It was six am, the little digital clock said on Ellie’s desk. She couldn’t see the sun beginning to break, as the morgue was cold and underground and away from all sunlight. Still, she took a moment to visualize the coming light in her head, the cold and wan light of a February morning, the shadows that and starry ocean that receded like a tide as the light pushed its way ashore.
She had shared just such a morning with Skylar, the young man laying cold and dead on the examination table, with the loaf of bread laid upon his chest for the ceremony that she needed to perform him, to get him free and into heaven.
Ten years ago, after a night of drinking and laughing and talking and ecstatic lovemaking, they had walked up the scraggly, almost bare hill behind their apartment, holding hands, happy, carrying yet another bottle of red wine with them. They had sat down on the hill, passing the bottle, her head on his shoulder, in silence as the sun rose and all seemed like paradise.
That was the last good time they’d had. That was the last time the bad outweighed the good. That was the end of everything for them, and the beginning of everything about Skylar going completely to shit.
Ellie left her office, and went to the examination table. The sweet beauty, the boyish petulance, the trickster spark was gone from him. He was only an empty shell. Whatever it was that made him wild and mad and a goddamned fool was gone forever from him. It unnerved her to look at him like this. Bodies of those lost were uncanny faces that looked familiar, but utterly empty and alien. There had been a soul, and it was gone. What was left was a mockery.
The autopsy had told her what she already knew, but procedure had to be followed. No foul play, his body had just shut down from all the abuse. Suicide by substances. Suicide, slowly but as plainly as if he had put a gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. Suicide, because he was a goddamned fool.
He could be sweet, when he was sober, when he was himself. He could make her believe she was God’s Most Favored Angel, the greatest treasure in a starry night. She remembered him taking her down to Chattanooga and over into Dalton Georgia in the middle of the night, simply because she’d said she’d never been out of Tennessee, and he though he needed to immediately rectify that. She remembered the song he made up for her though he couldn’t sing and could barely play a guitar. She’d be flattered anyway. She remembered his tender and supplicant kisses. She remembered.
And she remembered the drink and the drugs taking over and the demon that unleashed upon her. The rage and accusations and the jealousy. She remembered trying to take a bottle from him once when he was already smashed, and him hauling off and back handed her across the face. She fell to the floor, crying and screaming, while he continued to howl at her. She scrambled to her feet, ran out the door of the apartment they shared, and never came back.
Once he was sober he kept calling in tears and begging her for forgiveness. But her heart was hardened to him, and she cut him out of her life forever. She gone on her way, to becoming a doctor and then an M.E., and working for the county sheriff. He’d gone on down the path he’d laid out for himself since the beginning, and it came to its predictable end.
And now, the ceremony must begin. The loaf of bread had laid upon his chest all night, since midnight and the turning of the day. It had absorbed all his sins. In the old times a Sin Eater would eat the bread left upon the deceased, so the bread could absorb all the deceased’s sins, and the Sin Eater could take those sins upon themselves, so the deceased could go into heaven and be free and at peace forever.
Ellie would be his Sin Eater. She would take his sins upon herself. She wanted him free and in paradise. She ate the bread, bitter and cold, and quietly tears rolled down her cheeks. She still loved that goddamned fool, even now. She couldn’t bear the thought of him in torment and without hope. She would take his price, so he could be at peace at last.
The ceremony over, the tears shed, the bargain made. She called his parent to release the body to them, and to go and see the sun that was now risen and bright.