L’ennui en rose part trois

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Vendredi (Friday)                                                                                         Jour Cinq (Day 5)

 

Make a simple vinaigrettePreferably use whatever you already have.

 

Well, it looked like Leni was having salad for dinner…

***

Mme Martin did 100% of the cooking, but there was one day she asked Leni for some help.

 

“Can you please make the mjoldsp?” she asked, wiping her flour-covered hands on her striped apron.

 

“Pardon?” Leni asked, not quite sure what she was asking.

 

“For the salad.  Can you make a vinaigrette?”

 

Though she’d never officially heard that word in French, Leni knew what vinaigrette was.  French salad dressing.  But dont those come out of bottles?

 

Leni left her spot in the armchair in front of the evening news and made her way to the kitchen.  Mme Martin bustled around, but she had bottles and jars of various sizes on the counter next to a bowl and a fork.  What in Jesus name am I supposed to do? Leni fretted.

 

“I have everything you need there on the qwcpox,” Mme Martin said.

 

Is she assuming I know what the hell Im doing?  Leni didn’t know what the hell she was doing.  The flattened herself against the counter as best she could do avoid being knocked over by her host mom.  Picking up the bottles and jars one by one, she examined the ingredients.  Olive oil…some sort of vinegar…lemon juice…some type of Dijon-ish mustard…salt…pepper…spices she couldn’t identify…

 

Mme Martin paused from whatever sauce she was stirring on the stove.  “Oui?” she asked politely when she saw Leni’s hesitation.

 

“Do you…do you have a paper with instructions?” Leni asked.

 

“Oh, a vsfypoq?” Mme Martin countered.

 

That must mean recipe.  “Yes.”

 

“Oh, just make it like you normally do,” Mme Martin said calmly.  “I’m sure it’ll be fine.  Be careful not to put in too much vinegar.”

 

Leni’s hands started to shake.  God damn it I have never made a goddamn vinaigrette in my freaking life.  The closest she had ever come was making Italian dressing for her mom, pouring in the amounts written on the lines of the salad dressing bottle.  Then she added the Italian dressing seasoning, put the cap on and shook the shit out of the bottle.

 

Sighing inaudibly so that Mme Martin wouldn’t think she was a complete and utter moron, Leni put just a couple drops of vinegar in the bowl.  A squirt of mustard, a drizzle of olive oil then a splash of lemon juice.  She was conservative with the salt and liberal with everything else, though she had no clue what the spices were.

 

I need to stir the damn thing, she thought.  Cant shake the bowl if its not coveredno spoon in sight…Was that what the fork was for?  She grabbed it and vigorously beat the vinaigrette in the bowl.  Mustard splattered on the counter.

 

“It is not necessary to murder the vinaigrette,” Mme Martin laughed gently.

 

The games up, Leni thought.  “I never make before.”

 

Host mom’s eyebrows shot up.  “Vraiment?”

 

“Vraiment.  Our vinaigrette, she is in the bottles.  We buy in store.”  Best to come clean.

 

“Really?  I didn’t know Americans do not make their own.  That is interesting.”  She tasted whatever she was working on.  “It is best to taste what you make, you know.”  Without making Leni feel like a complete moron, Mme Martin gracefully told Leni it was OK to experiment.  Not every recipe is written down.

 

Leni dabbed her fork in the sauce and let a couple drops slide onto her finger.  Licking it, her face instantly puckered up.  It was waaaaaaaay to tart!  There has got to be a way out of this!  Because olive oil is pretty mild, she put in another drizzle, added some more salt and stuck in one of the spices that was particularly aromatic, which she later found out was rosemary.  She stirred it—more gently this time—and tried it again.

 

Much better.  The olive oil cancelled out a lot of the tang the vinegar, lemon juice and mustard had.  Though she didn’t see any, Leni was sure it would be even better with just a pinch of brown or white sugar to give it a sweet component. 

