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, I get off the bus, walk the block to Miss Leefolt’s house. Parked in front is a old lumber truck. They’s two colored mens inside, one drinking a cup a coffee, the other asleep setting straight up. I go on past, into the kitchen.


Mister Raleigh Leefolt still at home this morning, which is rare. Whenever he here, he look like he just counting the minutes till he get to go back to his accounting job. Even on Saturday. But today he carrying on bout something.


“This is my damn house and I pay for what goddamn goes in it!” Mister Leefolt yell.


Miss Leefolt trying to keep up behind him with that smile that mean she ain’t happy. I hide out in the washroom. It’s been two days since the bathroom talk come up and I was hoping it was over. Mister Leefolt opens the back door to look at the truck setting there, slam it back close again.


“I put up with the new clothes, all the damn trips to New Orleans with your sorority sisters, but this takes the goddamn cake.”


“But it’ll increase the value of the house. Hilly said so!” I’m still in the washroom, but I can almost hear Miss Leefolt trying to keep that smile on her face.


“We can’t afford it! And we do not take orders from the Holbrooks!”


Everthing get real quiet for a minute. Then I hear the pap-pap a little feetum pajamas.




I come out the washroom and into the kitchen then cause Mae Mobley’s my business.


Mister Leefolt already kneeling down to her. He’s wearing a smile look like it’s made out a rubber. “Guess what, honey?”


She smile back. She waiting for a good surprise.


“You’re not going to college so your mama’s friends don’t have to use the same bathroom as the maid.”


He stomp off and slam the door so hard it make Baby Girl blink.


Miss Leefolt look down at her, start shaking her finger. “Mae Mobley, you know you’re not supposed to climb up out of your crib!”


Baby Girl, she looking at the door her daddy slammed, she looking at her mama frowning down at her. My baby, she swallowing it back, like she trying real hard not to cry.


I rush past Miss Leefolt, pick Baby Girl up. I whisper, “Let’s go on in the living room and play with the talking toy. What that donkey say?”


“She keeps getting up. I put her back in bed three times this morning.”


“Cause somebody needs changing. Whooooweeee.”


Miss Leefolt tisk, say, “Well I didn’t realize . . .” but she already staring out the window at the lumber truck.


I go on to the back, so mad I’m stomping. Baby Girl been in that bed since eight o’clock last night, a course she need changing! Miss Leefolt try to sit in twelve hours worth a bathroom mess without getting up!


I lay Baby Girl on the changing table, try to keep my mad inside. Baby Girl stare up at me while I take off her diaper. Then she reach out her little hand. She touch my mouth real soft.


“Mae Mo been bad,” she say.


“No, baby, you ain’t been bad,” I say, smoothing her hair back. “You been good. Real good.”


I LIVE On GESSUM AVENUE, where I been renting since 1942. You could say Gessum got a lot a personality. The houses all be small, but every front yard’s different—some scrubby and grassless like a bald-headed old man. Others got azalea bushes and roses and thick green grass. My yard, I reckon it be somewhere in between.


I got a few red camellia bushes out front a the house. My grass be kind a spotty and I still got a big yellow mark where Treelore’s pickup sat for three months after the accident. I ain’t got no trees. But the backyard, now it looks like the Garden of Eden. That’s where my next-door neighbor, Ida Peek, got her vegetable patch.


Ida ain’t got no backyard to speak of what with all her husband’s junk—car engines and old refrigerators and tires. Stuff he say he gone fix but never do. So I tell Ida she come plant on my side. That way I don’t have no mowing to tend to and she let me pick whatever I need, save me two or three dollars ever week. She put up what we don’t eat, give me jars for the winter season. Good turnip greens, eggplant, okra by the bushel, all kind a gourds. I don’t know how she keep them bugs out a her tomatoes, but she do. And they good.


That evening, it’s raining hard outside. I pull out a jar a Ida Peek’s cabbage and tomato, eat my last slice a leftover cornbread. Then I set down to look over my finances cause two things done happen: the bus gone up to fifteen cents a ride and my rent gone up to twenty-nine dollars a month. I work for Miss Leefolt eight to four, six days a week except Saturdays. I get paid forty-three dollars ever Friday, which come to $172 a month. That means after I pay the light bill, the water bill, the gas bill, and the telephone bill, I got thirteen dollars and fifty cents a week left for my groceries, my clothes, getting my hair done, and tithing to the church. Not to mention the cost to mail these bills done gone up to a nickel. And my work shoes is so thin, they look like they starving to death. New pair cost seven dollars though, which means I’m on be eating cabbage and tomato till I turn into Br’er Rabbit. Thank the Lord for Ida Peek, else I be eating nothing.


