It is bridge day at Miss Leefolt’s, and everything is ready. Aibileen hears the doorbell. Unprepared to face Miss Hilly after what she said to Miss Skeeter last night, Aibileen goes to her bathroom and sits. She is distressed about what will happen to Mae Mobley if she has to leave; she will grow up in a world where black is a dirty color and her mother is cold and unkind to her. Tomorrow Aibileen will tell her Baby Girl good-bye, just in case.
Aibileen gets home late and stops in to see Minny. The house is quiet, and they talk about a few good things happening because of the book. Aibileen is impatient, but Minny is calm because she thinks “maybe things is happening just how they should.” She is calm, but she is afraid that Leroy might kill or that Miss Hilly will set her house on fire. Aibileen sees Minny jump at the sound of a car door slamming and knows she is hiding her fear. Finally Aibileen understands that Minnie included the pie story to protect them, not herself.
On Saturday, Aibileen has done all the cleaning, washing, and ironing, and now she wanders the house. As she walks by the children’s rooms, she hears Mae Mobley and Ross (Li’l Man) playing. Baby Girl tells Ross he has to sit at the “Woolworf” counter and has to keep sitting no matter what she does to him. Finally Ross gets bored and Mae Mobley starts a new game, “Back-a-the-Bus,” and Ross will be Rosa Parks. Mr. Leefolt has been standing in the doorway. He asks his daughter where she learned these games. She looks up and stares directly at Aibileen; then she tells him it was Miss Taylor. Mister Leefolt goes straight to his wife and tells her to change their daughter’s teacher first thing Monday morning. Inside, Aibileen is cheering.
Monday morning Aibileen returns the silver Miss Leefolt borrowed from Miss Hilly. Ernestine meets her on the porch and tells her about another maid and white employer who have had a row over the book. If Miss Hilly were not telling everyone so adamantly that this book is not set in Jackson, the woman could fire the maid; as it is, the maid will have her job for life. Other stories may not end as well.
That night Miss Skeeter visits Aibileen before leaving for New York tomorrow. The two friends hug, and Miss Skeeter tells her that stores across the country have requested more copies of the book. Another five thousand will be printed—and each woman will receive another hundred dollars. When Miss Skeeter quit her job at the Jackson Journal, she recommended Aibileen for the job. Mr. Gordon had to think about it, but he has agreed as long as she does not tell anyone. Aibileen will be earning another ten dollars a week and working for a white newspaper.
Miss Skeeter will go to Chicago and visit Constantine’s grave before going to New York. She is excited but nervous because she has never flown before. Aibileen remembers their first awkward meeting; now they are like family. Miss Skeeter is still concerned about leaving Aibileen to face whatever is to come. The older woman goes and gets a package and gives it to Miss Skeeter now instead of mailing it to her later. It is the signed book the Reverend gave her. Every signature and note in that book, contends Aibileen, means it was worth it to someone, and Constantine would be proud of her. When she smiles now, Miss Skeeter looks...
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young. Aibileen tells her to go to New York and “find her life.”
As she is lying in bed, Aibileen cries tears of joy for her friend and wishes she could have a fresh start, too, but she knows she is not young and her life is nearly finished. She thinks about Minny, who risked herself to save others and wishes there were a way she could protect her friend. It seems Miss Hilly is battling for her life to convince the world it was not she who ate the pie. For the first time, Aibileen thinks Miss Hilly might lose this battle.
Aibileen wakes early and the phone rings soon after. Minny is wailing, saying Leroy got fired last night. Mister William Holbrook told his boss to fire him, and Leroy came home and nearly strangled her with his bare hands. He threw the children in the yard, locked her in the bathroom, and says he will set the house on fire. Aibileen’s heart sinks; their worst fears are happening. Minny is calling from a gas station and the children are next door. Minny’s sister, Octavia, is on her way to get them. For the first time, Minny says she cannot do this.
This is the opportunity Aibileen has been waiting for, and she takes a deep breath before speaking. She reminds Minny that she will always have a job with Miss Celia; Mister Johnny promised. And there will be more money coming from the book. This is Minny’s chance to be free. She does not have to be hit by Leroy any longer. There is silence on the line, and Aibileen wills her friend to hear her. She does; she says she “done took this long enough.” Minny Jackson is back. She says Leroy has no idea what she is capable of; she will stay at Octavia’s until she gets her own place. Aibileen believes Minny will do what she says.
Miss Leefolt’s house is quiet. Aibileen fixes Li’l Man a bottle and walks into the dining room. Miss Leefolt and Miss Hilly are sitting at the table, looking at her. Miss Leefolt is still in her robe; Miss Hilly is fully dressed. Aibileen says good morning and starts to leave, but Miss Hilly tells her to stay. Miss Leefolt is staring at the L-shaped crack in the table.
Miss Hilly accuses Aibileen of stealing three pieces of silver yesterday. Despite Aibileen’s protests, Miss Hilly is relentless in her accusations. Miss Leefolt is silent. Miss Hilly fires Aibileen and says she will call the police and press charges—“they know me,” she says. Both children begin to cry. Mae Mobley is home because she is sick. Miss Hilly instructs Miss Leefolt to take care of her own children. When they are alone, Miss Hilly says she will not tolerate liars and threatens to get Minny fired as well. Aibileen stops her in midsentence, reminding her that she knows something about her, and there is plenty of time to write letters from a jail cell to everyone in town. Paper is free, and she has been told she is a “pretty good writer.”
Mae Mobley comes running down the hall; her mother told her Aibileen was leaving. The maid takes her to the kitchen and comforts her as she gives her some medicine. When the child begs her not to leave and asks if she is going to take care of another little girl, Aibileen feels like her “heart’s gone bleed to death.” She tells Mae Mobley that she is retiring, that she is the last little girl she will ever take care of. It is the truth, just not by her choice. Aibileen asks if she remembers what she told her. As Aibileen looks into her eyes, she sees that this girl will grow up tall, straight, and proud; she will remember, as a woman, what Aibileen taught her. Mae Mobley says she is kind, she is smart, and she is important. They both cry some more. Miss Leefolt comes into the kitchen and tells her quietly she must go. The maid asks her if she is sure. Miss Hilly comes into the room and Miss Leefolt just nods. Miss Hilly says it will not be worth her time to press charges, and Miss Leefolt sighs in relief. Their eyes meet, and Aibileen can see that Miss Leefolt has no idea chapter two is about her.
Aibileen walks out the door to the sound of Mae Mobley’s crying, praying her mother “can show her more love.” She is free—more free than Miss Leefolt and certainly more free than Miss Hilly, who will spend the rest of her life trying to convince people it was not her who ate that pie. She put Yule May in jail, but she is the one serving a life sentence. Aibileen has ten dollars a week plus the money from the book; it is not enough to live on, but she will never get another job as a maid. In those thirty minutes, her familiar life ended. Perhaps she should keep writing, not only for the paper but about other things in her life. Perhaps she is not too old to start over. The thought makes her think, laugh, and cry, because last night she thought she was finished with new things.