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"Some dolphin luck would be very useful," said Beany.
It's a wet, cold, and miserable Christmas. Mrs. Robinson is ill and so is Old Blanket, the Robinsons' beloved dog. Following the doctor's orders, Mr. Robinson takes Mrs. Robinson off to recuperate in a warmer climate, leaving Beany and Sun Dance, their two younger children, in the capable care of Mrs. Brogan, who with her son, Robin, lives in the other half of Porridge Hall, an old seaside mansion. The twins, Ant and Perry, ...
"Some dolphin luck would be very useful," said Beany.
It's a wet, cold, and miserable Christmas. Mrs. Robinson is ill and so is Old Blanket, the Robinsons' beloved dog. Following the doctor's orders, Mr. Robinson takes Mrs. Robinson off to recuperate in a warmer climate, leaving Beany and Sun Dance, their two younger children, in the capable care of Mrs. Brogan, who with her son, Robin, lives in the other half of Porridge Hall, an old seaside mansion. The twins, Ant and Perry, are shipped off to Great Aunt Mabel. To Beany and Sun Dance, it seems as though things can't get any worse.
Sun Dance settles down to capture any burglar who may attempt to rob their house, and Beany determines to find an ancient sword, with a hilt in the shape of a dolphin, that is supposed to bring luck and grant wishes. Meanwhile, Ant and Perry find their old aunt not quite what they expected. She eats porridge and nothing else and lives with two large dogs, four cats, and a parrot.
Before the Robinson family is reunited, each one of them has had extraordinary, sometimes scary, frequently harrowing adventures that make for touching, often hilarious, utterly absorbing reading. This companion to Hilary McKay's earlier Dog Friday and The Amber Cat, with its rich characterization and great originality, is an outstanding achievement.
Sent by their vacationing parents to visit Mad Aunt Mabel, Perry and Ant have an adventure, while their younger siblings Sun Dance and Beany stay at home making burglar traps and searching for a magic sword.
Chapter 1 Perry distributed his Christmas cards on the last day before the holiday, twenty of them, all the same, in blank envelopes so as to cut down on delivery time. It was the fashion among seventh-year boys to be very, very casual about Christmas cards: they were ripped open, glanced at, and unsentimentally tossed in the wastebasket in a matter of seconds. Perry chucked one onto the teacher's desk, handed the rest out to the nineteen people nearest to him, and was about to saunter off when he happened to notice that he was being given some curious glances.
"What's up?" he asked Dan, who was standing next to him.
"Nothing," said Dan, dropping his card into the basket. "Cheers, mate! Very nice!"
"Very," agreed Robin, Perry's best friend, and he looked admiringly at the design again, a parade of turkeys marching under the headline TURKEYS ARE REVOLTING. The turkeys carried banners exhorting people to eat robin at Christmas: SLIMMING, TRADITIONAL, AND CHEAP. Perry, with Robin in mind, had invested in two packages of the cards and considered them to be hilarious.
People were certainly smiling.
"Give it back a second!" said Perry to Robin with sudden suspicion.
"Why?" Robin -- who, unlike nearly everyone else, made no secret of the fact that he took his Christmas cards home -- paused in the act of stuffing it into his pocket.
"Just do...Oh no!"
Inside, above where Perry had laconically scrawled his name, someone had carefully written:
"Bloody Sun Dance!" howled Perry.
"What does it matter?" asked Robin, who, living next door to Perry, knew and understood Perry's younger brother, Sun Dance, completely.
"Are they all like that?" moaned Perry, and after a brief inspection of the wastebasket discovered that they were.
"I'm sure he wasn't meaning to be funny," said Robin.
"That's just it," said Perry. "It wouldn't matter half as much if he was. What must people think?" he added bitterly.
Sun Dance was ten years old, two years younger than Perry and Ant, two years older than his sister Beany. They were the Robinson children, and they lived in one half of Porridge Hall, an old Victorian house that stood alone on the road out of town and faced the sea of the Yorkshire coast in England. In the other half lived Robin Brogan and his mother; Robin's dog, Friday; and, in season, Mrs. Brogan's bed-and-breakfast guests.
"Who are a mixed blessing," Mrs. Brogan often remarked to Mrs. Robinson. Mrs. Brogan and Mrs. Robinson were very good friends.
"There is no one else I would trust with Sun Dance," Mrs. Robinson said of Mrs. Brogan. Sun Dance -- the unpredictable and innocent, with his sparkle and his darkness, his nightmares and his courage and his incomprehensible logic -- needed handling with care. Always, always, ever since he had been able to speak, Sun Dance had needed handling with care. He was explained by his parents, shielded by his brother and sisters, and defused, when necessary, like a self-destructing bomb. Always, always, always.
