Warm sunlight sifted through the thin wooden blinds, the golden glow flickering across the yellow porcelain tiles, now faded with age. Lark watched as the strands of light danced on the breeze, snaking across the floor like ancient serpents in battle. The soft brush of a rolling pin against fresh dough and melodic humming filled the air with a calming warmth. Lark tucked her legs beneath herself on a plush stool. Her hazel eyes captivated as her grandmother gently pressed the metal cutters into the thin dough, then scooping them gently onto a tray.
“Lark my dear,” the elderly woman spoke, her voice wavering softly. “Help me with these cookies, will you?”
“Yes Nonna,” Lark replied, slipping from her seat to stand beside her grandmother.
They fell into rhythm, press, lift, scoop. Lark lined another worn tray with baking paper, cautiously slipping the flimsy dough onto the tray, then sliding it onto the oven.
The sweet scent of butterscotch cookies filled the air, mingling with the summery tang of apricots and the sun. Nonna’s humming encircled Lark once more, the harmonious tune echoing whispers of a blissful Italian summer.
The soft melody wavered out, Nonna growing still and silent. Lark looked up in surprise at the sudden silence. Nonna stood motionless, staring out past the glass patio doors and out towards the garden she tended for so lovingly. Her faded blue eyes, encased by soft wrinkles brought on by a lifetime of heartfelt laughs, were glazed over. Lark could almost see the memories dancing in her caerulean irises.
“Nonna?” the girl asked, her face twisted in concern, “Are you alright?”
A deep sigh released the tension in Nonna’s body, her shoulder’s sagging against the weight of her thoughts. She turned her gaze towards her granddaughter. “Could you do something for me, dear?”
Lark rushed to her side, eager to help. “Of course, Nonna. What is it?”
“There is a box in the attic, it’s shaped like a heart. Would you find that for me please?”
Lark smiled at Nonna, her eyes softening around the edges with love. “I’ll be right back.”
Lark skipped from the warmth of the kitchen, making her way to the small staircase tucked away in a far corner of the villa. She cautiously traipsed up the narrow rickety stairs, wincing at a sharp squeak echoing out from beneath her bare feet. She pushed the small door open, soft cream paint peeling from its surface, exposing the worn sepia wood underneath. The vast room was shadowy, particles of dust danced wistfully in the light of a cracked window. Lark shrieked, her arm snaring on the thick strands of a cobweb. She grimaced, feeling foolish as she brushed the web away.
“Oh, where can you be, little heart-shaped box?” she whispered to no one in particular, squinting against the dimness of the room. Her eyes slowly adjusted. Piles of dusty cardboard boxes lined the far wall, the faint scrawling’s of permanent marker labelling the contents of each one. A small vintage gramophone nestled by the door; a case of vinyls propped beside it. Lark could almost envision Nonna and Poppa dancing in the light of the moon, the soft twang of music filling the night air as fireflies lit the garden with their fairy-like glow. Her heart panged with a sense of nostalgia for a life she had never lived, one filled with love and laughter. Pain flickered in her chest, ‘I miss you Poppa.’ She turned away from the gramophone, her mind directed back to the mission she faced. Finding a heart-shaped box. She briefly wished she had asked Nonna about its whereabouts, but it was too late for that now.
Lark pulled a box towards her, she knelt against the wooden floorboards, cringing at the sensation of years’ worth of dust beneath her knees. She lifted the flaps on the box, using the torch from her phone to light its contents. Illuminated by the sharp glow of the torch, Lark could see a teddy bear nestled inside the box. One beady eye dangling from its socket by a thread, its fur matted and shabby from years of tender love. She carefully pulled the bear from the box, giving it a quick squeeze before placing it on the floor beside her. A small chest labelled Louisa’s Trinkets, and a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle depicting a cottage nestled between a grapevine, sat in the bottom of the box. Lark sighed, placing the bear back in the box. She folded the flaps and pushed it back against the wall.
A flash of colour caught her eye, she turned to see a small pink box illuminated by the light from the window. She tilted her head, ‘Had that been there before?’ she wondered, making her way towards it.
