Tuesday 14 May 2019

Past Lives

by Jo Dearden

a glass of pink champagne 


She had been looking forward to the holiday. Italy was one of her favourite destinations, but this was the first time she had been to the Italian Riviera. They decided to fly to Nice and drive across the French border to make the most of the spectacular coastal scenery. She was not disappointed.  Narrow roads curled through the rugged mountains with hair pin bends above the azure sea below. They wound the windows down letting the warm Mediterranean air wash over them.
She could see their hotel, the Villa del Romano in the distance as they drove into the pretty seaside town of Alassio. It faced the sea with a large stone terrace overlooking the beach. All the windows had slatted dark green shutters. Many of them seemed to be closed.  I suppose it’s to keep the sun out she thought as they unloaded their luggage.
As she stepped into the entrance hall, she suddenly had a weird feeling. A strange sensation that she had been here before, but that was impossible as she had not visited this area of Italy until now.  The black and white marble tiled floor with the wide staircase that rose up from the far end seemed familiar.  She had an image of a large circular mahogany table with a tall vase of flowers, which wasn’t there anymore. Perhaps it was similar to somewhere else she had been. She decided not to say anything to Paul. They were shown to their simply furnished bedroom. French windows led to a small balcony with a couple of chairs on it. She could see the terrace and a swathe of bronzed sand below.
After they had unpacked, they decided to relax on the beach. She put on her new black and white striped swimsuit, grabbed a towel and slipped her feet into her favourite silvery flip flops. She tied her shoulder length blonde hair into a tortoiseshell clip. ‘I’ll catch you up,’ her husband Paul said as he lay on the bed reading his book. She ran down the wooden stairs to the hall and out onto the terrace, where a few of the guests were idly eating and drinking. She skipped down the stone steps that led to the beach below.
An attendant showed her to an empty sun bed. She dropped her beach bag on to it and walked to the water’s edge. The sea felt warm and enticing. She was a good swimmer and was soon several yards from the beach. She lay on her back letting the gentle waves roll over her. She looked towards the imposing façade of the hotel. It had been a family home once. A large 19th century villa that had been built and owned by a Scottish family for four generations until it was sold to a hotel group. She had read about it in the guidebook.
Later, as they were enjoying their supper on the candlelit terrace with the moon glinting on the dark sea, she thought she saw a young maid, dressed in Victorian clothes standing behind where Paul was sitting. She picked up her large glass of wine and decided to tell him.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he said turning around in his chair. ‘I can’t see anything. It must be you imagining things again,’ he said, picking up his phone to see if there were any incoming messages. She knew he was sceptical of what he thought of as her over active mind. She let it go but decided she would ask a few questions about the history of the hotel tomorrow. That night, as she lay in bed the image of the maid came back to her. She thought she could see her standing at the foot of the bed. She snapped on the bedside light. There was nothing there.  Paul didn’t stir. Perhaps she had dreamt it.
The next morning, she woke early. Paul was still asleep. A few too many glasses of wine last night. She opened the bedroom windows. She could smell the scent of bougainvillea in the air. She quickly dressed and went down to the terrace for breakfast.
As she was finishing her coffee, she saw there was a rusty iron gate at one side of the terrace leading into the hotel garden. She hadn’t noticed it before. A few minutes later she found herself wandering past immaculate herbaceous borders. She could see a large pergola covered with cascading lilac wisteria. Beneath it was an old stone bench, where an elderly woman dressed in black was sitting. A lacey shawl covered head. The old lady beckoned to her to come closer. 
‘You can see me, can’t you?’ the woman said, stretching out a gnarled hand towards her.
‘Yes, I can.’
‘You have a special gift. You can see people that others can’t. Don’t be afraid. People like me are still waiting to get to the other side. Our time will come.’
She told the woman about the maid she had seen. ‘Perhaps she doesn’t want to leave. There will be a reason,’ she said.
A fluttering in the trees distracted her, which for a moment made her glance towards the other side of the garden. When she looked at the bench again, the woman had vanished. She walked slowly back to the hotel, thinking about what she had seen and heard. The concierge was at the reception desk.
‘Can I help you Signora?’ he asked her.
‘I was just wondering if you know anything about any of the maids who worked here when the hotel was a private residence. I’m thinking of the Victorian era,’ she asked him.
The concierge put his pen down on the desk. ‘Well, there was a story, but I don’t know if it’s true. A young maid, you know, got into the family way. Think the baby died somehow. She was so distraught, she walked into the sea out there and drowned. Some say her ghost is in this hotel, but I’ve never seen her.’
She knew now. She had been here before. In another life, she was a maid too in this very house. She and Molly had been friends.

About the auhtor 

Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times.  She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently a member of a creative writing group, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.



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