 

Oh my God!  Im actually thinking about complex flavors on a simple vinaigrette!  Leni’s head swirled around the counter, but she didn’t even see anything that resembled a salad.  Her chest puffed out a little bit when she realized she was building her own recipe and not knowing exactly what was in it.  It was just like the way her grandparents cooked.  She never saw them look at a recipe; it was always a pinch of this or a dash of that, stirring and tasting until they got the desired results.  And the dish turned out damn good every time.

 

“Can you taste, please?” she begged Mme Martin, who put her spoon down and made her way down the counter.  She dunked her pinky in and tasted it.  “Very nice, Léni!”  Her smile was gentle and genuine.

 

“A little sugar, yes?” Leni volunteered.  “It make taste more good.”

 

Host mom bobbed her head in agreement.  “You’re exactly right.”  She opened a cabinet and without even looking, put the tiniest handful of white sugar imaginable in.  She gave it a small stir and proffered the fork to Leni.

 

The enhanced vinaigrette exploded in her mouth.  It was smooth from the olive oil, tangy from the lemon juice, mustard and vinegar.  The spices—whatever they were—added a complex component and the sugar enhanced it with just the slightest sweet element.  It was the most sophisticated salad dressing Leni had ever tried, and she made it with her own two hands.

 

Mme Martin stuck her finger in one more time to taste it.  With baited breath and her heart racing, Leni asked, “C’est bon?”

 

An eternity passed before her host mother reached her verdict.  With a slight nod and tiny wiggle of her eyebrows, Mme Martin pronounced, “C’est bon.”

 

Leni might as well have won the Nobel Peace Prize, NBA finals, World Series, Super Bowl, BSC trophy and an Oscar all in one fell swoop.  All the accolades she’d ever received in her life couldn’t compare to the elation she felt that her French host mom validated her first attempt at making vinaigrette when she didn’t really know what the hell she was doing.

 

Success!

 

Leni saw the empty salad bowl on the counter but didn’t see the actual salad.  Her head straining around the kitchen, she queried, “Where’s the salad?”

 

“It’s in the fridge.”  Mme Martin resumed her stirring over the stove.  “Why?”

 

“I wanted to place the vinaigrette over the salad.”

 

Mme Martin’s keen brown eyes peered over her glasses at Leni.  “Over the salad?”

 

“Yeah.  You do not put of the vinaigrette over the salad?”

 

A frown furrowed Mme Martin’s brow.  “I’m not sure how you do it at home, but I put the vinaigrette in the dhmseyuv of the bowl then the salad on top.  You mxnqegbo the salad.”

 

Leni had no clue what she was talking about.  To illustrate her point, Mme Martin handed her spoon to Leni, reached into the fridge to pull out the container of lettuce and set it on the counter.  She poured the vinaigrette in the bowl, took her spoon back and resumed her station at the stove.  “Can you please njipaqe the lettuce?”

 

Something about tossing it?  Leni took a fork and spoon, lightly tossing the salad and coating it with the vinaigrette that was on the bottom of the bowl.  “Comme ça?”  She showed Mme Martin what she’d done. 

 

“Oui, oui!”  More approval!  Leni thought her head would explode from sheer triumph.

 

“In America, we put ourselves much vinaigrette on the salad.  Too much.  The salad, she is always very…wet.”

 

“Wet?”  A look of confusion danced across Mme Martin’s features, but she found the right word.  “Soggy.”

 

“Yes, soggy.  The salad, I do not like to eat when she is too soggy.  This, this is good.  I like.”

 

There are a lot of things about France that I like.

 

***

Leni was just about ready to leave work Friday evening when her cell phone shook on her desk.  It was her dear friend Annie, who had been her good friend since elementary school.

 

“Hey, what are your plans for tonight?” Annie asked without much preamble.

 

“Not much.  About to head home and fix some dinner.”

