Lety Sarmiento

No Elefantas

"Did you know that Elephants are Mexican?" asked Marisol, probing for her cousin Kristy's attention.

Kristy had been avoiding conversation with her while she tried in vain to finish her calculus homework. After a moment of silence, she finally registered what her cousin was saying. She looked up from her notebook and blinked once. "That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard," she said, unamused at the lie. 

"They are!" Marisol assured her, then turned to her mother who was stirring a pot of beans on the stove, "Amá, tell her it's true," Marisol said.

"Tell her what is true?" Said Irma, Marisol's mother.

"That elephants are Mexican."

"Niñas occurrentes," Irma responded, "Elephants are not from Mexico."

"No," protested Marisol, "I didn't say they are from Mexico. I said they are Mexican." Marisol then realized that her mom had left the Kitchen and Kristy had returned to her homework. Nobody was interested in her theory and she left to her and Kristy's shared bedroom. Her tía Lore, Kristy's mom, would get it. When Lore returned from work, Marisol would talk to her. She wouldn’t just indulge her, but actually listen and respond. Lore was the only one who looked beyond Marisol’s age of fifteen and gave her the responsibility, and the privilege, of conversing like an adult.

Of the small family of women, Lore was the only one who paid any significant attention to Marisol. Once Kristy had turned seventeen everything about Marisol embarrassed her. Eating with her at school, getting off at the same bus stop, everything. Sometimes friends of Kristy’s would ask her, “hey, isn’t that your cousin?” and Marisol could overhear when Kristy scoffed and said “No,” rolling her eyes.

It didn’t help matters that Kristy was the favorite at home. Her own mother preferred Kristy over her. Why don’t you do your homework like Kristy? Why aren’t you in AP English like Kristy? If her mother only knew that Kristy was ashamed of being a good student and lied about it to her friends. When Raul and Mitzy compared failing grades while laughing, Kristy joined in. If her mother knew she was ashamed of her own mother’s accent. If her mother only knew that Kristy was a lesbiana, she might stop asking her to be like Kristy. If only.

Marisol was fairly certain Kristy didn’t know she knew about her sexual orientation. The solitude that surrounded Marisol allowed her to observe and listen. Kristy’s so-called best friend, Jackie, a gringa, was a lot more than a friend. They’d have sleepovers sometimes under the guise of having school projects or tests they had to study for. When Jackie would come over to stay, Marisol was pushed out to sleep in the living room couch so they could have the room. She would then spy on them and quickly arrived at the conclusion that Jackie was Kristy’s girlfriend.

Whether Kristy had always been gay, or if Jackie turned her gay, Marisol couldn’t decide with certainty. She thought if Kristy had been gay their entire life, she would have known it, and so it was more probable that Jackie turned her gay. Irma had often warned Marisol that those kinds of girls were mañosas and that they would brainwash her into being gay if she hung out with them. Marisol had always thought it was an exaggeration, but after finding out about Jackie and Kristy, she wasn’t so sure anymore. Perhaps her mother was right.

When she came down for dinner, Marisol found everyone at the table. Her happy little family, including Lore who was back from work. Lore had taken her waitress’s apron off and tossed it on the floor next to her chair. Marisol lit up when she saw her.

“Tía,” she said, giving her a kiss.

“Hola mija.”

“How was work,” Marisol asked while she got a plate of beans and asada.

“Busy today. I don’t think I’m very hungry, I just want to put my feet up.”

“Oh come on, I’ve been waiting for you all afternoon,” Marisol encouraged her to stay at the table and join them for dinner. “Tía, Kristy and my mom won’t believe me, but you’ll get it.”

“Get what?”

“Did you know that Elephants are Mexican?”

“They are not!” Kristy said, staring down Marisol angrily. “You are bien mensa,” she continued,  “If you ever picked up a book instead of watching the stupid soap operas with your mother you would know a thing or two.”

“Hey!” Irma interjected, “Don’t drag my novelas into this. And I agree, you should read more. Like Kristy,” she added smiling at Kristy, who in turn sat straighter in her chair.

“Okay,” said Lore holding back a chuckle, “where did you hear semejante cosa?”

“Well I heard that elephant families are all women families.”

“What does that have to do with being Mexican?” Asked Kristy. “Elephants are from Africa, and Asia, I think.”

