Priscilla's Pandemic Christmas

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Priscilla Prentice gazed sadly out the window of her shop on Madison Street. She had opened Sniff the year before and sales of scented candles had been brisk. Now, due to the effects of COVID, sales were slow. An angry customer had just returned her Yankee candle claiming she couldn't catch a whiff of cinnamon.

Business was so bad, Priscilla had to remotely return to working part-time in human resources at a downtown law firm. She resumed her work routine, dressing professionally every morning. She even put on makeup for Zoom meetings and to conduct job interviews. She also wrote her name on her container of yogurt before placing it in the fridge. But this didn't keep her evil twin sister, Naomi, from stealing it.

Being stuck home with Naomi 24/7 was the most difficult aspect of the pandemic. It had started in January, when Naomi was placed on house arrest after she was caught shoplifting at Walmart. Now they were closing in on a year of uncomfortable closeness.

Priscilla sat with her laptop at the kitchen table, trying to conduct an interview, while Naomi loudly dried her hair in the background. They had a bitter sibling rivalry. Naomi was four minutes older and was always lording it over her "little sister."

Last Christmas had been so different. She had reunited with Dusty, her childhood love. He had also saved her life, while plowing sidewalks for Public Works. Dusty was still happy in his job. He loved working outdoors and didn't complain about having to wear a mask. He had gotten pretty down, though, when the No Gloves softball tournament was canceled.

Plus, he couldn't hang out at Barfy's anymore. Sitting inside was prohibited and it was way too cold to drink in the beer garden. Worst of all, he and Priscilla had to postpone the lavish wedding they had planned. The reception was going to be at the VFW and catered by Parky's. Like many engaged couples, they were in limbo. Dusty lived alone on the first floor of their two-flat and tried to ignore the upstairs racket from Priscilla and Naomi.

Priscilla was also sensitive to noise and found Naomi to be annoyingly loud. If she wasn't mixing Margaritas in the blender, she was yakking on the phone with her friends. Priscilla endured listening to Naomi repeat the same stories over and over again. Meanwhile, Priscilla used her time to try and improve her mind.

Thanks to her computer being hacked, Priscilla had become fluent in Russian. She also mastered French cooking and was putting the finishing touches on a 500-foot tapestry she had woven. Priscilla also partnered with her sister on some projects. It took them 11 days to assemble a jigsaw puzzle because Naomi had "misplaced" three of the pieces.

They nearly came to blows doing a paint-by-number because Naomi wouldn't stay inside the lines. Her most annoying habit was watching movies on channels that had commercials. It took them three days to get through "Castaway."

It was a blessing to get away from Naomi and walk to her shop but Priscilla didn't know how much longer she could keep the doors open. She heard the tinkle of the bell above the front door and instinctively reached for her mask. Dusty had made it for her. He had learned embroidery during his spare time. The mask bore Dusty's pet name for her, "Cilla," with a big red heart. Strangers would ask her if it was the name of a new vaccine.

"I love how your mask accents your deep brown eyes," Dusty gushed. "Yes, but don't you miss seeing my full lips?" Priscilla asked sweetly. Dusty took Priscilla in his arms and they lowered their masks for a long kiss.

Suddenly, his face clouded, "Looks like caroling is canceled, like everything else," he complained. "We don't need to sing," Priscilla said brightly, "You can serenade people with your guitar." Dusty nodded. He not only played Christmas songs, he had learned six Bach concertos.

"Isn't it time to close up?" Dusty asked, "I want to take you out for dinner." Priscilla frowned, "I am not sitting in a tent in December. The last time my soup froze. Let's just pick something up and leave a generous tip."

"OK, but I want to take you on a real date. How about on Saturday night we walk around CVS again?" They strolled hand-in-hand down Madison and picked up pulled pork sandwiches. After dinner, Priscilla went upstairs and was shocked to find that Naomi wasn't home. Suddenly, there was a sharp knock on the door. "There's a disturbance at your shop," the Forest Park Police officer said gruffly. "You better come with me."

Priscilla was fearing the worst but spotted a long line of masked, socially-distanced, customers outside Sniff. Priscilla saw half the faces of her neighbors and other friendly folks from Forest Park. They were clutching cash, because Priscilla had stopped accepting credit cards. When she entered the shop, she spotted Naomi behind the counter. Naomi felt the need to explain why she was no longer evil.

"Remember when we were doing the jigsaw puzzle, and I found the three missing pieces under my bed?" Naomi recalled, "I also found our birth certificates. The doctor got us mixed up. You were born four minutes before me. I felt like I no longer had to be the evil big sister. I violated house arrest to pass out invitations to your store all over town."

The crowd purchased every candle in the shop, along with gift certificates for their friends and family. But instead of rushing home with their treasures, they placed their scented candles 6 feet apart, on both sides of Madison Street. After they lit the candles, block after block of Madison Street was bathed in the soft light of the luminarias.

As Priscilla and Dusty walked hand-in-hand toward home, Priscilla confessed, "Dusty, I'm so glad you bought 'Litter Box.' You really do love me."

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