 

“I got a nice bottle of red wine.  Not quite sure what it is, but it’s French and I thought it’d be something we could enjoy.”

 

Leni hesitated for a second.  Damn it I want me some wine but I have to make a damn salad tonight.  Rules are rules.  Grr.

 

Annie jumped into the pause.  “What?  Hot date?” she teased.  She knew Leni was painfully shy with the menfolk, but she also knew about Leni’s self-deprecating humor.  Only Annie could joke about her love life without Leni wanting to rip her face off.

 

“Oh, you know it!  Wine sounds good.  How about I pick up a salad and some bread?  We’ll make a meal out of it.”

 

She didn’t have to twist Annie’s arm.  After Leni finished work, she swung by the grocery store, purchased the items in question and got to Annie’s house.

 

Annie was already half-way though her first glass but she had one ready for Leni when she walked in the door.  Leni needed no coaxing. 

 

While Annie gently poked fun at Leni’s amorous prowess, Leni could give Annie shit about her culinary savoir-faire…or lack thereof in this case.  She did have an excellent red wine, though.  It was dry and smoky—exactly how she liked her wine.

 

But nothing else in the kitchen remotely signaled an impending meal.  The oven wasn’t even on.  “So…were you thinking garlic bread and salad were just gonna materialize out of nowhere or what?” Leni demanded.

 

Annie took another sip of wine.  “Bite me!”

 

It really was nothing for Leni to saw the baguette, slather it with butter and dump spice on it before throwing it in the oven.  She had the bag of salad ready to go on the counter and was just about to ask about the dressing when Annie remembered, “Shit!  I used the last of the ranch for lunch!  How do you feel about a naked salad?”

 

“I could make something,” Leni offered.

 

“Yeah, but I don’t have any seasoning packets…” Annie mumbled, rummaging around in the cupboards.

 

“No problem.  Got Dijon mustard?”

 

“No, just the yellow crap my kid puts on her hot dogs,” Annie said, waiving it from the refrigerator door.

 

“That’ll work.”  Leni directed her to get vegetable oil, white vinegar, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.  Feeling like an old pro, Leni dumped everything into a small bowl without measuring—this was the one thing on the planet she could make without looking at a recipe—and fearlessly stirred it with a fork.

 

She offered the fork to Annie.  “Taste.”

 

Annie’s eyes grew to the size of saucers.  “That.  Is.  SO.  GOOD!  How the hell did you do that?  That was all crap I just had here in my own kitchen!”

 

Leni took a tiny taste before she put it in the bottom of the salad bowl.  “An old family recipe I learned from my host mom in France.”  The Mona Lisa-esque smiled played at the corners of her mouth as she lightly coated the salad with her simple vinaigrette.

 

Youd be proud of me, Mme Martin!  Old family recipe indeed.

 

Samedi (Saturday)                                                                                        Jour Six (Day 6)

 

Walk to the grocery store.

 

It was 7:30 am.  Opie decided Leni had slept in long enough.  He paced on Leni’s hair on her pillow.

 

“Go ‘way!” Leni said, burrowing her head under the covers.

 

Opie was not to be deterred.  He took his claws—which should probably have been trimmed a couple weeks ago—and dug them into Leni’s scalp.  Leni was pretty sure he removed more than a few hair follicles and some blood in the process.

 

“NO, KITTY!” she mumbled, throwing her baby out of bed and onto the floor with a solid thud

 

Opie was going to win this battle.  With a mighty purr/chirp, he heaved himself back on the bed.  Gently pussyfooting his way over the mountain of blankets, he planted himself squarely on Leni’s chest.  With his ass smack in her face.

 

Why did I ever think getting a damn cat was a good idea?  Bleeding from her scalp and with the smell of cat ass fresh in her face, it was time for Leni to get up.  She padded into the kitchen, dumped Opie’s food in a bowl and made some coffee.

 

While the elixir of life was brewing, Leni drew her next slip out of the beret.

