All it takes is one kiss. Lip locked, you can suck out their sins and use the light inside your chest to burn them up. You can almost taste the guilt and regret these people hold inside themselves like caged demons fighting to break free.
This is your power.
Just one kiss and they can know the peace of exorcism. You've even acquired a taste for it, like bitter gin on your lips, though you can tell by your charred ribs how it costs you—and so you're careful, knowing full well the danger in the dark taste of others. As careful as a sin eater can be, anyway.
Because this is yours to do.
There is the gristly piece of shame that you can't quite swallow--you can feel it stuck in your throat. Whereas the little kinks and guilty pleasures slide down with ease like melted chocolate or red wine--not really sins at all unless you're of a more pious nature and then everything's a burden. A part of you relishes this glimpse into the internal lives of strangers.
You come from a long line of Sin Eaters, most of whom are eventually devoured by the very phantoms they swallow. Yours is not an easy path. Like the broken promise that rests in your belly like a shard of glass, your lives are shaped by the sins you collect. You are the sea creature eating up the trash and ephemera others carelessly toss into your clear waters.
This is your legacy.
They can't even look you in the eye. They can only plead, sometimes without a voice, to absolve them...of too much to put into words. You know the look well. The pressure to swallow the pestilence painted across their broken brow that wants only the quick catharsis of confession. In this, you are not unlike the priest—without the pretense of a screen. Only your magic works. For a time.
They can feel the sweet relief of their souls scrubbed clean; they even go so far as to promise you and themselves that they will never, ever commit those sins again. They might even be foolish enough to believe what they say--though you never will.
This is your gift.
Zero accountability. Then you are cast aside like a used condom when the deed is done. Afterward, they cannot look at you because you know them for what they are. And they know what they have asked of you is unspeakable. That is their ultimate sin: asking another to carry the burden of their own making. They cannot see you. You are not a person anymore. They see only their greed and temptation and carousing look back at them from behind your tired, burning eyes. The light burns brightest when the fire is fed.
This is your place.
There they go and commit another one. That's the thing about sins. They taste so good. And not just to you. Take away that which they are most ashamed of, and they always look for a way to get it back. Even if they are happy to be rid of these chains, they cannot stand to look at your sullied soul. You are rejected time and again. Not welcome in any home. Never asked to stop in and share a morsel, unless—
—they invite you to eat the day old bread resting on a beloved's breastbone as if you didn't know the history and mold settling into the crusty morsel: a final offering from the dead.
You are paid well for your unspeakable service.
With each swallowed sin, a little bit of your own light dies. Your insides blacken and curl with smoke. Your stomach roils with indigestion. Sometimes you cannot tell the difference between yourself and the demons caged within—or which of these creatures belong to you and which have been collected along the way, like chicken bones and bloodied feathers. Leftovers from your meal.
Did they expect you to look monstrous? Twisted and broken by the weight of your—their—sins? They are always surprised to see fair features and respectable attire. You could be any of their daughters or sisters or wives. Perhaps if you ate them more often, the barbed wire from where they have trespassed and the swollen bee stings from violating the natural order would mold your bones into the gnarled frame of a dying tree.
That is your future.
So they hope. Committing your body and their sins to the grave so that they may never speak of them again.
That was your legacy.
But you no longer have a taste for wickedness. Not unless it’s of your own making. So much more delicious to collect your own experiences like sea glass or cracked-open clam shells until you have shadowbox filled with once-ugly things made beautiful. You need not go so far afield, either. The rotted pumpkin becomes a home for the worms that make your garden thrive. The ghost behind your shoulder is one of your own making. He will leave you in time when you are both ready to be rid of each other. Until then, you have one companion that isn’t afraid to look you in the eye.
This is your freedom.
You could suck out the poison of each and every soul that knocks on your door. Some may even call you a saint for doing so. But you know the real work happens when a person wrestles with her sins, real or imagined, and sends them back to hell herself. Everything else is just swallowed smoke and borrowed time. You know this because you have made that journey yourself. That scars along your rib cage--one for each layer—are proof of your hard-earned exorcism.
That was a price you were willing to pay.
The journey was long. You climbed down all seven layers, releasing sins as you went. You let your fire burn away each transgression as they burst from your lips. Then when you reached rock bottom, you began the arduous task of pulling yourself out of the darkness. The only sins—such as they could be called—that survived were yours and yours alone. Selfish? Perhaps.
That was the gift you gave yourself: sins that make a woman.
Not a saint. Not a sin eater. A woman.
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