For Caroline, it's a reminder of a night she's never told anyone about - and the traumatic consequences she had to face on her own.
While for Eleanor, who has spent the past fourteen years trying to get over the death of her young daughter, the school reunion is a stark reminder of life before grief.
As the reunion approaches, both sisters face choices and decisions about their lives. Caroline, a successful knitwear designer living in England must choose between love and honesty. Eleanor, who long ago removed herself from the restaurant she started with her husband, must finally make a decision to choose the man she married and the son she has forgotten for so long.
Charity Begins at Home
I’m not certain when it started: all I can say for sure is that I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve never tried to hide it, everyone knows. Most of my friends treat it as a quaint character trait, something harmless, even a bit amusing – but maybe a little embarrassing too. They’ve long since learnt to accept that I do it, but they wouldn’t be caught dead joining me.
I’m talking about spending a few bob in charity shops. I can’t pass one without going in and having a rummage – and I’m spoilt for choice in Limerick, which boasts several excellent ones. The notion that you might chance on the perfect top/dress/skirt/bag for a fraction of its original price is intoxicating. It’s the not knowing that I love, the flicking through rails or searching shelves with literally no idea what I might find that keeps me going back, just in case. I think of it as lucky dip shopping.
Mind you, I have my standards. The item in question must be in good nick: if not brand new, with original tags still hanging off it – yes, they crop up occasionally – then at least looking as good as new. I wouldn’t consider anything stained or torn or missing crucial buttons, anything that looks like it was washed at the wrong temperature, or not washed enough. Pre-loved as opposed to just pre-owned; that’s what I’m after when I go hunting.
And labels are important, in the sense that I won’t buy something like a Penney’s top second-hand, not because I have anything against Penney’s, or similar low-priced stores, but because I can easily afford new stuff in Penney’s, and new is always nicer than nearly-new.
Despite my standards, the low prices can sometimes seduce me to rash decisions. Over the years I’ve bought my share of disasters, things that seemed like such a bargain in the shop – a Jesire dress for a tenner! – but that do nothing for me when I try them on again in the cold light of home. I might wear them once, if at all, before they end up back in the charity shop. These mistakes don’t bother me unduly: I’m only down a few bob, I’ve still done my bit for charity – and the shop might manage to sell them again in a week’s time.
A few years ago I took my love of charity shops to a new level, and volunteered to do a weekly shift in my local Oxfam. I got such a kick out of it: I loved meeting the customers, many of whom dropped in regularly, most of whom were happy to chat as they browsed; and I had such a laugh with the other volunteers at the tea breaks – with no salaries to earn, there was no pressure, no workplace competitiveness, and a wonderfully relaxed air about the place.
Of course, the other big benefit of working there was getting first choice of everything that came in. I was lucky enough to be the only size ten among the Friday morning volunteers, so I had nobody to fight with when a gem appeared in my size.
It was a great way to pass a few hours, and a lovely diversion from the writing. Ultimately I had to give it up when deadlines approached and time became tight, but I paid tribute to charity shops everywhere when I worked one into a subsequent book (after first having assured all of my ex-colleagues that nobody was based on any of them!)
I can’t understand some people’s disdain, or dislike, of the idea of recycling goods in the name of charity. For me it’s a win-all-round situation – the donor finds a home for her cast-offs, the customer gets a bargain, the shop makes a sale and the charity benefits. Who cares if someone owned it first? If it fits, and it suits you, and the price is right, so what if you’re the second person to love it?
And now you’ll have to excuse me – there’s a rather nice Abercrombie and Fitch top (seven euro) in need of a little rinse…