Little Rudy better his manners long ago, but they were worried about Patrick. “I can’t believe Patrick did that!” my Aunt Gina said. “He’s turning into a Little Rudy.” My dad sat on the picnic table and took out his acoustic guitar. He made up funny songs about the crazy family events, and everybody had a smile on their faces again except Patrick — he was still in the car with the windows down, throwing a tantrum. The louder Patrick yelled, the harder my dad strung his guitar, and the funnier his songs became. I was sitting amongst my cousins, listening to his silly rhymes while eating chips. My mind was soaring far from my science experiment. I would have never remembered about it, if it had not been for the oncoming train.
The conductor rang his bell as he rode along the edge of the steep hill near our picnic area. All the families in the train were waving, and the children were yelling, “hello everybody!” Each family had a huge smile pasted on their faces. Cameras were flashing, children were simultaneously yelling “Choo choo! Choo choo!” for the entire park to hear, and grandparents were waving at nothing in particular while holding tightly onto their grandchildren. The train suddenly made a loud, screeching noise that halted the singing, waving and smiling. The train’s wheels rolled off of the track, making a pounding noise as each car fell from the track. The train, realizing that it did not have a track to roll on anymore, completely stopped. Everybody in the park became silent – even Patrick.
I couldn’t understand why the train suddenly stopped right in front of our picnic area until I saw the branch. My body instantly became numb, and all I could see was that branch that seemed so harmless, now embedded in the wheels of the train. Instead of breaking in half as I thought it would, it derailed the whole train. It leaned the majority of its body toward the edge of the hill. The families had a perfect view of the rock-layered floor at the bottom of the long, deep crash that they were about to experience. Everybody screamed as my family watched their panic-stricken faces in horror. The kiddy train did not seem so small with all those people on it, leaning over the end of their life. The conductor ordered everybody to slowly get off the train. The little metal train stayed in its slanted position as about a hundred people got off unharmed. I began to breathe again.
The conductor walked closer to our picnic area, took his hat off, and pointed straight to my dad. “YOU!” he said, standing still. My dad looked around and said to me, “Why is the ugly fucker blaming me for this?” Despite all the fright dwelling inside me, I giggled at my father. The thin conductor said, “Sir, can I have a word with you?” My dad, giving up on his Sunday barbecue, set his warming beer down and obediently went towards the man. The families just stood next to the train, completely silent. “Are you responsible for this here stick? You almost killed my passengers. Ya know, I could have ya’ll sued,” he said with a slow drawl. “Yes sir,” my dad said politely. “I understand. But I have no idea how that branch got there. Maybe a stupid kid put it there. None of us have even gone near those tracks. You can’t hold me responsible.”
The conductor looked at him with sweat dripping down his chin. He turned around and told everybody to wait until another train comes.
My family began to pack up their belongings — they finally decided that the day would never get better. They were also upset because the conductor and families stood there staring at us, still thinking it was our fault, which, of course it was, although nobody knew. Everybody sped away without a smile or a goodbye. Before I got into the Nissan, I tugged at my dad’s shirt. “What do you want?” he said. “Daddy” I said with almost a whisper. “I was the one who put the stick on the tracks. I’m sorry, Daddy.” My dad looked straight ahead and shook his head in disapproval. Finally, he looked at me while emptying out the melted ice from the cooler. “That ugly conductor looked like the stick,” he said. He patted my head and smiled at my brother as he opened the car door.