 

Grocery store.  Walk.

 

She looked across her apartment to the window beyond.  It was misting outside. 

 

Goody goody gumdrops.  I get to walk to the ten blocks to the store in the rain

***

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to tell Leni was never destined to drive in France.  She couldn’t drive stick if her life depended on it.  She hated the little cars that looked like they came out of cereal boxes.  Gas was freaking expensive compared to the States.  And it was pretty much a law in France the streets could only be three feet wide.

 

Yeah, there was no way in hell she was driving anywhere.

 

Leni didn’t mind hoofing it everywhere, but no one told her anything about walking around like a pack mule being burdened down with bags and bags of groceries.

 

Now, she had always learned in her French classes in high school and even college that French people still visited specialty shops for food like the pastry shop, the deli, bakery, etc.  Of course they did the bulk of their shopping in supermarkets, but the neighborhood merchant (especially the bakery) was still very much relevant in France.

 

Mme Martin went to at least one specialty shop a day, coming home with a baguette, a pastry for desert, sausages…It was all delicious, but Leni never went anywhere with her except for the bakery on the weekends.  Where Mme Martin did all of her shopping was something of a mystery.

 

After Leni moved into the dorms, she was on her own for food.  Thankfully there was a Casino grocery store about a half mile from the dorms, so she decided she was going to go with a couple of her friends to get their initial provisions.  How hard could it be?

 

Ah, famous last words.  At 20 years old, Leni never had to do the grocery shopping just for herself, so she was in for some trouble.

 

Leni and her two American girlfriends had no problem reaching the store on foot, but they were woefully unprepared for the magic that awaited them.  Delicious cheeses they had never heard of.  Pastas.  Nutella.  Bread.  Pastry.  Chocolate.  Nothing could have prepared them for the onslaught of delicious foods that awaited them!  They puttered their shopping carts through the store, throwing items in.  Not unlike drunk sailors on pay day.

 

Checking out at the grocery store was another experience Leni was not quite prepared for.  First of all, all the clerks were seated.  That never would have flown in the States!  Secondly, their grim, dour faces did nothing to invite the small talk Leni was so accumstomed to from American cashiers. 

 

Like French zombies, they scanned the items, shoving them in plastic bags.  Leni’s total was 146.25 francs, just over $20.  Leni handed her a 200-franc note, not thinking much of it.

 

The cashier didn’t retract her hand to make change.  Leni stared at her, confused.  “What?” she was really not in the mood to deal with any new cultural nuances right now.

 

“Don’t you have any change?” the cashier asked, coldly.

 

“No, that’s your job,” Leni hissed.  Seriously?  She was supposed to dig through her wallet for spare change while that lazy slag sat there doing jack squat?  Really.  Leni was NOT in the mood.

 

The cashier’s lemon-sucking expression instantly changed to complete and utter shock.  Mouth agape, she opened the till which contained a lot of compartments since France had no less than nine coins and five papers bills in circulation before the euro kicked in in 2002.  She barely managed to get the customary “bonne journée” out of her mouth before Leni snatched the bags and stormed away.

 

Leni would later learn that in France, pretty much all cashiers asked if you had exact change.  Though she never understood why, she assumed they were all lazy sons of bitches who couldn’t be bothered.  It didn’t take her long to use the catchphrase, “That’s your job,” narrow her eyes into slits and wait in dead silence until she got her change.  Again, she had better things to do than dig for change and, frankly, she did enjoy the mental tug-of-war.  She so liked torturing petty people!

 

Anyway, after the Change Battle Royale, Leni and her comrades struggled to get back to the bus stop.  Though the busses were frequent, they couldn’t understand why they waited nearly an hour and no bus had come.  Several people approached them and tried to start talking to the girls, but Leni and her hyper vigilant friends conversed in English and ignored the four older women who had tried to engage them in conversation.

