The garage has been
Moon Doggie tosses
his seafoam green Stratocaster into the backseat of the
Thunderbird. Straps his splintering surfboard to the rusted
roof rack. He won’t need much else.
He takes one look
back at what’s left of their home and then he’s history.
* * *
Priscilla in the surf with her sisters. That image will never
leave him no matter how many miles she runs, Prissy wearing not
a stitch, gold hair plastered to her back as she paddled the
surfboard out far enough to catch the big waves, and then the
turn of her head and the silent laugh at something one of her
sisters said and Moon Doggie could just make out the silver
glint of her eyes and that was it, done deal, he was in love and
there was no turning back.
Six leather jackets
lay sunning on the rocks. Moon Doggie braved the crashing waves
and found the one he knew was hers. Still couldn’t say how he
knew but he knew. Snatched it up, took it back to his
T-Bird. It smelled like the earth and the sky. The leather was
cracked and ancient.
Moon Doggie watched
them throughout the afternoon. He felt a shiver and a sudden
queasiness when they finally started swimming for shore,
surfboards abandoned to the sea. They saw him, all of those
silver eyes, but kept their distance. Wet arms slipped into
jacket sleeves. An eruption of euphoric smiles and then they
were airborne, lifted up in a sudden storm of feathers.
Moon Doggie wasn’t
the least bit surprised.
The youngest one
approached him with the inevitability of sunset. Her sisters
circled overhead, calling out with the voices of eagles. Moon
Doggie tossed her a blanket from his back seat and gave her his
jacket. Hers was already locked up in the trunk.
“What’s your name?”
says, drying her hair with the blanket.
“Priscilla, I think
I love you.”
She nodded with all
the enthusiasm of a corpse, then climbed into the passenger’s
seat of the T-Bird. Moon Doggie got behind the wheel. Revved
“Well, you caught
me,” says Priscilla. “What’s your next bright idea?”
* * *
Moon Doggie knows
it’s the place he’s supposed to be the second he spots it. A
diner shaped like a giant Airstream trailer, a blinding sliver
of silver slicing through Midwest monotony. Jerky neon sign
that simply reads EAT, gravel parking lot that snaps and pops
under his tires, probably nothing on the menu but coffee and pie
but that’s just swell with Moon Doggie.
counter man is sporting bloodshot eyes and sallow jowls. His
apron is stained with what Moon Doggie sincerely hopes is cherry
pie filling, and a lone eagle feather sticks out from his paper
hat like a relic from a civilization already paved over with
“So she’s been
here,” says Moon Doggie. The pie is okay, but the coffee is
“The bird lady?”
says the man. “Oh yeah, she’s been here. You looking for her?”
“She’s my wife.”
“She burned down
half our house.”
“Well, that’s to be
The man refills Moon
Doggie’s coffee, smears the dust of ages back and forth across
the counter with a moldy rag. “You can’t expect to keep a woman
like that. I’ve seen this play out a million times. There
ain’t much special left in this world. So people get a little
of it in their hands and they can’t help but squeeze. They hold
on so tight it just crushes all the mystery out of the thing.
You understand what I’m saying? This ain’t her fault, it’s
“I can dig it,” says
Moon Doggie. “But she loves me. She didn’t at first, but she
“That she does,”
says the counter man. “Else she wouldn’t have left you this.”
He plucks the feather from his hat, hands it to Moon Doggie.
It’s as beautiful as the sky on the day he met Prissy, all the
rich hues of sunset swirled together into one perfect color.
Moon Doggie shoves
the feather in his hip pocket, leaves some cash on the counter
and heads for the door.
The counter man
calls after him. “Things won’t be the same as they were
before. Even if you find her. You know that, don’t you?”
“Things are never
the same,” says Moon Doggie.
“Truer words,” says
the counter man.
The bell over the
door heralds Moon Doggie’s return to the amber waves of truck
stops and low rent motels and mostly forgotten small towns that
haven’t changed a lick since 1959.
“You know, that
ain’t necessarily a bad thing,” says the counter man, but Moon
Doggie is already gone.
* * *
Moon Doggie recalls
the soft curve of her hips and the way they’d spend most
Saturday mornings laughing in bed, and most of all the way she
really, truly loves him. He questions a lot of things, but
“I would have come
with you anyway,” she told him one morning, her ear against his
chest. She liked to listen to his heartbeat; she had none of
her own. “You didn’t have to steal my jacket.”
