Cleaning up confetti sucks. It sticks to everything; the fold-out couch, ancient desk drawers, and the neatly stacked boxes by the front door. Bits of chocolate is smeared on the tabletop, and plastic cups lie in disarray all over the tiled floor.
“Martha Jean, you are late for school; again.”
The moody teenager stalked out of the room, a raspberry tart still wedged halfway out of her mouth. After she slammed the door, I had finally picked up the last of the striped paper, wiping a towel across my sweaty face.
Donovan Jones placed the last silver plate into the full sink, moving to the paper cups. Normally, I wouldn’t have tolerated him calling me ‘hon’, but I was already tired of cleaning all morning.
“Hon, do you remember? It’s elephant day today.”
I almost dropped our china vase into the trash bin, flipping through the calendar to today’s date. Donovan started to wipe the chocolate stains with a paper towel, reaching into the depths of his pockets at the same time.
“Figured you’d need the code; it’s virtual this year.” He handed me a slip of paper, concealing an ID and password. I scrutinized the small handwriting and hiked up my sleeves.
“Sorry, I’ll be back after our meeting.” I gave Don an apologetic smile as I swept through our narrow hallway to my office and signed into the meeting, grimacing at my reflection hidden within the depths of my screen.
Our somber attempt of sharing a Thanksgiving meal had left splotches of gravy stains on the peeling paint which I leaned on. Before, not many of our family members would volunteer to buy the stuffed turkey for a regular meal at our table. We weren’t even sure what day it was anymore when elephant day started, or how it became such a popular tradition; not that anyone would care. Anything was a better alternative than hosting a dull picnic in the Tiger Woods on a rainy day like today, even with the company of Donovan Jones.
Slowly, the screen on my computer flickered on and off, turning a sickly shade of orange, supported by a circle taking rounds around the screen, connecting. Of course, there was no other place to host elephant day this year, with the rebels and plague rampant, but as the swirling circle finally vanished, I wondered if going virtual would really make much of a difference to the long-lasting tradition.
When Martha Jean was younger, we’d take her to the local carnival every year, on that tilt-a-whirl ride, she loved to scramble on, always snapping a quick picture with the elephant mascot, sweating in his tight costume. As I turned my camera on for the meeting, I pasted a fake smile on my face, remembering that tilt-a-whirl elephant costume, trying to scrunch up my face into the perfect balled-up motion.
Today, there are 242 people slowly trickling in, my relatives from all over the world. Some people’s faces I didn’t recognize-others weren’t really family members; just unspoken cousins lost amid the sea of relatives I had barely known. After a few painstaking minutes, the zoom screen reached maximum capacity and Silas attempted to unmute himself.
“Welcome to the annual elephant day in the Garrison family.” He paused to adjust his microphone settings, with many failed tries at making it synch with his gargantuan hearing aids.
Silas tugged at his beard and gray hair, finally throwing his hands in the air, muttering something about ‘the good old days’. In spite of his fit, I was surprised my grandpa still hosted this event, though he must’ve been at least in his mid-nineties. Bored, I flipped through the pages and slides of relatives, observing Garrisons’ turn into the Joneses, then the Tuckers, until I found the Garcias. They weren’t actually family; only distantly related to Silas’s sister’s family friends.
The time ticked on as the green static on Silas’s mute button disappeared and reappeared, him explaining the rules of elephant day like he had done this every year-which he had. My parents too had their cameras on, seeming engrossed in whatever text messages they were scrolling through on their phones. I had just begun to check my own messages when Miley Garrison, my mother, launched into a speech about what elephant day was.
Elephant day was a secret party everyone died to get an invitation for, a relief from day-to-day chores, especially in the Folkish region we lived in. But what they’ll never tell you is how Miley and Earl Garrison started this big tradition.
It was just a family zoo trip with everyone from our close family. I recalled that I was missing my favorite purple stuffed animal once we were through the zoo gates, and ran into the zoo, frantically searching. Most three-year-olds don’t really think before running, or where they were running-and now that I am properly analyzing the situation-it would’ve been a much better option to hightail it back to the car for my lost toy.
