Psst. I need to tell you something… in the spirit of Halloween and all that. I have a Sin Eater for a best friend. It’s a heavy load to bear, but from what I’ve observed, the poor guy’s own load is even heavier.
What’s a Sin Eater you might ask? Well, my friend told me this: Sin Eaters have been around from pre-Christian times but sort of died out (you’ll get the pun) by the end of the 19th century. They were summoned to the bedside of a dead person to perform a ceremony whereby they took on the sins of the deceased— sins that hadn’t been forgiven before the person died, usually unexpectedly. By eating bread and a drink (usually wine or beer) placed on, or waved over, the dead body, the Sin Eater digested the dead person’s sins. In this way, the Sin Eater saved the dying from hell and also from wandering the earth as ghosts.
You see what I mean? A heavy load to take on, and my friend is very busy since he’s the only one still around. He tells me the wine is usually sour and the bread is stale, so he has to take Tums afterward. But now, at least, he gets paid.
I have to admit I didn’t believe him at first. He’s an odd duck, lives by himself in the apartment next to mine (in a pit of a building, by the way), and really doesn’t like interacting with people. I only got to know him because I deliver food for a local grocery store and made regular visits to his place. I’m pretty outgoing, so eventually I broke him down. He invited me in and over the next year or so, we got to know each other. Then he told me about sin eating. I got up and left. For the next three deliveries, I hardly talked to him, but he looked increasingly sad. I gave in and asked him more about it.
Turns out his father was a Sin Eater, and his father before him. So he’s carrying on the family business. I asked him what he was going to do, since he’s unmarried and has no children. He just shrugged and said he was probably the last of his line. Then I asked him how sin eating made him feel. He said the day after he has to spend in bed. Then he visits the local Catholic church and confesses all the sins he’d ingested. That makes him feel better, but he’s pretty sure the priest thinks he’s the wickedest man on earth.
Then he smiled his sad smile and asked if I’d like to accompany him on his next call. I didn’t feel I could refuse, at that point. I was pretty fascinated.
Turns out his next job was local. Old Mr. Haggerty, who’d lived on the top floor forever, fell in his kitchen and hit his head on the stove. His son didn’t find him for a day or so and seemed fairy traumatized. I know the smell was rather fierce when we entered the apartment. Haggerty lay on the kitchen table, two slices of break on his decaying chest and a glass of wine next to him. The son told us he was only obeying his father’s wishes, which were posted in bold print at the bottom of the DNR notice on the refrigerator.
The Sin Eater waved the glass of wine over the body and drank it, mumbled something under his breath, and then carefully lifted the bread from the body. How he could eat it, I had no idea. But he did, with a lot of gagging and coughing. The son gave him fifty bucks and called 911. We left.
I didn’t see him the next day, but the day after he knocked on my door. What a surprise! He looked pretty good, considering what he’d had to eat, and asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him. I said sure, as long as it wasn’t served on a dead body.
Our son is now an apprentice Sin Eater.
If you liked this short, you might want to check out Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray. It features a Sin Eater. Check out Luccia at http://lucciagray.com/blogroll-2/
This one was for you, Luccia.