La Località Italiana (The Italian Village) – Part 1

The first instalment of Kay Rayner's five part short story: "La Località Italiana"

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Jemma and Lizzy lived in the pretty village of St Albans, Hertfordshire with their frail mother Blanche, whose sight was failing. Their father had passed away some years earlier after a long battle with cancer. The girls decided rather than go flatting they would stay with their mother so they could keep an eye on her, and be there to support her.

Both Jemma and Lizzy commuted into London to work each day. Jemma worked in an advertising agency and Lizzy was a legal secretary.

Jemma had pale auburn hair and was 32. Lizzy was blonde with long curly hair, just like her mother, and was 28. Jemma had an on-off boyfriend named Miles, while Lizzy had recently broken up with her boyfriend of five years, Kyle. Their relationship seemed to be going nowhere and Lizzy felt that Kyle was never going to make a real commitment to her. Both were relieved when Lizzy called it a day. Lizzy was in no hurry to start up a new relationship. Her newfound freedom felt good and she could now spend more of her leisure time doing the things she loved.

Lizzy loved to paint; mostly landscapes. She had many pictures stored in the attic at the cottage. Jemma had tried to encourage her sister to have an exhibition of her work and try to sell some but Lizzy kept insisting her paintings were not good enough and she painted for her pleasure only.

It had been a lovely long summer but autumn was fast approaching and the thought of another cold winter really didn't seem very appealing. Jemma and Miles were drifting further and further apart and only saw each other occasionally when they both wanted to see a film or see a show together in London. The relationship was becoming more of a friendship. Miles was someone Jemma could always rely on, but was he the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with?

Autumn came and went and with that came the snow, and the cold and rain. Winters in England were often very bleak. The cottage was in need of major repairs and soon they would either have to make the decision to move or spend major money. The girls knew it would be hard to get their mother to leave the cottage she had spent all her life in.

On a wet and windy night Jemma and Lizzy arrived home from work to find their mother not home. Usually the girls walked into the cottage to the welcoming smell of a lovely home cooked dinner waiting for them and a roaring open fire.

As the evening wore on and there was no sign of Blanche, the girls started to panic and ring around their friends in the village. No one had seen her.

"We had better contact the police" said Jemma looking at her sister. Lizzy nodded. Both the girls had tears in their eyes. What had happened to their precious mother?

Just as they were about to get in their car and head off to the station, a police car pulled up outside. A young constable walked over to the girls and he asked to come inside. He then asked the girls to sit down and proceeded to ask if they were related to Mrs Blanche Burns.

"Yes, we are her daughters" said Jemma, her voice shaking.

They all sat down in the drawing room, Jemma and Lizzy held each other's hands.

"I am very sorry ladies, but your mother was involved in an accident in the village late this afternoon. She was crossing the road by the butchers and was hit by a car; it was raining heavily at the time. Your mother was taken to hospital but passed away shortly after her arrival. I am very sorry" announced the policeman.

Lizzy screamed, "No! This isn't possible".

"I am sorry for your loss" said the young constable again; it was obvious he was new to delivering such news.

Jemma hugged her sister tightly as their tears flowed. This was their worst nightmare. Their mother was their rock; she was always there for them.

"How could she be dead? This is not happening" cried Lizzy.

The young constable said he would take his leave but before he left he made some phone calls to a couple of their friends so they could support the girls.

Jemma and Lizzy only had one Aunt and Uncle who lived in Yorkshire and they did not see much of them. Their cousins lived abroad so there was little family support.

Miles came over to help the girls. He was most kind and helped them through the process of organizing the funeral. He really showed his worth during this time and the girls were very grateful to him.

After two weeks the girls had to return to work. There were bills to pay and mooching around the cottage was not going to help them in the long run.

A week after they returned to work Jemma had a call from their mother's solicitor to arrange a meeting. This meeting would change their lives forever.

Mr Pikes was an elderly solicitor who should have retired years ago but still wanted to keep his foot in the door of the practice he founded.

"Well my dears," he said in a gruff but friendly voice, "I have some good news for you. A large inheritance has been left to you both. It is from your grandparents estate which was payable to you both upon your late mother's death".

The girls looked at each other in total shock. They knew nothing of this.

"How can this be?"asked Lizzy.

"This document I am giving you both will explain it all", said Mr Pikes as he stood up from his chair, "We will be in touch soon" he said as he gestured the girls out the door.

Jemma and Lizzy didn't say a word until they got in the car. They both looked at each other in total disbelief.

"Well we will just have to wait and see how much it is before we can make any decisions" said Jemma finally, trying to hide her excitement.

Two months later the letter arrived in the mail. The girls were nervous to open it. Lizzy ripped open the envelope but Jemma grabbed the letter before Lizzy could read its contents.

"Sit down Lizzy" said Jemma, trying to be calm.

"Well Grandma and Grandpa left us a great deal of money in their will. The conditions were that it was to be paid out when we reached forty or upon Mothers death.

After a pause Jemma announced, "We have been given one million pounds Lizzy", her heart racing.

Lizzy fell back in her seat and covered her mouth to try and stifle a squeal.

"You have to be kidding me" she whispered.

"Why would I kid about such a thing? It's real and it's ours Lizzy," said Jemma.

'We have to take our time and sort out what to do and be sensible" she said trying to take authority as the older sister.

"Of course…" said Lizzy, not even trying to hide the huge grin on her face.

Over the next few weeks the girls had many discussions about what to do with their new found fortune. In the end they decided to make a life changing decision, they were going to sell their cottage and move to Tuscany. They had been to Italy on holiday with their parents when they were younger and can recall it being very beautiful.

Both the girls felt they needed a new start, there was nothing holding them in the UK anymore. It was time to let the cottage go, time for new beginnings.

(Continued here)
By Kay Rayner