“I know,” he said.
“It would have been
better if you hadn’t,” she said. “Maybe then I could have
stayed. Not forever. But longer.”
Moon Doggie sat up,
took gentle hold of her wrist, terrified she meant to leave
right then. How the hell had he ever let himself get so
attached to someone? There wouldn’t be much left of him if she
“Calm your nerves,
daddio. I’m not going today. But someday.”
She shrugged and
kissed his neck. “Someday.”
“We’re married. You
“We can only pretend
like this so long,” she said. “Like we’re a normal couple.
This is unnatural. Haven’t you noticed how nothing ever seems
to change? You gotta be hip to that, Moon Doggie. This isn’t
just about us, it’s about the world. There’s an order to things
and much as I love you, you broke it. I’m not supposed to be
here. One day the sunset is gonna come calling again and I’m
not going to have any choice but to go to it. You dig?”
“You can’t. I have
your jacket.” Shame took him the moment he said it and he began
searching for an apology, a way to redirect the morning that had
suddenly taken a left turn into Shitsville.
But Priscilla only
smiled. It was sad and far away and pained Moon Doggie in ways
he couldn’t understand.
“I wouldn’t stop
you,” he said. “I’d want to, but I wouldn’t. Not anymore.”
“I know,” she said.
“That’s why I love you.”
Moon Doggie laid
back again, wrapped her in his arms. “Where will you go to?
When it’s time.”
“East of the sun,
west of the moon.”
“What kind of
bullshit answer is that?”
That’s my home.”
“Then I’ll go with
you,” he said, chasing after hope he knew he’d never catch.
“You can’t go.” Was
she crying? “Not there.”
“I’ll follow you
“I know you will,”
she said. “But it’s not gonna matter.”
* * *
Nothing on the AM
anymore but Miles Davis and a thousand bands playing Willie
Dixon songs and Moon Doggie is beat with all of it, so he turns
off the radio and dwells in the hypnotic world of humming tires
and angry wind gusts as he steers the Thunderbird higher into
the mountains and straight across the Continental Divide. He
figures it’ll make him feel different somehow, coming back this
way, but he’s wrong.
A black man with his
thumb out stands almost knee deep in snowdrifts. He waves a
feather in the air and Moon Doggie brakes. Offers him a ride.
“Guess this is
yours,” says the man, handing over the feather before Moon
Doggie’s even had a chance to put the car in drive again.
“Guess so.” This
feather’s dark and leathery, stained with old earth and ageless
scars, just like Pricilla’s jacket. Moon Doggie puts it in his
pocket with the other one.
His new passenger
has a handsome face. Young and friendly, if a little forlorn.
His hair’s dusted with snowflakes. He rubs his hands together
and holds them out to catch the heat emanating from the
“So, what’s up,
Jack?” he asks.
“My name’s Moon
“So it is. Mine’s
“So I guess you saw
her too,” says Moon Doggie.
whistles. “You bet I did. You messed up bad when you locked
that one up, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t lock her
“Might as well
“She could leave
when she wanted,” says Moon Doggie. “And she did.”
“But you didn’t
encourage her none,” says American Sky. “You’ve noticed maybe
that not a goddamned thing has changed in this country since you
plucked that bird out the surf?”
changed,” says Moon Doggie.
“No, things have
just become . . . more. That make sense to you, Jack?
It’s like everything you loved about that one beautiful day on
that beach, but revved up right past the point of safety.
Speaking of which, you mind slowing the hell down on this ice?
I’d like to see the other side of them hills alive.”
“Uh huh. Well,
things can’t stay the same way always. They gotta change. This
ain’t the fifties anymore.”
“Sure it is,” says
Moon Doggie, knowing full well he was full of shit.
“To you and her
maybe, but to the rest of us? No, we’d just as soon move on if
you catch my drift. This decade’s a drag and it’s like there’s
a corner out there, waiting to be turned and you’re the one with
his foot on the brake.” He grabs the window knob with one hand
and puts the other one against the dash. “Seriously, man. Slow
the fucking car down.”
Moon Doggie slows
the car, cranks up the heat.
American Sky. “That’s better.”
“I don’t know why
you’re complaining to me,” says Moon Doggie. “She’s free now.
That gig’s over.”
says American Sky. “So long as you’re still on the hunt. You
saying if you find her you ain’t gonna try to catch her again?