“Mya Garrison!” I remember my mother calling my name sharply once she’d caught up to me, gripping my arm forcefully right across from the elephant exhibit. The whole family had fussed over me for a few minutes, scooping me up in their arms, avoiding each others’ gazes until Silas had come back with my stuffed toy.
“Now, does anyone want to address the elephant in the room?” He had said with a wink, pointing to the elephant exhibit.
And just like that, all of us started to argue.
A loud rattle brought me back from my momentary trance. I didn’t bother to check what it was-probably Silas dropping his computer or something. Soon enough, after my parents stopped talking, all 242 family members crammed into the zoom meeting unmuted themselves and rambled on and on to nobody in particular.
“Why did your shop close all of a sudden?”
“Would you open a shop with all those rebels running around the streets?”
“I hear that the Tiger Woods is sporting some dangerous animals that are taking citizens in the night!”
The talking turned to wild bickering about rebels, wild animals, and traveling. I listened intently, unwinding strings, waiting for something exciting to happen, but everything was normal arguing until I muttered softly, unaware that my microphone was turned on.
“And there still are talks of the plague.”
Back at the zoo trip, once my parents had started arguing, the rest of my family did too-right after Silas had made that joke about the elephants. I was reminded of that day at the zoo when all 242 relatives started the ‘real talking’. My comment had started a brutal exchange of cuss words and hateful remarks, leading to a numb silence. Only the crunching of cookies could be heard at the meeting; most likely being eaten by my ever so peaceful grandfather. Our extended family could only agree on this tradition; the numb silence after an argument; the elephants; the touchy topics and opinions-all needed to be directed. Now I could hear the steady thrum of Donovan vacuuming the living room.
That day by the elephant exhibit many years ago followed the same pattern of conversation as the zoom meeting. At first, my aunts and uncles were preoccupied with bashing one another, accusing each other of ‘who let my hand free’ or ‘why I ran off into the zoo’; but after what had seemed to be an eternity, the other visitors were staring at us and everyone fell silent.
Silas felt my stuffed toy and I held it to my chest tightly as everyone mumbled their apologies, guiding me up the wooden planks to watch the elephants mull about the zoo area. The argument, my escape, and the elephants were avoided in conversation until elephant day was born.
My parents had come up with the new Garrison family tradition 3 weeks after my tenth birthday, instead of bringing out the turkey on Thanksgiving day. All of our relatives were gathered around a small area on our old, worn couches, patiently looking at my parents.
“Welcome to the first elephant day. A few hours to argue, talk, and discuss any topic.” A chance everyone in my family needed; to bicker in the secret silence of home. Elephant day-a day reserved for non-judgemental but maybe controversial argument with family members.
Back when I was ten, I didn’t pass up any opportunities to spend time with ‘the adults’, so I eagerly sat beside Auntie Mira on the first elephant day. I excitedly got introduced to the behind-the-scenes motives of elephant day. I was out of that room quicker than 5 minutes, but by then it had already gotten ugly. At our first meeting, we had no idea how big elephant day would become.
The zoom meeting had started up again with more casual conversation. There was chatter about new books and only a few mentions of the rebels or the plague.
“Tomorrow, I have a sale; freshest fruit on the block market!” Mr. Garcia proudly stated.
“My latest sale on our essentials store will be half as expensive as your deals.” Linus Hill countered, puffing out his chest on screen.
People began nodding their heads either way as Mr. Garcia prepared to say something else. I myself preferred to order on the newest online ordering site. Anything to keep Martha Jean with at least one adult at all times. Stifling a sigh, I plucked a piece of confetti off of my black skirt, slightly amused at our family’s attempt to spend time with one another.
“Donovan; would you mind opening the back door? I’ll be there to read the daily paper in a few.”
With that, I powered down the heated computer, stretching my arms to the sky. There would always be next year’s eve, whatever the elephant in the room would be then. As Donovan and I sat on our patio, watching birds flit over the wood, I grinned.
Elephant day-a day reserved for a non-judgmental, but maybe controversial argument with family members.