Sethe's walking around the room in circles and telling Paul D about the past. About how her first daughter was crawling by the time she arrived at Baby Suggs's house and how, back then, babies didn't develop as quickly as they do now because they didn't eat anything but milk.
Paul D's watching all this circling while Sethe yammers on; the parts of Sethe's body never seem to stop moving.
But Sethe doesn't seem to notice; instead, she just talks on about how, back then, she didn't have any women around her except for Mrs. Garner at Sweet Home (and how useful could she be? She never had kids). There was that woman Aunt Phyllis, who helped deliver all her babies (except for Denver of course), but the Garners only called her when they needed her. So she and Halle—they had to figure out how to be parents themselves. Suffice it to say, they could have done better if they had some real guidance.
But, in any case, Sethe's babies grew up all right.
Paul D's still listening to her story, if you can call it a story—her words are circling just as much as her body and they never seem to arrive at a point. He's also watching and waiting for a smile, one that will match his, one that will show that she's in on the joke, too, and that it's not her in the article—a case of mistaken identity maybe.
Only that smile never comes from Sethe; instead, she charges on and gets to her defense.
You see, things at Sweet Home were what they were once schoolteacher got there, so she had to get out. And when she finally did decide to leave, she hatched a plan and executed it perfectly—what a feeling, right? Sethe got to feel what it was like to use her head, be that strong, independent, black woman who could save all of her children and herself.
Plus, she finally felt free enough to love her children as if she could actually keep them.
Paul D gets it—he really does. Because in Alfred, Georgia, that ability to love big was a freedom he couldn't feel otherwise it would have killed him. The only way anyone could love that big would be to get someplace safe, where you didn't need to ask permission to desire.
Now Sethe's onto another circle: she starts to tell Paul D about how she'd wanted to make clothes for her baby girl. She'd even taken a little piece of calico cloth from Mrs. Garner in order to do so. But she lost that fabric, so when she got to Baby Suggs's house, the first thing she did was stitch together a dress for her first daughter.
Okay, now no one knows what she's babbling about. Even Sethe sees that she's really not getting to the point and that all her circling isn't going to help her explain anything. That's because the truth is so simple: she saw schoolteacher's hat coming into the yard; heard and felt hummingbird wings on her head (hey, the truth may be simple, but no one said it wasn't weird); and just knew that she had to get them safe.
She stopped schoolteacher. She took her babies and made them safe.
Paul D is horrified.
He finally realizes what Stamp Paid was trying to tell him. It wasn't just that Sethe killed her baby—it was that she didn't know the difference between safety and killing her daughter with a handsaw.
(By the way: that's how the baby dies. Sethe slashes her throat, almost saws her head off, and lets the baby's blood pump out. We just thought you should know.)
In fact, Paul D's figured out that that's what 124 is missing: safety. He thought he had run the ghost baby off when he moved to 124, but now he knows that the ghost baby avoided Sethe for the same reason any sane person would: Sethe may seem like any other woman, but she also thinks safety is a handsaw. Definitely not safe. Definitely very scary.
Instead of saying all of that out loud though (hey, who knows what could happen if he did), he tells Sethe that her love's "too thick."
While he's saying that, he can almost feel her looking at him, through the floorboards, from above. Who do you think he means?
Beloved, of course.
Paul D tells Sethe that it didn't work. How can she say that her children are safe? After all, one's dead. The boys ran away. And Denver… that's one crazy child.
Sethe disagrees. She couldn't let her children go back with schoolteacher. And after all, it isn't her job to know what's worse—life with schoolteacher or death by her own hand; it's her job to keep them away from what she already knows is terrible and she's done that.
You know how arguments go. Now Paul D can't help getting on his moral high horse. He comes out and says what we all can't help thinking—Sethe's wrong; there could have been another way.
But who are we to judge? Well, Paul D doesn't really think that. He goes ahead and judges, saying the one thing that he really really just shouldn't say, even to a mother who killed one child and tried to kill three others. He tells Sethe that she has two feet, not four.
Go ahead and gasp (we did) because, as far as zingers go, that one definitely hit its mark. (If it isn't clear already, he basically implies that she acted like an animal when she killed her child.)
We're guessing there's no going back on this one. And just to make that crystal clear on so many levels, a huge metaphorical forest springs up between the two of them, creating this huge distance.
What else can Paul D do except get up and slowly leave?
Of course, he tries to make it seem like he's just going out for a bit, not leaving for good. (Again, who could blame him? The woman did take a handsaw to her kid.)
But Sethe knows the truth. After all that she's been through and all that they've just said to each other? He thinks a simple "goodbye" will break her? Right, whatever.
In return, she mutters a soft "so long," muffled by the trees of that metaphorical forest.