 

All of the women had grocery caddies with them, the kind on wheels that could transport groceries for someone walking.  They were simple in their elegance—two wheels, a tall hamper-like basket with a telescopic handle for easy pulling.  If Leni was a

 

The girls decided they waited long enough and started trudging back to the dorms.  It wasn’t too bad the first couple blocks, but Leni’s arms quickly tired of their heavy burden and she had to constantly stop, juggling her heavy plastic bags.

 

The last two hundred yards from the dorms, a bus sailed right by.  Leni later learned there was a different bus route and schedule on the weekend, which she had never known.  She was pretty sure that the women who tried to talk to her were trying to tell them the bus would not some for quite some time.  So much for American can-do (or, in this case, can-wait) attitude!  So she wound up making the long journey, killing her arms and looking like a fool all because she couldn’t read a damn bus schedule!

***

Two years later when Leni went back to France to live and work as a high school teacher, she was faced with a similar conundrum.  Though her room was paid for at the boarding school she worked at, she still had to pay the cafeteria for her meals.  She did not like taking her meals in the student or faculty cantine, plus the school was closed on the weekends, so she decided to cook for herself in the privacy of her own tiny kitchen in her suite.

 

But, of course, that required her to hoof it to get her meals.  The grocery store—bizarrely named Super U—was located about three-quarters of a mile away from the school.  Leni had to make the trek once, sometimes twice a week, in order to get her food.  It wasn’t too bad—she got exercise and fresh air—so long as she didn’t purchase bottled water.

 

Leni was cheap.  She never understood or agreed with the French obsession with drinking bottled water.  She was perfectly happy using one bottle for tap water over and over again.  What’s more, who wanted to lug a six- or eight-bottle case of Evian bottled (each with 1.5 liters of water) almost a mile?  Certainly not Leni!

 

Her suitemate, a 20-year-old French boy, kept warning her how bad the water really was, which she always pooh-poohed.  Until one day.  It was February of the school year and Leni went away for a week-long road trip.  She accidentally knocked over a water bottle in her haste to leave.  When she came home, much to her horror, she discovered a blatantly obvious layer of rust-colored sediment on the bottom of the bottle she knocked on its side.

 

That made a believer out of her!

 

So from that moment on, Leni became a fanatical consumer of bottled water.  Even though she lugged her six-pack of Evian home from the Super U every week or two, it was sure as hell better than drinking rust.  Needless to say, she developed some strong legs and lost over 20 pounds from all the physical exertion!

***

Leni in America did not walk to the grocery store, though.  That was what cars were for.  Why would any sane person walk to a grocery store they didn’t even like (Leni hated the grocery store closest to her) when they had a perfectly good car?

 

Still, rules were rules.  At least she didn’t draw this command on a weeknight—that would suck to have to walk ten blocks in the dark!

 

After lunch, she put on a jacket, stashed an umbrella in her purse and made the 15-minute walk to the store.  Though it was finely misting, it was a gorgeous fall afternoon.  Leni breathed deeply and watched her breath waft up past the colors exploding from the trees.

 

Leni didn’t need much at the grocery store—this was a perfunctory visit.  She pawed through the produce and picked out a lemon, a clove of garlic and some olive oil for that night’s dinner.  It was such a refreshing change of pace to not have to fight with the cashier about money.  Leni paid with a ten dollar bill and actually got change back without so much as a peep from the perky high school girl who rang her up. 

 

Leni slung her purse over her body, nonchalantly swung her plastic bag at her side and strolled home without a care in the world.  It was not an exciting trip, but she didn’t have to drag heavy bottles of water back home, and her very existence did not depend on her ability to walk to procure food.

 

Would Leni walk to the grocery store again considering it was so close to her?  Probably not, because she usually grocery shopped as she ran errands and honestly did not have time to enjoy an amble though the neighborhood every week. A lot had changed in over ten years, but Leni was older and wise enough to enjoy a pedestrian trip to the supermarket instead of dreading it.

