Introduction by Halimah Marcus
Perhaps you’ve heard the oft-quoted disclaimer that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” It’s sometimes attributed to Frank Zappa, in other places to the comedian Martin Mull, but whoever said it, I object. There is no limit to what writers are able to describe and capture. Music is not beyond reach. Nor is architecture, or dancing for that matter. Any good writer knows that writing with only one of the five senses (sight is usually favored when others are ignored) is like a conductor silencing entire sections of her orchestra.
“The Sin Eater” by Jane Flett is a luscious example of what the senses can do when turned loose on fiction. From the first paragraphs, it is a story that you hear, sniff, lick, gulp, and chew. The narrator is a professional Sin Eater who helps absolve the dead by consuming a loaf of bread that has been placed on their corpse. The bread absorbs the sins, and through this practice, secondhand memories are flavored. Flett writes, “I chew a stolen wristwatch with shiny gold hands, bursting between my teeth in salted crystals of parmesan.” And later, “Fishnet stockings get caught in my gums.”
The narrator is part of a clique of hedonistic Sin Eaters who indulge in drink, food, and each other. They gather at the bar nightly, unimpressed by the risks their work might pose: “It’s an old Sin Eater myth, a threat our mothers warned us of. Eat for too long and eventually you start to carry the sins in your body: acidic misery in each kidney, pebbles of pure fury in the gallbladder, bitterness forever churning in your spleen.”
But when the myth proves possible, and a client’s sins start to infiltrate the fortress of the narrator’s soul, the threat is existential. She must ask herself how much sin she can manage, but also, how much goodness, too. “Who would I be, if not an Eater?” she asks. In this story, sin is salt, sin is sweetness, sin is umami—the flavor of life.
– Halimah Marcus
Editor of Recommended Reading
Everyone’s Sins Taste Delicious Except My Own
“The Sin Eater” by Jane Flett
Everyone is silent as we stand around the corpse. Galina—the wife, the one who hired me today—is perched by the head. Her hands are folded like bird wings against her ribcage and I can hear the rub of papery skin as she takes one hand in the other, then the other in the first. It’s the only sound in the dark room and I want to tell her not to worry, but I don’t say anything. After all, who am I to know whether worrying’s in order? He may get to heaven, he may not, and none us will know until we’re there too.
Bat—that’s his name, a hollow sounding name, like a loaf tapped on the bottom—hasn’t lived a particularly evil life, by all accounts. But then again, these people wouldn’t know if he did. One thing I’ve learned, from all the corpses I’ve attended, is when it comes to the bad acts, folk keep their lips buttoned. You can live a whole life by someone’s side and never know what evils they’ve indulged in. Today, when the ceremony’s over, I’ll be the one with all his secrets. Every last frippery. Of course, I won’t tell. That’s one of our rules: what comes from the bread, stays in the belly.
Galina removes the bundle from the wooden box, unwraps the linen, and presents it to the mourners for inspection. She holds it with her bird hands, and everyone nods sagely.
“A good loaf,” says one of the men, the one with milky cataracts in his pigeon-egg blue eyes.
“Plenty of heft to soak them up,” sniffles the woman next to Galina, who I suspect is her sister. They have the same sunken cheeks, the same small bones. Wrists like fork tines. Next to them, I’m a whole spilling mountain of woman. Still, I haven’t been introduced to anyone. They’d prefer not to know my name—would rather not think of me at all. My presence, after all, is proof he’s got something to atone for.
Inspection passed, Galina places the loaf on a table next to the one with the body. The table with Bat. Bat and the loaf lie side by side, each as wan and dusty as the other. She takes out the knife and starts to saw. Crumbs billow like a shaken snow globe. I think about snaffling some—to see what it tastes like, as pure unsullied bread—but I don’t.
The slice is cut. The slice is huge, the crumbs gather in drifts. It stands up all on its own like a battle ship, the crust a prow that will break the crest of a hundred waves. I imagine they were up all night baking, striving for the perfect loaf, the perfect density to carry its load. Everyone wants to get this part right, though there’s endless disagreement on what makes for the most sublime vessel. Cooks are hired, widows fling themselves against the penance of kitchen ovens. Too hot, too cold. Just right. The truth is, the very best bread is white sliced supermarket loaf. The square kind that turns to a gummy paste when ground between molars or slathered with mayonnaise.
