9th Grade

The Pale Moon

After painting a 5-bedroom house and taking an hour’s bus ride, he’s exhausted, as he always is at the end of a day. When he steps out of the bus, he notices the sil-
very light from the moon. Subtle and beautiful. A slight smile curves his chapped lips. The moonlight always makes him feel warm and calm.

He enters a winding, narrow street, where the moonlight is too pale to sift through the dark. The faint glow from old streetlights barely reveals the cracked pave-
ment ahead of him. The street lays empty and silent; his home is on the other side of it. He likes the feeling of walking alone and reflecting on his day. He rubs his ach-
ing shoulders under the worn, paint-stained overalls, and breathes a long sigh of relief. This is his way to relax his body and brain.

Three years ago—when he was a high school senior—he used the same method to regain energy when he felt tired from piles of homework and tests. Back then
he would also take out his navy-blue hardcover journal, a gift from his cousin, and jot down a few lines of poetry, which cheered up his mood. Not many people knew he
wrote poems, and he was too embarrassed to mention that. His English teacher, Ms. Giles, was one of the few who had read his poems and told him they were good.

He remembers the tears glistening in Ms. Giles’ eyes when she learned that he chose not to go to college and would work to help his mother who already held three
jobs. She patted his arm and wished him good luck, asking him not to give up writing poetry. Her words lingered in his mind, even when he plodded out of the school, feeling
hollowed out with sorrow. Even when he put on the painter’s overalls and picked up his brush soaked with paint.

The painter’s job was not what he wanted, but it was an easy one to get. One week after he left school, he became a painter’s apprentice. He learned how to prepare
surfaces, set up and use the equipment, and mix and match paints, all the skills needed to be a professional painter. Despite his thin frame, he was quick-witted and hardwork-
ing, and soon he was promoted to a full-time painter.

The first year of working as a painter wasn’t easy. He dreaded the pungent smell of paint, the strident, rumbling sound from scraping and sanding walls, and the same
movement of brushing and rolling, again and again. During the lunch break, he wasn’t comfortable sitting with his coworkers, most of whom were in their mid-20s or ear-
ly 30s. They guzzled cold coke and devoured burgers and laughed and chatted with mouths full of food, while he sat in a corner quietly chewing his homemade sandwich.
Sometimes at night, he opened his journal and read his old poems, some about dreams, some about freedom, and many others about all kinds of lives he imagined he
would have. A wave of regrets often washed over him. Until one day, he wrote down his regrets in a poem, the first poem he wrote after leaving school.

After that, he continued his painting work routine, but his mind often roamed to the imageries of poetry. The paint colors reminded him of the variegated plants on
the hillside of the village where his grandmother lived. The light purple glowed with the hues of lavender and French lilacs. The lemon green resembled perennial ryegrass
flecked with dew. When he finished painting a room, the paint covered the crude gray surface like a fresh, clean sheet. He imaged someone would soon move in and begin a
new life there. He wrote about the colors and the newness his painting brought to someone’s life in his poetry.

He started to join his coworkers for lunch, listening to their jokes and chats about family, children, and love. Their seemingly insignificant lives were full of unem-
bellished stories and simple joys, which gave him the compulsion to pour those feelings on paper.

He hand-copied his poems on lined sheets of paper and sent them to literary magazines, hoping someone could read his words with the fervor he had when he wrote
them. But what he got were rejection letters. He stacked those rejection letters in a discolored tin box and submitted a few more poems, with a flicker of hope.

Tonight, as he walks on the darkened street, he feels an unsettling sense of the unknown. He has been having such feelings for a while—his battered hands and the
chemical odor of paint clinging to his body tell him he’s just a painter, but his unfettered heart drives him to venture into a world that he’s not sure he belongs in. The
rejection letters seem to prove his self-doubt.

When he almost reaches the end of the street where his old apartment perches, he sees the soft moonlight dapple its weathered wall and sagging roof. His mother has
already left for her night shift, so it is dark inside.

He opens the door and turns on the floor lamp next to a stuffed chair, noticing an unopened letter on the chair. Another rejection letter, he thinks to himself. Without
picking it up, he goes straight to the basin to wash his face. The tepid water washes off sweat, dust, and weariness from his face, making him feel a little refreshed.
Then he paces back to the chair and slits open the letter, which begins with “Thank you for submitting your poem ‘The Painter.’ We would love to include it in
our next issue…” The letter trembles in his shaking hands; the words blur as his vision smears with unbidden tears.

After reading the letter three times, he steps onto the little balcony and leans forward against its rusty railing, inhaling a lungful of cool air. Looking up at the night
sky, he sees the moon, stillpale, but a little brighter than before.