Chapter Eight

Skeeter is dejected after leaving Aibileen’s house. 

I guess I thought it would be like visiting Constantine, where friendly colored people waved and smiled, happy to see the little white girl whose daddy owned the big farm. But here, narrow eyes watch me pass by.

It’s revealed that Skeeter is under pressure, because a week ago Pascagoula had knocked on her bedroom door, saying Miss Stern was on the phone.

“Stern?” I thought out loud. Then I straightened. “Do you mean…Stein?”

“I…I reckon it could a been Stein. She talk kind a hard-sounding.”

Skeeter rushes downstairs, patting her frizzy hair as if she’s going to meet Miss Stein in person. Three weeks earlier she’d sent out yet another letter with an idea, but this time she used Treelore’s idea,  saying that she would interview a hardworking, respected colored maid, instead of saying that she was planning to interview a maid.

Miss Stein comes right out and asks her:

“What gave you this idea? About interviewing domestic housekeepers. I’m curious.”

Skeeter is momentarily paralyzed. Miss Stein offered her no greeting, no chatting. No introduction of herself.

“I was raised by a colored woman. I’ve seen how simple it can be and-and how complex it can be between the families and the help.”

 Miss Stein tells her to continue.

“I’d like to write this showing the point of view of the help. The colored women down here.” Skeeter tries to picture Constantine’s face, and then Aibileen’s before continuing.  “They raise a white child and then twenty years later the child becomes the employer. It’s that irony, that we love them and they love us, yet . . .we don’t even allow them to use the toilet in the house.”

 After Skeeter finishes, Miss Stein is silent.

Compelled to continue, she adds, “Everyone knows how we white people feel, the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family. Margaret Mitchell covered that. But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it.”

Skeeter is sweating by this time.

Finally Miss Stein asks, “So you want to show a side that’s never been examined before.”

“Yes. Because no one ever talks about it. No one talks about anything down here.”

 That elicits a laugh out of Miss Stein, which sounds more like a growl to Skeeter.

“Miss Phelan, I lived in Atlanta. For six years with my first husband.”

 Skeeter jumps on this small connection. “So…you know what it’s like then.”

“Enough to get me out of there…look, I read your outline. It’s certainly…original, but it won’t work. What maid in her right mind would ever tell you the truth?”

Skeeter can’t believe Miss Stein is calling her bluff. But Skeeter’s ambition wins out. She continues with her lie. “The first interviewee is…eager to tell her story.”

“Miss Phelan, this Negro actually agreed to talk to you candidly? About working for a white family? Because that seems like a hell of a risk in a place like Jackson, Mississippi.”

It’s then that Skeeter begins to worry that Aibileen just might not be so easily convinced to talk to her.  Yet she still insists: “She has agreed. Yes, she has.”

Miss Stein is impressed. She wants to know if other maids will talk to her, and what if their employers find out?

Skeeter tells her that the interviews will be conducted secretly since things are a little dangerous in Jackson right now (that’s an understatement)

But Skeeter silently admits she had very little idea how dangerous things were. She thinks: I’d spent the past four years locked away in the padded room of a college, reading Keats and Eudora Welty and worrying over term papers.

Miss Stein laughs again at Skeeter’s “a little dangerous” statement. She tells Skeeter that with the marches in Birmingham, dogs attacking colored children, Martin Luther King, that it’s the hottest topic in the nation. But she’s not convinced it will work because no Southern newpaper will publish it, not as an article anyway. And certainly not as a book.

No, she says. A book of interviews would never sell.

At her words, Skeeter feels all the excitement draining out of her. Still she’s not willing to give up. And Miss Stein agrees to at least look at what she’s got. Plus she believes the book business could use some rattling. She tells Skeeter to do the interview and she’ll let Skeeter know if it’s worth pursuing.

Skeeter gets to work, hauling from the attic an old red satchel to hold her Miss Myrna letters. She needs this as a prop. When she attends the monthly bridge game over elizabeth’s house, Hilly reminds her that the blind date is in two weeks. Skeeter excuses herself, going into the kitchen to look for Aibileen. She hands Aibileen an envelope from her satchel. It contains twenty-five dollars, and its half of Aibileen’s take from the articles.

Aibileen declines. Saying that Miss Leefolt would have a fit if she found out Skeeter was giving her cash.

Skeeter explains that Elizabeth doesn’t have to know. Aibileen is tired, and tells Skeeter again that she won’t help with the maid interview. She begs Skeeter to put away the money before Elizabeth sees. Embarrassed, Skeeter realizes that Aibileen thinks the money is a bribe. She’s convinced that Aibileen has been scared off for good.

Next, Skeeter gets all dolled up for her blind date. Her mother insists on using something called a Magic Soft & Silky Shinalator to fix her frizzy hair. But Skeeter knows whatever is done to her hair won’t straighten her nose or take a foot off her height. It won’t add distinction to her almost invisible eyebrows or add weight to her bony frame. After a gooey creme is applied to her hair, Skeeter must sit under a machine wearing a plastic cap for two hours. She passes the time reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

She recalls going by Elizabeth’s house again and again to try an convince Aibileen to work with her. Hilly was there the last time, asking Aibileen how she liked the new bathroom. She tells Aibileen, “It’s nice to have a place of your own, isn’t it?”

Aibileen just stares at the crack in the dining  table.

“You know, Mister Holbrook arranged for that bathroom, Aibileen, Sent the boys over and the equipment, too.” Hilly says with a smile.

Aibileen just stands there and Skeeter wishes she wasn’t in the room. Please, Skeeter thinks, please don’t say thank you.

Aibileen answers with another “Yes ma’am” while Hilly continues to stare at her, waiting for a thank you.

When Hilly clears her throat,  Aibileen lowers her head and whispers,”Thank you ma’am.”

 After Skeeter sees this, she thinks its no wonder Aibileen doesn’t want to talk to her.

Why Skeeter acts as if this is the first time Hilly has behaved this way strains credibility, even though the novel is fiction.

Skeeter is jolted back to the present when her mother removes the vibrating plastic cap from her head. After another hour, she emerges pink and soreheaded and thirsty. As her hair is brushed out, both women are dumbfounded.

Her mother smiles in shock. Skeeter’s once frizzy hair looks great. The Shinalator actually worked.

 

 

 

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