artwork for Ra'Niqua Lee's short story A Snow Queen Gets the Last Word

A Snow Queen Gets the Last Word
Ra’Niqua Lee

The basement ice machine calls my name. Pronounces it right. The machine coughs out every syllable while spitting new cubes into the deep basin, which means that I, in all my jetlag, am somewhere in that, too.

Across the way, the hotel laundry amenities are curiously silent as I load my traveling clothes into the topside washer. Five pairs of period panties, two mismatched socks, and a T-shirt bra. All that I have with me that can be washed without risking ruin. The hoarse scrape of my name across ice continues in the corner, syllabic and precise, and I’m thinking, “Motherfucker. A bitch can’t get one fucking second to breathe without a motherfucker calling on her for some shit. Trash.”

The basement ice machine has begun a full serenade now, slow jam shaking its big square ass through the task of production. Rattling like a tennis shoe in a clothes dryer. I’m traveling through the weekend and into Monday morning for office meetings. I shower often when I travel, and I need clean underwear. Need it. But as the ice machine begins to glow on top of crooning sweet, sweet love music, I start to think that maybe I can be one of those people who let their labias fly free beneath poly-blend skirt linings or too-tight slacks. The print hidden under sheath or whispering to the wind.

The ice machine chants my name with the rhythm of a life I don’t recognize. Crooning like the Iselys and the Ushers my parents listened to when they themselves had too much to do without enough time to do it.

I got emails up to here, there, and every place, and maybe Ice-Ice Baby, I have nicknamed the machine now, is trying to tell me something. That ice land and ice castles and snow queens got deep roots in Africa. That my bloody ancestry and bloody panties are perfect for glint and gleam. That this whole time I’ve been thinking of myself as a traveling insurance salesman, and I’m really the goddamn Black queen of Antarctica. I add detergent and coins to the machine’s slits and slots, finger and turn the buttons. The washer begins its own chant of agitate, spin, and release.

Ra’Niqua Lee’s Comments

This came out of a prompt assigned at the Kenyon Review summer workshop. Write a story in which something repeats. I usually start with a first line and let the story unfold from there. Sometimes, I’m inspired by an image. Others, from real life events. In this case, I had stayed the night in a Kentucky hotel on my way up to Gambier for the workshop. I had paradoxical in-between spaces on the brain. Hotels are one place where you can feel crowded, lonely, comfortable, out of place, unknown, and yet labeled—guest, room 207, the one that skips breakfast. Then the appliances start talking

Table of Contents

Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 60 | Fall/Winter 2022