That’s the one that soaks up sin the best. As anyone who’s ever sopped a gravy could tell you.
Galina unbuttons the white shirt the undertaker has so carefully done up to Bat’s chin and peels it open, so we can all take a good look at the scar from the heart surgery that couldn’t quite save him. It’s silver and oily, sardine skin packed into his chest. She places the bread on it with trembling fingers.
Then we wait.
We wait, as all the sins this man has ever committed rise up and are absorbed into dough. The old ladies hold hands. The old men stare to the ceiling, lamentations fluttering from their lips like moths.
We wait until he is made good and the bread is made bad.
One of the men glances down for a moment, meeting my eye, and I very slowly and deliberately run my tongue across my lip. I’m wearing blood red lipstick and the effect of the pale, glistening pink is obscene. I know. I’ve watched my tongue’s gesture in the mirror many times before, and it always pleases me.
The man’s face turns purple. I twitch my lip and he looks desperately around to see if anyone has noticed. No one has. He shuffles from foot to the other, holding his hands in front of the bulge in his trousers, and I swallow my snort.
I am bad. I can’t help it. Of course I am bad.
I am a Sin Eater.
Once thirty minutes have passed, Galina takes the bread off his chest and presents it to me. She places a jug of water by my side. Now that the loaf’s full, it’ll take some chewing to swallow. Lesser Eaters than I have choked upon this part, and what a humiliation that must be—to gag a spray of crumbs over the corpse!
The gift of consuming the sins is something we’re born with, of course, but it takes a lifetime of practice to perfect. I take great pride in devouring them the right way.
I look at the bread, at the others not meeting my eyes, and I place the first morsel in my mouth. I chew thoughtfully. I pretend I’m alone with Bat; I let the room dissolve. The dearly beloved are silent. And then I catch a delicious snarl of flavor deep in the dough. My stomach roars. The hunger comes upon me like always, a rabid fever of wolf claws clattering against concrete. A charge into battle. And then it’s just me and him, alone at last.
I eat faster. Mush up wodges between my fingers, let them slide in fists down my throat. It’s almost painful, this sharp and sudden ache. But I’m far past the point of stopping.
I chew a stolen wristwatch with shiny gold hands, bursting between my teeth in salted crystals of parmesan. Ribbons of blue-green paint keyed from a car door, the throb of sour plum about their curls. And a dozen lazy Sunday afternoons, lost to a fishing rod that wasn’t even slung with a hook. Their airy lavender batter permeates my whole mouth.
After each mouthful, I swallow hard. My stomach takes on the density of concrete, but I persist. It’s impossible to stop once the ritual’s begun.
What really delights my tongue is the women. So many women! Lilac scarves and perfume samples, coral lipstick, hotel registers with the wrong surname scrawled in a hurried pen. And, too, that young man who runs the radio repair store, his passion gathered in a snarl behind his pectoral muscles. All of this is a warm purr of cream and wine and garlic butter. I gulp it down. It slithers wetly. Fishnet stockings get caught in my gums.
I take a cleansing swig from the jug of water propped by my side.
Then I notice one last bite. A small mouthful that’s rolled beneath his chin. I lift it from him and present it to my tongue. There’s a brief flash of something bitter, something I can’t quite grasp. As I chew to mush and gump, my saliva ducts explode. It’s the most umami I’ve ever tasted, a gush of fermentation curdling.
They come to me, images spitting past in high definition. Galina forty years younger in a red polka dot sundress, eyes shining. The butcher wrapping a quivering slab of liver in paper, presenting it with a wink and blown kiss. Bat, observing and stewing from the doorway; Bat, pickling his fury over an endless succession of large gins; Bat, stumbling home to provoke a fight, his words finding the spots where things get twisted, his thick grasp finding its fit around her neck.
My own throat tightens in affinity, the bread swelling in my gullet, sending out spurts of kimchi and Marmite and Worcestershire sauce. For a moment I am gagged by drool, barely able to breathe. Then, just at the moment I think I might choke, he lets her go. The last of the bread slithers down my throat, my prickling gums the only reminder it was ever there.
The mourners turn to Bat, murmuring their final goodbyes. Surely, they say, he will get to heaven now. Surely, his heart is light.
“It wasn’t much,” I lie, but Galina doesn’t respond. Already, there’s a gulf—a river I’ve crossed—and I’m trapped with her husband on one side, in the dark tangled forest of his histories.
