I’m not sure if I caught a tiny whiff of something sweet as I walked past her doorway, but from the moment the idea entered my mind, I knew I had to do something about it. I would have to take my time and plan this one out. Just the thought of the consequences of getting caught were almost enough to put me off. Almost.
I knew Nonna was home, either inside her tidy flat that was the bottom floor of our house, or possibly in the garden seeking out plums or cherries for an afternoon snack. What I craved was in the cupboard under her television, on the far side of the room from the door. My mouth watered just thinking about it: the lolly jar, filled with my favourite lollies. Soft, powdery bananas with the slightest crisp on the outside giving way to the soft yet firm middle as you bit in. Strawberry creams, super sweet and chewy and stick-in-your-teethy. And those milk bottles, perfectly bottle-shaped and so satisfying to bite the top off and suck up the bottle in the second gulp. Not to mention the pineapples, fake teeth and raspberries. All locked up tight in a clasp-lidded jar in the cupboard with the sliding door in Nonna’s house.
Nonna was a fierce yet loving woman. She was small and round – basso e grasso – and hard as a rock to the touch due to the corset she wore every day under her homemade dresses and house coats. For a woman with such strong character and frame she could pop out of nowhere when you least expected it, rapping the top of your head with her knuckles for making too much noise, or blocking the game of tips being played around the house to keep her doorway clear. She could somehow see you quietly going about your business across the room, say picking your nose, through supposedly “almost blind” eyes. Her accent was thick and her words were direct, leaving little doubt in the minds of those within a 500m radius as to what was going on. Nonetheless, I knew she loved us, despite the six of us grandkids causing her daily explosions of one sort or another. She would give us lollies regularly - that’s why she kept her stash after all. Our parents never bought lollies from the shops and we were always thrilled to be asked to come and have one with Nonna, usually alongside a game of Italian cards or while watching TV together. But it was understood weren’t to ask. It wouldn’t even enter our minds to help ourselves. Yet here I was, plotting and scheming with no thought to control myself or of the consequences if I was caught.
I silently poked my fingers through the plastic strips running down the open door, etching out a gap to peer through in micro movements. I turned my head, looking left and right and craning to catch any sound that could give away her location. The silence only allowed my watering mouth to flood, clouding all sense into a haze of sugary bliss. In my head I was picturing the quick, quiet steps I would take across the floor…or would it be better to crawl under the line of the window sill? No, I would creep movie burglar-style across to the cupboard, slide open the door and retrieve the jar in one smooth and silent motion. With any luck the jar would be so full the spring latch would be open and the spoils mine for the taking. I took a deep breath, said a quiet prayer and stuck my head into the room. Instantaneously I heard the crack of knuckles on skull and felt a sharp pain on the side of my head. “Eh! Get outta ‘ere!”, came her voice from right inside of the door. My heart almost burst out of my now bone-dry mouth, my eyes shut in pure terror as my legs wheeled backwards, propelling my body back out of the room and into the bushes behind. I swore I heard her cackle quietly to herself as I picked myself up, turned and bounded up the stairs three at a time to the safety of my room. I sat on the inside of the closed door and strained to hear if she was approaching, trying to calm my breath and heart rate, rubbing the spot on my head.
When I saw Nonna later that day (despite trying desperately to avoid her), she asked me if I’d play some cards with her. But she was sorry, she said, because she had run out of lollies.