Derived from Greek words literally meaning "fear of the marketplace." Used to describe an irrational and often disabling fear of being out in public.
Enter Olive Alston, a sixteen year old girl who hasn't bothered to leave her house in eight years. All that time with nowhere to go has left her watching the rest of the world like a personal television set. Armed with a pair of binoculars and a notebook, she records everything she can see, and no one's the wiser - until one
My brother likes to tell me that we were born twins because I was too scared to come out into the world alone. After all, our mother hadn't planned for children -- she hadn't even known there were twins until a second baby popped out after the first. It's his theory that, sensing my fear, he came into existence to be my protector. However, his theory has a few flaws. First of all, I wasn't born first -- he was. So if we're going to get technical here, I came into existence because he was afraid. Second, he's afraid of way more than I am. Girls, for instance, make him stammer and blush whenever he tries to talk to them. Spiders make him squirm. Dark enclosed places make him sweat. Clowns -- oh, don't even get me started on clowns. A lot of things give him the heebie-jeebies, whereas only one thing really gets to me. Mm, does that one thing ever get to me.
It’s not really a big deal. Well, ok, it is – but not in the way some people might think. It’s just that…sometimes, I wish outside didn't exist. Scratch that -- a lot of times, I wish outside didn't exist. I wish there was only one place in the entire world, and that one place is my house. There wouldn't be anywhere to go, any open spaces to roam in, any inescapable situations to...well, what I'm trying to say is, life would be a whole lot better if home were the only place the heart could be, and sometimes I pretend that's so. However, that will never happen, so I'm pretty much stuck. Not that I mind, of course. On the contrary, I’m plenty happy being stuck. Mm, but that’s getting ahead of the story…
So anyway, back to my brother. His name is Oliver, and Oliver the Great dubbed himself my protector from the outside when we were five. I can't really remember the details -- I was a bit out of it at the time -- but my mother likes to bring it up as often as possible (I'm fully convinced she's lying when she says she doesn't play favorites). Her eyes used to get all misty when she told the story.
“It was around the time you got sick, Olive.” (Yeah, that’s right – my name’s Olive, and my twin’s is Oliver. So my parents weren’t all creative. Yuk it up, people, yuk it up.) “You screamed and kicked and cried whenever we tried to get you out of the house. It scared everyone so badly, seeing you so frightened, but not Oliver. Nope, not Oliver. Whenever we had to go to the Doctor’s, he would take your hand and tell you everything was ok and that he’d protect you like the knights on that one movie he always watched. You never did calm down completely, but it helped so much – he was such a brave little angel…”
Well, isn’t that just the sweetest story of all time? You can’t see me right now, but I’m rolling my eyes. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my brother – but if I hear that story one more time, I’m gonna…ah, nevermind. He means well. I guess that’s what counts. But it’s not like he has much to protect me from – I haven’t gone outside for a long, long time. Then, I suppose he could be protecting me from the outside. That probably makes more sense. Any time my mother pressures me to venture into the great outdoors, and we get into a fight, he always takes my side (even though he’s clearly a mama’s boy any other time). If it weren’t for him, the old lady probably woulda pushed me out the door and tied me to a lawn chair in the backyard forever ago. Oliver is the calmest person in the world, but when she starts talking about ‘trips’, he freaks out on so many levels. I don’t blame him – our mother can be a trifle annoying.
Unfortunately, I can’t blame her. It has to suck having a daughter who’s refused to leave the house in nearly eight years. All those frilly dresses wasted, all those special outings missed, all the neighbors talking amongst themselves…and they do talk. Housewives always do, and the majority of women in this disgusting little suburban haven we’ve got going on here are, in fact, housewives.
I watch them every day, from the windows in my bedroom which, thanks to a designing flaw, is mostly windows. For my eleventh birthday, Oliver gave me a pair of really cool binoculars. He figured, since I spend all day upstairs, I could take up bird watching. He even got me a book to match. But every time I tried watching birds, I got distracted by the neighbors – who are much more interesting than any silly birds. The Jamesons, for instance. They live down the street, five houses down on the left. I can barely see them on their driveway by eyesight alone, but with my binoculars, it’s like they’re right next door. (And don’t I wish they really were? Having a vacant house right next to us is the most boring thing ever, and ever since Mrs. Moris passed away, it’s been empty. Poor Mrs. Moris…)
Mr. and Mrs. Jameson have three kids – two girls and one boy. The little boy is only five, and the subject of much torment. Every day he walks up and down the sidewalk with his little red wagon having great conversations with a stuffed dog, while his sisters do anything they could possibly do to make his life hell. They would come out in their Cinderella and Snow White costumes, ready to push over his wagon or steal his stuffed animal while emitting high pitched giggles that even I can hear when my windows are open. Nasty little creatures, the Jameson girls. Not at all like their mother. Mrs. Jameson would come running at any hint of a tear, a frown, all ready to make the world bright again. I used to wish she were my mother. Sometimes I still do. Aside from Oliver, she has to be the nicest person in the world. Mr. Jameson is almost the same. He plays with the kids after work, and they all look so happy. I’m not quite sure how the girls got to be such brats, unless…well, nobody and nothing is perfect. Mr. and Mrs. Jameson’s marriage is no exception. From the window farthest from my bed, I can see into their living room. They shout and carry on (or seem to – I can’t actually hear them from where I sit) as if suddenly possessed by angry demons, pulling such hateful expressions that you never would’ve guessed they could manage by seeing them during the day.
But everyone in the neighborhood is like that – twisted, confused, hateful, dishonest, sad. They look happy on the outside. But they’re not. They’ve got secrets, and every secret is written down in my notebook. House by house, family by family, person by person. Everything I can see through my binoculars is recorded. I’ve never met any of them – not even once. But I know all their names, and I know what they’re hiding. It’s like a live version of Clue, really. Who killed Mr. Mustard in the Foyer with the Candlestick?
I bet I could tell you.