3 Stories

by Nicolaia Rips

Illustration by Katrina Wardhana

published March 3, 2020

Candles, Please


The crowd—upwards of forty years old and clad in a variety of branded spandex—sighs.

“Tighten your left buttock.”

My knee creaks. Stupid willful knee.  Have I not done enough for you.

“And, bending your knee, tuck your heel under it. Lengthen from the base of your spine, not the middle. Breathe. In. Out.”

The woman I’m shadowing has her face in her vagina. While impressive, it’s also disquieting. I look around and everyone, all the spandex yoga women, have their faces between their legs. Missed the self-fellatio commandment. I bend my head down and the instructor comes up behind me, knees into the small of my back, willing me forward. I don’t want to do this. I want to be inflexible. There’s real skill, power even, in inflexibility. In a WWE fight who wins, the rod or the blade of grass?

Back at her house/apartment/compound (walls covered in ivy can’t disguise that there are walls everywhere) she nestles into a white couch, a coffee table book of Weimaraner photography open between us. I have a dab of blue ink on my index finger and I have somehow managed to smudge it on the otherwise pristine couch. To compensate, I am now sitting at an angle to cover the blue speck.  There is no lumbar support in this couch and I struggle not to be completely enveloped.

Anna has offered me a glass of water on a coaster. I have a stack of books that I use as coasters. They are scattered in my apartment, unopened but mottled with round stains. Set reminder: buy coasters.

“So, the camera crew’s arriving at eleven. We’re going to start outside and follow you through the house on a handheld. I’m going to be next to the camera the whole time, but you’re going to direct your answers straight into the lens. Your agent should have sent you the list of questions?”

She nods.

“Fantastic!” I say. “If you want to freshen up before they arrive, now’s your chance.”

As she goes, I readjust on the couch. There’s a candle on the glass table. I sniff it. Smells like orange blossoms. I feel completely transported to a place I have never been and probably doesn’t exist. It’s the scent of Eat, Pray, Love, of Armie Hammer’s gently sweaty shirts in Call Me by Your Name. This candle promises eternal summer without the bacne, roasting a whole suckling pig on a log fire, forgetting the moral dubiousness of eating meat under these environmental conditions. Its label is egg shell and says something in Cyrillic; under it, the scent: Lavender and Orange. I swoon.

Google tells me the candle is $80.

Economists have some number for how much money it takes to make a person happy. Money can buy happiness, up until like $75,000. Then it plateaus. From that point, your quality of life does not increase constantly with the more money you earn. Once you’re a millionaire, the difference in happiness escalates by degrees.

Similarly, once past $30, candle quality evens out. Up until that, the difference in “candle quality” is huge. The $5 scented candle is a throwaway gift. My friend in high school would get me vanilla candles from Bath and Body Works for every birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah gift exchange, and I would never ever light them. To light such a candle was to be enveloped in a noxious saccharine shroud, fumigating your own connection to nature.

What they sell you is the lifestyle behind the candle, the $80 candle lifestyle. A lifestyle of pseudo-minimalism and faux-efficiency, streamlining everything you consume to create one whole persona. They sell you the candle promising the compound and the white couch I’m sitting on. A Swell bottle is not a vessel but a sip of icy water on the beach. Every item says something about who you are, you as the individual, you as unique, that is different from everyone else’s unique. I watch all of us antagonistic agnostics believing not in divinity but ultimate determination, in wellness and acquisition, in the most holy of things: branding. Ultimately though, this is all a sham, you will not be happier, you will not have the lifestyle, you will still have your roommates, and your underbed storage from IKEA, and your bacne in the summertime.

Candles cannot fix your creative block or your armpit rash or the stash of contact lenses your ex left under your bed. Things cannot fix things. More things are simply more things.

Instead you will be left with an $80 lump of beeswax and a wick, burnt sparingly in an act of preservation, for the candle, yes, but more for yourself. I want it so bad. I want it all so bad.

Anna is now dressed in a white sheath dress.

I am still contorting on the couch to cover up the ink stain. I look up at her, radiant in eyelet. Restless misshapen thing I am, repentant, readily reshaped, squeeze me, reteach me, I have the capacity but not the time.

“Are we ready to start?”



The 2:00 AM Manifesto

Thesis: I Am Aimless and That Is Purposeful

To have purposiveness without purpose, is to reside at the salty core of humanity, to understand what exactly we all share. I went to the store the other week and stood there looking around.

I went to the store the other week and instead of purchasing, instead of using the spatiality of the place for its intended purpose, I left and returned home with nothing. To return with nothing from an outing intended to procure something, to ameliorate the lack of something and fill it with a nothing is to decide to lean into the purposiveness without purpose, and to do that is to obtain, to store, purpose.


Thesis: I am a Child of Time

The singularity of universality of the Being (me) is found within. To be a child of time slowed is to live outside of the temporal plane that others exist on, to not just be a product of time but also to exist in a way that is both elongated and separate. The Being is a child of time in that the Being (me again) resides in time but often in the negative space outside of it, the negative space being one created when focusing in time on the reflection of time.

To be in time but out of time and without purpose and living in a negative to obtain purpose and time times sometimes. Sometimes time just times.


Thesis: Everybody Is Out to Get Me

Beings (not just me) are inherently selfish. Beings (collectively) are conniving and stinky and vicious. They hog things, always, taking seconds, and they lie, grabby, grabby Beings. Because I am a Being, I am all of those things. Because of this, conflict often arises. In these situations it is important to remember that all Beings are selfish, not just a singular Being being selfish.