I look at the body he’s left behind. His cheeks are mottled. All of a sudden, the bread repeats on me. I burp into my fist, where the sin dregs taste like stale bile. There’s nowhere to put them, so I swallow them down.
“Thank you.” Galina hands me the envelope, thick with scrabbled bills. Small denominations, gathered from those determined to see Bat make it in the afterworld.
There’s a thrill of pink in her cheekbones, a spray of broken veins. She doesn’t catch my eye, so I glance over my right shoulder, where she’s looking. The man with the purple cheeks twinkles back at her.
I turn away. I gather my things, and I leave.
“This round’s on me.” I pull the envelope from my coat and thud it down on the pub table.
Farlane, Bellope and Carl nod heartily.
“Mine’s a stout,” says Farlane, and the others agree, so I fetch them—four black frothing mugs, slopping over the sides. We can afford it tonight, to wet the table and gush the floor. I take a long slurp, laughing as the froth soaks into my cleavage, the folds of my flesh. Carl runs one sausage finger along my neckline and offers me a dollop of foam, which I accept eagerly.
The hunger is constant: a delirious background hum that permeates everything. I once met a woman who refused to Sin Eat for the overweight, lest she became one of them. The horror! But the four of us have eaten the bread of gluttonous men, and it was delicious, and—let’s be honest—so is every wicked deed. The worse they get, the more flavor on the tongue. So together we eat, and together we are thick, powerful and utterly triumphant. We are fat. We drink late in the bar, our table stacked high with snacks from the mart next door, the place of sugared vegetables and salted candy. We take each other home and do things the Lord God in Heaven would rather not sign off on. Things you’d never believe you could learn from a single slice of bread. In the morning, sometimes—often—we sleep late, no thought at all for what is supposed to be done that day.
Bellope gathers her hair in a snake, winding two coils into one another, and wraps it around her neck. “Did you hear?” She leans forward conspiratorially, cheeks glistening and dimple-deep. “Olive-Anne got a big client, a murderer, they say.”
“Drinks on her next week,” says Farlane, and we all roar.
There’s always a surcharge for a known big sin, a hazard pay we insist is necessary. After all (as we like to bring up in the negotiations, accompanied by a regretful sigh)—who’s to say whether this won’t be the one that gets past all our barriers?
It’s an old Sin Eater myth, a threat our mothers warned us of. Eat for too long and eventually you start to carry the sins in your body: acidic misery in each kidney, pebbles of pure fury in the gallbladder, bitterness forever churning in your spleen.
Personally, I don’t believe a word of it. The reason any of us got into Sin Eating in the first place was because we’re not like other people. We were born to compartmentalize, to set aside the anger and the hatred. Jealousy is nothing but a scary bedtime story we repeat with all the lights still burning. We take on the good sins, like delighting in a feast and relishing skin, and the bad ones pass through us like high fiber and are flushed away.
I look around my friends with a squidge of love in my heart. Their laughter is the size and texture of a vat of soup, and Carl places his thick hand on Bellope’s shoulder. And then, as if fate has been listening and wishes to laugh along too, something uncoils within me. The feeling is black and shifts around quickly, and I look at Bellope, her beautiful flesh and meaty lips. All of a sudden, I want nothing more than to drape a starched cloth over her, so that no one else may glance upon her skin. Drag her by the hand to a place far from here, shut her up in a tall tower until I arrive and she can let her hair down.
I take a swig of my beer, press my eyes tight. It’s impossible. A trick of the brain—I’m thinking of it only because such things were just on my mind. Such feelings have never been a problem, and never will be. I have eaten of arson and extortion and assault, witnessed each from a laughing distance. For any darkness that crept close, I knew exactly how to capture it in a jar and screw the lid on tight.
So, as I say, it’s impossible. The feeling flickers in my stomach like an antacid, fizzes up and disappears.
“C’mere,” I say to Bellope, my throat thick. She turns to me, lips open and gorgeous. I grin lasciviously. We fall upon each other with grabby hands, and I collapse into the wonder of her mouth.
The next morning, we wake late and tangled. There’s a shaft of sunlight spearing her sheets, highlighting the crumbs and streaks of menstrual blood. I smooth it out lazily.
“I had a strange dream,” Bellope says.
“Oh?” My own sleep was fast and full of car chases. A single explosion sent skyscrapers crashing into the sea.
