Angry Queens

Fiction / Amanda J. Bradley

:: Angry Queens ::

Maya fin­gered a long string of wood­en beads, won­der­ing if she’d ever actu­al­ly wear them back in New York. Are they exot­ic but earthy or just cheap and tacky? Near her in the stall of the open-air mar­ket, Sadie hag­gled with an old­er Jamaican woman, who was ample, with a green and red scarf scoop­ing up her braid­ed hair, gray­ing at the temples. 

I’ll give you five dol­lars for all three.” 

No, woman. Five dol­lars for one. That’s a good price.” 

For three or I’ll walk,” Sadie said. Maya could tell she meant it. Upper East Side. Nan­nies. Sum­mers in the south of France. Sadie had more mon­ey than God. This trip to Jamaica was slum­ming it for her. Sadie’s job entailed some sort of phil­an­thropic some­thing or oth­er she chose to do. Although Maya had known her since col­lege, she had yet to fig­ure out which insane­ly wealthy Amer­i­can fam­i­ly Sadie was a twig on a branch of, although she knew it was one of them. It made Maya a lit­tle sick to her stom­ach to hear her friend insist­ing on three beau­ti­ful­ly hand­craft­ed wood­en trop­i­cal fish for half the price of one, so Maya put the beads back and turned around to face them. 

You about ready?” Maya asked. 

Yes,” Sadie said too clear­ly, accen­tu­at­ing the s with a hiss, and then looked at the woman ped­dling wares to give her one last oppor­tu­ni­ty to take her offer. 

Five for two,” the woman said, sweep­ing her eyes over Sadie from head to foot in a slow, delib­er­ate way, a half-dis­guised sneer in her gaze. Sadie pursed her eyes, one hand on her hip. 

That’s very gen­er­ous,” Maya said to her friend. 

Fine. You dri­ve a hard bar­gain.” Sadie dug through her purse then flipped a five-dol­lar bill out of it, stick­ing it out at the woman with her thin, white, gold-ban­gled arm. The woman took it, tucked it into a pouch around her waist, and hand­ed the fish to Sadie. 

I would like a bag.” 

No bag.” The woman ambled around so that her back was fac­ing Sadie to arrange items on the shelves where she’d removed the two fish. 

I’m hun­gry,” Maya said, pulling Sadie away from the mar­ket. “Let’s find some­thing to eat. Do you want to return to that café we went to yesterday?” 

Sadie was still fum­bling with stuff­ing the fish in her purse, but man­aged to focus long enough to respond, “Let’s try some­where new.” 

Okay. Head to the strip?” 

Yes. That’s good.” The two women adjust­ed their strides to walk toward the heart of Mon­tego Bay. Back in New York, men tend­ed to gawk at Sadie more. She was tall, extreme­ly thin, her mus­cles light­ly toned, with a small nose, big eyes, and flaw­less peach skin. Her hair looked healthy and swingy and ranged through­out the year from blonde to light auburn, depend­ing on Sadie’s mood at the salon. Sadie took advan­tage of the perks of her mon­ey and had a per­son­al train­er, a per­son­al chef, a pri­vate hour of swim­ming at the pool in their build­ing. By con­trast, Maya felt pudgy and mot­tled and brown. 

But here in Jamaica, both women had noticed Maya got most of the male atten­tion. Jamaican men whis­tled at Maya, served Maya’s drink first at the restau­rants; all winks and nods went in Maya’s direc­tion. After a man had approached Maya as she and Sadie sat perched on stools sip­ping pineap­ple juice and coconut rum, the bar­tender had told her, “We love the light brown ladies here. Where you from?” Maya was from Queens, but her par­ents were both Filipino. 

As Maya and Sadie strolled to find a place for din­ner, the men they passed whis­tled at Maya, made grand ges­tures in her direc­tion with their hands as if she were a celebri­ty or roy­al­ty, blew kiss­es her way. Sadie didn’t mind; she was rarely fazed by much of any­thing. Maya did not want the atten­tion. She cast her eyes down­ward, their advances mak­ing her uncom­fort­able and wary. She was relieved when the women final­ly took a seat at an out­door table of a restau­rant on the main drag. Maya ordered a Red Stripe, Sadie a daiquiri, and the women relaxed into the ear­ly evening heat. 

