It’s Aibileen’s turn to be the narrator once again.
From the book:
The heat wave finally passes round the middle of October and we get ourselves a cool fifty degrees. In the mornings, that bathroom seat get cold out there, give me a little start when I set down. It’s just a little room they built inside the carport. Inside is a toilet and a little sink attached to the wall. A pull cord for the lightbulb. Paper have to set on the floor.
She grumbles about how she has to get to Miss Leefolt’s house “through the weather”, unlike other places she’s worked. One place had a small bedroom “for when I stay the night.” Another employer had a carport attached to the house so she didn’t have to stand outside in the elements.
At lunch time she carries her sandwich to the back steps, admiring the big magnolia tree that shades most of the yard. Aibileen already knows Mae Mobley will probably be playing in that tree when she’s five, using it as a hideout from her mother.
After awhile Mae Mobley waddles out onto the back steps (there’s that word “waddles” again. Mae Mobley is a plump two year old.)
Aibileen kids around with Mae, and thinks about the other children she’s raised.
It always tickle me how these babies believe anything you tell em. Tate Forrest, one a my used-to-be babies long time ago, stop me on my way to the Jitney just last week, give me a big hug, so happy to see me. He a grown man now. I needed to get back to Miss Leefolt’s, but he start laughing and memoring how I’d do him when he was a boy. How the first time his foot fell asleep and he say it tickle, I told him that was just his foot snoring. And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup a coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice seeing the kids grown up fine.
Miss Leefolt starts screaming for Mae, “Mae Mobley? Mae Mobley Leefolt!”
Elizabeth has just noticed her child has gone missing from the kitchen. “I told you to eat in your high chair, Mae Mobley. How I ended up with you when all my friends have angels I just do not know…”
And at two years of age, Mae wrinkles her brow and tells Aibileen “Mae Mo bad.”
Aibileen thinks, the way she say it, like it’s a fact, make my insides hurt.
“Mae Mobley, I got a notion to try something.” Aibileen tells her.
“You a smart girl?”
Mae just looks at her.
So Aibileen frames it in the form of a statement next. “You a smart girl.”
And Mae repeats “Mae Mo smart.”
Aibileen next says, “You a kind little girl?”
Mae stares at her again. So Aibileen says “You a kind girl.”
Mae nods and repeats it. Before Aibileen can get Mae Mobley to recite another affirmation, the child runs after a dog hanging out in their yard. Mae tells Aibileen that she loves her, and Aibileen has memories of Treelore.
After while, Mae Mobley come over and press her cheek up to mine and just hold it there, like she know I be hurting. I hold her tight, whisper, “You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me?” And I keep saying it till she repeat it back to me.
And thus begins the novel’s descent into contrived cutesiness.
In order to show all whites (and blacks are equal when urinating), Aibileen attempts to show Mae how to use the potty, only this brainy two year old (who already sounds smarter than any two year old in history) decides she needs to watch Aibileen go potty first.
Yes, the child actually shakes her head and says “You go” to Aibileen.
And so what does Aibileen do? Well she takes the toddler out to her special area, out in the garage which was called a car port just a few pages ago. It’s just plywood walls and smells “swampy” from the rain.
I take down my underthings and I tee-tee real fast, use the paper and get it all back on before she can really see anything. Then I flush. (No mention of her washing her hands)
This is a revelation to Mae Mobley. The kid’s got her mouth hanging open “like she done seen a miracle.” Before Aibileen can spell tee-tee, the kid’s got her diaper off and is using the colored toilet.
Aibileen is so proud of her that she gives Mae two cookies when they return to the house (still no mention if either one of them washed their hands)
That sets off this just too cute for words exchange:
“What Baby Girl do today?”
She say, “Tee-tee.”
“What they gone put in the history books next to this day?”
She say, “Tee-tee.”
I say. “What Miss Hilly smell like?”
She say, “Tee-tee.”
But I get onto myself. It wasn’t Christian, plus I’m afraid she’ll repeat it.
When Elizabeth Leefolt returns home later that day, she’s gotten her hair done and Aibileen thinks:
She got a permanent and she smell like pneumonia.
Aibileen can’t wait to tell Miss Leefolt about Mae Mobley’s successful tinkle.
Oh course Miss Leefolt is happy, especially since she doesn’t like changing diapers. And Aibileen is so hyped about potty training Mae, she suggests they test it out before she goes home for the day.
Only Mae won’t co-operate. Uh-oh.
Maybe…it’s the bathroom!
Because Mae won’t go in the house, she wants to use Aibileen’s “colored” restroom.
The two year old runs naked or nekkid as Aibileen, the destroyer of simple words says.
“I did not raise you to use the colored bathroom!” Elizabeth Leefolt hiss whispers. And Aibileen, apparently forgetting Mae isn’t her kid, thinks Lady, you didn’t raise your child at all.
“This is dirty out here, Mae Mobley, You’ll catch diseases! No no no!”
And Aibileen hears Miss Leefolt pop Mae again on her bare legs.
