After she hangs up the phone, Skeeter notices the doctor’s car in their driveway and waits for him to come from her mother’s room. He looks at her and seems to be taking her measure, and then he tells Skeeter her mother has cancer in the lining of her stomach. It is both shocking and familiar news. Her mother refuses to stay in the hospital, so the next few months might get very difficult for the family. Skeeter is appalled at the idea that her mother might live only two months, but her mother is a fighter and is likely to outlive that prognosis. As soon as Skeeter enters the room, her mother knows the doctor has told her and tells her to stop crying. Life will go on. Carlton will become a lawyer, and she is going to make Skeeter’s hair appointments until 1975 so she will not be able to “let herself go.”
The Christmas tree is already dropping its needles, and there are only a few gifts under it. Now that everyone knows, Missus Phelan no longer has to maintain a pretense of strength. She only gets up for a few minutes each day, though the doctor did start her on a new medicine. Pascagoula brings her food but she is not hungry. It is just not the same as when Constantine was here, she says. Getting good help is like falling in love—“you only get one in a lifetime.” Skeeter wants to add that to the book until she remembers the book has been mailed. The only thing left for any of them to do is wait for what is to come.
Carlton comes home for Christmas and is stunned at the deterioration in his mother’s health. The doctor says she should be in the hospital, but she once again refuses. Stuart stops by on Christmas Day; Skeeter lets him kiss her but only because her mother is dying, she says.
It is New Year’s Eve, and Skeeter has put away the Christmas decorations; she has tried to wrap each ornament the way her mother likes. She has heard nothing from Elaine Stein and does not even know if the manuscript arrived in time. Last night Skeeter called Aibileen just for the relief of being able to talk about it with someone; Aibileen says she keeps thinking of more things to add, forgetting the book has already been sent.
When Skeeter goes in to check on her mother, she is pleased to see she has not been vomiting as she usually does. Mrs. Phelan is appalled at the pants her daughter is wearing and adds them to the “Do Not Wear” list she started once she realized Skeeter would be without her guidance for fashion after she dies. (She keeps the list under her pillow.) Even from the grave, her mother will be telling her what to wear.
On New Year’s Eve, Skeeter cooks the black-eyed peas (for luck) just the way Pascagoula showed her. Carlton has left with the promise to call tomorrow. When Skeeter calls her father in for lunch, she finds him staring into the empty fields, looking gaunt even when he smiles. He is hopeful that the new medicine is working. Skeeter tries to tell him that the medicine is not curing the cancer, but he is not listening. He tells his daughter he is thankful she has chosen to be here with them at this time; Skeeter feels guilty that he thinks it is a choice but says she is glad she is here.
Skeeter has given in and...
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resigned from the League. She finds herself praying for her mother to “have some relief,” for some news about the book, and for wisdom about what to do about Stuart. The doctor visits and assures Skeeter that this new-found vigor of her mother’s is not uncommon; it is a gift the dying are often given so they can finish their earthly business. On Friday, Skeeter can wait no longer and calls Harper & Row. She talks to a secretary who can confirm that her manuscript was received sometime over the holidays but can give no more information.
She and Stuart have been seeing each other once a week, and they do not talk about anything serious. Tonight, though, he tells her he does not care what people in town are saying about her and about the trick she played on Hilly. Skeeter wonders if Hilly called him as she had threatened to do. She asks how he knows what she is involved in, and he says she is too smart to be mixed up in any kind of “crazy, liberal” mess. As far as he is concerned, they need never mention any of it again.
Saturday morning, Skeeter decides to go shopping. Her mother gives her a blank check and a hundred-dollar bill. Instead of going to the place she and her mother always shop, Skeeter drives to New Orleans and finds herself in a more modern store; she fills the back seat of the Cadillac with bright, print dresses that fall a scandalous few inches above her knees. She stops to get her hair lightened and straightened. On the drive home, Skeeter decides tonight she will “strip off all this armor and let it be as it was before with Stuart.” She kisses her mother good-bye before going to dinner at the Robert E. Lee Hotel.
Stuart notices and comments on her appearance. His parents arrive at the restaurant, and when Skeeter suggests they go speak to them, Stuart looks at her hemline and tells her that though she is beautiful, perhaps that would not be the best choice. On the ride home, Skeeter wonders why everyone seems to be ashamed of her. At the house, they settle into the couch. When Skeeter looks up she sees Stuart with a beautiful ring in his hands. She is both smiling and ready to cry. Before she says yes, she says she has to tell him something and asks him to promise he will not tell anyone. He does.
Skeeter tells him everything: the book, the booklet of Jim Crow laws, the anonymous women who told her their stories. Stuart is silent until he says he stood up for her but now he knows it is all true. He wonders why she would even care about such things. The ring in his hand now looks sharp and shiny. He is sincere when he asks why she wants to cause such trouble, and Skeeter understands his confusion. When she tells him she is not causing the trouble, that the trouble is already here, she can see this is not the answer he was looking for. He tells her he does not know her, and he cannot marry someone he does not know. He promises again he will not tell anyone her secret. Skeeter believes him. He leaves and takes the ring with him.
At midnight Skeeter hears her mother calling her and hurries to her side. She looks beautiful and says she has something to tell her. Skeeter goes first and announces that Stuart asked her to marry him. Her mother already knows because Stuart came and talked to them two weeks ago. What she wants to tell Skeeter is that she has decided not to die, and she slides her palms against each other as if she is throwing the cancer away. Skeeter should have known her mother would be just as obstinate about dying as she has been about everything else in her life.
On Friday, January 18, 1964, Skeeter stands in Aibileen’s kitchen and announces to Minny and Aibileen that Harper & Row wants to publish the book. After the women are seated, Skeeter explains that it is a small deal and only a very small number of books will be printed—probably only a few thousand copies. Elaine Stein called it a “pathetic” number, and the advance is one of the smallest she has ever seen—only eight hundred dollars. Aibileen barely controls her giggles as Skeeter explains that it will come to $61.50 for each woman whose stories were told. Aibileen finally bursts into laughter and has to lay her head on the table.
Skeeter did not react much differently when Elaine Stein called her. There is still some editing to do, but her favorite stories are Aibileen’s and Minny’s. She called Minny (Gertrude, in the book) “every Southern white woman’s nightmare. I adore her.” Minny’s face actually softens into a smile on hearing this. The book will not come out for six months, probably sometime in August, and they will finally find out what is going to happen—“good, bad, or nothing.” Skeeter assumes nothing will happen because no one may even read the book. Aibileen is hoping for something good, and Minny figures somebody better count on the bad.