 

Dimanche (Sunday)                                                                                      Jour Sept (Day 7)

 

Buy a bouquet of fresh flowers.

 

Opie “let” Leni sleep in until nine the next day.  While her fuzzy vulture paced at her feet, Leni drew that day’s mission out of the beret.

 

Not a problem here.

 

Leni loved fresh flowers.  She very rarely bought them because beautiful as they were, it was foolish to spend money on something that would die a few days later.  She had never received flowers from a boyfriend except for one sweet guy who brought a carnation on a first date.  Leni was usually relegated them to buying them for herself, and she was used to it.

***

Leni was going over to Mme Martin’s house for dinner.

 

Since Leni had moved away a month ago, she managed to keep in contact with her host mom through infrequent phone calls and a couple letters, but Leni was jonesing for a home cooked meal, and she really missed Mme Martin’s company.

 

They had agreed Leni would come over to the Martin house after classes, but Leni had some time to kill before her bus got there.  Plus, she had to pick out a small gift to take to thank Mme Martin for dinner.

 

In France, customary gifts to hostesses are chocolate, wine or flowers.  The problem with Mme Martin was that she didn’t drink.  Leni never dared ask why, but she never saw a bottle of alcohol in all the weeks she lived there.  Either Mmr Martin was a recovering alcoholic or, more likely, she simply didn’t care for alcohol.  Leni met quite a few French people who just didn’t like the taste of any alcohol, which flew in the face of every stereotype Leni had had about French people before coming to France.  Mme Martin did not have much of a sweet tooth, either, so chocolate was really not the best idea.

 

Flowers it was.

 

As it was February—a brutally grey and drizzly month in France—there wasn’t much in the way of locally grown flowers, and hothouse flowers were ridiculously expensive.  Still, that didn’t stop Leni from walking around the florist’s shop on the Grand-Rue with an open jaw.  When she stepped into the humid store with tastefully low light, she had no idea flowers could be such an art form.

 

The flowers were in stands like she had seen at Hobby Lobby, in rows and in small plastic buckets.  They were separated by color and there were about ten of the same flower to a bucket.  The idea was to select the bouquet you wanted and have the florist prepare it for you.  And the trimmings to make the bouquets were nothing short of breathtaking just by themselves.  There were reams of tissue paper and skeins of ribbon in every color, texture and width Leni could think of.  There were colored lengths of wire to add flair, color and visual interest to bouquets instead of boring ferns or baby’s breath.

 

Leni watched a couple customers select flowers with the florist’s input.  She then rolled added some wire and ribbon, wrapped them in tissue paper and finished with cellophane, beautifully curled ribbon and sealed with a sticker with the boutique’s name and address.  When it cmae to packaging things up, it was really hard to beat the French.

 

She finally got the courage to look at the flowers without feeling like a total moron, and Leni gasped out loud.  The flowers were five bucks a pop and up.  Even if she made a simple bouquet of three or four flowers, that was more money than she had wanted to spend.  Leni was crestfallen.

 

Then she got an idea.  There were potted flowers outside with a lower price sticker.  Maybe one of them would be less than fifteen bucks?  She popped back out to the street display and found pots of maroon-colored chrysanthemums.  Eight bucks a pop.

 

Perfect.

 

Leni selected one and went to go pay for it.  She was giddy that she’d managed to find flowers at a reasonable price.  Mme Martin loved plants, so this would be perfect.

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the florist said as she carefully covered the mums in cellophane wrap.

 

“Pardon?”  Leni didn’t quite get what she was driving at.

 

“You have peqxcvlo here,” the florist explained.

 

That must mean mums?  “Yeah.  They are pretty, no?”

 

The florist did something Leni had rarely seen—she bustled and fussed over the flowers without really acknowledging Leni’s comment.  Which was very weird, because French people usually had an opinion about everything and they weren’t afraid about sharing it.  This woman was being tactfully diplomatic.  That was almost, well…American.

