“You think . . . she gone want a print it?” asks Aibileen. “When it’s done?”
I try to smile at Aibileen, show some false confidence.“I hope so,” I say as brightly as I can manage. “She seemed interested in the idea and she . . . well, the march is coming up and . . .”
I hear my own voice taper off. I truly don’t know if Missus Stein will want to print it. But what I do know is, the responsibility of the project lays on my shoulders and I see it in their hardworking, lined faces, how much the maids want this book to be published. They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. The risk they’re taking is proof they want this to get printed and they want it bad.
I no longer feel protected just because I’m white. I check over my shoulder often when I drive the truck to Aibileen’s. The cop who stopped me a few months back is my reminder: I am now a threat to every white family in town. Even though so many of the stories are good, celebrating the bonds of women and family, the bad stories will be the ones that catch the white people’s attention. They will make their blood boil and their fists swing. We must keep this a perfect secret.
I’M DELIBERATELY FIVE MINUTES LATE for the Monday night League meeting, our first in a month. Hilly’s been down at the coast, wouldn’t dare allow a meeting without her. She’s tan and ready to lead. She holds her gavel like a weapon. All around me, women sit and smoke cigarettes, tip them into glass ashtrays on the floor. I chew my nails to keep from smoking one. I haven’t smoked in six days.
Besides the cigarette missing from my hand, I’m jittery from the faces around me. I easily spot seven women in the room who are related to someone in the book, if not in it themselves. I want to get out of here and get back to work, but two long, hot hours pass before Hilly finally bangs her gavel. By then, even she looks tired of hearing her own voice.
Girls stand and stretch. Some head out, eager to attend to their husbands. Others dawdle, the ones with a kitchen full of kids and help that has gone home. I gather my things quickly, hoping to avoid talking to anyone, especially Hilly.
But before I can escape, Elizabeth catches my eye, waves me over. I haven’t seen her for weeks and I can’t avoid speaking to her. I feel guilty that I haven’t been to see her. She grabs the back of her chair and raises herself up. She is six months pregnant, woozy from the pregnancy tranquilizers.
“How are you feeling?” I ask. Everything on her body is the same except her stomach is huge and swollen. “Is it any better this time?”
“God, no, it’s awful and I still have three months to go.”
We’re both quiet. Elizabeth burps faintly, looks at her watch. Finally, she picks up her bag, about to leave, but then she takes my hand. “I heard,” she whispers, “about you and Stuart. I’m so sorry.”
I look down. I’m not surprised she knows, only that it took this long for anyone to find out. I haven’t told anyone, but I guess Stuart has. Just this morning, I had to lie to Mother and tell her the Whitworths would be out of town on the twenty-fifth, Mother’s so-called date to have them over.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” I say. “I don’t like talking about it.”
“I understand. Oh shoot, I better go on, Raleigh’s probably having a fit by himself with her.” She gives a last look at Hilly. Hilly smiles and nods her excusal.
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|Daddy looks up at the ceiling. He walks out into the hall.|||||I turn and walk out the door. I heave my satchel into the Cadillac and light a cigarette.|