“You were in it.” She presses the flesh of my breasts together, and we watch a drip of sweat run down my cleavage and onto the bed. “You kept screaming.” She shakes her head twice as if trying to erase the image. “There was something in your throat, it was rising.”
I swallow, feeling that thickening again. “Bile?”
She shakes her head. “Dough.” A hand at her own neck, as if by doing so she could keep whatever is in there down. “It kept getting bigger and bigger.”
There’s that fable about the fisherman’s wife, the one whose jealousy grew so fat it choked her.
“But of course you’re not like that.” Bellope’s smile is dripping from her lips. “Of course, you’re not like ordinary people.”
I cannot tell if the twitch in her brows is a test, but I shake my head anyway.
Waving off Bellope’s offer to loll for another hour or three, I peel myself from the bed. There’s still a goodly amount in my envelope, and I intend to spend it on something delightful, something to prise this weight from my neck.
Before I go to the feather boa store, I pause at Maria’s Carnival of Cakes, where she offers me a platter of cream-filled donuts. “These,” she says, “are the cure for whatever ails you.” I settle into a chair in the midst of all these people, high and happy on sugar. All around me is the world’s sweet bright chatter, a glorious thrum of sated desire.
I take the donuts one by one and squeeze, cream splurting out the hole in a fat white ooze. Spots on a lover’s back who lets you liberate them, the most satisfying thing of all universes. First I eat the cream and then, when the cream is done, the chewy, sugary shell. My teeth grind it to pulp; the granules scritch against my molars. Then I swallow. Or I start to swallow, but somewhere, somehow, it sticks.
Bad things flicker into three dimensions. A sudden lurch of fury for the people around me, their pleasure from their own donuts. A pounce of hate for that baby’s gurgled laughter.
“Y’alright?” Miss Maria’s face is sudden before me, a harvest moon.
When I push my table back, the teacup clatters off the saucer. My feet slap on the fancy tiled floor. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m hands and knees at the toilet bowl. What comes out is black and thrashing, bright things floating in it. Pink and yellow sprinkles bob to the surface.
I start flushing the toilet and don’t stop. I flush as I retch, so what pours out of me is removed fast. So it can’t change its mind and come back inside.
That eve, I skip our regular trip to the pub. An early bed, that’s what I need. A night to seep out the bad blood caught inside me. I lie, sheet to my chin. I count things that don’t have names. But it’s impossible. The covers bind my legs with dank sweat while every clock in the house ticks obnoxiously. Sleep can smell me and keeps it distance, and I lie here alone. What I need is to hear her voice, solicitous as a bedtime story, so I rise from the hot nest to grab the phone and drag it back to my lair.
Its plastic mass is already a comfort. My fingers tangle in the black cord, stretching and releasing its curls. They dial the number I know so well and in my heart’s silence it rings out once, twice, anticipation pulsing in my veins.
I need to hear her voice, that’s all. A small reminder I am beloved to tamp this roiling darkness down.
When the barkeep lifts the phone, I hear the whole room spring into warm light at the end of the line. He knows us well from a hundred spilled nights and is happy to summon Bellope, roaring out for her in a voice that choruses with the jukebox and ruckus. In a moment, she is there on the line.
“Darling! We’ve missed you tonight.” The words fall out of her with a shaft of golden laughter and I feel the fangs on my heart slacken. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine. Well, I’ve had an odd day. I threw up actually, at Maria’s and—”
“Oooh, get off!” Her sudden, giddy shriek dissolves into giggles. “Behave, before I set the dogs on you!”
I am silent. Whatever foul emotion I thought I had swallowed is back, twice as bitter. There’s the muffled sound of the receiver pressed against her breast, a mumble to someone in the distance, before she returns to the line.
“Sorry love, what were you—”
Her sentence is once again broken. The phone pans through the cacophony, delivering snatches of clattered glasses and high hilarity. A distant night in jump cuts, leaving my foul heart to fill in the gaps. And then a new voice in the receiver, Carl, his eager brogue grasping out for what the night has to offer.
“Sorry to interrupt, my love! It’s this one’s round, I’m going to have to borrow her back.”
Fine, fine, says the laughter in the background, without ever asking me whether I am or not. Then—
“I have to go!” Bellope calls in my ear. “I love you!”
