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  • from Bitin’ Back
  • Vivienne Cleven (bio)

Jean Arrives

The boy is curled up in his bed like a skinny black question mark. Ain't like he got a lot of time to be layin bout. A woman gotta keep him on his toes. That's me job; to keep the boy goin. Hard but, bein a single mother n all. Be all right if the boy had a father. Arhhh, a woman thinks a lot a shit, eh? A woman's thoughts get mighty womba sometimes!

I pinch me nose closed; the room stink like it been locked up for years. I shake Nevil awake. "Nev. Nevil, love. Come on, wake up. Ya got a interview today, down at the dole office."

"Wha…What?" He rolls over, the sheet twisted round his sweat-soaked body. He rubs his eyes and looks up at me with sleepy confusion.

"The dole office. Interview. Ya know, today. In bout thirty minutes. Come on, no use layin there like a leech."

"Who, what?" He struggles up on his bony elbows, givin me a sour gape of bewilderment. The boy look myall this mornin.

"On ya bloody feet. Don't want none a ya tomfoolery today." I look at the beer bottles, the bong, and all them books scattered on the floor. I eyeball the titles—Better Sex, How to Channel. Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway. Yep, was always a mad one for readin, our Nev.

I turn round. He's still in bed, his arms folded behind his head as he stares up at the ceiling. "Jesus Christ! Get outta friggin bed will ya! A woman got better things to do than piss bout here all day whit you! Come on, Nevie, love." I soften me voice to a low crawly tone. "Mum's got bingo. Might hit the jackpot, eh?"

"Who's Nevil?" he ask, starin down at his hairy, moleflecked arms.

"Wha…? What's wrong whit ya? Ya sick?" I peer at his face.

"I'm not sick. And don't call me Nevil!" He nods his head, and his bottom lip drops over, like he's gonna bawlbaby.

"Yeah, if you're not Nevil, then call me a white woman!" I sit on the edge of his bed, laughter bubblin in the back of me throat. Was always a joker, our Nev.

"I'm not Nevil, whoever that is!" He busts his gut in sudden anger, his hands curled into fists. [End Page 131]

"Talk shit," I say, waitin for the punchline.

"How dare you talk to me like that!" His voice sounds like he really true means it as he glares sharp eye at me.

"I'll speak to ya any friggin way I wanna! Now get outta bed before I kick that black arse of yours!" I stand up, me hands on me hips, foot tappin the floorboards. Don't push me, Sonny Boy.

He pulls the sheet up to his face, his brown eyes peepin out from under the cover. "Call me Jean," he whispers.

"Jean! Jean!" The laughter jump out, I double over, holdin on to me gut, heehawin and gaspin for breath. "Yeah, good one, Nev, bloody funny." I take control of meself when I suddenly realise how still and quiet he is. Not like Nevie.

"Call me Jean—Jean Rhys, that's my real name," he says, droppin the sheet, showin his thick, black chest hair.

"What the fuck…! Are you on drugs, son? Hard shit, eh?"

I peer at his face, waitin for a confession. The boy flyin high or what?

"Nope. Just call me Jean."

"Jean. Right, I get the joke, ha-ha, funny," I say, takin a closer look at him but seeing nothin outta the ordinary.

"It's not funny! I can't see any humour in my name. How would you like me to make fun of you, huh?"

I walk over to the bed. "Somethin real wrong whit ya, Nev?" I drop me eyeballs down at him. Too much smokin pot n pissin up all that grog is what does it. How the friggin hell did he come up with a cockadadoodle name like Jean Reece...