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“I don’t know,” I said. “Buy a six-pack of beer for someone and leave it on their porch?”

“Pretty sketchy, Dad,” said Powder Keg. “What if the homeowner has just decided to stop drinking and then he comes outside and sees a six-pack in the snow for him? It might totally ruin his life.”

Leave it to my oldest to always see the downside of things. This was a child of divorce, after all. His mom had asked his dad to forsake the family home, his dad had complied, and now Powder Keg made it his business to go cheek to cheek with his dad so the nakedness between them was almost unbearable. “Do you have to always leave?” he kept asking, every time it was the hour for me to go. “Could you please not?” So he was correct that downsides did have to be considered.

“Alright, how about roses?” I said. “Anonymous roses for someone? A gift out of the blue, from the Rose boys?”

This was acceptable as a working thesis. The frigid afternoon was fast dwindling as people bustled to finish their last-ditch Xmas errands, but we managed to find a flower store that was still open. The inside was crowded with statues of Jesus and smelled like a mortuary, but the large, humorless woman in back said she had some roses left, four dollars each, which offended me since I was used to New York prices—two dozen for ten bucks. Was everything greed, corruption, bitterness? And was the answer to a freezer-burned universe to try to be kinder than you possibly could? We left the store empty-handed.

“Just as well,” said Powder Keg. “Roses would probably die outside in the cold anyway, waiting for the person to find them.”

“Not if we rang their doorbell and ran away,” said Love Machine, who always had a plan.

“Didn’t you already get arrested last month for ding-dong-doorbell?” Powder Keg challenged him.

“Not arrested,” said Love Machine. “The police were just trying to put the fear of God in me, but even they finally admitted they’d done the same thing when they were twelve.”

“That was after you told them your uncle was the attorney general,” Powder Keg pointed out.

“Which was quite a creative lie,” said Love Machine.

“Anyway,” I said, putting the car in reverse. “We have a dilemma in need of a solution. How’re three Yids gonna spread a little Xmas cheer without totally ruining someone’s life, getting nailed by the cops, or just being stupid? Maybe we should hit that Family Dollar for some candy canes or something?”

In the Family Dollar, Love Machine kept trying to turn off the overhead TV monitor with his Hanukah TV zapper. It wouldn’t work, though he kept pointing at it through his coat pocket. A trio of teenagers saw what he was doing on the overhead surveillance camera and nodded to each other appreciatively. But all that was left in the Xmas bin were a few fractured candy canes, looking like colorful broken teeth.

“Okay, new idea,” I said, trying to shake the image of hard chipped candy, sweet and fractured. “Instead of trying to spread anonymous Xmas cheer, let’s target someone specific.”

“How about Mom?” suggested Love Machine.

“The last thing she wants is cheer from me,” I said. “But how about the guys at the bowling alley? We’ll bring them a six-pack!”

Even Powder Keg acquiesced. “And you were loaded for bear when they said the place was closed.”

“Luckily my temper doesn’t always get the better of me,” I said.

“Not luckily enough for Mom,” inserted Love Machine.

I left the car on so the boys could stay warm while I went alone into a liquor store, filled with people jostling to buy spirits in the last minutes before the store closed. The line was long and stank of cigarette smoke, but soon enough I was toting my six-pack of Belgian ale, Blue Moon, to the car.

“Rose boys to the rescue!” they both shouted.

“Plus your grandmother Bonmama was Belgian, so it’s kind of in honor of her, as well,” I added.

They had no response to that, my too-obvious attempt to constantly bring the greater family into our discussion, so they’d feel less orphaned. Besides, they remembered their grandmother only from the nursing home in her last years, and lacked any sense of how refined she was in her prime. That brilliant woman reduced to gummy stammering. Talk about dwindling.

Evening was setting in by the time we got back to the bowling alley. We marched past the CLOSED sign into the dark lobby, causing an urgent rustling in the vicinity of the shoe rental counter, where the three men couldn’t distinguish if we were friends or foe. I held the six-pack high by way of greeting, and to show we hadn’t come to rob them. “Merry Xmas,” I said.

Naturally it was the man in blue who had the wits to rally first.

“This is unheard of!” he said, coming forward with his arms open wide, as if to hug us.

“Yeah, well, it was unheard of for you to let us play before, and for free.”

“Unheard of!” he repeated, closing his arms almost with reluctance but continuing to beam. With the energy of his unconsummated embrace he patted me on the back, then patted each of my boys on their backs, in turn. He shook our hands next, which seemed redundant after the patting, but he wanted to keep the contact coming. The boys were beaming, too.

Back in the car on their return to their mom’s house, we conducted a post mortem.
“Good solution to our dilemma?” I asked.

“Good solution,” they agreed.

“What I particularly liked was his use of the phrase ‘unheard of,’” I said. “There they were talking about carburetors and universal joints, and out he comes with an archaic English expression. I love when people surprise you like that.”

“I feel good,” said Love Machine. “I just wish we could spread a little cheer to Mom.”

“Ho ho ho,” I said, deflecting him. “You feeling good, too?” I asked Powder Keg.

“Definitely,” he said. “Plus I’m glad we weren’t shot when we came through the door.”

“A definite plus,” I confirmed.

And it was, in the greater scheme of things. All the drive back to New York, with the burn of his rough-smooth cheek blazed on mine, I acknowledged what a definite plus that was.

Daniel Asa Rose has won an O. Henry Prize, two PEN Fiction Awards, and has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, and GQ. His latest book is Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China With my Black Sheep Cousin and his Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant... and Save His Life.

Originally published in the January 2011 Shambhala Sun magazine.

Illustration by Kim Rosen.

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