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THE SIN-EATER / Julia Mishkin He comes to stare through windows at the flock of sinners inside. They don't know they sin; they sit or stand, one holding a dead hand or brushing off a clinging fly. And so it goes on, until dawn. They come to adulate the damned. The sins meanwhile accumulate. They foster false air, the kind that chokes when you swallow hard. A kind of yellow haze fills up the room; it's the echo of yellow skin that sits on closing lids. They seem to close, though of course they don't. The sin-eater knows they're only half-open and taking it all in. Meanwhile the spread begins, the sheeted ceremony of the body— an apple, some cheese pierced with a coin. Here's his pay. He closes in. He takes one bite from each and stuffs the rest away. He resembles nothing so much as an angel, the streams of black hair, the arched nostrils, the mouth moving to pray. . . And he backs out, bowing to the room and the air. He leaves a carving on the doorstep and goes back to his cedar and crosses. He lives there, and when the smaller children come to point and stare, he says, "Look not upon my face. You'll find only death and ugliness there." They only want the wings that bind him, so beautifully, to heaven's white glare. (In Appalachia, sins are driven from a corpse in a ceremony performed prior to burial by a member of the community known as the "sin-eater.") 38 ¦ The Missouri Review ...


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