Elephants in the basement 


I had worked for this my entire life. And finally, there it was. Right in front of me, in gleaming, black ink, on a darkened white-board, filled with all the old formulas that had been erased multiple times. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There it was, the one formula that would prove that my life’s work wasn’t useless. The tiny lettuce leaf slowly began to mutate and grow larger as soon as the ray hit it. Its progress was slow but after just a few seconds, I was sure it had gotten almost twice as big as it was before. I was basking in glory when I heard my son arrive. 

I immediately ran up the basement steps to make sure James did not enter. He could not know what I was up to. I was the only person in my house who knew that my work was actually illegal. I knew for sure that James would want to report me to the police, now that he had a job and didn’t need me anymore. He also had this weird obsession with animals, which had landed him a job as a conservation and forest technician, or whatever that was. My huge use of elephants, or rather, their DNA, would surely upset him. 

He stormed in, not even bothering to wipe his muddy shoes before entering my house. The house I had worked so hard to build with my own hands. The house I had maintained in pristine condition for more than 30 years. The once joy-filled house now had muddy footprints all over the tiny “welcome” mat and all over the previously spotless parquet floor. 

“I know what you’ve done,” he grunted in anger.

“What?” I asked, attempting to make my voice sound calm, but failing miserably. “Look at what you’ve done first”.

“What?” He asked, sounding just as annoyed as me, if not more.

“My floor”, I said, nodding towards the mud. 

He glanced at the floor for a second, then said “They look the same as everyday”.

“You’re impossible,” I muttered, before turning away. 

James scoffed at me as he finally removed his disgusting shoes. I glared at him until he had cleaned up his mess. After he had finished cleaning, I went back to my beloved basement. The place that had had my back all this while. Something neither my wife nor son had ever had. 

As I entered the basement, I had a sudden feeling that something was wrong. I inspected it closely but found nothing. I observed that the lettuce was still growing, but at a very slow pace, so I was sure that it could not cause any harm. I did not know how to stop it from growing, but it would eventually stop. I mean, how big could it get?

Just as I was wondering what to test next, I heard James’ obnoxious voice. I must have been so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t hear him come in. He looked furious. 

“What?” I said, moving towards the staircase to draw his attention away from my work. He, however, continued to avoid eye contact and stare at all my equipment like the rude boy that he was.

“Is this what your boss pays you to do?” He said in a tone of superiority. “To hide and murder animals that are already endangered?”

“What boss?” I blurted out, before realising what a huge mistake I had made. I could not believe that James had actually fallen for my lie that I had told him when he was a young boy. That my boss needed me to do these experiments and that I didn’t have a choice. That I would be fired if I hadn’t followed his orders. James glared at me. I sighed. It was time he knew the truth. Anyway, all this sneaking around and lying was bound to break me in the end. And James seemed to know what I was up to.

“Sit down”, I said, my voice calm for the first time in years. Maybe if he heard what I had to say then he would understand. 

“Where should I sit? On the seat right next to this tiny, illegal lettuce that you’re using elephants to make?” he said, nearly shouting. 

I tried to keep my calm. “Just sit and I’ll tell you everything James. I needed to do this. Not for my boss. For me”. He sat in the darkest corner of the room, as far away as possible from my ‘experiment area’. He looked at me from the shadows, with an almost sadistic grin on his face. But when I looked again it had disappeared. His face was back to normal and he stared at me expectantly. I began to narrate my story. 

“About 20 years ago, I asked my boss if I could conduct DNA-based experiments that would transfer the properties from one living thing to another. I was quite intrigued by the idea, but my boss was not. So I continued my research in secret. I tried to keep up with work in the lab as well but soon I got sloppy and tired due to staying up late everyday. The day my boss found out what I was up to, he threatened to fire me. But on discovering that I had actually succeeded, he said that he would pay me a huge amount of money and increase my current salary if I let him take all the credit.” I stopped talking, in an almost theatrical way that seemed to amuse my son. He began to chuckle. 

