The summer is hot and the world is mesmerized by the sight of 250,000 people listening to Martin Luther King Jr. share his dream—and 60,000 of them are white. In September, a church in Birmingham is bombed and four little colored girls are killed, yet life must go on.
Miss Skeeter looks thinner and tries to look like living without friends is not hard, but Aibileen can see that it is. In October, Miss Hilly tells Miss Leefolt (who is hugely pregnant) that she sent a thank-you note to Miss Skeeter for all the toilets, which they have been installing in people’s garages and sheds for their maids.
Aibileen still makes up stores to tell Mae Mobley. The little girl loves the stories, and they teach her that even if the outsides of things look different, they are the same inside. She uses visual things, such as two colors of paper, to make her point. She even teaches the child in story form about Martin Luther King Jr. Aibileen knows she can get in real trouble for telling these kinds of stories to a white girl, but Mae Mobley calls them “secret stories” and will not tell anyone.
Last night Miss Skeeter and Aibileen were working until nearly midnight on the book. Eight stories are finished, but they still have four to go and January tenth is looming ever closer. Today is bridge club at Miss Leefolt’s (who is three weeks overdue and miserable) and it is not a very fun afternoon. Miss Jeanie Caldwell has taken Miss Skeeter’s place and everyone is polite and not very interesting to Aibileen—until the doorbell rings.
When Aibileen opens the door, her first impression is pink. She does not have to be told who this is, for Minny has described Miss Celia Foote well enough for Aibileen to recognize the extra-large bosoms held in by an extra-small sweater. Miss Celia introduces herself and asks to see Miss Leefolt. It takes Aibileen a few seconds to think about all the ways this could be bad for her and for Minny. She cannot lie and say Miss Leefolt is not here because the bridge table is just five feet behind her and all four ladies are staring at Miss Celia, mouths agape. Finally Miss Leefolt pushes herself off her chair, puts on a fake smile, and greets her guest.
Miss Celia begins speaking, and her speech has obviously been rehearsed. When she sees the other women, she stops abruptly and is embarrassed at having interrupted a gathering. Miss Leefolt asks her to please continue, so Miss Celia says she would like to help with the Children’s Benefit. She is very good with flowers, she says—even her maid says so. (Here Aibileen sucks in her breath, afraid of what she might say next.) She will do any menial work—and Miss Hilly arrives at the door to cut her off, telling her they do not need any help but would be delighted to have Miss Celia and Mister Johnny attend the Benefit.
Miss Celia’s smile is so full of gratitude that anyone with a heart would be moved. Miss Hilly asks Miss Leefolt to get the tickets; she returns with the envelope and is about to get out two tickets when Miss Hilly grabs the envelope from her. Miss Hilly pressures Miss Celia to buy ten tickets, but Miss Celia’s smile grows tremulous and she says two would be plenty. As she writes the check, Miss Celia starts chattering and says she only has her pocketbook with her today because she told her maid, Minny,...
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that she would stop at the store before coming home.
As Miss Celia writes out the check, Aibileen hopes Miss Hilly did not hear her; however, Miss Hilly has a wrinkled brow and finally asks who her maid is. Miss Celia answers promptly—Minny Jackson—and then claps her hand over her mouth. She promised never to tell that Miss Leefolt recommended her, she says, and now she has just given away the secret. Miss Hilly is incredulous. When Miss Leefolt returns to the doorway, she sends Aibileen to care for Mae Mobley so Aibileen hears nothing more. The maid returns as quickly as she can and sees Miss Hilly shutting the front door.
Miss Hilly sits down, looking like “she just swallowed the cat that ate the canary,” and sends Aibileen to the kitchen for their salads. The maid returns, salad plates shaking, and hears only snippets of the conversation: the one who stole her mother’s silver; everybody knows that Negro is a thief; I would never, ever recommend her; did you see what she was wearing? Miss Hilly ends the conversation by saying she will figure this out no matter what.