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One Day with Moon (3rd Prize, Category 2)

April, 2014
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I walk home with my head down, trying in vain to keep the lashing rain out of my eyes. It was a bad day. They have become unbearably frequent now. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of dark brown hurtle past me, into the dark alleyway a few steps away. I walk closer tentatively. It’s a dog. Its fur is muddy, and I can see a gash, its edges crusted with dried blood. The dog is thin to the point of starvation and it’s clearly malnourished. But it’s the look in its eyes that frightens me most. They are wild, petrified. Its sapphire blue eyes startle me, for not only is it an unusual colour, it is the exact same shade as my own. They are dull with pain and hunger, its pupils dilated with fear. I pity the dog and take out my half-eaten lunch and set it on the ground gently. It steps forward hesitantly. I crouch down, trying to appear harmless. The dog picks up the food and looks up into my eyes. I wasn’t expecting that. I look right back and it happens.

The world has become larger, noisier and smellier. I can hear the loud thump of footsteps and the scent of rain, mud and a whole mishmash of other things. I can see a girl crouching down, looking at me. A horrid pang gnaws at my stomach, emphasizing the hunger I feel. There is also the sting of a wound and the scent of blood. I realize I became that dog. Then it was over.

I am back to myself and the dog is staring at me. Did it know what had happened? I stretch out my hand to let the dog sniff it. I know I shouldn’t be doing that; I know I should call the animal shelter. Despite those thoughts, I pat the dog and stroke its ears. And I bring it home.

I tune out all the shouting and bellowing and yelling and roaring. I should have known. Since Mother’s death, Father hated dogs. Loathes them. Despises them even. I stand there numbly as he lashed out at me with language that would have set fire to the sidewalk. I run one finger along the smooth opal pendant strung around my neck. The dog’s shying away from Father, obviously scared of his raging temper. “…Get that filthy beast out of my sight! Just one night then I’m throwing that mongrel out, y’ hear? Now, go away, Opal!” I nod dumbly and creep away to the bathroom.

I turn on the hose and carefully wash the dog, using my baby brother’s gentle shampoo. I wash it once, twice, three times before the water beneath the dog runs clear. I see now that instead of that muddy dull gray, its fur is actually silver, with the tiniest hint of blue. I decide to name the dog. I lean in towards the dog. “What’s your name?” I ask. It happens again.

I am a pup. A large dog licks me comfortingly over and over. I know it’s the dog’s mother. She growls gently, “Lucky girl. Your name is Moon.” I yip joyfully but mother dog pushes me down with a tender pat. Moon. The name echoes and repeats in my brain. Moon, Moon…

“Moon,” I say aloud. The dog turns her head my way. “Your name is Moon, right?” The dog licks my hand. I decide right then I will have to keep this dog.

I take Moon to my room. It used to be plastered with pictures of my best friend, Zinnia, and Mother, along with posters of dogs. Since Zinnia died from a brain tumour and Mother from an accident, any trace of my friends and family had been stripped off my walls. Except for one last thing. Moon seems skittish as I get out some food and the first aid box. I try something crazy and impossible–I call out to her with my mind. Amazingly, she immediately turns and sits down in front of me. I examine her gash. I had rinsed it out gently and the wound had stopped bleeding. I gingerly take care of it while Moon eats some food. Moon looked quite unsettled, what with the baby’s raucous wails and Father’s storming. Without thinking, I go to my secret box and take out a record. It’s the song Zinnia and I wrote together. I haven’t heard it in a long time. I play it and the familiar lyrics drift through the air on Zinnia’s sweet clear voice. I had sung backup, harmonizing with Zinnia. Tears threaten to spill out from remembering when I notice Moon has calmed down.

I play with Moon in my room. With every second spent with her, I feel like the huge hole that had been torn since Zinnia and Mother died has begun healing, bit-by-bit. Maybe it’s the song or the way Moon looks at me with her huge sapphire eyes or the strange feeling that Zinnia, with her dark curls and pretty face, and Mother, with her kind eyes are watching over me. When I look at Moon, her wound has miraculously diminished. I wonder if Moon can heal Father. I bring Moon down to the study, where Father sits at the desk.

When Father sees Moon, his face goes hard and taut. “Opal. Take. That. Dog. Out. Right. Now.”

I stand my ground, and say, “ You used to like dogs. Why don’t you like them anymore? Is it because of Mother-”

“ENOUGH!” Father shouts. I back away.

“Why won’t you tell me?” I ask plaintively.

Father sighs and responds, “Your mother died of a car crash. You know that already, don’t you. Well, she died trying to save a dog, too. The thing died anyway.”

