Sandra Yuen MacKay


I felt a light sprinkle of morning rain. I checked my watch. It was still early enough that I wouldn’t be late for school. I walked around the back of my friend’s house on 8th Avenue. I glanced through the windowpane. Ellis was hunched over the kitchen table. The screen door squeaked as I entered and banged shut behind me.

“Hey, Ellis,” I said to him, taking off my knapsack. “Why’d you call me to come over? What are you up to?”

“Hi, Luke. Guess what I found?” he said with a big grin on his face. “Look at this loot.”

On the kitchen table sat about twenty tubes of oil paints – some new – a bottle of turpentine and an assortment of well-used brushes. “Where’d you get all this stuff?” I asked. I reached to pick up a tube of phthalo blue. Ellis swatted my hand.

“At a bus stop. I found it sitting under a bench in a bag.”  He pointed to a black cloth sack sitting on a chair beside him.

“Someone’s out two hundred bucks or more. What are you going to do with all this stuff? I’ve never seen you paint anything other than siding.” I scratched my stubbly chin.

“This is a sign I’m to become an artist. A higher power is leading me. I’ve got it all worked out. I’m going to paint on this.” He proudly showed me a cupboard door with the hinge still intact. He rapped on the wood. “Primed and ready to go.”

“Sure. And when your mom comes home and sees what a mess you made of her buffet, she’ll kill you,” I warned him.

“I’m going to paint on the inside.”

“Oh, isn’t that clever.” I watched him roll up his sleeves and squeeze paint onto an old wooden chopping board. “Wait, isn’t that used for vegetables?” I asked. After watching him for a while, I checked my watch again. “Aren’t you going to get ready for school?”

“Nah. This is way more interesting,” he answered.

“Suit yourself,” I grabbed my knapsack and headed out the door.

Over the next few weeks, I didn’t see Ellis at school or the arcade where we usually hung out. Something was keeping him busy. Curiosity got the better of me and I went to his house one evening. This time I knocked on the front door. His mother answered, wearing a kimono. She was tall and elegant with manicured nails and long auburn hair. She was an attractive woman even without makeup.

“Hi, Mrs. Gray. Is Ellis home?” I asked.

She nodded. “Hello, Luke. C’mon in.”

“How’s his painting coming along?”

She looked puzzled. “What painting?”

I could see the buffet from the foyer. “Allow me.” Curiously, I walked over to the buffet, leaned down and opened the door. There was a perfect trompe-l’oeil painting of a severed hand on the inside of the door. I gaped. She screamed. I opened another door to reveal a painting of Ellis’s mother completely naked. She screamed again.




Sandra Yuen MacKay is the author of My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness and writing in The Bulletin, Front Magazine, and The Prairie Journal. She also is an artist and resides in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her website is:


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