June came, that summer. I watched the swallows in a sky of bubblegum pink and mimosa orange. They divebombed the Italian lemon groves.
Bitter-sweet, luciously tangy and refreshing. I had grown up on lemonade.
Nonno (my Grandfather) had owned a lemon grove here, and spent all of his time teaching me the fine art of lemonade making! Squeezing the lemons, measuring out the sugar and blending it all together with that secret ingredient. Even I did not know what it was! And, he told me everything! Whenever I asked he would just say:
"Dont rush, my rose. I will tell you, in time."
But, five years ago, he got ill. Very ill. Mamma said, he wasnt right and he hadnt been right for a long time. That he had gone to a better place, now.
I didnt understand. Why (at his funeral) everyone was so serious and kept saying: "It was the drink that did it!" Nonno didnt drink anything, but lemonade and from his hipflask. And, we would eat strawberries which he would cut in half, dip in cream and feed me like a bird.
I went to his grave, every day for a year after that. I would visit him in his underground home on my way home from school. And, I would bring with me a bottle of the last lemonade we made together, to share.
I allways wondered what that secret ingredient was. And, I would talk to him and imagen that he awnsered.
When Mamma fond out that I had been drinking the lemonade, she conviscated it immedietly.
"But, why Mamma, why. Its the only thing I have left of him and you are taking it away from me!" I clung to her dress. "No, Aurora! Nonno wasnt right, he did things he shouldnt have done. But now, we have to rid of the things that remind us of the wrong that he did." Is all she said, as the cloudy citrus liquid was poured down the sink.
I cried for days, afterwards. Thinking that no one cared. Not Mamma, not the people at his funeral, nobody except me.
I still talked to him, and I gradually made up with Mamma. But, the lemonade we made then didnt taste the same as when Nonno made it. Maybe it was because the lemons werent as lovingly grown or that the sugar wasnt stirred in enough or maybe they didnt even add the secret ingredient.
When I asked Mamma if she knew what it was, she went stiff and pale. "Dont ask such questions, Aurora." She would just say. But, later on in the night, I could here her crying and the sound of smashing glass. In the morning, her eyes were red and a bottle of vodka had disappeared from the shelf on the wall.
It was painful, all the fakery she put on after that, to make sure I didnt know. But, even as a young child, I could tell. The grin, the thick make-up to disguise her red eyes and dark circles from crying herself to the point of sleep deprivation. The dead eyes behind the glazed, glassy ones she seemed to wear whenever she was around me.
The gin, sherry, takila, wine... one by one they would go. Soon she started having fits. Shouting, swearing, drunkenly roaring at me. After a perticularly loud fit of screaming, she slumped to the floor and put her head in her hands. "Mamma, are you allright." She turned around, tears in her eyes. "Aurora." She gripped my face, tightly. "You must promise never to tell anyone about this, do you hear me child" I nodded, as she managed a smile and lay her head back onto the stone floor, spilling drink everywhere.
The secret ingredient. What was it. What was it that he had so loved. And, what made it so special to him.
"The secret ingredient, my rose, is nothing for you to know." He said, swigging some liquid out of his hipflask. "The secret ingredient is what makes me who I am." He grinned dazidly. "what everyone wants."
"And, what does everyone want!" I asked.
"My secret ingredient."
The secret ingredient. The special something. The hipflask, "What makes me who I am", the grin (that fake, lost grin I only knew too well), "what everyone wants". I scrambled over the flagstone floor and caught hold of the hipflask on the counter.
I sipped it and spat it out straight away! Sinking to the floor, I realised how my life had been wasted on Nonno. On Mamma. On everyone. Tears streamed freely down my clammy face, as I stood and chose the last bottle on the shelf. I downed it and fell, all my memories falling with me. To the ground where the old, dark mixture of bullis and that poisonous secret was too much.
The crickets hummed, the night was heavy, over the Italian lemon groves.