My phone ring, making me jump. Before I can even say hello, I hear Minny. She working late tonight.


“Miss Hilly sending Miss Walters to the old lady home. I got to find myself a new job. And you know when she going? Next week.”


“Oh no, Minny.”


“I been looking, call ten ladies today. Not even a speck a interest.”


I am sorry to say I ain’t surprised. “I ask Miss Leefolt first thing tomorrow do she know anybody need help.”


“Hang on,” Minny say. I hear old Miss Walter talking and Minny say, “What you think I am? A chauffeur? I ain’t driving you to no country club in the pouring rain.”


Sides stealing, worse thing you’n do for your career as a maid is have a smart mouth. Still, she such a good cook, sometimes it makes up for it.


“Don’t you worry, Minny. We gone find you somebody deaf as a doe-knob, just like Miss Walter.”


“Miss Hilly been hinting around for me to come work for her.”


“What?” I talk stern as I can: “Now you look a here, Minny, I support you myself fore I let you work for that evil lady.”


“Who you think you talking to, Aibileen? A monkey? I might as well go work for the KKK. And you know I never take Yule May’s job away.”


“I’m sorry, Lordy me.” I just get so nervous when it come to Miss Hilly. “I call Miss Caroline over on Honeysuckle, see if she know somebody. And I call Miss Ruth, she so nice it near bout break your heart. Used to clean up the house ever morning so I didn’t have nothing to do but keep her company. Her husband died a the scarlet fever, mm-hmm.”


“Thank you, A. Now come on, Miss Walters, eat up a little green bean for me.” Minny say goodbye and hang up the phone.


THE NEXT MORNING, there that old green lumber truck is again. Banging’s already started but Mister Leefolt ain’t stomping around today. I guess he know he done lost this one before it even started.


Miss Leefolt setting at the kitchen table in her blue-quilt bathrobe talking on the telephone. Baby Girl’s got red sticky all over her face, hanging on to her mama’s knees trying to get her look at her.


“Morning, Baby Girl,” I say.


“Mama! Mama!” she say, trying to crawl up in Miss Leefolt’s lap.


“No, Mae Mobley.” Miss Leefolt nudge her down. “Mama’s on the telephone. Let Mama talk.”


“Mama, pick up,” Mae Mobley whine and reach out her arms to her mama. “Pick Mae Mo up.”


“Hush,” Miss Leefolt whisper.


I scoop Baby Girl up right quick and take her over to the sink, but she keep craning her neck around, whining, “Mama, Mama,” trying to get her attention.


“Just like you told me to say it.” Miss Leefolt nodding into the phone. “Someday when we move, it’ll raise the value of the house.”


“Come on, Baby Girl. Put your hands here, under the water.”


But Baby Girl wriggling hard. I’m trying to get the soap on her fingers but she twisting and turning and she snake right out my arms. She run straight to her mama and stick out her chin and then she jerk the phone cord hard as she can. The receiver clatter out a Miss Leefolt’s hand and hit the floor.


“Mae Mobley!” I say.


I rush to get her but Miss Leefolt get there first. Her lips is curled back from her teeth in a scary smile. Miss Leefolt slap Baby Girl on the back a her bare legs so hard I jump from the sting.


Then Miss Leefolt grab Mae Mobley by the arm, jerk it hard with ever word. “Don’t you touch this phone again, Mae Mobley!” she say. “Aibileen, how many times do I have to tell you to keep her away from me when I am on the phone!”


“I’m sorry,” I say and I pick up Mae Mobley, try to hug her to me, but she bawling and her face is red and she fighting me.


“Come on, Baby Girl, it’s all right, everthing—”


Mae Mobley make an ugly face at me and then she rear back and bowp! She whack me right on the ear.


Miss Leefolt point at the door, yell, “Aibileen, you both just get out.”


I carry her out the kitchen. I’m so mad at Miss Leefolt, I’m biting my tongue. If the fool would just pay her child some attention, this wouldn’t happen! When we make it to Mae Mobley’s room, I set in the rocking chair. She sob on my shoulder and I rub her back, glad she can’t see the mad on my face. I don’t want her to think it’s at her.


“You okay, Baby Girl?” I whisper. My ear smarting from her little fist. I’m so glad she hit me instead a her mama, cause I don’t know what that woman would a done to her. I look down and see red fingermarks on the back a her legs.


“I’m here, baby, Aibee’s here,” I rock and soothe, rock and soothe.


But Baby Girl, she just cry and cry.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 898

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