“The First of May,” Friend, May 1991, 8
“Bonjour, Maman (Good morning, Mother),” said Nicole as she ran into the kitchen.
“Good morning, little one,” said her mother, who was slicing a long loaf of bread. Its shiny crust snapped and crunched as the knife cut through it.
“Today is the first of May, n’est—ce pas (isn’t that so)?” asked Nicole.
“Yes. I know you’ve been waiting for a long time for today to come. Would you like to make the bouquets this year?”
Each year on May first, Nicole’s family took small bunches of flowers to their friends and neighbors to show their friendship.
“Oh, yes, Maman,” said Nicole. She started to run into the garden.
“Just a minute. Don’t forget your breakfast.”
Nicole’s mother took a slice of the fresh bread and spread it first with pale butter and then with currant jam. She poured Nicole a cup of hot chocolate.
“While you eat, I’ll get the things you will need.”
Nicole ate quickly so that she would be ready when Maman returned. Her mother soon brought a basket with a pair of scissors and some string in it. Nicole took the things and went into the garden.
Under the almond tree, where the garden was the shadiest, Nicole put her basket by a bed of shiny green leaves. When she pushed the leaves back with her hand, she saw the tiny white flowers called muguets (lilies of the valley). They smelled even more delicious than fresh bread with currant jam.
She began to cut the flowers and leaves and put them into her basket. She was careful not to disturb the roots. Her papa always told her that the roots would make more muguets the next year if she did not pull them out of the soil. After she had cut a basketful, she tied the flowers and leaves into small bundles with the string. When she finished, she picked up a tiny flower that had fallen off its stem. It looked like a tiny china cup.
Taking the basket full of little green bundles into the house, she showed it to her mother.
“They are well-made, Nicole,” Mother said. “Would you like to deliver them too?”
“Will you come with me?” asked Nicole.
“Well, I am busy now. You would have to wait.”
Nicole didn’t like waiting, but she didn’t know if she could deliver them all by herself. “Where would I go?” she asked.
“Oh, to our friends in the neighborhood: Madame (Mrs.) LaCroix, Aunt Marie-Claire, the Armands. Do you think you can do it?”
Nicole knew all those houses well. And Maman had not mentioned grouchy Madame Victor, their next-door neighbor. Nicole didn’t want to take flowers to her. When Nicole’s ball went over the garden wall, Madame Victor complained that it hurt her roses. And if Nicole made a lot of noise playing, Madame Victor always told Nicole’s mother.
Nicole took her basket and went to the Armands’ house first. Monsieur and Madame (Mr. and Mrs.) Armand were glad to see her. They gave her an apple and told her that she was growing up. At Aunt Marie-Claire’s house, Nicole’s cousin, Jules, was out in his baby stroller. Aunt Marie let Nicole push him around the yard. Then she went to see Madame LaCroix. Madame LaCroix thanked her and gave her a kiss on both cheeks.
Nicole was having such a good time that she decided to deliver flowers to some of her school friends. Her basket was almost empty when she started back home. As she reached her own gate, she could see Madame Victor reading her newspaper. She looked lonely.
If I give her the muguets,she will only yell at me, thought Nicole. Besides, Maman didn’t say that I had to give her any.
Nicole opened the heavy iron gate into her own yard. Maman was pulling weeds out of the leek bed. “Nicole, you must have made a lot of deliveries. Your basket is almost empty.”
“I visited all the people you told me to, and I went to a lot of my friends’ houses too.”
“And did you deliver flowers to everyone?”
As Nicole looked at her maman, she thought about Madame Victor. She didn’t feel as happy as she had felt when she was delivering the flowers. “I missed one person. I’ll be right back.”
Nicole grabbed one small bunch of muguets and ran to Madame Victor’s. Madame Victor had gone inside, and Nicole had to pull the rope to ring her bell. Nicole’s heart pounded as she waited. She was about to go back home, when Madame Victor came out of her house. “Oh, it’s you! I don’t need any muguets today. Go sell them somewhere else. And don’t bother me again.”
“But, Madame Victor, they are not for sale. They’re for you, for the first of May.”
Nicole pushed the flowers through the bars of the gate and turned and ran. She was crying by the time she got home. Nicole told her mother what had happened. “I tried to do the right thing, Maman.”
“Sometimes even the right thing doesn’t work,” said Maman. “Now let’s go inside and make a special dinner for your papa. He will be proud that you have done such a good job today.”
Nicole was making a vegetable salad when she heard the bell ring. Madame Victor stood at the gate with a great armful of roses.
“Go open the gate, Nicole,” said Maman. “She is here to see you.”
Nicole ran to the gate.
“For the first of May, Nicole,” said Madame Victor. She had Nicole’s flowers pinned to her dress. “May I be your friend?”
“Of course,” said Nicole. “Of course you may!”