Chapter Eleven

Skeeter is about to make her first visit to Aibileen’s side of town. She’s dressed in all dark colors, even dark stockings. Her mother questions where she’s going. Skeeter lies and says she needs to run some errands, then she’s meeting some girls at church.

“On a Saturday night?” Charlotte Phelan asks.

“Mama, God doesn’t care what day of the week it is.” Skeeter answers.

As Skeeter drives to Aibileen’s house, it dawns on her that she’s never even sat at a table with a Negro who wasn’t paid to do so. While this will be her first interview with Aibileen, its not for lack of trying. Their meeting had been delayed more than a month, first because of the holidays, with Aibileen having to work late almost every night, and then when Aibileen caught the flu. Skeeter is afraid that with so much time passing Miss Stein (written as Missus Stein in the book) will have lost interest.

As Skeeter drives her mother’s cadillac through the darkness, she wishes she was driving the truck instead. She parks her car near an abandoned house as agreed upon and walks the rest of the way to Aibileen’s house. She feels as obvious as her vehicle: large and white.

When she reaches house number twenty-five, Aibileen quickly ushers her in and locks the door.

Aibileen’s home is dark and threadbare, yet she offers Skeeter tea and some cinnamon cookies.

As Skeeter begins taking notes, she asks Aibileen:

“When were you born?”

“Nineteen o-nine. Piedmont Plantation down in Cherokee County.”

“Did you know when you were a girl, growing up, that one day you’d be a maid?”‘

“Yes ma’am. Yes I did.”

Skeeter smiles, waiting for Aibileen to elaborate. But Aibileen doesn’t say anything more.

“And you knew that…because?” Skeeter continues.

“Mama was a slave.” Aibileen explains. “My granmama was a house slave.”

Skeeter asks her if she ever had dreams of being something else.

“No” she says. “No ma’am, I didn’t.”

Skeeter then asks what it feels like to raise a white child when your own child’s at home being looked after by someone else.

This question is painful for Aibileen. She starts to answer, but can’t, suggesting they go on to the next question.

“Oh. Alright. What do you like best about being a maid, and what do you like the least?”

Aibileen looks at her like she’s been asked to define a dirty word.

But she does answer, admitting she likes the kids the best.

Skeeter tells her she doesn’t have to keep calling her “ma’am.”

When a noise outside startles them both, Skeeter wonders what would happen if someone white found out she was talking to Aibileen on a Saturday night, in her regular street clothes (referencing Aibileen being out of her work uniform)

Skeeter wonders if the police would be called to report a suspicious meeting. Skeeter is sure they’d both be arrested, and they’d be charged with integration violation. It was something she’s read about in the paper all the time. While the reason they’re meeting has nothing to do with helping with the civil rights movement, Skeeter doubts anyone would believe their meeting was about anything else.

Aibileen is even more tense, as Skeeter can see real fear on her face. “And what…did you say you disliked about your job?”

Aibileen swallows hard, not answering.

“I mean, do you want to talk about the bathroom? Or about Eliz- Miss Leefolt? Anything about the way she pays you? Has she ever yelled at you in front of Mae Mobley?”

Skeeter’s questions unnerve Aibileen, so much so that she’s unable to continue. She leaves the room and vomits. When she returns she tells Skeeter

“I’m sorry, I thought I was. . . ready to talk.”

Skeeter’s not sure what to do. Aibileen explains that she needs to lie down.

On her drive home, Skeeter wants to kick herself for thinking she could just waltz in and demand answers, and for thinking Aibileen would stop feeling like a maid just because they were at her house, because she wasn’t wearing a uniform.

She looks down at her notebook. Besides where Aibileen grew up, she’s got a total of twelve words. And four of them are yes ma’am and no ma’am.

Her next stop is over Hilly’s house to play bridge. There’s Hilly, Elizabeth and Lou Ann Templeton, a girl who’s replaced Hilly mother Miss Walters as their fourth partner.

Lou Ann always has a big, eager smile on her face all the time. And Lou Anne is someone who agrees with everything Hilly says.

Hilly suggests that next year they might do a “Gone With The Wind” theme for the Benefit.

Oh course Lou Anne says its a great idea.

Then Elizabeth hands Skeeter a note from Aibileen.

I know how to make the teapot stop rattling it says.

“And who in the world cares about how to make a teapot not rattle!” Elizabeth blurts out, revealing that she’s read a note meant for Skeeter.

Skeeter understands what Aibileen means.

When next time Skeeter meets with Aibileen, she brings along a fifty pound Corona typewriter. Her goal on this visit is not to make Aibileen feel like she has to serve her. They’d talked prior to Skeeter coming over about a new plan to get the story done. Aibileen would write down her thoughts and Skeeter would type them up. Skeeter tried to sound excited about the idea, but she knows she’ll wind up rewriting everyting Aibileen has written, which will result in more wasted time.

Aibileen reads what she’s got so far.

“My first white baby to ever look after was a named Alton Carrington Speers. It was 1924 and I’d just turned fifteen years old. Alton was a long, skinny baby with hair fine as silk on a corn…”

Skeeter begins typing as Aibileen reads, and she’s impressed with what Aibileen has put together. Aibileen tells her about writing down prayers for others over an hour a day. Aibileen tells Skeeter about her first job when she was thirteen. She talks about getting fired in the shoes her mother paid a month’s worth of light bill for. And she talks about taking a white child to a black hospital after the child had cut his fingers off via a window fan. A man suggests she tell the doctor that the boy is high yellow because a colored doctor won’t operate on a white boy in a Negro hospital. Then she tells Skeeter that a white policeman grabbed her and said, “Now you look a here-”

When Aibileen stops reciting, Skeeter looks up and asks her why.

“Well, that’s all I put down. Had to catch the bus for work this morning.” Aibileen says.

Skeeter hits the return and the typewriter dings. She and Aibileen look each other straight in the eye. Skeeter now believes this might actually work.

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