Gone Daddy Gone
by Josh Rountree



Moon Doggie’s never seen so many feathers, and he knows straight away that Priscilla finally took her jacket back.  He stands there in the ruins of their living room, listening to the hiss and fizz of rain on cinders, trying to wrap himself in the solemn comfort of northeastern gloom as he considers the cold abandonment that’s become his future. 

He’s a husband without a wife. 

A man without a woman.

And he doesn’t know how to be that cat anymore.

Looks like somebody bombed an aviary, nothing left of the house he and Prissy share in the burbs but charred bits of particle board furniture and sizzling curls of orange shag carpet lifting up in the wind.  And the feathers, thousands of them, millions of them.  Moon Doggie knows she left them there for a reason.  She wants him to follow her.

A carpet of them stretches out in all directions from what he’s now thinking of as the blast site, looking very much like a flow of white lava that has erupted from the crater of their lives.

A block to the west, one lone feather skitters across the street.  Beyond that, another one.


Moon Doggie grins, feels the warmth of life flow back into him, like he’s bathing in pure grade desert sunshine.  He will be soon enough.  No mystery where Prissy is headed.  Everybody who runs away winds up in the same goddamned place eventually.


Prissy is going to California.

*     *     *

The garage has been mercifully spared.

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.

*     *     *

He remembers 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?” he asked.

“Priscilla,” she 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 the engine.

“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.

The middle-aged 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 progress.

“So she’s been here,” says Moon Doggie.  The pie is okay, but the coffee is better.

“The bird lady?” says the man.  “Oh yeah, she’s been here.  You looking for her?”

“She’s my wife.”

“Uh huh.”

“She burned down half our house.”

“Well, that’s to be expected.”

“How’s that?”

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 yours.”

“I can dig it,” says Moon Doggie.  “But she loves me.  She didn’t at first, but she does now.”

“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 never this.

“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.  “I’m sorry.”

“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 split.

“Calm your nerves, daddio.  I’m not going today.  But someday.”


She shrugged and kissed his neck.  “Someday.”

“We’re married.  You can’t leave.”

“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?”

“No bullshit.  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 anyway.”

“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 dashboard vents.

“So, what’s up, Jack?” he asks.

“My name’s Moon Doggie.”

“So it is.  Mine’s American Sky.”

“For real?”

“Close enough.”

“So I guess you saw her too,” says Moon Doggie.

American Sky whistles.  “You bet I did.  You messed up bad when you locked that one up, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t lock her up.”

“Might as well have.”

“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?”

“Plenty has 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.

“Alright,” says 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.”

“Nothing’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 freedom ring!”

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.”

“Suit yourself.”  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 the continent.

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 swimming forever.

“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 return.

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 this.”

“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 her mind.

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 her.

“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.  He’d noticed.

“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 it out.”

“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 more spirit.

“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 do.

*     *     *

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 sun.

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 for good.

“Hey, Doggie,” she says.

“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 experienced.

“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 me, Doggie.”

“I’m glad I caught you too.”

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.




About the Author:

Josh Rountree's short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Polyphony 6, and The Lone Star Stories Reader.  His first short fiction collection Can't Buy Me Faded Love is now available from Wheatland Press.  Visit www.joshrountree.com for the full scoop.



Story © 2009 Josh Rountree. Photo by Malene Thyssen, 2004.