What is Tom doing while you are away?” Maya asked her friend. Maya knew Tom the same way she knew Sadie: they’d all gone to a small north­east­ern lib­er­al arts col­lege togeth­er over a decade ago. Maya had been in love with Tom since the night they’d some­how end­ed up cou­pled as a team for a dance marathon. They’d danced all night, tak­ing turns reviv­ing each oth­er when one or the other’s ener­gy flagged, and they’d won ear­ly the next morn­ing when the last rival cou­ple final­ly con­ced­ed defeat. Maya and Tom had gone to break­fast togeth­er at a din­er near cam­pus. He’d been such a gen­tle­man, giv­ing her his jack­et on the walk across cam­pus into town, offer­ing to pay. Sadie had no idea Maya loved Tom, but Sadie was obliv­i­ous that way. 

Work­ing, as usu­al. He prob­a­bly won’t notice I’m gone unless the kids remind him.” Maya knew this was patent­ly false. She saw how Tom looked at Sadie when they all went to brunch or din­ner or a muse­um or con­cert. Maya usu­al­ly brought her broth­er or a friend from work to these out­ings so she would feel less like a third wheel. “When are you going to let me set you up with some­one to date?” 

I am hap­py with my life, I’ve told you,” Maya said. “I do not need some belch­ing, snor­ing man to clean up after and cook for. I like my job and my independence.” 

How can you like that job? It sounds so depress­ing. I mean, how can you leave it at work instead of cry­ing into your wine every night? Those help­less peo­ple in their dingy apart­ments! How do you stand it?” Sadie’s dis­dain for Maya’s social work clients was the one thing about her friend that real­ly made her bris­tle. Maya under­stood that Tom adored Sadie, so she for­gave that Sadie had won the man. Maya did not cov­et her friend’s wealth; she’d always felt mon­ey was a lit­tle wicked. Maya was grow­ing accus­tomed to the fact that she would prob­a­bly not have chil­dren, so she did not begrudge Sadie’s bright-eyed, sandy-haired brood. But her friend’s dis­dain for her clients real­ly angered Maya. 

Not every­one was born into a world of oppor­tu­ni­ty, Sadie. Have you no compassion?” 

I do have com­pas­sion. That’s why I’m ask­ing how you don’t cry your­self to sleep at night with so much sad­ness and pover­ty in your face all day,” Sadie protested. 

Ignor­ing the prob­lem is not the way to fix it.” 

I don’t ignore it. I give a great deal to caus­es that aim to end poverty.” 

You keep your dis­tance from it, though. You don’t under­stand the dai­ly strug­gles, the sys­tems and cycles of abuse in place.” 

Caus­es need workers—people like you, but they also need funds from peo­ple like me.” 

Well, then get off my back about how I can stand it if you think it’s a worth­while job.” 

Done.” Sadie said, turn­ing her eyes toward the dis­tant hori­zon behind Maya’s head. It was a famil­iar pose of hers and often made Maya think of an angry queen. A great rum­ble of engine noise clam­bered into hear­ing range and con­tin­ued to grow loud­er. Every­one on the patio adjust­ed their line of sight to see where the rack­et was com­ing from. A series of what appeared to be mil­i­tary Jeeps round­ed the cor­ner at much too high a speed for the small­ish road, and mus­cu­lar black men with long dreads secured back, ban­doliers of bul­lets hung like sash­es across their chests, and enor­mous black auto­mat­ic rifles in their hands clung to the bars of the Jeeps pre­car­i­ous­ly. One, two, three, four Jeeps trucked their way around the cor­ner and down the way, stern faces of the men aboard not even glanc­ing at the tourists ogling them from the restaurant’s patio. 

Well, that was a sight to behold!” Sadie said, the rare gleam of excite­ment in her eye. 

I won­der where they are going. What is the gov­ern­ment like here? Is there a mil­i­tary action under­way? Should we have researched more what the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion is right now?” Maya’s ques­tions tum­bled out rapidly. 

I’m sure it’s noth­ing,” Sadie said. “They are prob­a­bly just going from here to there, and that’s how they do it—with style.” Maya admired her friend’s non­cha­lance. She used to inter­pret it as brav­ery but late­ly had begun to under­stand it was gen­uine indif­fer­ence. Maya felt she would be hap­pi­er if she could siphon off just a tiny bit of Sadie’s lack of con­cern for dan­ger or suf­fer­ing or the ills of the world; Sadie had enough to spare. “Are you fin­ished with your din­ner? We should scoot if we’re going to catch the sun­set from the beach.” Maya began rum­mag­ing around in her purse, and Sadie added, “I set­tled up for us when I went to the restroom.” 

You didn’t have to do that,” Maya said. She real­ly hat­ed how often Sadie picked up the tab, even though it made sense for her to and even though Sadie could not care less about pay­ing for her friend. 

Let’s go,” Sadie said, ris­ing from the table. 

