Chapter Twelve

Skeeter tells her mother she’s off to feed the hungry at the Canton Presbyterian Church, a house of worship where her family knows not a soul. Charlotte Phelan’s words of advice before her daughter leaves is for her to wash her hands thoroughly afterward.

But where Skeeter really ends up is in Aibileen’s kitchen, as the maid reads her writing while Skeeter types.

Aibileen’s writing is clear and honest, and Skeeter makes a point to tell her so. Aibileen reveals a few more highly personal details to Skeeter, as its now apparent she’s become more comfortable. Aibileen reveals that Constantine, Skeeter’s former maid was a wonderful singer.

When Skeeter asks about Minny, Aibileen admits she’s asked her friend three times and each time Minny turned her down. But Aibileen tells Skeeter she has more domestics that she will ask.

From the novel:

Aibileen presses her lips together, looks down at her pages. I see something that I haven’t noticed before. Anticipation, a glint of excitement. I’ve been so wrapped up in my own self, it hasn’t occurred to me that Aibileen might be as thrilled as I am that an editor in New York is going to read her story. I smile and take a deep breath, my hope growing stronger.

On their fifth session, Aibileen reads to Skeeter about the day Treelore died. Treelore’s broken body was thrown on the back of a pickup by the white foreman and apparently other workers. When they dropped him off at the colored hospital, a nurse tells Aibileen that Treelore was just rolled off the truck bed and the men just drove away. Aibileen doesn’t cry when she reads this to Skeeter, but there is a lengthy silence before she’s able to continue.

On their sixth session, Aibileen recounts when she first began working for Skeeter’s good friend Elizabeth Leefolt. It was in 1960 when Mae Mobley was only two weeks old. Aibileen talks briefly about the new outhouse that Hilly bullied Elizabeth into building. Aibileen also causes Skeeter to have a cringe worthy moment, when she recalls how Skeeter once commented that “colored people attend too much church.”

One night Aibileen surprises Skeeter by suggesting that reading more books might help her with her writing.

Skeeter advises her to go down to the State Street Library, but Aibileen reminds her that colored folks aren’t allowed there. Feeling chagrined because she forgot that fact, Skeeter offers to pick up some books for her, and Aibileen asks to read To Kill A Mockingbird, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E. B. DuBois, poems by Emily Dickinson and The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin.

Skeeter’s taken aback when Aibileen also includes a book by Sigmund Freud.

“Oh people crazy.” Aibileen tells her. “I love reading about how the head work.”

 Later on, after Aibileen reveals her twelfth book title, Skeeter wants to know how long she’s been wanting to ask her about picking up these books for her. Abileen tells Skeeter that she wanted to ask for quite awhile, but was afraid. She tells Skeeter “These is white rules. I don’t know which ones you following and which ones you ain’t.”

As days go by, Skeeter stays in her bedroom, working at her typewriter. Skeeter now has twenty-seven pages of an interview with a black maid. With only two white correction marks, Skeeter sends off  the interview, almost weeping from exhaustion and worry concerning Elizabeth and Hilly finding out what they’re doing. As a result Skeeter has nightmares for the next fifteen hours.

At the next monthly card game with Hilly and Elizabeth, she’s feeling nauseous from her mother’s “sexual correction tea”. Elizabeth tells the group that she’s pregnant, and her mouth trembles like she’s about to cry. Hilly gives her a hug and Skeeter asks when she’s due. Skeeter tries to contribute to the conversation by suggesting Elizabeth name the baby, if it’s a boy, Raleigh. Hilly talks about her husband William, who’s running for state senate next year even though he has no political experience.

Hilly tells Aibileen that she has an old coat for her and a sack of clothes from her mother, Miss Walters house. Skeeter notices that Hilly raises her voice about three octaves higher when she talks to colored people, and Elizabeth smiles like she’s talking to a child, although certainly not one of her own. Skeeter realizes that she’s now atune to things like these.

Before the group departs for the night, Hilly gives Skeeter a blurb on her Home Help Sanitation Initiative.

Skeeter finally gets a call from Miss Stein, whose advice to Skeeter is to complete the interviews by New Year’s. She also tells Skeeter to get more interviews because four or five aren’t enough for a book. She says Skeeter needs at least a dozen, maybe more. She ends the call by ordering Skeeter to get going, before this civil rights thing blows over.

Skeeter tells Aibileen what Miss Stein has said, and with her voice rising, admonishes Aibileen about bringing more maids into the fold. “I don’t have anyone I can ask Aibileen. I mean, who is there? Pascagoula? If I talk to her, Mama will find out. I’m not the one who knows the other maids.”

This causes Aibileen’s eyes to drop, and Skeeter feels so bad she wants to cry. She quickly apologizes, though Aibileen agrees with her, because it was her job to get the other maids. But she’s already asked thirty-one maids and all of them declined, however she promises to ask them all again.

“Please don’t give up on me. Let me stay on the project with you.” Aibileen pleads.

Skeeter tells her its alright, and that they’re in it together.

As promised, Aibileen asks the maids who’d turned her down again. The first one who responds is Minny. When Skeeter first meets her, she describes Minny like this:

She is fat and short and strong. Her skin is blacker than Aibileen’s by ten shades, and shiny and taut, like a pair of new patent shoes.

Minny is blunt when she asks Skeeter why she cares about this, especially with her being white. Skeeter has never had a colored person talk to her in that way. Skeeter’s face burns red when Minny mentions Medgar Evers’ carport was just blown up because he was talking. But Skeeter tells her that the intent is to show the maid’s perspective so that people understand what it’s like from their side. She admits that the book isn’t meant to change any laws, but attitudes. Minny is still unsure, telling Skeeter that if they’re caught, she could have guns pointed at her house. Skeeter tells her she doesn’t have to do it then, but Minny says she will, only she wants to make it clear that this is no game they’re playing.

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