“Heart Murmurs” by Suzanne Nielsen


I am a scary monster; I knew it when my mama first told me to grow my bangs out to hide my face. The scar from where I fell and rammed the Pyrex dish in my forehead glitters in the sunlight. Mrs. Rouston, mama’s friend down the alley wanted me to bring mama home some home baked scalloped potatoes. I was running past Rowan Mastro’s house cuz he always throws dirt at my head and I didn’t want to get in mixed with the potatoes when I tripped and fell, breaking the glass and watching the potatoes scatter like dead chicks after Easter Sunday.

I am scary in other ways too. I have a hole in my heart that will kill me someday. No one knows it’s there except Mama and Grandpa. I was born with it. Grandpa said if Mama wouldn’t have smoked when she was pregnant with me I’d have a solid heart with no blemishes at all but Mama has an addiction to tobacco. She gave up drinking though so I’m real proud of her for that.

My heart beats funny too; it’s got a murmur. When I was littler, I used to think it was called a heart murderer. Mama told me I wasn’t a heart murderer, that was my daddy. He took off before I was born and she’s never heard from him since. I’m thankful I don’t have no heart murdering instincts inside me. She said if it wasn’t for my hole, I’d be as solid as Grace Mitchell who lives down the street. Grace is my age and has a beautiful face and bangs that she curls the ends of so they flip under. Mama don’t like Grace’s mama too much. I guess Grace’s mama talks bad about us cause we are poor. I have underpants that say the seven days of the week on them that my grandpa bought me at Shopper’s City. I don’t think we’re poor. We live with my grandpa and he has a real nice house where I share a room with my mama. Mama works nights so it’s like having my very own room.

Tonight Grandpa told me I could have Grace sleep over and we could drink chocolate milk and eat Lorna Doone Vanilla Wafers in bed. He said he’d let me bring the TV in my room so we could watch it until late in the night. It’s Saturday night and Mama goes out after her job at the dry cleaners with her friend Toby so Grace can sleep in Mama’s bed. I am excited but when Grandpa calls Grace’s mama I find out that Grace has other plans. Grandpa instead takes me down to the lake and we fish for sunnies from shore. It’s a nice evening in July. I’d rather be with Grandpa anyway, come to think of it. It’s Saturday and I’m wearing my Wednesday underwear cause my mama forgot to wash. I don’t have to explain to Grandpa about this. I don’t have to explain to him why I get sometimes tired, like now, because he knows my heart needs more rest than other people’s. I’d have to make up stories to tell Grace, and with a name like Grace, I’d feel ashamed. I am a scary monster. But I am not a murderer.



Suzanne Nielsen’s work has been published in various literary journals nationally and internationally; most recently her work has appeared in The Comstock Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Pedestal, and 580 Split.  Upcoming work will appear in Banyan Review and Gin Bender Poetry Review.  So’ham Books will publish her collection of poetry titled “East of the River,” in October 2005. Nielsen received a BA in Writing from Metropolitan State University, and a MALS degree with an emphasis in writing from Hamline University where she is currently completing her doctorate work in Education.


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