Sunlight danced around the small heart-shaped box, the faded pink colouring seeming to glow in a way that stopped Lark in her tracks. She felt an instant connection to the box, as if she had known it all her life. She scooped it up, carrying it cautiously, as if she thought it would disintegrate between her fingertips.
She reached the spacious kitchen as Nonna pulled the last tray of cookies from the oven. She breathed deeply, inhaling the mouth-watering scent.
“Is this it, Nonna?” she asked, setting the box amidst scattered flour and discarded strands of dough.
Nonna stared at the box, her expression soft. “Yes dear, that is the one.” Her eyes seemed sad, as if the box brought back memories from her past.
Nonna reached for the box, a tremor quivering her gnarled hands slightly. She lifted the lid so slowly, Lark almost caved with anticipation.
Photographs. Unfamiliar faces blurred with age. Forgotten moments from another lifetime.
Nonna reach for a photo, pulling it from the stack and bringing it up to her face. Tears welled in her eyes, hesitant to fall. Lark’s heart ached for the pain she saw in her Nonna. She knew one day she would be the same, looking back on a photograph that captured the beauty of a single fleeting moment. A moment she would treasure until the day she died.
Nonna handed her the photo, plucking another from the box and holding it silently.
Lark peered at the photograph, two people clasped each other tightly, smiles of joy lighting their faces as they gazed lovingly at each other. The background was blurred with strangers, their limbs flowing in time to the rhythmic notes of music. Lark felt as if she was there, standing afar and watching the scene unfold. The ecstaticity of the moment burnt her fingertips in a way she couldn’t describe.
Nonna handed her another photograph, Lark placed the other on the countertop. This moment depicted a garden, the lush greens vivid against the azure blue of the Mediterranean sky. The couple now sat on a swing, that hung lazily from the wide span of a tree branch. The woman rested her head on the man’s shoulder, her eyes closed in a sense of peace Lark could only imagine.
This one was dim, the couple lit by the sparkling glow of flames as they danced around a bonfire. The woman’s dress swung up, the dirty hem catching around her knees as she twirled. Lark sighed, yearning seeping through her every fiber.
A lake glistened in the sun; the couple’s faces lit by gleeful laughs as the woman splashed the man. Light refracted off the droplets, like millions of tiny rainbows glistening around them.
A wedding. The sky cloudless and blue. The man dipped the woman back, pressing a light kiss to her lips, their smiles still visible. Strangers in the background beamed, their claps and cheers frozen in time.
Low clouds hung in the sky, rain drizzling softly around them. The woman peered up at the man, their eyes soft as they gazed at each other. Their hands held the woman’s rotund belly, the soft fabric of her pink cotton dress pulled tight.
Tired smiles and black rimmed eyes, stared back at Lark. A beautiful blonde-haired baby peacefully asleep in the couple’s arms. They looked proud, and oh so happy.
Lark could almost hear the laughter radiating from the next photograph. A guilty-looking child covered in mud from head to toe, stood on a wide patio. His siblings and father cackling in glee as their mother captured the heartfelt memory.
A family photo. Lark leant in, her eyes studying the faces of the five people standing so stiffly. Practised smiles graced their faces, apart from one child who mischievously crossed her eyes. The couple looked older, rivers of silver twisting through the raven black of their hair. They looked so familiar now. Realization kicked in as she stared at the photo, a quick gasp fleeing her throat.
“Nonna? This is you?” she stared again, “And Poppa?”
Tears streamed down the woman’s cheeks, she nodded silently, her blue eyes overflowing with emotion. It was then that Lark realised her own cheeks were wet with silent tears.
They came together, arms clinging to one another. Lark inhaled deeply, her senses filled with Nonna’s sweet scent of apricots and sunshine. They held each other silently. Both yearning for a life that was lost, for years that passed too quickly, for people that grew old and forgotten, and for the loved ones they had lost.
They pulled away almost hesitantly. Nonna brought her wrinkled hands up to rest either side of Lark’s cheeks. “Promise me, dear,” her voice wavered with emotion. “That you will make the most of every moment you have.”
A lone tear trekked down Lark’s cheek, “I promise.” She whispered.