Moments later, a panicked Deborah—still clutching her photo of Elsie—knocks on Rebecca’s door and asks to read the records along with her. Rebecca offers to photocopy the records she’ll need for the book, but Deborah insists that they read everything in the hotel room. Rebecca sorts through decades of Lacks papers, eventually finding records from when Deborah was born, and when Henrietta was first admitted to the hospital for her cancer treatments. Deborah alternates among joy, despair, and paranoia. She is especially upset to find that Elsie was diagnosed with “idiocy.” When Rebecca tries to make a joke, Deborah grows furious, calling Rebecca a liar and attacking her. Rebecca loses her patience and curses at Deborah, causing Deborah to relent.
Despite the previous touching moment of friendship between Rebecca and Deborah, it quickly becomes clear that Deborah’s paranoia has not disappeared overnight. Rebecca at last loses her cool, however, and this, surprisingly, makes Deborah relent. It is important to remember that this book is not just about HeLa and Henrietta, but also about the friendship between these two women, and so this night is a crucial turning point in that story.
At last, Deborah tells Rebecca the story of Cofield, explaining how he betrayed her trust by trying to take “the only things I really got from my mother.” She decides, however, to allow Rebecca to type notes for her book. She remains paranoid, however, checking up on Rebecca every fifteen minutes, and eventually breaking out in hives.
Directly after rebuking Deborah for her paranoia, Rebecca begins to learn more about its origins. Deborah feels possessive of Henrietta’s records because they’re all she has left of her mother—a tragic but understandable confession.
Exhausted from staying up with the records, Rebecca eats breakfast with Deborah, who has painted her fingernails red (just like her mother’s). Deborah reassures Rebecca that, “We’re okay.”
The symbolism of the fingernails is unmistakable. Even without having been raised by Henrietta, Deborah is clearly her mother’s daughter, and carrying one her legacy.