Cause that’s nothing but a lie and we both know it. You have to
find her, for your own sake, but when you do then you have to
leave her be. Let the world start turning again, Jack. Let
Moon Doggie knows a
thing or two about freedom. He grew a goatee once. He’s read
Kerouac. He doesn’t see what the hell that has to do with
Prissy. Nothing wrong with the world they can’t fix if he can
just catch her before she flies back to the world she came from.
“Look here,” says
American Sky. “You’re scaring the shit out of me. I think I’d
rather take my chances with the snow.”
Moon Doggie pulls the car over and American Sky steps out into a
swirl of flakes.
“So what am I
supposed to do with these feathers?” asks Moon Doggie.
“Shove ‘em in your
pocket, I guess.” American Sky slams the door and by the time
he’s out of sight in the rear view mirror Moon Doggie is
cruising through another world altogether.
* * *
By the time Moon
Doggie reaches the desert, the road has become a snake. Not
some metaphorical snake designed to illustrate the twists and
turns his life is taking but an honest to God snake, a
sheet of gray scales writhing beneath his tires and stretching
out before him in a series of sharp curves that circle the
scrub-covered dunes and lead him that much closer to the end of
Things, as they say,
are going downhill.
The stars spin
circles overhead until they’re nothing but a great shining smear
on the canvas of night. Lizards and night owls flash their
golden eyes at him as pellets of rain strike the car and the
snake. The scales are becoming slippery and Moon Doggie’s
afraid he’ll never see the other side of this place.
Not like Prissy
didn’t warn him.
“We aren’t living
where you think we are,” she’d told him only a week ago. They’d
been holding hands and staring across the still surface of the
lake near their house. It was within walking distance and
Prissy insisted they visit it at least once a week. Moon Doggie
never cared for it. When Prissy approached water, she did so
with an unhealthy intensity. Moon Doggie never let her hand go
on these occasions. He was afraid she’d leap in and keep on
“According to the
number on the mailbox, we are.”
“That’s not what I
mean,” she said. “This isn’t your world anymore. Not
completely, anyway. My world is creeping in.”
“Tell me about your
world.” Moon Doggie had asked her this a thousand times in
their years together and never received so much as a hint in
She gave him a coy
smile. “You’ll see it soon enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I’ll be
going soon, and you’ll follow me.”
They stood in
uncomfortable silence, watching the leaves tumble from the trees
and settle on the lake. Moon Doggie squeezed her hand tighter.
“I can’t live in one
place like this much longer,” said Priscilla. “My spirit will
burn out if I do. I need to roam. I need to be free from all
“You want freedom?
You want to roam? Shit, let’s get in the T-Bird and drive to
Vegas. We can move there if we want. Or anywhere. Maybe to
the beach again, huh? The real beach, not this ice cold drag of
an ocean they got out here. We’re free. We’re Americans. We
can do whatever we want.” It wasn’t the kind of freedom she was
talking about, and he knew it. But he was desperate to change
Priscilla shook her
head. “This ain’t really your America anymore, Daddio. This is
the spit-shined, dry cleaned idealized version that you made up
in that thick head of yours.” She jabbed him in the forehead
with her finger to drive the point home. “You fell in love with
that one perfect day by the sea; barely a couple of years into a
whole new decade and you’re done with it all. But that day
ain’t everyone’s idea of perfect. There’s a lot of stuff that’s
supposed to happen after this. The future’s not so bad. You
might actually dig it.”
She pulled her hand
from his, kicked off her shoes and walked ankle deep into the
water. Moon Doggie held his breath, resisted the urge to grab
“What kind of stuff
are you talking about?” he whispered.
“Good stuff. Bad
stuff. Stuff. That’s why I’m gone any day now, you dig? Your
world has to get back on track. And besides, my world’s come
looking for me. You notice how the sky’s a pink mist half the
time and the fish are telling dirty jokes to one another?”
Moon Doggie nodded.
“So, there you go.
I keep playing house with you and pretty soon there won’t be any
of this. I’m not long for this world, Doggie.”
“How soon,” he
asked, barely able to voice the words.
“Too soon.” Prissy
splashed from the water and put her hands on his cheeks. “But I
have one more surprise for you before I go. A good one.”
The roar of thunder
yanks Moon Doggie from his memories, and he takes firmer hold of
the steering wheel, terrified of sliding off the snake’s back
and into the roiling whirlpools of burning sand.
Priscilla had a
surprise for him, alright.
But burning down the
goddamned house wasn’t what he’d had in mind.
