The footsteps abruptly ended without warning…
“It’s on the ceiling,” Michael spouted. His words rang true and yet, so unbelievable. We stared at the ceiling of the living room. Hovering above the coffee table was the last footprint; a boot, with gnarly tread, the kind that hikers use to climb mountains…not walls.
“Someone broke into our house,” I said, sensing someone behind me. Michael and I turned around and found Dad, dressed to kill in his Spongebob boxers and blue, fuzzy robe. He rubbed his eyes with one hand and held a coffee mug in his other hand.
“What are you talking abou…” he started, but it was soon apparent that we didn’t have to explain ourselves. His lips moved as if he was going to ask some poignant question but no words came out. I watched his eyes follow the tracks from sliding glass door, across the living room, up the wall, and end on the ceiling.
“Oh that’s just Bosco,” another family member said, waltzing into the living room. We all turned around to see Bianca walk in, holding a juice box in her tiny hands.
I asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Wha…huh?” I muttered.
“I told Bosco to clean off his shoes before he came in but he wouldn’t listen to me,” Bianca said. She slurped her juice through the straw.
“Oh…” Michael uttered.
“Who the fuck is Bosco and what is he doing, walking all over my fucking walls?” Dad exploded.
Bianca stared at him and replied, “My friend.” She cocked her head to the side. “And he doesn’t like the eff word. He says that it’s vulgar and that you shouldn’t be a bad role model to your young, impressionable, and very receptive children.” She ended on a huffy note and walked back into the kitchen. Her pink, fuzzy, bunny slippers squeaked with every step. I looked over at Michael, who shrugged and looked at Dad. Dad looked at me.
“Don’t look at me,” I muttered. “I’m not the one with imaginary friends who don’t know how to wipe their feet.”
“I know how to wipe my feet,” Michael muttered.
“I’m going to pretend that I didn’t hear that,” Dad said, staring at the ceiling. “I’m going to not let the vein in my forehead burst,,” he said, walking over to the sliding glass door and checking the lock. “I’m going to get a bucket full of soapy water,” he continued. “And I’m going to watch as the two of you scrub the walls.”
“What?” I pouted. “I didn’t do this.”
“Well, I know that I didn’t do it and if your sister didn’t do it and there’s nothing missing from the house, I’m just going to mark it off as tomfoolery – “
“What the fuck is that?” I interrupted, my voice escalating to ear piercing levels
“And I’m going to suggest that you clean up your mess before I outlaw shoes in this house.”
I stood in the living room and stared at the bootprints as Dad left for the garage to fetch a bucket.
“Can you believe it?” Michael asked. “A girl Bianca’s age…with imaginary friends. How juvenile…”
“She’s four,” I informed him. "And imaginary friends don't leave bootprints."
“Doesn’t your father talk to himself as well?” Michael asked. “Is schizophrenia rampant in your family?” Michael continued with his game of 20 Questions.
“Yes, actually,” I answered nonchalantly. “I do believe it does.”
“Who are you talking to?” Bianca asked as she walked back into the room. She handed me a sponge. “Dad says that we need to clean the walls.” She sighed. “But that’s not fair cause I didn’t do it. Bosco did it.”
“You and Bosco,” I muttered. The sound of sloshing water caught our attention. Dad set down two buckets filled with soapy water next to the footprints.
“Scrub,” he ordered. “I’m gonna get more coffee.” Bianca and I exchanged looks as we fell to our knees and began the arduous task of cleaning up the muddy footprints.
“What’s she doing?” I suddenly heard. I stopped to look up but no one else was there. Just me and Bianca. Oh and Michael.
“It came from the other room,” Michael responded, pointing toward the family room door.
“How come you don’t have a sponge?” I asked him.
“Because I don’t exist and imaginary friends don’t need to scrub floors.” He chuckled. “Now clean, wench!”
“Who are you talking to?” Bianca repeated. I shook my head and continued to scrub the floor.
“She’s scrubbing the floor,” answered a different voice from the other room. I turned my head toward the family room door. It was painted gray with a little window in the middle of it, letting us peer into the happenings of the other room. A face appeared in the little window. He had gold rimmed glasses and a receding hairline. The corners of his mouth formed a crooked smile as he waved at me. But just as fast as he had appeared, he disappeared without a trace. “She does this every day,” I heard him say. I turned back to the floors.
“Why does she scrub the floors every day, doctor?” asked the first voice.
“She’s done it since the first day that she was admitted,” the bespectacled man replied. “They found her at her home, in a bloody mess. She claimed that some masked man broke into her house and slaughtered her father and sister. She was nearly killed herself. Prosecutors claimed that she actually did it in a schizophrenic rage but the police couldn’t prove one way or the other.” He shrugged. “She was in the midst of a breakdown so they didn’t believe her testimony. So they put her in here.”
“They couldn’t find any evidence at the crime scene?” he asked
“Only a trail of bloody footprints. But they couldn’t identify who they belonged to,” the doctor explained.
“They didn’t belong to her?” he asked.
“Nope. So every day, she scrubs the floor, trying to get rid of the footprints on the living room floor.”
“That’s such a sad story,” the man replied.
“They’re talking about you again,” Bianca whispered.
“I hate it when they talk about me,” I seethed. Flames felt like they were igniting my cheeks. Tears welled up in my eyes. “But I hate it more when they talk about you,” I cried.
I turned to my sister but she wasn’t there. I looked up at Michael but he was gone too. It was just me. In an empty room. I let out a deep breath and curled up on the muddy floor. “I miss you,” I whispered.