For the next two weeks, Skeeter leaves the house every other night to write with Aibileen; she tells her mother she is going to feed the hungry. (Her mother’s only admonition is to be sure to wash her hands thoroughly, with soap, afterward.) The two women spend hours reading and typing, and at first Skeeter is disappointed that Aibileen is doing all the writing and she is merely editing; however, she knows she will do the writing for the other maids with whom she talks—if Elaine Stein likes what she reads. Skeeter tells the maid her writing is clear and honest. That comes from writing to God, Aibileen says.
Before Skeeter was born, Aibileen spent a week picking cotton at Longleaf, her family’s plantation. She even talks about Constantine once, saying how she used to sing so beautifully until she was forced to give her baby to—and she stops that story there. Skeeter does not push for more information, figuring there will be time for that after they finish their interview. She asks if Minny is willing to talk to her. Shaking her head, Aibileen says Minny has said no three times already, and she is starting to believe her. Aibileen thinks perhaps she can arrange for Skeeter to talk to some others, and she wonders how long it might be before Skeeter hears anything from the editor.
For the first time, Skeeter sees a glimmer of excitement in the other woman’s eyes—an anticipation and thrill that someone in New York is going to read her story. During their fifth session, Aibileen talks about the day Treelore died. She describes how the white men threw his broken body into the back of a truck, pulled up at the colored hospital and rolled him off the truck, and then drove away. There are no tears, just silence after the story is told. During the sixth session, Aibileen begins telling her about working for Miss Leefolt when Mae Mobley was just two weeks old. She is happy now to have her own bathroom because it keeps her from hearing Miss Hilly complain about having to use the same bathroom as a black woman.
Aibileen says Miss Skeeter once commented that colored people “attend too much church.” Skeeter cringes, wondering what else she might have said without thinking about the help who might be listening. When Aibileen says she thinks she should do more reading, Skeeter is quick to tell her where to find good books at the library; the maid gently reminds her that she is not welcome at the white library. Again, Skeeter is reminded of the great risk this woman is taking to tell her this story. When she offers to get some books for her, Aibileen goes in and gets a list she has made, marking the ones she would like to read first. The list is impressive: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well as books by W. E. B. Du Bois, Emily Dickinson, and Sigmund Freud. Skeeter asks how long she has wanted to ask this favor, and Aibileen tells her it has been a while but she was afraid to mention it since she is not clear which “white rules” Miss Skeeter is following and which she is not. Skeeter says she is “tired of the rules,” something she knows must sound pretty weak to this black woman.
For four days, Skeeter types nonstop. Her twenty pages of typed notes become twenty-seven pages of a manuscript. Aibileen reads her own words, smiling at the good parts but hesitant at...
(This entire section contains 1485 words.)
including the negative things. Skeeter assures her she must include those; but she, too, is surprised at the stories of separate refrigerators, temper tantrums over wrinkled napkins, and white babies calling their black maids “Mama.” She finally slips the pages into an envelope and mails the package to New York. Skeeter calls Elaine Stein’s office to tell her the interview is on its way and her secretary, Ruth, takes the message. No one returns her call. In her exhaustion, Skeeter begins to worry about what might happen if Hilly or Elizabeth discovers their secret. She wonders if Aibileen would be fired or sent to jail or if she might get beaten like the colored boy who inadvertently used the white bathroom. She sleeps but has nightmares for the next fifteen hours.
Ten days have passed since the mailing. Ruth passed it on to Elaine Stein, but still there has been no word. Aibileen has had much more practice hiding her feelings than Skeeter has, so her anxiety does not show like Skeeter’s does. She has gone to Aibileen’s house several times to trade out the books she has gotten for her, and they seem to be a bit more casual in one another’s presence.
Skeeter is at bridge club and tries to concentrate on the game, but now she knows how Aibileen is treated in this home by her friend, and she finds it unsettling. Hilly tells the maid she has a bag of old clothes to give her, and Elizabeth announces she is pregnant. Hilly speaks to the help in a voice three octaves higher than normal, and Elizabeth smiles at her maid as if she were speaking to a child. Skeeter is beginning to notice such things.
After the party dismisses, Aibileen meets Hilly at her car to get the clothes, and Skeeter wonders why she does not give them to her own maid, Yule May. Hilly hands Skeeter an envelope and tells her it must go into the League newsletter next week. Just before she leaves, Skeeter looks back at Aibileen and nods an imperceptible no before Aibileen shuts the front door. Skeeter reads what Hilly has written, an introduction to the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. Her arguments are that ninety-nine percent of all colored diseases are carried in the urine and that whites can be permanently disabled by these diseases because they lack the immunity colored people carry in their skin pigmentation. It also says it is possible that some white germs may be harmful to colored people, so creating separate bathroom protects adults, children, and the help.
Elaine Stein finally calls. After a few deep breaths, she says she likes Sarah (the alias Aibileen chose) and her stories. She tells Skeeter that this is the time to write such a book (though she makes no guarantee that it will get published) because Martin Luther King has just announced a march on Washington, D.C., in August. Never have so many whites and blacks worked together on something so big, and the book must be written while there is at least a temporary spirit of unity. She should include ten or twelve interviews, and the book should be completed by January.
When Skeeter tells Aibileen the news, the maid is excited and says they have ten months to complete the project. Skeeter has made a list of everyone she knows who has a maid (which is everyone she knows), but she understands she is not the one who can convince them to talk with her. Skeeter raises her voice in frustration at Aibileen, then understands that she has just reconstructed the barrier she has worked so hard to dissolve over the past few months. Aibileen has asked thirty-one people to be interviewed, and not one of them has agreed; however, she says she will ask again. Aibileen earnestly asks Skeeter to let her continue with the project, and Skeeter says they are together in this.
The kitchen is hot, and Skeeter watches as Pascagoula cuts biscuits with a shot glass. She wonders if she should ask Pascagoula for an interview despite the risk that her mother could find out about it. The phone rings and Skeeter answers it quickly. It is Aibileen; whispers that Minny has agreed to be interviewed. Minny has conditions because she does not trust white women; Skeeter agrees to them.
They meet at Aibileen’s house, and Minny is aggressive and distrusting, reminding the white woman that this is not a game for colored people. Skeeter tells her she does not have to talk, but she does. Skeeter writes everything faithfully as Minny tells it. Minny ends with a story about one white woman who unexpectedly gave her a week’s paid vacation. When Minny returned to work, she discovered the family had moved. That white woman did not want her maid to go looking for a job, afraid she might have to go one day without having a maid to wait on her. Suddenly Minny gets up to leave, claiming that just talking about it is giving her “heart palpitations” as she slams the door behind her. Skeeter looks up, wiping the sweat off her brow; Aibileen tells her that was Minny in a good mood.