The line is severed. A sudden blackout, all the lights in the pub plunged to dark. And what will happen in that blackness? Well, hands pawing out for soft body parts, of course. Carl reaching out to Bellope and her welcoming him, opening herself, cackling. Laughing at me, even, laughing at the fool who thought she could satisfy a woman like her! Who could compete with the rough hewn hands of a man like Carl. It is him I blame, really, that greedy contemptible shit, always reaching and grabbing and wanting and…
I fling the dead phone to the sheets, my palms drenched in sweat. It is impossible. Impossible! Between my heart and the darkness I built a wall: I can eat and eat and still be left with laughter. Without that wall, who would I even be? I would be ostracized, surely, from the very community that keeps me whole.
“Why are you doing this?” I say to the empty room.
The room doesn’t respond.
And then something else lights up in me, a glance of red spatter. I could do it now. I could go find Carl at the bar—take his palm, soft in mine, and whisper for forgiveness in his ear. My voice sugar-sweet and gentle, apologies sifting down. I could tell him I don’t mean what is about to happen next. Beg a pardon before the act.
Then take my knife and slash down through his wrist, cleave that grasping hand from its bone.
Why not? A hacked limb has no way to grab a lover, after all. It may hurt, but it will be over quick, and I am certain that cut will lance my own abscess, drain the bad feelings curdling inside. Before I’ve thought about it too hard my body is in the kitchen again, my fingers close around a heavy silver handle. The blade glints malevolently when I slip it from the block. In my mouth, saliva spurts. I taste something pungent, a thin dark drool.
This new feeling is a rudder through a night with a sinister moon.
Out in the world, my heartbeat hasn’t caught up with me yet. My feet are fast for one who moves without thinking; they hit the ground soundlessly. The only noise is the hubbub from the bar, snaking through the air as musical notes in a cartoon.
The hubbub is laughing. I wonder what a hubbub sounds like when you slice it in two. Will it scream? Or will it just be hub and bub, soft round things, gently bleeding into the night?
Will it be as thick as the thing in my throat?
Finally, I reach the pub. Light spills from the windows, butter-yellow, projecting a stain across the hem of my dress. They are inside, talking and holding and kissing. I am here in the other place, alone. In my bag, I feel the metallic comfort of the contents.
One cut, and I will feel better. My heart will be light.
I am about to push the burnished gold handle when I hear the beep-boop from the mart next door, the place of sugared vegetables and salted candy. It snaps me out of the trance that had swallowed me. Things click into clarity in my muddled skull. I know what it is I must do.
Back home, I sit with the bag between my thighs. I pull out a plastic-wrapped loaf of Wonder Bread and remove every slice. They transform into a huge clot between my scrabbling fists. I work fast, mold them into what I need.
It makes for a strange pillow. But that’s okay. I exhale, I breathe out everything. Take it, take it. Don’t think about morning.
Just sleep, sleep for now.
This time, my dreams are quieter. Seas the exact temperature of my skin lap my calves. Galina is on a boat, raising a martini glass filled with bright pink liquid. I swim closer; she’s laughing. A velvet curtain drapes from the mast. When it pulls back in a dramatic flourish, it reveals the man with purple cheeks.
He takes Galina in his arms and they kiss like movie stars from the nineteen forties. The old seize and freeze: their lips meet, but they barely move their heads. In the water, Bat is just beneath the surface. His hands are in fists, his mouth open in an endless parody of a scream.
Seagulls screech, and I sink back down.
When I wake, I take the squishy white loaf and put it in a black bin bag, which I hike over my shoulder. A child running away with my every possession tied to a stick.
I walk quickly to the park. It’s a beautiful day, the air heavy with pink flowers. I think about scattering a trail, breadcrumbs to follow, but it’s too late for that now.
Down by the pond, it’s quiet. The weeping willows drape the water, plump tadpoles scatter and gather. I read once that tadpoles make the best scientific subjects because they change so quickly, and it is something I have never understood. Surely the truest lesson is learned from things that stay themselves? Give me an elephant, born ancient and into wrinkles.
Let me be who I was now and forever.
I reach into the bag and shred a handful of bread, scatter the chunks in the lake. Immediately, the ducks are upon it, making the small wet noises of duck mouths in water.
While they eat, I test my heart to find its heft. Am I getting lighter with every swallowed mouthful? Is the darkness gone to those deep feathered bellies?
