Tulip and Boxie

I am a champion hula-hooper. I have ten trophies. I am close to setting the world record for keeping the hoop in motion longer than anyone on Earth.

It started when I was nine. My aunt bought me and my sister, Boxie, hoops for our summer vacation. Boxie took hers outside and threw it up into a tree where it hung, stuck forever. I took my hoop to the side of the house where no one could see me and tried over and over again until I had mastered the motion that kept the hoop suspended above the ground. I became focused on the rotation of it, the feeling of the purple and pink plastic skimming my hips. It generated a kind of electrical seal, a charged relationship, a union.

My name is Tulip, named for my grandmother who loved flowers, especially pink tulips. Her tulips bloomed the day I was born, so she insisted this was the perfect name for me. Boxie was named after our aunt, Foxie Martin. The hospital misspelled her name on the birth certificate, but it stuck, and my parents decided it fit her better anyway. She was sturdy, tough, built to fight. My dad wanted her to be a boxer. My mom believed fighters should be able to put on a dress now and then too, and Boxie complied. She made them both happy.

I wore old clothes and my hula hoop. I rejected their attempts to clean me up in any way. I hardly bathed, and my parents decided it wasn’t worth the fight. I was like a feral child they wanted to civilize. I stood on the sidewalk in front of the house with my hoop twirling around my waist while they sat on the porch drinking lemonade. “Take it around back, Tulip!” my dad would shout. The sight of me with matted brown hair, worn out t-shirts, and dirty knees ruined an otherwise perfect picture.

My mother loved Boxie best. She showered her with fresh-baked cookies, new dresses, and knowing glances — glances that gave Boxie permission to glare at me, to smirk at the hoop riding my waist. My mother would braid her hair, let out the hem in her pants so they weren’t too short, send my father running for the camera every time Boxie came downstairs. I stayed back, hoop spinning, arms out, hips moving in slow, calculated circles.

Boxie hated me. Hated that I could do something better than her. Hated that I could make the hoop twirl in perfect, synched time. She hated the sound of the hoop slicing through the air. She wished she could yank the hoop hard enough to knock me to the ground. She wanted to see my knees bleed.

“Why don’t you stop that damn hula hooping, idiot?” Boxie shouted. My parents had gone to dinner and left her in charge even though I was older. “I’ll come over there and make you stop.”

I ignored her, but she kept on.

“I said stop,” she yelled, getting up from the porch swing. The bows in her hair were twisted, dangling from the braids my mother insisted she wear. “I’ll really lay a number on you. I mean it. I’m in charge.”

I kept going. Boxie’s threats were generally empty, but she came toward me, fists clenched. Her face was a new shade of red.

“I said stop, you little brat.”

I gave my hips an extra push, re-energizing the hoop and causing it to churn at full speed again. Boxie reached for it, but I hopped back. I had mastered the skill of moving while the hoop moved around me. I could even go up and down the stadium stairs at the high school. One day, I hooped all the way to the school (four blocks), up and down the stadium steps, and back home. By the time I got to the high school, I had an audience of neighborhood kids following me. Boxie refused to come out of the house. When I told my parents my accomplishment, my dad said, “You’re becoming quite the circus act, aren’t you?” My mother, who was in the kitchen baking Boxie cookies again, simply said, “Look out, the oven’s hot.”

The hoop continued cutting the air between us. She reached for it again, and I hopped. The tips of her fingers bumped the hoop, but not enough to stop it. She stumbled over an uneven square of concrete in the sidewalk, lost her balance, and caught herself before falling to her knees. She brushed off the small stones embedded in her hand and shifted her eyes from me to the hoop and back again. I stood in the middle of the hoop, my hips still keeping it alive. I was like a planet, the hoop my ring of fire and debris.

Boxie’s hands relaxed when she heard a familiar honk coming down the road. She smiled and waved then turned back to me.

“They love me more anyway. Mom told me so.”

She waited for my reaction. I listened to the beads in the hoop, counted the seconds.

She turned and ran toward the house, switching over to ‘Happy Boxie’ as my parent’s car pulled in the drive. My mother’s smiling face filled the car window. I looked up at the tree. Boxie’s hoop still hung there. I closed my eyes and imagined my hoop lifting me off the ground, higher and higher, until I was surrounded by stars, the hoop radiating heat and light so powerful I would be classified as a new planet. I would be on the front of every magazine and news broadcast in the world.

I set off for the high school. By the time I reached the end of the block, a few neighbors were following me. “There she goes again!” someone yelled, and a few more dropped what they were doing and joined in. Occasionally one of the youngest would whisper to a friend and be promptly shushed. At the high school stadium, I stepped onto the first step and never looked back. I went up until all I could see were clouds and blue sky.

Robin LIttell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University. Her stories can be found in Tin House, Two Hawks Quarterly, Literary Mama, Mud Season Review, Found Polaroids, Adanna, and others. More work is forthcoming in Fiction Southeast. She is also a winner of the 2018 Vella Chapbook Contest. Robin lives and writes in Yellow Springs, Ohio. 

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