In the past Perry had understood this, fought Sun Dance's battles and forgiven his excesses. It was bad enough being Sun Dance, Perry had understood, without having it chucked in your face, and Perry's parents had said, "The children are wonderful with Sun Dance. Perry is marvelous. I don't know what he would do without Perry."
Lately Perry had grown sick of being marvelous, and his patience had begun to run out.
"What did you do it for?" he yelled, marching into where his sisters and brother were peacefully watching TV and hurling Robin's card in front of Sun Dance.
"To help," said Sun Dance.
Perry had known that already. He had remembered Sun Dance watching him scribble his Christmas cards the night before and asking, "Is that all you're going to put?" and showing him his own carefully written pile.
"I couldn't write all that rubbish," he had said to Sun Dance. "It would take all night."
So Sun Dance had done it for him.
"Were people pleased?" asked Sun Dance. "Did people say how neat I'd done it? Were they glad I put my name too?"
"Kisses!" shouted Perry. "What do you think people thought? Lots of love! Lots of love! And putting your name and calling yourself Sun Dance!"
This last criticism surprised even Perry; he didn't know why he had said it. Nobody, including himself, had called Sun Dance anything else for years and years. Nevertheless, he continued ruthlessly with his tirade. "And it's about time everyone stopped calling him that! He's got a perfectly good name of his own!"
"What, me? I've got a perfectly good name of my own?" asked Sun Dance after a tiny moment's pause during which everyone strove to remind themselves of what his name actually was.
"Yes, so stop pretending you've forgotten!"
"It was only ever a game, calling you Sun Dance."
"You and Ant were Butch and Cassidy," said Sun Dance slowly, "and I was Sun Dance. Because you said I was old enough to play." Sun Dance tugged off his glasses and scrubbed his eyes. "You said I was Sun Dance and I am Sun Dance!"
"You're not," said Perry.
There was a very nasty silence. Nobody looked at Perry. Nobody said he was quite right. He reached out and drew Old Blanket, the family dog, toward him as a shield and ally, and from Old Blanket there came a revolting noise and a fresh and terrible smell.
"Darling Old Blanket," said Ant.
"I shan't stop being Beany," said Beany, who had once expressed a yearning for the quiet life of a bean. "I shan't be Elizabeth again, whatever you say."
"It doesn't matter about you," growled Perry. "At least you know."
"Who you're supposed to be."
"Sun Dance knows who he's supposed to be, don't you, Sun Dance," said Ant.
"Yes," said Sun Dance uncertainly.
Late that night the wind began to rise. In the house Mrs. Robinson coughed and Old Blanket groaned, his hind leg thumping the floor as he scratched. From the kitchen came the distant rumble of the tumble dryer. Perry, on the top bunk in the room he shared with Sun Dance, sprawled and murmured, comforted by sleep, safe in a world where it didn't matter what anyone thought, where it was not necessary to toss away your Christmas cards and be tough and cool, tougher and cooler than anyone else because your kid brother was so different from everyone else's kid brothers. "Off the rails," somebody had said, describing Sun Dance that afternoon, but in his dreams Perry had forgotten.
Sun Dance lay awake remembering. First he had been a baby. After that he had begun; he had been a person, but a person too young to play. Perry and Ant, who were twins, had seemed far away, out of reach. Then, one glorious day, Perry had said he was no longer too young and had told him he was Sun Dance, and he had been Sun Dance ever since. And now Perry, who had given him his name, had taken it away, and was once again drifting out of reach.
Perry's most uncharacteristic outburst of nastiness seemed to leave no visible trace at all. Beany and Ant never referred to it. Sun Dance continued to answer to his name, just as he had always done. Perry, away from the pressure of school, appeared to revert to his old pigheaded, optimistic self, but occasionally an expression on Sun Dance's face would cause him to experience vague murmurings of guilt, as if he had perpetrated some shabby, undiscovered deed. This caused him to treat Sun Dance with a slightly reserved gentleness. Sun Dance noticed this and was not at all grateful. He far preferred being yelled at, but it seemed he had no choice. The gap between himself and Perry was widening and widening; he could not imagine how he would ever catch up with him again.
There were other worries in those days before Christmas: Mrs. Robinson's way of catching her chest when she coughed; the weather, which was horrible without being exciting; and something nameless that seemed to shadow Old Blanket and caused the children to love him more than ever and the adults to avoid each other's eyes.
"It's not very Christmassy," remarked Beany disconsolately on Christmas Eve.
"We need something nice to happen."
"Christmas will happen tomorrow," said Mrs. Brogan.
"Something beside that. Something special."
"What sort of special?"
"Something lucky. We need some luck," said Beany.
Copyright © 1998 by Hilary McKay