Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1497
It is the middle of October, and in the mornings the toilet seat in Aibileen’s bathroom gives her a start when she sits down. There is no cross-through to the garage, so she must go outside to use the bathroom even in the cold weather. Aibileen is sitting on the back steps eating her lunch when Mae Mobley joins her with her half-eaten hamburger. The little girl would rather be out here with the maid than inside with her mother, who looks at everything in the room but her. Aibileen thinks about other children she has raised and is satisfied they have “grown up fine.”
Miss Leefolt begins hollering for Mae Mobley to get back in her high chair and complaining that her friends’ children are all better behaved; then the phone rings and her attention is diverted from her daughter. The little girl has a look of consternation on her face, and when Aibileen asks what is wrong, she says, “Mae Mo bad.” This breaks the woman’s heart, and she tells Mae Mobley she is a smart girl and a kind girl—and she says it until the child repeats it back to her. Aibileen wonders what would happen if she told the girl something good about her every day. She is going to try it.
It is time to potty train Mae Mobley. Aibileen has done this many times before. The key is for the parent to model the behavior for the children so Aibileen can get them to do it consistently. Miss Leefolt has adamantly refused to let her daughter into the bathroom with her; now it has become apparent that the maid is going to have to be the one to show her how it is done. She takes the child out to the garage. Aibileen does what she must quickly and without allowing the child to see much, but Mae Mobley is amazed and immediately wants to “tee-tee” herself. For the rest of the day, she goes tee-tee in the toilet.
When Miss Leefolt comes home, Aibileen proudly tells her about her daughter’s accomplishment. Miss Leefolt hugs Mae Mobley and tells her how proud she is of her—though Aibileen knows she is mostly relieved that she will not have to change diapers anymore. When Aibileen tries to get her to go one more time before she leaves, the girl turns stubborn and refuses. Before Aibileen can get her diaper back on, Mae Mobley runs to the bathroom in the garage, which infuriates her mother. She slaps the child hard on the back of her legs more than once, telling her this is a dirty place and she did not raise her to “use the colored bathroom.” When her anger is finally spent, Miss Leefolt leaves the child to Aibileen; she just holds her and tells her how sorry she is.
Before she leaves, Aibileen reminds Mae Mobley that she is a smart girl and a good girl. On the bus ride home, Aibileen relives her “Baby Girl” getting spanked because of her and hearing herself called dirty and diseased. The maid wants to scream that “dirty ain’t a color, disease ain’t the Negro side of town.” Instead, she feels the bitter seed growing inside her that began when Treelore died. In every white child’s life, she knows, there comes a moment when they begin to think that colored people are not as good as white people. She hopes that moment has not come so soon for Mae Mobley.
For the next few weeks, Miss Leefolt takes a great interest in her daughter’s bathroom habits and even sets the example for her. A few times when her mother is gone, though, Mae Mobley still makes a dash for Aibileen’s bathroom. Robert Brown is here today; he does the yards for everyone in the neighborhood. He was a classmate of Treelore’s, and he always does Aibileen’s yard and will take no money for doing it. Miss Skeeter also comes today, asking more Miss Myrna questions and still wondering about Constantine. Aibileen thought once she told her about Constantine’s daughter, she might understand it is impossible for a black woman to raise a white child in Mississippi; however, she does not seem to have understood and keeps asking questions. Not belonging in one world or another would be a hard, lonely life.
The two women talk about other things as well, which Aibileen has seldom done with any white women. As they visit, Miss Skeeter brings up the book Treelore wanted to write. Aibileen is frightened and wishes she had never mentioned it to a white person. They are interrupted by Miss Leefolt’s arrival. She sees Mae Mobley playing with the maid’s comb and pocketbook, and she suggests perhaps the child should have an early bath today. Aibileen tells Miss Skeeter good-bye and goes to start the tub.
November eighth is a day Aibileen dreads. It is the third anniversary of Treelore’s death, and she feels old and very tired today. She has a lot to do and she does it; Miss Leefolt announces her mother will be coming for a visit until Thanksgiving and gives her even more work to do. Miss Skeeter talks to her for a moment and begins to speak again about Treelore’s book idea, but she notices tears in Aibileen’s eyes and waits for another opportunity. Aibileen has to leave a half hour early even though she will have her pay docked for it. She tells her employer something she knows will work; she tells her she vomited. The only thing Miss Leefolt is more afraid of than Negro diseases is her own mother, Miss Fredericks.
The day before Thanksgiving they go to the store to get the last items they need for the holiday meal. Miss Leefolt, her mother, and her daughter are all crammed uncomfortably in the front seat of the car. Aibileen asks to take Mae Mobley with her into the store because she knows the girl would get punished for wriggling around in the front seat. The two of them get the turkey and other groceries, and a friend stops to tell her that something awful has happened to Robert. He accidentally used the white bathroom at the lawn and garden store, and he was beaten with a tire iron. He is probably blind and may not live. Aibileen is sickened at the thought of losing another young black boy.
She leaves the Leefolts’ late and is too exhausted to even visit Robert’s grandmother; she will go once she cleans up after Thanksgiving tomorrow. Aibileen arrives home to find Miss Skeeter sitting on her front porch steps. Everyone is outside for Robert’s vigil and is probably thinking Aibileen is about to be fired. Aibileen would never even think to just show up at a white woman’s house without calling; she likes Miss Skeeter, but this is an imposition. She sighs and Miss Skeeter tells her she wants to interview her about what it is like to work as a maid.
This will be nothing like the Miss Myrna columns; it would be a book about what it is like for a black woman to work for a white family. There is excitement in the white woman’s eyes, and Aibileen knows this is what she has been trying to talk to her about for the past few days. She asks Miss Skeeter if she really thinks Miss Leefolt is likely to let her tell stories about her. Miss Skeeter drops her eyes and tells her she was planning to keep it a secret and will have to make sure the other maids agree to the secret as well. Aibileen is incredulous that they are talking about something so dangerous out in the open.
Miss Skeeter hopes the maids will talk about how they are treated, how they are paid, the bathrooms, the children, everything they have seen—good and bad. For a moment Aibileen thinks the woman sitting next to her is crazier than she is tired. Aibileen tells her this is simply too dangerous and reminds her that Robert was beaten for accidentally using the white bathroom. Miss Skeeter says she knows things are “unstable.” The colored woman interrupts to tell her about a cousin whose car was burned just because she drove to the voting booth. Miss Skeeter begins to understand and whispers that this is a new perspective, something that has never been done.
Aibileen speaks slowly to add emphasis to her words: if she talks about such things, she might as well burn her own house down. Miss Skeeter writes her phone number down and asks Aibileen to think about it. The maid sighs and says, as gently as she can, that she will not. Miss Skeeter leaves the piece of paper with her number on the step as she leaves.