A Short Story For Saturday

This weekend’s short story is Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” (pdf), which grabs you from its first sentence:

I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.

“I wish you would manage the time to come in and talk with me about your daughter. I’m sure you can help me understand her. She’s a youngster who needs help and whom I’m deeply interested in helping.”

“Who needs help?” Even if I came what good would it do? You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key? She has lived for nineteen years. There is all that life that has happened outside of me, beyond me.

And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total? I will start and there will be an interruption and I will have to gather it all together again. Or I will become engulfed with all I did or did not do, with what should have been and what cannot be helped.

She was a beautiful baby. The first and only one of our five that was beautiful at birth. You do not guess how new and uneasy her tenancy in her now-loveliness. You did not know her all those years she was thought homely, or see her poring over her baby pictures, making me tell her over and over how beautiful she had been— and would be, I would tell her— and was now, to the seeing eye. But the seeing eyes were few or nonexistent. Including mine.

Read the rest here. The story also can be found in Olsen’s collection, Tell Me a Riddle. Peruse previous SSFSs here.