We ran over two baby racoons and the sun baked their flesh into our tires. Delicious. I spent the evening scrubbing rubber, my hands smelling like a blood pie. Tiny flies dipped in and out of the tire grooves, and I knew maggots weren’t far behind. The sky was turning a dirty lime, the moon beginning to peek through its layers. It reminded me of the mother’s eyes, round and wide in the rearview mirror. How she’d stepped over her babies’ bodies, how she picked one of them up by the neck with her teeth and carried it into the grass, the other one left heaving softly in the middle of the road. I could see its body rattle from the passenger side.
Neither of us were drunk. It was just dark outside, the streets narrow, and we were turning a bend, and then the quiet thump beneath us, like a balloon deflating.
Marliza braked and checked the rearview mirror. “Oh shit.” She got out of the car.
“Wait,” I called, but she ignored me, ran to the twitching baby. “She left it,” she called. “She just left it here.”
I went to join her. “She could only carry one,” I said. We watched it struggle to breathe. Its insides were squashed out, slick and dark. “What do we do?”
Marliza carried a knife in her purse.
“Could we call someone?” Marliza took out her knife. Later while I rinsed the tires I reasoned with myself that at least the baby didn’t suffer. Marliza’s skinned rabbits before. She grew up in Longview, cattle country. She knew exactly where to cut.
It was only fair that I cleaned up afterwards. We’d borrowed Jen’s car for groceries, and she would freak if she saw all the blood. There was a lot of it, too—more than I thought a baby even had, twice as much. A body can enfold so much, better than my imagination can conjure.
Two hours of scrubbing. I picked up the bucket of blood-rinsed water. Jen would be back from her boyfriend’s soon. Marliza was smoking on our porch, earphones in. “Are we telling Jen?”
“I think I’ve cleaned it up enough so we don’t have to.” I grabbed her cigarette and stabbed it out on the wood of the porch. I smelled disgusting, like ash and guts. I couldn’t wait to shower.
“My parents say I’m supposed to die with all my organs in my body,” I said. I picked at the browning crusts under my nails, thought of the baby’s intestines, splayed like wet chewing gum on cement. “I’m not even allowed to donate blood.”
Her eyebrows crinkled. “That’s dumb.”
“No offense to your culture or whatever.”
I hadn’t really taken offense. “You’re right, it is stupid. A lot of people die in China because no one ever donates.” It was weird that being whole meant someone else was not, weird that humans could pass parts of ourselves around like hot potato.
“What happens if you die without an organ?”
“I don’t know.” I was lying, kind of. The usual—fucked feng shui, angry ancestors. I didn’t know a lot about Marliza, beyond the fact that she was a Psych major and smoked a lot of weed in her bedroom. I knew that she loved the countryside. I knew that she was a lapsed Mexican-Catholic, which she assured me was different from all the other lapsed Catholics. I knew that someone taught her how to use a knife.
“I think we should tell Jen about her car.”
“What?” I groaned. “I literally spent all afternoon cleaning it up. She’ll fucking kill us.”
“She’ll get over it.” She went inside, smoke trailing. I followed.
“Why can’t we just keep it a secret?”
“Because,” she said from the kitchen, “If we don’t tell anyone then there’ll be no one to forgive us.” She unboxed some Thai leftovers, rummaged for a spoon. “And we can’t do it ourselves.” She put the container in the microwave. I watched the lightbulb pulse and thought about how much I hated Texas.
“That’s dumb,” I found myself saying, “No offense to your culture or anything.”
She flipped me off. The microwave dinged. It’s years later when I think more about what happened—I’d always assumed that the mother chose one baby to save, and left the other lying on the road. It never occurred to me that she might have been bringing one to safety and coming back for the other, only to find her baby dead, sliced from suffering.
I don’t think there is a difference between mercy and forgiveness. I think you are the difference. Jen never lets us use her car again. Marliza switches her major from Psych to Theater Education. I donate blood for the first time when I am twenty-one, the needle threading an outside vein, lighting up a red line from my arm to the plastic bag. The nurse dabbed at the hole in my skin with a cotton swab until it coagulated, until the threat of maggots wasn’t far behind.