Sin Eaters LLC
It was my first day. Inside the company vehicle, my trainer, Bob, read me the client’s file: sampling grocery store grapes, getting a little too tipsy on Sunday wine, several ticky-tacky sins, nothing a newbie like me couldn’t handle. Bob assured me the job was easy. All you had to do was eat the sin like a baseball player chews tobacco. Otherwise, you’d get this sooty taste on your tongue for weeks no matter how many times you gurgled Listerine.
Bob reached into the glove compartment and removed our company-issued makeup kit. Consuming others’ misdeeds doesn’t affect you much physically, but corporate wanted their sin eaters to project a certain mystique for the customer’s sake. Bob applied eyeliner around my eyelids. He rubbed a dark shade of blush into my cheeks. I returned the favor. Looking into the rear-view mirror, satisfied we resembled two men riddled with sin, we stepped into the July heat.
A woman was walking her dog down the suburban street. Bob waved, and she made a miniature, fleshy cross with her fingers, scooped up her pooch, and fled. Working as a sin eater meant becoming a pariah. Carrying around copious amounts of sin didn’t make you popular. It was fine by me. I’d already been shunned.
“Some folks have no soul for business,” Bob said.
I used to be a commercial food photographer, used to snap photos of fast food for a living. Then my former boss let slip we mixed Elmer’s glue and mozzarella for extra gooey cheese tendrils, that we propped up soggy French fries on toothpicks. When the complaints of inauthenticity came flooding in, my boss claimed ignorance, and I was fired, was blacklisted. I couldn’t even land a gig taking family portraits at Sears.
I found a kind of reassurance in photographing those pristine phonies. I knew the real product often came smooshed and coated in artery-clogging grease, but the picture was mouth-watering perfection, made me feel like the world wasn’t all bad. How could it be when a cheap hamburger looked like it’d been whipped up by a five-star chef? Of course, the bubble burst once you went and ordered.
Dressed in a suit and tie, a mourner greeted us at the door. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy. He led us to the deceased, a young woman wearing a white burial gown lying atop a card table. Tulips surrounded her body like garnishes. On her stomach rested her sin, absorbed into a loaf of sourdough bread.
The mourner and I bowed our heads as Bob said a prayer. When he finished, Bob ripped a flakey strip from the loaf and stuffed it into his mouth. He chewed, the bread inflating his cheek like a chipmunk storing nuts. Swallowing, he vibrated his limbs and grunted, another performance they taught us in training.
Bob gestured for me to take his spot at the woman’s feet. I did and tore free my own bit of starchy sin. The mourner stared at me, his hands clasped together, white-knuckled, like he was begging me to take a bite. I brought the bread to my lips and sniffed. I didn’t smell fire or brimstone, just a hint of yeast. I placed the bread in my mouth, shoved it to the side like Bob had shown me. I’d been told each sin had its own flavor, none of them good, but as I began to chew all I tasted was a sweet, fluffy tanginess.
“Is her sin all gone?” the mourner said, gripping my elbow. “Does everything taste okay?”
“Tastes like she’s in heaven,” I replied.
What else could I say?
I couldn’t tell him the truth.
Bob and I finished the sourdough loaf, offered our condolences to the mourner, and walked back to the company vehicle. Before driving back to the office, we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. As I unwrapped my Quarter Pounder, I imagined the mourner waking up tomorrow alone. I imagined him preparing a meal alone. I imagined him eating alone while gazing at an empty chair.
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in TIMBER, Cleaver Magazine, The Lumiere Review, Oyez Review, Tampa Review, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.