Thesis: I Am Grotesque

It is of no importance that the viewer finds the beautiful Being (me) agreeable. Should I be found agreeable, there is an implication that the viewer wishes to obtain, possess or consume the Being (i.e. a powdered sugarcovered donut). There is no risk of this as the Being (me) is fundamentally disagreeable. This is proven by the lack of perceived interest in the Being.

Beauty and agreeability are not the same thing. In fact, beauty and agreeability are opposing principles. A thing cannot be both because agreeability implies use and beauty is pure. Because the Being is not found desirable for any utilitarian or pleasure-oriented reasons (i.e. a powdered sugar-covered donut) but rather as an entity outside of usefulness, the Being is unquestionably beautiful. Beyond a shadow of a doubt the Being is beautiful. However, because of the same qualities that make it unquestionably beautiful, (that the object is utterly without use and nobody wants to obtain, possess, consume), nobody ever wants to hang out with the Being.



End of the Empire

The climate is hot these days; as well as the spot in my bed where I lie, as well as butchers and people who work with their hands and are connected to things normal people like me buy in plastic. Raw chicken feels too explicit to look at sometimes. Puffy but slick, the flesh so shiny it looks liquid and shrink-wrapped to oblivion. It’s so pink and nakey. I’m like, cover up please.

On Instagram, a girl from a sorority posts the Dolly Parton challenge. You can tell it was a breakout year for her. She really came into herself. How humble of her to post unflattering photographs.

This has been a breakout year for me too. Every part of my body has broken out in cystic acne. Additionally, I’ve been broken up with in many ways, by some people who I didn’t even realize I was dating. I am allergic to my own sweat; it has started producing histamine. All of my jeans are too tight, dammit. A big old breakdown year for me.

I greased the top of my head with oil, not the bottom. In my haste I put my hands on the top and then moved them to the bottom. In the mirror, I scold myself. I am here to provide for you. I glare at my reflection. Shape up, asshole. Tell yourself to follow your dreams and other platitudes. Don’t shit around. My reflection’s like, up yours, you don’t have dreams.

Time to get a coffee and banish thoughts. On the way, I pick up a lost girl on the highway. I knew she was lost because I found her, as I often find lost things, pencils and wallets and bugs in sinks. Her thumb is up and it’s weirdly long, bordering on tentacle-y except her nail is cut short, way too close to her nailbed. It was so incidental, she asked to be dropped off on the side up ahead. There was nothing but swamp.

At Starbucks, there is a waxiness to the breads in the display case. Madame Tussaud's for baked goods. I buy two brioches. They appear to be sweating. No histimine there. I eat one because everyone knows if you don’t enjoy something the calories don’t apply, like mayo, and jack cheese and Thousand Island dressing. The other I squirrel away, tuck it in my coat in its brown bag.

Brother calls me up asking where I am, am I coming home for the holiday, and I scream at him because my hair is bad and I can’t help it. I scream at him in the Starbucks, which feels right. How guilty does he think I am? Does he understand how bad my hair looks? Really, it looks like I washed it in a cow’s mouth. He knows I can’t do anything right.

I felt good running, greens, sleep but now alcohol, hormones and more sleep, I love myself a little less, full choked up of pitted things, can’t hide from myself. I can’t hide what I am steeped in.

There’s a pause on the other end and I can tell he’s smoking something. I am too anxious for recreational drug use, for throwing large parties, for not thinking about dying brain cells (I need every single damn one) every time I smoke weed or black tar when I share a cigarette with a pretty girl.

Brother is a musician. Pretty good at it too, passionate about guitar, constantly sending me the best playlists. At some point in the last year though he’s slipped from cool rock man to sad rock man. He’s got a job playing at a fajita joint in Jersey. Plays happy birthday to bratty kids in little league shirts to the white noise of endless sizzling. Play music fuck the man, man, until you grow beer large.

He asks how my friends are and I say wow they’re great, they’re so cool and hot and fun. He pauses and I know he wonders if I’m being ironic but doesn’t want to say anything. What was I supposed to say? That they are anxious sexed-up sexless fucks trying to construct selves from refusing things left behind at parties, things seeded away, collect offs and ends, animated stacks of junk, Tetris detritus in puffy coats?

Drove past where I dropped the girl off but the swamp was all dried up. Maybe I misjudged the spot. A podcast plays and the host yells about the end of the empire this, the end of the days that. Every century suddenly is the end. Honestly, valid.

I wonder what I would do if this was actually the end of days. There are so many options. Eat my roommate’s yogurt. He’s so insane about his yogurt, pretty sure he monitors it every day. Take a bath in his good greek yogurt. Break the glass case in the Starbucks, free all those waxy pastries. Record a podcast about podcasts. Have sex with someone I love, I guess. Or better, fuck someone random. Cry with my family. Tell my brother I love him. Smoke a pack of cigarettes. Walk around full Winnie the Pooh. Roll around in the dried-up swamp and scare kids. Find that girl and ask what’s wrong with her thumb. Read the second and third books in the Twilight series. Yeah, I’d do it all.

When I get home, it’s getting dark. Past daylight savings, the earth is penny-pinching sunlight, squeezing us. It is the end of day, the end of days. I grab my mail from the porch, an Amazon package of paper towels. I fiddle with the brioche in my pocket. I get back in bed.

My hair looks so bad.