* * *
And then the desert
is gone and Moon Doggie can see the ocean.
It’s just like he
remembers it, and he half expects to see Prissy’s sisters
bobbing in the surf, waiting for that one perfect wave before
calling it quits for the day. The sun hangs fat in the western
sky, threatening to fall, but Moon Doggie knows it’ll keep its
cool until their business is done.
The last feather is
the perfect silver-blue of ocean waves, and the man holding it
stands bare-chested and tan. Sun-bleached hair covers his
shoulders, and he’s carrying the longest surfboard Moon Doggie
has ever seen. The cat is tall, and he’s grinning. He hands
Moon Doggie the feather and claps him on the back.
“You made it!”
“Guess I did,” says
Moon Doggie. He takes all three feathers, places them on the
hood of the parked T-Bird.
“Well, you been
through the fire and lived. I guess you’ve earned your way
here. You know what to do now?”
“No, but I’ll figure
“That’s the spirit,”
says the overgrown surfer. “Look, pal, my work’s done. I’m
gone. Gotta catch a wave.”
“Don’t we all.”
The surfer laughs
and then sprints toward the waves. Moon Doggie watches him
paddle out past the largest breaks until he disappears into the
horizon, then he grabs the guitar from his back seat and starts
to pick some Dick Dale licks, quietly at first and then with
“Where are you,
Prissy?” he asks when the last chord dies in the crash of surf
on the rocks.
He plays another
song, a quiet one this time, because he’s not sure what else to
* * *
The night before
Priscilla blew the house up and ran away, she’d slept in Moon
Doggie’s arms. He’d sung her to sleep with one of the songs
they both loved, the one about a place where they could be
together forever, waiting for them just beyond the sea.
Neither had noticed
the other one crying.
* * *
When the song is
finished, when that song is finished, he spots Priscilla
in the ocean. The guitar slides to the sand and his fingers
begin fumbling with the rope binding his surfboard to the car
roof. Then it’s loose, and Moon Doggie dives into the water,
fully clothed, and paddles the board toward the rapidly fading
And then she’s in
front of him, straddling her board. Moon Doggie touches her
hand and knows it’s really her. She’s wearing a yellow
two-piece and her jacket, of course. He knows she can change
anytime she wants and then she’ll be gone someplace he can never
follow. She’s wearing a backpack, like she’s all ready to leave
“Hey, Doggie,” she
“I came for you.”
“I knew you would.”
She smiles at him
and he’s more in love with her than ever. Her eyes are shards
of silver, hardly human anymore.
“You’re going away,”
he says. “I don’t know why I even came.”
“You came because
that’s the way these things go. You’re human. You’ve got to
make these wonderful grand gestures even when you know they’re
never gonna amount to anything. You did it for love and freedom
and you did it to find out what your surprise is. I don’t think
you’re as scared of the future as you think you are.”
“You burned down the
house. You have something more surprising than that?”
She laughs, and the
sound of it breaks what’s left of his heart. It’s not a natural
laugh. Not her laugh. It’s the most foreign thing he’s ever
“I didn’t burn the
house down,” she says. “I told you my world was coming for me.
Well, it came. Not very subtle, is it? But when the mystery
reaches out and levels half your house, well that means it’s
time to put away your toys and come in for dinner. You dig?”
“Yeah, I dig.”
“I’m glad you caught
“I’m glad I caught
The waves surge and
he struggles to keep her close. She reaches behind her, to her
backpack, pulls out a baby, and damned if it ain’t the last
thing Moon Doggie ever expected to see. She hands him the kid,
the boy. His eyes are like hers, and Moon Doggie can’t help
staring into them.
“Take care of
yourself, daddio,” says Priscilla.
Moon Doggie looks up
and she’s an eagle, circling overhead with her sisters and he
gets one last glimpse of the love of his life before she’s gone,
east of the sun, west of the moon.
Darkness follows in
her wake and Moon Doggie catches a wave, the squealing boy in
his arms, and it’s a monster wave, the king of waves, and it
sets them back on shore with the gentle touch of a mother.
* * *
The world turns
again and Moon Doggie heads up the coast. Word is, there’s a
future, and he can do any damned thing he wants with it. The
boy lays flat in the front seat, holding three of his mother’s
feathers and listening to the endless collision of ocean and
earth. His very own lullaby.
* * *
By the time they
reach San Francisco, Moon Doggie has named his son American Sky.