Maya and Sadie had hap­pened to be on the beach as the sun went down their first night in Jamaica. The sight had been so spec­tac­u­lar that they decid­ed to make a point of wit­ness­ing the sun­set from the beach every night they were there. Now they bus­tled back along the sandy road toward the beach near their hotel to make it in time. They plopped in the sand sev­er­al yards from a cabana serv­ing drinks and play­ing reg­gae from loud­speak­ers; a breeze blew in off the water. The sun sat perched in the sky, a giant pink orb. Sec­onds lat­er, the orb had dropped to straight ahead, rest­ing on the hori­zon, a tor­rent of bright orange and pink, cast­ing a laven­der pall over the ocean, and then mere sec­onds lat­er, it was a half cres­cent, a bare­ly vis­i­ble sliv­er and then gone. It couldn’t have tak­en more than a minute for the sun to dis­ap­pear in one swift motion, drop­ping the friends into twi­light. It sim­ply fell out of the sky. Watch­ing it, Maya felt her breath catch at how quick­ly beau­ty could dis­ap­pear, just like that. She glanced at Sadie’s pro­file, and won­dered if she were think­ing, too, all the usu­al schlock about how quick­ly life pass­es, and how we are left with only the fleet­ing mem­o­ries of the spec­tac­u­lar events that make up our lives until we, too, cease to exist. Prob­a­bly not. She’s prob­a­bly think­ing, “Well, that was pret­ty.”  

Well, that was pret­ty,” Sadie said. Maya was dread­ing going to bed because every night Sadie had been sneak­ing out of their hotel room once she thought Maya was asleep. Maya then would read her book and slap her face against the pil­low in frus­tra­tion and shift posi­tions repeat­ed­ly, wor­ry­ing about her friend before she final­ly man­aged to sleep. Where did she go? What was she doing? Was she safe? To try to tire her friend out tonight, Maya sug­gest­ed they go danc­ing at a club. She knew from the many wed­ding recep­tions they’d attend­ed togeth­er that this would mean Maya sip­ping drinks at the bar, grown self-con­scious since her dance marathon days, and Sadie danc­ing lav­ish­ly for many hours, but Maya liked the idea of wear­ing her friend out tonight and get­ting a fuller night’s sleep her­self. “Let’s have one more drink then hit the hay,” Sadie said. 

Maya’s face was turned toward the win­dow on her pil­low, away from Sadie’s bed. She was secret­ly plot­ting to fol­low her friend tonight to see where she went out of sheer curios­i­ty. After some time of still­ness had passed, Maya heard Sadie slip out of bed and wan­der over to peek at Maya, who kept her eyes closed, lis­ten­ing. She heard Sadie dress and apply lip­stick, brush her hair in the bath­room, then slip out the door. As soon as she was gone, Maya threw on jeans and a pair of ten­nis shoes, grabbed her key card and wal­let, and snuck out behind her friend. She decid­ed to take the three flights of stairs, fig­ur­ing Sadie took the ele­va­tor, and Maya rushed down them as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, know­ing she was a minute or so behind Sadie. As Maya exit­ed the hotel and stepped out into the fresh ocean breeze, she quick­ly glanced at the beach direct­ly across from the hotel. No signs of Sadie. There was only one direc­tion down the one street with any nightlife, so Maya quick­ly scanned for signs of Sadie’s slim fig­ure and spot­ted her friend’s long stride head­ing toward the nightlife. 

Maya clam­bered down the steps and fol­lowed Sadie at a dis­tance, ready to side­step into the shad­owy palm trees lin­ing the street if her friend glanced back. But she nev­er did. Sadie sud­den­ly dart­ed across the street, wav­ing at some­one. Maya fol­lowed the direc­tion of her wave with her eyes and saw two young men out­side anoth­er hotel who appeared to be wait­ing for her near the lob­by. One of the men was tall with long, dark hair and was cov­ered in tat­toos. He wore ripped jeans and a con­cert t‑shirt with the sleeves cut out. He had some kind of leath­ery-look­ing black thing around his neck. The oth­er man was short­er, prep­pi­er. His hair was cut short and remind­ed Maya of Matt Damon in The Tal­ent­ed Mr. Rip­ley. He wore a pink polo shirt and kha­ki shorts with brown san­dals under mus­cu­lar calves. They were clear­ly togeth­er, but by appear­ances had noth­ing in com­mon. Maya won­dered if they were prostitutes. 