No. It is not. My heart is weighted with lead bells and regret. Heavy as a curse in January. Something is lodged there that won’t budge. I should have listened—there are always rumors, and I never listened. They say you can’t do this work forever: eventually it catches up with you. But people say so many things and so few of them are true.
I sink into a squat and then, when the effort of holding myself up feels too much, I collapse back. There I sit, my knees drawn to my chin, inhaling the scent of my body.
There’s a cough behind me.
I turn, and it’s Bellope. She smiles, and I try to smile back. Move my mouth in the way that means friend.
Bellope comes and spreads a checked cloth on the grass. She motions for me, so I shuffle over, and we sit side by side, watching the ducks and the water. A trail of ants walks to my foot, start the long trek up and over.
“I brought cake,” she says.
From her bag, things materialize: a china plate printed with polka dots; two tiny silver forks; a huge daud of cake, noble and quivering. She places them beside me, but doesn’t make any movement to eat. The ants halt in their procession, sensing new information on the breeze.
“So what’s going on?”
I shrug. “I don’t know if I can do this anymore. I felt things. The wrong things.”
“Ah! It happens.” Her gaze is steady but there’s a dimple deepening in her cheek.
“I mean it.” I spread my palms to the sprawled blue sky in supplication. “I was jealous of you, of Carl. I thought about hurting him. I was so, so mad.”
I look at her, all that dazzle and flesh. “You don’t judge me?”
“I would never.” Her voice is soft as churned butter. “It happens. You can always quit. Tend to your feelings. In time, perhaps you’ll learn how to tame them.”
At this, I almost laugh. The feelings are rabid animals—I could no more make them my soft pets than I could hold back the vomit at the toilet bowl. Besides, what would my life be if I quit? Who would I be, if not an Eater?
“What’s the other option?”
“You keep eating.” The dimple in her cheek becomes a crater. Whole civilizations could lurk inside that dent. “Knowing this won’t be the last one that gets lodged in you. Knowing your own crust is soft now and can’t keep out what you don’t want to let inside.”
I shiver. Keep eating! Sure, I could. And the impulses would keep breeding, doubling and doubling inside of me. Frantic little dervishes, opening up fathoms and whirling out of my control.
“What would you do?” I ask at last. Bellope puts her hand on my knee and something rustles inside me, like my heart’s trying to beat quickly enough to get away from us both.
She grabs at the chub of my leg, pinching my flesh. Her grin is a sudden, sharp thing. Her coppery eyes glitter; they make me think of pennies on the eyes of the dead. Bellope—my friend, my love, forever the hungriest of all of us—lets out a laugh.
“I think you know,” she says.
“I think you do.”
At her words, I feel the lick of danger in my mouth. As if I’m balancing a dead wasp on my tongue: its body papery, its sting still a threat.
I hold myself very still. I should tell her no. I should pluck the wasp from my mouth. To continue Sin Eating in this state would mean leaving myself vulnerable to every dark fury that crossed my lips. The recklessness! Like stumbling drunk through a petrol station, cigarette dangling from my lips. My guts doused with gasoline, my stomach stocked with such dry tinder.
It would take so little for my violence to explode. And yet, and yet. It’s tempting too. I could eat on for a little longer, couldn’t I? Just to see what other tastes the world has to offer. Just to fill the craving that yawns open inside.
The flavor is seeping back behind my molars. It tastes like all the world on the turn. And in an instant, I am ravenous: for life, for cake, for all the things that need to be devoured.
Bellope catches me staring at the picnic and grins. “Eat it,” she whispers.
So just before the first ant lands, I snatch the plate. I forsake the fork, grabbing an entire handful. Glowing purple cherries and glossy cream and dense, crumbling chocolate. On my tongue it is rich and thick, sour and sweet all at once. The sour making the sweet more, the sweet making the sour. My teeth tingle. I shovel fist after fist, giddy with this assault of sensation, slurping clots of cream from my fingertips.
Before I can gorge it all on my own, Bellope leans over and snatches the final mouthful. Our cheeks pouch. We masticate; we gulp in unison. Then Bellope smiles gleefully. Gums slick with cherry juice, all crimson and drippy. Black crumbs stud her teeth.
She smiles and the future chasms open ahead of me like a house with dark corners and secrets beneath the bed. Anything could happen there. The house would let it—would welcome it, in fact. To step into that house means admitting the dark corners as part of me. Knowing sooner or later I’ll peer inside them.
I smile back.