Today is Mae Mobley’s third birthday. The child is in a “big-girl bed” now because the nursery is being prepared for the new baby. She is not very pretty. Aibileen does not mind, but she always tries to make her prettier for her mother. Aibileen fixes her Baby Girl a special bowl of grits and has her blow out three candles she brought from home just for the occasion. Miss Leefolt is off getting her hair done, but she has purchased a gift: the giant doll Mae Mobley has wanted from the television commercials.
Aibileen begins to bake two birthday cakes. Miss Leefolt wants chocolate and assumes Mae Mobley wants it too, but the maid knows the toddler loves strawberry best of all—so she bakes one of each. After breakfast, Aibileen gives Mae Mobley her old, whiny baby doll. The little girl says, “Aibee, you’re my real mama.” It is not a special moment for Mae Mobley; she is simply stating a fact. The maid tells her she is not her mama, that Miss Leefolt is her mother. She is sure the confusion will go away, but it makes her remember another one of her “children.”
John Green Dudley’s first word was “mama,” and he called everyone he knew the same name. No one worried too much about it until he began dressing up in his sister’s clothes and wearing her perfume. For six years, John’s daddy would take him into the barn and try to beat “the girl out a that boy” until Aibileen could no longer stand it.
When Miss Skeeter asked about her worst day as a maid, Aibileen told her it was a stillbirth; it was really those six years she spent waiting at the door for John Green Dudley’s beating to be over. She wishes now she had told that young boy that he was not a “sideshow freak” or going to hell because he liked boys. She wishes she had filled his ears with good things, like she is doing with Mae Mobley now. Instead, she just waited for him to come back into the house so she could dress his welts.
They hear Miss Leefolt pulling into the carport, and Mae Mobley says they cannot tell or her mother will spank her. Aibileen figures the girl must have referred to her as her mother before and been punished for it. The birthday party goes well (and all the strawberry cake gets eaten). Miss Skeeter slips into the kitchen and reminds Aibileen she will be coming over tonight. Twice she says she will be leaving Monday morning and be gone for three days, and the maid wonders why she felt she had to repeat herself.
At eight thirty Monday morning, Miss Leefolt’s phone rings and Miss Hilly screams at Aibileen to put Elizabeth on the phone. Miss Hilly tells a sleepy Miss Leefolt that Miss Skeeter put her article in the newsletter, and she specifically said old coats are to be dropped off at her house. Miss Leefolt hangs up the phone, throws a housecoat over her nightgown, and drives away. Aibileen and Mae Mobley are confused by the whirlwind of activity and decide to take a walk. As they approach Miss Hilly’s normally quiet street, they notice much more traffic than usual. When they turn the bend and see Miss Hilly’s grand white house, Mae Mobley points and laughs.
Never before has Aibileen seen so many toilets in one place. Every shape, size, and color is represented, and people are gawking, pointing, and laughing at the spectacle. She and Mae Mobley count...
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thirty-two commodes sitting on Miss Hilly’s perfectly manicured lawn. As they get a little closer they see that one of them is even on her front porch. Before the maid can stop her, the toddler runs to a pink pot, drops her drawers, and tinkles in it as Aibileen chases after her and the crowd laughs and honks.
Back at home, Aibileen does not answer the phone, though it rings incessantly. When Miss Leefolt arrives, she is on the phone for hours. By the end of the day, Aibileen is able to piece the story together: Miss Skeeter did print the Bathroom Initiative Miss Hilly wrote, and of course everyone read it. Right underneath was an announcement about dropping off old coats at Miss Hilly’s house; they are to drop them off by the front door because the family will be out of town. But Miss Skeeter accidentally typed one word wrong: toilets instead of coats—at least that is what Aibileen is sure Miss Skeeter is going to say.
Unfortunately for Miss Hilly, there is no other news, not in Mississippi and not in the country. The spectacle is on the front page of the Jackson Journal, and Aibileen wishes the picture were in color so the story could talk about the “desegregation of toilet bowls.” The story even made it to the Living Section of The New York Times. In every article in every paper, it is noted that this is the home of Hilly and William Holbrook of Jackson, Mississippi.
Aibileen wants to laugh and cry every time she thinks about the incident. It was a laughable sight, but she knows Miss Skeeter has done an awful thing by turning Miss Hilly against her. It has been four days, and Aibileen has not heard from Miss Skeeter; however, Miss Hilly finally came over for the first time all week. Miss Hilly is showing Miss Leefolt a little booklet and explaining that Miss Skeeter wants to change some laws. She says she may not be able to prove that she put the pots in her yard, but she can prove she is “up to something.” She plans to tell Stuart, and she has already replaced Miss Skeeter in bridge club. She will not remove her from the League because she wants to publicly humiliate her there.
Miss Leefolt is a bit shocked at these measures, but Miss Hilly asks if she wants her daughter sitting next to a Negro boy in class or have one of them “touching her bottom” as she walks through her neighborhood. Miss Leefolt finally begins to understand what Miss Hilly is saying and agrees that there are certainly some racist people in town. Miss Hilly agrees, saying, “Oh, they’re out there.” After they leave, Aibileen is glad she does not have to look at them for a while.
Mister Leefolt comes home at noon that day, which he rarely does. As he waits for his lunch and reads his paper, he asks Aibileen if she will be staying on to help with the new baby. He has heard that she likes to leave after “her children” reach a certain age, and he is right. He tells her that she must be concerned about maintaining good references since she changes jobs so often, and Aibileen begins to feel nervous. He makes more small talk and finally tells her she is forbidden to talk to Skeeter Phelan for any reason from now on—and it is a threat.
That night Aibileen is still shaken as she tells Minny about the conversation. Miss Skeeter arrives, and Aibileen cannot wait to tell her everything that has happened since she saw her last. Before she can speak, though, Miss Skeeter begins talking about some new ideas for the book. Finally Aibileen says she has to talk to her and Minny leaves, touching Miss Skeeter on the shoulder as she goes. Aibileen explains what has happened, but Miss Skeeter seems unconcerned and simply promises to be more careful and not speak to Aibileen when she is at Miss Leefolt’s house. Aibileen explains all of it—the booklet, the bridge club, the planned League humiliation, and Mister Stuart. She needs her to understand that they should be afraid. Miss Skeeter tries to smile and say none of it matters and she does not care, but it hurts Aibileen’s heart because she knows deep down everybody cares.