Sadie strode up the steps, put her arms out, one hand touch­ing each guy, and pulled them through the door of the lob­by. Maya crossed the street to see into the lob­by bet­ter. She watched the three of them enter an ele­va­tor. Maya remained where she was and wait­ed, con­sid­er­ing what to do. Soon, she heard a light swoosh sound above her and looked up to see Sadie and the tat­tooed guy step­ping out onto the patio of a hotel room. They were all over each oth­er, and he was remov­ing Sadie’s shirt. Maya turned away and swiveled to head back toward the hotel. 

As she walked, Maya tried to iden­ti­fy what it was she was feel­ing. All she could think of was Tom’s face as he set­tled his jack­et around her shoul­ders after they’d won the marathon, how he’d lis­tened so intent­ly as Maya had explained at the din­er why it had been so impor­tant to her to win the mon­ey for their char­i­ty of choice. Her father had been suf­fer­ing ALS then, before he’d died, and she had want­ed to raise mon­ey for ALS research. Tom had been so shocked to hear about her dad, so sym­pa­thet­ic. He’d asked her to tell him about her father and what their rela­tion­ship was like, what her fond­est mem­o­ries from child­hood were of him. He had real­ly listened. 

But the next time she and Tom were togeth­er, it had been like noth­ing ever hap­pened. Tom nev­er men­tioned Maya’s father to her again, nev­er asked how he was, didn’t even know when he died. The sud­den epiphany dawned on Maya as she walked the ocean­side street that Tom and Sadie real­ly were per­fect for each oth­er. Nei­ther of them cared about much of any­thing. Maya sus­pect­ed if she told Tom about Sadie and the tat­tooed man, he would lis­ten intent­ly and then act as if the con­ver­sa­tion had nev­er hap­pened. It would not eat away at him or cor­rode their rela­tion­ship or change any­thing whatsoever. 

Maya neared the hotel and decid­ed to go sit on the beach for a while before return­ing to the room. The cabana was closed now, and not many peo­ple were around at all. A cou­ple walked togeth­er down by the water, some peo­ple were milling about up by the hotel, but Maya felt more alone than she had in days, in years maybe. She found a spot by sim­ply stop­ping when it occurred to her to, and she sit­u­at­ed her­self on the soft sand. The world is ugly. Beau­ty is painful because the world is ugly, not just because beau­ty fades. Maya crossed her ankles and leaned back on her stretched arms. She dropped her head back to view the cas­cades of stars in the black sky. 

A tall man in shorts and a Hawai­ian shirt seemed to appear next to her out of nowhere and asked if he might sit. Maya found she could not care less whether the man sat next to her or didn’t, whether he kept walk­ing or she said yes or no, whether he smiled at her or spoke to her, or if she went back inside. She gazed up at the man blankly. He sat down. 

Where you from?” he asked. “You are beautiful.” 

New York,” she replied. Maya laid back in the sand, and the man leaned down next to her. She closed her eyes. He stuck his tongue in her ear. She didn’t care. 




From the writer

:: Account ::

Jamaica Kincaid’s book A Small Place, about colo­nial­ism and white tourism to her home coun­try of Antigua, was very much in my mind as I wrote this sto­ry. I first read that book long after I had made trips to the Bahamas and Jamaica, and it was eye-open­ing to me. I want­ed to show through a sto­ry the per­ni­cious­ness of wealthy white priv­i­lege, which is why the sto­ry opens with the well-to-do Sadie hag­gling rude­ly with a Jamaican arti­san. Maya is the more relat­able and lik­able char­ac­ter, but by the end of the sto­ry feels over­whelmed by Sadie’s and Tom’s non­cha­lance as peo­ple who have the priv­i­lege of not hav­ing to care about much. When Maya wit­ness­es Sadie’s mis­treat­ment of Tom with the oth­er men in Jamaica, Maya has an epiphany that Tom real­ly wouldn’t care that much any­way. This breaks Maya. 

More gen­er­al­ly, I am inter­est­ed in the bru­tal­i­ty of the world: inequal­i­ty, unfair­ness, vio­lence. I want­ed a sense of that bru­tal­i­ty high­light­ed in the sto­ry, too, and set in con­trast with the world’s beauty. 


Aman­da J. Bradley has pub­lished three poet­ry col­lec­tions with NYQ Books: Queen Kong (2017), Oz at Night (2011), and Hints and Alle­ga­tions (2009) and has pub­lished fic­tion, essays, and poems wide­ly in antholo­gies and lit­er­ary mag­a­zines such as Pater­son Lit­er­ary Review, Chi­ron Review, Lips, Rat­tle, The New York Quar­ter­ly, Kin, The Ner­vous Break­down, Apric­i­ty Mag­a­zine, and Gar­goyle. She lives in Bea­con, New York, and her web­site can be found at