Chapter 4 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 808

Minny

Minny spends her first week at Miss Celia’s scrubbing the house until there is nothing left to scrub it with; the second week she scrubs it again because “it’s like the dirt grew back.” The third week Minny is satisfied and begins to settle into a routine. Miss Celia...

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Minny

Minny spends her first week at Miss Celia’s scrubbing the house until there is nothing left to scrub it with; the second week she scrubs it again because “it’s like the dirt grew back.” The third week Minny is satisfied and begins to settle into a routine. Miss Celia always seems surprised that Minny comes back every day, and Minny enjoys the quiet. (It is unlike her house, which contains five kids, a husband, and neighbors.) Each day has its task, and since there are no children to tend to, there is time every day for a cooking lesson with Miss Celia. These are the only times she rouses herself from her bed. Every few days she sneaks up to the second floor for five minutes (where there should have been children, according to Minny) to visit the “creepy rooms.” The only time Miss Celia leaves the house is to get her hair trimmed and frosted, but that has only happened once in the three weeks Minny has been there. Minny is thirty-six years old and knows she cannot ask, but she desperately wonders what her employer is so afraid of outside her house.

Every week Minny reminds Miss Celia of how many days are left before she has to tell her husband about having a maid, and both of them get more nervous about it by the day. Miss Celia is a terrible cook, but Minny needs her to learn so she can explain Minny’s presence in their home. One day Miss Celia asks Minny if she is happy. She says she is and tells Miss Celia she has got to be happy with all she has too. Normally Minny would enjoy bossing a white woman around, but there is something in Miss Celia’s eyes that causes Minny to speculate about her employer’s circumstances. Miss Celia must have noticed the suspicion and explains that she often has nightmares about having to return to Sugar Ditch, which is why she sleeps so much during the day. Minny does not believe her but gives her a “stupid smile.” Miss Celia always tells Minny to leave a smudge on the glass when she cleans the mirror or leave at least one dirty dish in the sink—to make it “believable.” Minny does her best to comply, though it is difficult for her to do so.

One day Miss Celia explains what she would like to do with some of the flowers and plants in the yard, and Minny is surprised to learn that her employer used to tend flowers back in Sugar Ditch. When Minny tells her to go work on the plants and get some fresh air, Miss Celia sighs and says she “needs to be still.” That answer continues to stir up irritation in Minny, who then suggests that perhaps Miss Celia should make some friends, like other women her age do. Miss Celia explains that no one will accept her offers to help with social activities. Minny is not surprised because Miss Celia has “her bosoms hanging out” and her hair colored platinum blond. Minny suggests shopping or whatever else white women do when the maid is at home to take care of things, but Miss Celia simply goes off to rest or creeps up to the empty bedrooms on the second floor. There are only ninety-four more days before Mister Johnny finds out the truth, and Minny is not sure she can stand it that long.

Minny is in the kitchen peeling some ripe peaches Mister Johnny’s mother brought them from Mexico and looking forward to fixing her own peach cobbler with the dozen peaches Miss Celia insisted she take home with her. (Normally Minny would never take anything from a white woman, but Miss Celia is different.) She thinks about a run-in she had last night with her youngest daughter—a daughter who is likely to be just a sassy-mouthed as her mother. Usually Minny has an escape plan when she works in the kitchen just in case Mister Johnny comes home early. Today, though, she is lost in the loveliness of fresh peaches and does not see the bottom of a man’s legs through the window until he is halfway to the house. Minny hollers at Miss Celia, and they are both in a frenzy. After weighing her options, Minny slips into the guest bathroom and crouches on the toilet seat so he will not see her feet through the crack under the door. She is sweating and nervous, hating Miss Celia at that moment for keeping this secret from her husband. She looks into the mirror and sees herself there, “crouched like a fool on top of a white lady’s toilet,” ruing that she has been reduced to doing this to make a living.

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