“What?” I snapped at him, annoyed at how little he understood of the great pain that I had had to face all those years ago. He just rolled his eyes at my shock, and said simply, “Just get on with it”. I could have sworn I heard him say “what a drama queen” under his breath. This ‘drama queen’ was about to tell him why he had been so ‘ignored’ for most of his life. 

I continued my story, trying to ignore the annoying look on James’ face. “Where was I? Oh yeah, so my boss made that ridiculous offer and I declined it. Immediately.”


“Because…”, I said, suddenly trailing off. 

“Because you were too crazy to realise that this would bring so much controversy, and you only wanted credit?” 

I wished that James would just keep his stupid mouth shut. I wanted to punch him, but decided that that would not be the best course of action. How could I possibly expect him to understand a topic that barely interested him? After all, I did not share his intense passion for animals. As I tried to keep my cool, James got up. I felt something shift in the room. I thought that it was in my imagination that the room had gotten more tense. Unfortunately, I was very wrong. 

I silently observed James as he began to walk around my makeshift lab. He walked slowly, but in an almost guarded way, and looked at each device and formula of mine as though he would like to destroy it all just using his bare hands. He almost reminded me of a lion stalking its prey. I continued to watch him in half fascination, half terror, as he passed by the machine that was to bring me my success. But he did nothing. I cleared my throat, feeling that this tour had gone on long enough. 

“James”, I said aloud, trying to sound authoritative for the first time in my life. He turned to face me, a sudden glint of anger and brashness in his eyes that is often seen in the eyes of the young just before they do something drastic. I held out my hands, assuming that he was about to turn into one of the wild animals he studied. 

“So… you loved your discovery so much that you decided it was worth being fired for and causing your son and wife to have to live in this disgusting house?” his voice rang out softly, but clearly. There was a hint of danger in it, like a premeditated and calm conversation was about to turn into a raging battle. I stared at him, trying to grasp what he had just said before realising that he had offended my very own handiwork and his only home in his entire life. 

“I HATE YOU!” he suddenly bellowed, causing me to go deaf for a split second. 

“What? Why?” I replied, still too shocked over his first remark and the short span of time in which his tone had changed.

“Because you chose your science over me!” I stared at him in disbelief, refusing to believe that this was what he had had pent up inside him for so many years. 

“That’s why you’re shouting?!” 

“Stop acting so oblivious. Everybody needs at least one normal, caring parent. No wonder mom left you. I just wish she’d taken me with her”. 

I glared at him in anger. “Maybe mom left you on purpose and wasn’t as nice as you think she is. Maybe she was actually selfish and didn’t even want you. Or maybe she left because – ”

“STOP IT” he shouted, apparently unable to take my snide comments about his supposedly amazing mother who he had only known for 3 years and barely even  remembered.

“Then listen to me. The only reason I kept doing these experiments was because … I wanted to make you proud. When you were younger you loved science, and you’d always want to assist me. In fact, one of your drawings gave me the idea for this experiment. But then you grew up, and your love for science just vanished. I kept clinging on to the hope that maybe if I succeeded, you’d be interested again. That was why I could not bear the thought of my uninterested boss taking the credit for it just so that he would become famous for an idea that he stole from you.” I stopped talking suddenly and covered my face with my hands, realising that the load that had been on my chest for so many years had finally gone away completely. 

I felt James move towards me slowly. He seemed as unsure of what to do as I did. He sat next to me, all signs of anger gone from his face. We sat like that for a while. After a few minutes he suddenly said “Look at that. That tiny lettuce leaf looks ready to be sold to about 100 people now”. I chuckled. 

“If it really bothers you that much, then I’ll stop the experiments, I said.”

James smiled. “Maybe one more elephant lettuce leaf wouldn’t be too bad. I’m quite interested to know how it works. After all, we’ve addressed so many elephants in this particular room that I think a giant lettuce leaf for dinner doesn’t seem odd anymore.”

Word count: 1826

Surabhi Deshpande (Class of 2026) believes that stories transport you into a different world and enjoys exploring new worlds during her free time. She aspires to someday create a world that others like her would like to explore.