That night, I lie awake, Father’s words fresh in my mind. I stroke the opal pendant thoughtfully. Moon is next to me snoring, she’s quite small and it wouldn’t be a trouble to keep her. The trouble was convincing Father. It is impossible to meet a dog, connect with it and have to part with it forever in just one day. It just can’t be done, unless you’re completely heartless. I let my thoughts wander, thinking that Moon healed the hole in my heart and that healed the gash in her side. Is it possible? Perhaps part of me had died with Mother and Zinnia but Moon brought it back. I finally fall asleep, holding on to that possibility.

I walk Moon in the park. It’s late morning, so the park is teeming with joggers and people walking their dogs. It’s perfect. We go over to the picnic tables and I tell Moon to sit. She’s so obedient she doesn’t even need a lead. I set up my drawing pad, charcoal and colour pencils. I’m hoping people will come because of Moon. I need the money to buy Moon, so I can cherish her forever, our days not limited to just one day. I put up my sign: Have your portrait drawn for just $5! Moon jumps up and goes to people passing by, getting their attention and bringing them over. Moon is a genius. She knows exactly what I’m trying to do. A pretty lady comes up and sits down in the bench opposite me. She is holding a small Yorkie.

“Would you like a portrait with your dog?” I inquire. The lady nods. I start to draw, using charcoal. Charcoal’s my favourite but I can use pencils too. When I’m done I start adding flecks of colour, in the eyes, highlights of the hair. It turns out better than expected. I use my pen to jot down the date and I hand it to the lady.

“How old are you, girl?” she queries in an elegant voice.

“10,” I say.

The lady stands up and announces, “Here is a girl with true talent. Her artwork exceeds those of her age. This girl is a true artist.” After that people start swarming around, wanting their portrait. Many start asking about Moon, so I tell them my story. Moon doesn’t seem to enjoy all the attention but she understands. I draw until late afternoon, the deadline for when Moon has to go.

I walk home happily, relishing in the jingle-jangle of the money in my pocket. I stroll into Father’s study and slap down my pile of money. “For Moon,” I declare. Father looks up at me skeptically.

“Opal, you know we can’t have a dog. Besides, you’re too small to handle a dog.” I can tell Father’s trying to keep calm. He’s right in one way. I am small, smaller than average.

But I persist. “I have to. She’s sweet and kind and obedient. Moon’s also really clean.”

Her wound had completely disappeared, maybe my theory is right. For the first time since the tragic accident, Father looks at me, really and truly looks at me. He studies my petite frame, my pale face, my long dead straight dark hair, my hand on Moon’s back and finally my dark blue eyes, whose sparkle has returned. Moon turns her head and looks straight at Father and he gasps as something clicks. I’m not sure what had happened but Father nods and gives in. “Opal, keep your dog.” His voice is shaky and he lets out a slow shuddering breath. I give Father a hug and go back to my room.

“What did you do?” I ask in a hushed tone. In reply, Moon looks at me. I am now standing by the edge of a road. It is a dark and stormy night. Moon’s littermate is crossing the road when a car come by, hard and fast. A woman’s shriek cuts through the air. I recognize it immediately. It’s Mother. She is crying to stop. The car stops suddenly and swerves, hitting a tree and Mother is thrown forward. It’s too late, the dog was hit and it crumples to the ground. I trot over to the dog and push my muzzle into his fur and lick his ear. I can smell death. Then I go back to Mother and lick her face. She laughs weakly. “Take care of yourself and find a home.” Her breathing is ragged and shallow. “I’m sure my daughter will love you. Take care of her too.” Those were her last words. Mother shudders and then goes still.

“Oh,” I breathe quietly. So that was what happened. To let us feel better, I play Zinnia’s song.

 

Go little birds, fly back to bed

Fly past stream with the Moon overhead

Fly by the tree, so merry and free

Fly to your home and come back to me

 

Go little fish, swim back to bed

Swim past the banks with the Moon overhead

Swim by the stones, so merry and free

Swim to your home and come back to me

 

Go little hare, jump back to bed

Jump past the bush with the Moon overhead

Jump by the pond, so merry and free

Jump to your home and come back to me

 

Go little dog run back to bed

Run past the hill with the Moon overhead

Run by the fields, so merry and free

Run to your home and come back to me

 

At night, with the moon overhead, Moon and I sleep soundly. For the first time since the accident, I have no nightmares. I touch my opal necklace and smile in my sleep. Moon and Opal. Opal and Moon. Though one day is over, we will still have many, many more. Now I am unafraid. I have Moon.

 

By Jessie Ang,

11 years, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai

 

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