Route 7 Review - Page 101

Surrogate By Ron Burch You’re outside helping him light the barbecue. He is not your father. Your father left when you were young. This man lives down the road. His name is Ted. He and his wife have opened their doors to you as if you are family. You live with your mom a few houses down. It is a poor community. You know you are poor. You know that your mom uses those stamps to buy food, mostly macaroni and cheese in those bland cardboard boxes because your mom doesn’t know how to cook. Sometimes you almost eat macaroni and cheese all week. You don’t mind it. You like it except it sometimes tastes artificial to you, leaving a faint metal taste in your mouth. It could be worse. Your mom could be like the moms of some of your friends. Moms who don’t come home at night, or for a couple nights. Or moms who drink too much red wine and fall down the stairs. Or moms who bring in strange men they call boyfriends but we all know they aren’t and sometimes you can hear the mom screaming from behind the bedroom door. Your friends always tells you how good your mom is even if she can’t cook. Your mom and Ted’s wife, Anne, are good friends. They make food together and play cards and listen to music. Ted’s favorite musician is Sam Cooke. He buys all Sam’s music on expensive vintage records and says the digital recordings don’t sound half as good. Ted thinks Sam Cooke is the best singer in the whole world and because you like Ted you also think Sam Cooke is the best singer in the world. Ted is letting you grill hamburgers on the short black Weber out back and you listen to Sam Cooke. Anne brings out a soda for you and a beer for Ted and she smiles at both of you. They don’t have kids and you think this is what a family is. What it should be. You haven’t seen your real father in like five years and you heard that he’s a cop, which confuses you because you thought cops were supposed to be good guys and if your dad is a good guy, why haven’t you heard from him in five years. But it doesn’t matter because you don’t think about him when you’re around Ted and Anne. Ted likes his beer out of a can. He works for the post office and sometimes brings a Playboy magazine home that has no forwarding address. If you’re spending the night with them sometimes, when your mom works late, he lets you look at the magazine after they go to bed. You throw the hamburger patties on the grill and they sizzle. This will be the first meal you had today even though it’s near dinner. It would not be a far stretch to say that you love Ted and Anne like they’re parents. You love them maybe more, sometimes, than your mom but you’d never tell her that because you know it would make her cry. The summer day’s heat is starting to die down and the hamburgers are smelling delicious. You could almost eat one raw. Sam’s song “Wonderful World” comes on and Ted sings with it because it’s Ted’s favorite song and then you and Ted are singing together with the song. When it finishes, you applaud and Ted says, What a great singer even if he was black. This is a slap to your head because you realize he didn’t say “black,” he said the N-word, the word your mother told you to never, ever say because it was wrong. You’re confused. Ted’s still smiling and drinks his beer. But, you stammer, why do you say that if he’s your favorite singer? ‘Cause all the blacks are bad, he says, you can’t