Nebraska Center for Writers

TELL ME A RIDDLE
by TILLIE OLSEN

"These Things Shall Be"

I

FOR FORTY-SEVEN YEARS they had been married. How deep back the stubborn, gnarled roots of the quarrel reached, no one could say-- but only now, when tending to the needs of others no longer shackled them together, the roots swelled up visible, split the earth between them, and the tearing shook even to the children, long since grown.

Why now, why now? wailed Hannah.
As if when we grew up weren't enough, said Paul.
Poor Ma. Poor Dad. It hurts so for both of them, said Vivi. They never had very much; at least in old age they should be happy.
Knock their heads together, insisted Sammy; tell 'em: you're too old for this kind of thing; no reason not to get along now.
Lennie wrote to Clara: They've lived over so much together; what could possibly tear them apart?

Something tangible enough.
Arthritic hands, and such work as he got, occasional. Poverty all his life, and there was little breath left for running. He could not, could not turn away from this desire: to have the troubling of responsibility, the fretting with money, over and done with; to be free, to be carefree where success was not measured by accumulation, and there was use for the vitality still in him.

Reprinted with permission
from Tell Me a Riddle
Copyright © 1989
by Tillie Olsen
Delacorte Press

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