Red by Julie Jeanell Leung

December 21, 2014 § 3 Comments

cardiganAnother Holiday Smile contest winner:

Red: My cardigan with pearl buttons, stoplight-bright in the photograph. John and Joy wore deep blues and greens, darker in the cloudy light of Northwest winter. We siblings smiled, posing on the concrete steps of our childhood home. Examining the photo, I notice that we didn’t know where to place our hands. We had not been at home together in years, and never as only three of us. I requested a picture. “How can you smile at a time like this?” Mom had protested, holding my camera.

Red: Digits in the lower right corner: “12 25 99.” Our disabled brother Jim had been dead nine days. Two months earlier, doctors had diagnosed a brain tumor, enormous and red on the CAT scan. When Mom had called, telling me to come say goodbye, I flew from San Jose to Seattle, a rare trip to her home. In 1988, I had left for college, descending the steps, seeking independence and distance from her. I didn’t realize my little siblings would transform into tall strangers. John brought Joy who had arrived from Germany. We ate dinner and played Scrabble. Hours later Jim died in his sleep. Men in suits carried his body down the steps.

Red: A Christmas color symbolizing blood or fire. That first December 25th without Jim, I began to understand the strength of blood. Whether we ascended or descended those steps, we remained family. I began to believe deeper in the bond of siblings, the awkward arcs of our embracing arms reflecting the shapes of our lips, our smiles a form of faith. Mom struggled with mental illness and heart troubles, dying in 2013. John, Joy, and I continue together, on each holiday, and in this photo in my hallway. Christmas red: Blood and fire. Sweater and smile.


Julie Jeanell Leung lives with her family on an island near Seattle. Her nonfiction appears or is forthcoming in the Bellingham Review, Rose Red Review, and Blue Lyra Review. She is pursuing an MFA in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.

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