My name is Talisman and I'm an Australian Shepherd. My person is Valentino DeMitri, and he's the heart of our family, our brilliant sun.
Peter, the man Val loved, was the moon reflecting Val's sun. He was gentle, shy, and fragile, so Val and I focused our energies on caring for him. Peter even inspired my latent maternal instincts. For some strange reason I always found comfort in licking his feet, probably because they were both left feet. At least that's what Val said. I figured it was some kind of human frailty and perhaps my sincere attention to them might remedy the situation.
The week before Christmas, Peter was killed by a drunk driver. Grief became a giant black hole that swallowed every bit of our light.
Val wouldn't get out of bed for days, so I crawled in next to him. My fur soaked up his tears, and my love absorbed a measure of his anguish. Humans came and went, bringing food and sympathy. However, at the end of the day it was just the two of us clinging to each other, wishing with all our combined might that we could change the unchangeable.
"Before Peter drove off I gave him a hard time about not being able to do the dance routine," Val told me with a shuddering sob. "God forgive me, that was the last thing I said to him."
Val and Peter had been preparing for a Christmas Eve recital at Cafe au Gay. Tap dance was a challenge for Peter.
"If only I had told him how much I loved him!"
I felt so helpless.
My stomach growled. Lost in grief, Val had forgotten to feed me. As I pondered my dilemma, I remembered that his mother, Margo, left a freshly baked cheesecake on the kitchen counter. I gently disentangled myself from Val's arms, jumped off the bed, and made my way down the hall into the kitchen. My toenails clacked on the tile floors, echoing in the tomblike silence.
Earlier, when Margo came over, she plugged in all the Christmas lights. Now that darkness had settled, the house was awash in a bath of brilliant colors. It reminded me of the stages on which I had seen Val and Peter perform. We had always been a show biz family. Margo taught theater arts, Val danced, Peter sang, and I had once won Best in Show at Westminster. I thought about how Val had always insisted that the show must go on. I was afraid he would forget how to do that now.
My nose led me straight to the cheesecake, perched enticingly within my reach. My hind legs steadied me while my front paws reached for the pie. Carefully, I pulled it to the edge of the counter and flipped it onto the floor where it landed with a fragrant splat. I dived into the sweet, creamy concoction with gusto.
"Why, Miss Talisman! Aren't you just a naughty little Talismanian devil?"
The familiar voice startled me. Peter? I swung around, and there he was. Peter wasn't the first ghost I'd seen, but I had never been so thrilled to see one before. Peter! I bounded over to him, and he knelt to greet me. I tried to press the top of my head into his chest, but his body was just a shimmer of light that I passed right through.
"Whoa, did you feel that?" Peter asked.
When we merged it had been warm and tingly, and a faint veil of sparks flew.
"Do it again," Peter said.
Carefully, I pressed the top of my head into the middle of him, and I was filled with his sweetness; he was sweeter than cheesecake.
"It's like we're inside each other," he said.
My Border Collie friend, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, has a person who is a medium. I once heard her say that psychics could sometimes body-share. Was that what was happening?
"I can't move on until I make things better for Val," Peter said. "Will you help me?"
* * *
We started slowly. Peter really did have two left feet, but now he had my two right ones for balance. And I was famous for being a wonderful dancer.
Time seemed to stand still while we struggled to synchronize ourselves. I closed my eyes and surrendered to Peter while he took over and showed me the dance steps. Then I exerted myself and coordinated the movements to include my two extra limbs. We encouraged each other, conquered our doubt, and when the flow of time returned, we were tap dancing our shared hearts out. The clickety-clack of my toenails on the tile sounded like tap dance shoes.
Val appeared at the kitchen door. "Tali?"
"It's show time," Peter whispered to me.
Together, we performed a flawless four-legged version of the dance Peter had been trying to learn for the Christmas recital. We finished with flourish and took a well-deserved bow.
Val gasped. "Omigod...Peter?"
We dance-shuffled over to Val and sat down at his feet. We reached out to him with my front paw; he grasped it and fell to his knees.
We leaned forward and blew into Val's left ear, just like sweet Peter had always done.
Val was breathless when he said what he had longed to say. "I'll always love you."
We nuzzled Val's neck, and Peter gave him a gentle kiss goodbye.
"I wrote this story as a holiday gift to my readers. It is a prequel to Show Dog Sings the Blues and the Red Hot novels. The Christmas Dance is a touching tale that sheds light on the characters in those books and speaks to what I believe is the true message of the season ~ love is the greatest gift we can give one another." - Devin
"Love is stronger than death." - Preacher Levi, Red Hot Liberty