Literature 11-9-2009

mnLIT presents: Jessica Roeder

This week's flash fiction piece, "Sights" by Jessica Roeder, was selected by novelist Jon Fasman as a 2009 mnLIT/miniStories winner.



IN 1914, SID SAW WONDERS. He saw lightning strike. He saw cattle in the stockyard, all faced the same direction. He was thirteen, then fourteen. When the circus sent his cousin home on the train, Sid was the only one to meet him, or so they would both remember. Nick limped, having pulled from his own foot a splinter of tent stake, then hiding the injury afterward. The dislodging should have been the end of it, Sid thought, but the doctors took the leg to the knee. Nick was older and pretended not to care.

Sid saw pigs hanging from hooks and carp in a tin washtub. He saw his father die. He saw a smudge on his mother’s cheekbone. He scrubbed the floors at his uncle’s candy plant, and he dusted molds with cornstarch. He followed Nick into the railroad yards and down much of the lakefront. One morning he saw a man drop a baby from the Canal Street bridge. He saw two girls walk a rope from one window to another in white stockings and ribboned white slippers. He saw pigeons fight. He saw a driver flick worms from a horse’s leg. Nick’s ex-girl smiled to meet him, and Nick fed her baby rice. He saw a man balance on one hand, then one finger. Behind the next curtain, a frog was galvanized. He saw a girl lift her skirt above her knees and piss between her shoes.

He wanted something else again. In Chicago in 1914, something else was everywhere. But he hardly thought of the wonders he’d seen until the new sights of medical school reminded him. Tubercular lungs, a ruptured vein, fractures, congenital deformities, syphilitics, sarcomas, a cancerous heart. He lifted skin and removed buckshot. He wanted to help. He signed on for six months at the Maxwell Street dispensary. He went into homes and saw where women lived. His first delivery was the patient’s fourth; she took it better. He observed the signs and stages of pregnancy. He saw a girl throw herself from a roof. Two nights before Christmas, he delivered a baby on newspaper under the Wabash El.

Sometimes, the grandmothers fed him. He followed sanitary procedures. He extracted the last bit of placenta from a girl’s uterus as her brother squeezed her hand. He performed abortions. He fed mush to a year-old boy and patted his head as his mother begged God to end it. The nurse allowed her to get down from the table and walk. Her troubles continued. It was Sid’s first forceps delivery. Someone had brought the father home to hold the boy and sob. The nurse cleaned the infant with olive oil. There was little damage. There was little they could do at a birth, Sid decided, or there was little they needed to do, or they could do many things, but most were only bravado. Success pleased him. He lit a candle at church and imagined a conflagration.


Juror comments: Jessica Roeder’s short story, “Sights,” was selected by novelist Jon Fasman, who says, “The specificity and pacing of this one are first-rate — very well-chosen observations, and the sense of time really works.”

About the author: Jessica Roeder lives in Duluth, where she is a member of Washington Studios Artist Cooperative. She has published stories, poems, and essays in journals including The Threepenny Review, Third Coast, Quarterly West, Alaska Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Denver Quarterly, The Chattahoochee Review, Mid-American Review, and The American Poetry Review. Her work has earned her a Pushcart Prize, a fiction fellowship at Writers at Work, and a Loft-McKnight Award in Creative Prose. “Sights” is part of a linked collection in progress.

______________________________________________________ is a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation

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Jessica Roeder

Jessica Roeder lives in Duluth, Minnesota. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in magazines including Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, Agni, Third Coast, Quarterly West, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Narrative, Alaska Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Denver Quarterly, Chattahoochee Review, Mid-American Review, and The American Poetry Review. She is the author of a prose chapbook, Staircases Will Outnumber Us (Red Bird 2017). She was a 2011 McKnight Artist Fellow, and she has …   read more