When Elizabeth brings the crying child in and plops her before the television, Aibileen is there to hug Mae and give her this affirmation “You a smart girl. You a good girl.”
On the ride home, Aibileen is too distraught to converse with her friends. All she sees is Mae Mobley getting spanked and hearing Miss Leefolt’s words. Abilileen can feel a bitter seed rising up in her again, just like it did after Treelore died.
From the book:
I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty ain’t a color, disease ain’t the Negro side of town. I want to stop that moment from coming-and it come in ever white child’s life-when they start to think that colored folks ain’t as good as whites.
She prays that Mae Mobley hasn’t met her time. And she prays that she still has time.
After that incident, Elizabeth Leefolt now takes an interest in potty training her own daughter. And Robert Brown, a young man who knew Aibileen’s son Treelore is cutting Miss Leefolt’s grass.
He tells Aibileen that he has two other men mowing for him. Aibileen notes:
He a handsome boy, tall with short hair. Went to high school with Treelore. They was good friends, played basketball together. (So that would make him twenty-six, and a man, not a boy)
Skeeter also comes visiting this day, wanting to talk to Aibileen about Treelore’s idea.
Aibileen is interrupted by Miss Leefolt suggestion that Ma Mobley have a bath, after she catches the child playing with Aibileen’s hair comb.
The chapter resumes on November eighth, which is the day Treelore died. It’s now the third year anniversary of his death, but the only one who remembers is Minny. All Miss Leefolt knows is that it’s floor cleaning day.
Minny offers to bring Aibileen some caramel cake in the evening, after she gets off work.
While she’s at work, Skeeter comes back, wanting to talk about Treelore’s idea again.
“Miss Skeeter.” I feel tears come up in my eyes, cause three years just ain’t long enough. A hundred years ain’t gone be enough. “You mind if I help you with them questions tomorrow?”
Skeeter says sure, but when Aibileen wants to ask Miss Leefolt if she can leave early, she has to whisper a lie.
I vomited. And she say go. Cause besides her own mother, there ain’t nothing Miss Leefolt scared of more than Negro diseases.
The chapter picks up the day before Thanksgiving, and Miss Leefolt, Mae Mobley, Aibileen and Miss Leefolt’s mother, Mrs. Fredericks are all in the car. Aibileen gets dropped off at the grocery store and she offers to take Mae Mobley in with her. Inside she hears some distressing news. Robert was beaten by two men after he used a white bathroom by mistake. Apparently there was no sign designating it was a “white’s only” rest room. Two white men chased him and beat him with a tire iron.
Oh no. Not Robert. “He…is he?”
Franny shake her head. “They don’t know. He up at the hospital. I heard he blind.”
“God, no,” I close my eyes. Louvenia (Robert’s grandmother and another maid) she is the purest, kindest person they is. She raised Robert after her own daughter died.
After Aibileen prepares the Thanksgiving dinner for the next day and trudges home bone tired, or I waddle (there it is again) myself from the bus stop, hardly able to keep my eyes open. I turn the corner on Gessum. A big white Cadillac’s parked in front a my house. And there be Miss Skeeter in a red dress and red shoes, setting on my front steps like a bullhorn.
Aibileen is tired and smelling like urine, because Mae Mobley got so frightened of Miss Fredericks that she wet all over her. Skeeter again mentions Treelore’s idea.
“I want to interview you. About what it’s like to be a maid.”
But Skeeter doesn’t just want Aibileen. She wants her to round up more maids. And she wants to talk about what they get paid, how they’re treated, the bathrooms, the babies, all the things the maids have seen, good or bad.
Aibileen notes that Skeeter looks excited, like it’s some kind of game.
“Miss Skeeter” I whisper, “do that not sound kind of dangerous to you?”
“Not if we’re careful-”
“Shhh, please. Do you know what would happen to me if Miss Leefolt find out I talked behind her back?”
“We won’t tell her, or anyone.” She lowers her voice some, but not enough. “These will be private interviews.”
I just stare at her. Is she crazy? “Did you hear about the colored boy this morning? One they beat with a tire iron for accidently using the white bathroom?”
She just look at me, blink a little. “I know things are unstable but this is-”
“And my cousin Shinelle in Cauter County? They burn up her car cause she went down to the voting station.”
“No one’s ever written a book like this,” she say, finally whispering, finally starting to understand, I guess. “We’d be breaking new ground. It’s a brand-new perspective.”
I spot a flock of maids in they uniforms walking by my house. They look over, see me setting with a white woman on my front step. I grit my teeth, already know my phone gone be ringing tonight.
“Miss Skeeter,” and I say it slow, try to make it count, “I do this with you, I might as well burn my own house down.”
Miss Skeeter start biting her nail them. “But I’ve already…” She shut her eyes closed tight. I think about asking her, Already what, but I’m kind of scared to hear what she gone say. She reach in her pocketbook, pull out a scrap a paper and write her telephone number on it.
“Please, will you at least think about it?”
I sigh, stare out at the yard. Gentle as I can, I say, “No ma’am.”