“I never said they came from Mexico. They just seem like every Mexican family I know. Like us. Our moms and us. Mitzy’s family too it’s just her grandmother, mother, and two sisters. Raul is almost the same, his dad is around, but he is either at work or out drinking with his friends. Sometimes he isn’t home for weeks. That’s what elephants are like. The moms and aunts all look after the young and the men leave to all-male herds.”

“That just means they are a matriarchy, not that they are Mexican. That is really offensive Mari,” Kristy said condescendingly.

At that that point, Marisol’s blood had started to boil, and nearly said something nasty when Lore asked, “what do you mean a matri. . . matria - what did you call it?”

“A matriarchy mom. It’s like a society of only women, or when women are the rulers.”

“Dios bendiga!” Cried out Irma, making the sign of the cross in front of her, “you mean, like lesbians?”

“Hay no tía,” Kristy said, “well they could be I suppose, but a matriarchal society is not made up of only lesbians.”

Irma seemed to be satisfied with that answer. And Kristy appeared to be uncharacteristically at a loss for words. She finally looked up at Marisol. “Marisol watched television all evening,” she said, looking at Irma, “and I know she has a science test tomorrow. Did you study? Like at all?”

Before she gave it a second thought, Marisol’s eyes had narrowed and she found herself shouting, “Kristy is gay! Jackie is her girlfriend. I saw them doing their cochinadas when she stayed over.” Then Marisol’s heart sunk. She looked over at her beloved tía Lore who had closed her eyes and stiffened as if waiting for a wave to knock her over.

“What did you say?” Asked Irma.

“I – I, don’t know,” Marisol instantly wished she could take it back. Kristy stared at her speechless, her eyes turning red about to spill over.

“That is a horrible thing to say, Mari, why would you –” Irma raised her hand to slap Marisol when Kristy interjected,

“No tía. She is right. I’m in love with Jackie.”

“You are lying,” said Irma, incredulous, “You can’t be, you are such a good girl. Such a good student.”

“Girls, go upstairs,” Lore said faintly as though she were rousing from deep sleep. Both girls stood up instantly and walked out of view, but remained just outside the kitchen listening to their mothers argue.

“You knew?” Asked Irma.

“Of course I knew. She is my daughter.”

“And you never said anything.”

“I was pretending. Irma, if she never said anything to me, I could pretend. When you first got together with José, mom lied and told everybody you were married. Back in Mexico nobody would know the difference. It’s the same thing –”

“It is not the same thing.”

“Yes it is. Both are sin.”

“But we never did any cochinadas. This – this is perverse. Completely different. I will not have it near my daughter. Your nasty daughter won’t turn mine into a lesbian.”

The conversation was quick, then it was over with Irma’s loud proclamation that not in her house. Never under her roof. She then yelled Kristy’s name. Marisol stiffened as she heard her mother’s stomping footsteps approaching them. Irma then grabbed Kristy by her pony tail. Kristy begged, “tía please. Stop!” but Irma ignored her. She had barely thrown her out the front door when Lore pulled her back inside.

“Go pack,” Lore said to Kristy and she turned to run up the stairs sobbing. Marisol followed her.

She tried to apologize, “Kristy, I –” Kristy pushed her away.

By the end of the week their home was quiet. All of Kristy’s and Lore’s belongings had been taken away. Marisol never knew where to. If Lore was ever brought up near Irma, she would ignore the conversation. Sister? What sister? Oh, her? She is dead to me.

Marisol’s penance for what she did to her cousin, and by extent her tía, was a newly over-protective mother. Every interaction Marisol had was watched carefully with suspicion. Sleepovers were out of the question.

Years later, when Marisol was married at the age of twenty nine, she moved out of her mother’s home for the first time. Irma’s watchful eye was replaced by her husband’s. She had hoped once she moved out she could look for her cousin and make peace, but Rene had been warned about this by his mother-in-law, la suegra. Marisol never apologized to Kristy, and never talked to Lore again.

Her theory had been wrong after all, Marisol thought the day she left her mother’s home. The female Elephants took care of the young together. They wouldn’t turn on each other. Perhaps elephant’s weren’t Mexican. Her family was certainly no family of Elefantas.




© The Acentos Review 2016