 

Leni paid for her flowers and marched over to the bus stop to wait for hers.  As she stood there she got a number of strange looks from passersby.

 

What the flip is wrong with me?  Is my fly open?  Booger hanging out of my nose?  Leni just couldn’t figure out why people were looking at her like she was some kind of freak.  She discretely wiped her nose and felt her jeans—nothing seemed amiss.

 

When the bus arrived, she hopped on, showed her pass and settled into a banquette seat.  An old woman looked at her across the aisle with a small, sad smile.

 

What the hell is going on?!  I know I usually stick out like a sore thumb, but do I have the word “freak” tattooed across my forehead?  If Leni wasn’t so looking forward to Mme Martin’s excellent dinner and company, she would have started to full-blown panic right then and there.

 

Mercifully the bus ride was only fifteen minutes long.  Leni couldn’t get off the bus fast enough, punch in the code to the apartment building she used to live in and climb the four flights of stairs up.  She rang the buzzer, starting to get more than a little giddy.

 

Mme Martin answered the door in her apron.  “Ah, Léni!  C’est vous!  Comment ça va?” she asked with a sincere, bright smile.

 

Leni put the flower pot behind her back so she could crane her neck and get a kiss on each cheek. 

 

“Entrez, entrez,” Mme Martin warmly welcomed her in.

 

Before Leni took off her jacket, she held out the pot of chrysanthemums.  “These are for you.  Thank you for inviting me!”

 

Mme Martin’s joyful expression was replaced with a look of sheer horror in about two nanoseconds.  And that weirded Leni out—her host mom never lost her cool.  Ever.

 

“What’s wrong?”  Leni was having a slight freak-out.

 

“Why did you bring me peqxcvlo?”  Mme Martin wouldn’t even touch it to put it on the dining room table.

 

There’s that stupid word again!  Does it mean “mums?”  “Well, I bought it at the florist. The other bouquets, they were a bit too expensive so I bought you this.  You don’t like?”

 

Realization dawned on Mme Martin’s face and for the very first time that evening, someone actually smiled at Leni.  Granted, it was huge smile of relief, but given the lousy reaction she’d gotten from her mums, she would take what she could get!

 

“I’ll be honest with you, Léni, really don’t care for peqxcvlo.  Don’t you have them in America?”

 

She took the small glass of whiskey Mme Martin offered and sat took a sip.  “Yes we do.  Why?”

 

“In France, we only give peqxcvlo when there is a ngvqpetf.”

 

“Ngvqpetf?”  It seemed like that was the key to uncovering the mystery of the mums.

 

“Yes, the ceremony when a person dies.  Peqxcvlo are flowers for funerals.”

 

Horror settled in the pit of Leni’s stomach and registered in her eyes.  Mums are only used in funerals.  No wonder everyone was looking at me like I was completely insane—I might as well have handed out baskets of lilies with the “In remembrance” ribbon on them!  Holy crap!  “I—I didn’t know!  I am so sorry!”

 

Mme Martin laughed softly.  “They only mnzsfrthi in the fall, so they are associated with death and ngvqpetf.  So in America, you do not use them when someone dies?”

 

“No, we use the white flower that looks like a trumpet.  Oh, Mme Martin, everyone looked at me like I was a Martian!  Now I understand why people gave me the strange looks!”  That’s what a get for being cheap!  “I’m sorry.”

 

Her host mother was extremely gracious about it like she always was.  Instead of keeping the ghoulish flowers at her home, she would take them to the cemetery to place at her parents’ graves the next day.  Leni wouldn’t blame her if she decided to keep them out on the patio for the evening.

 

Note to self—chrysanthème means “chrysanthemum.”  Do not give them to anyone alive for any reason ever.

***

Leni went grocery shopping at target that afternoon and went to the flower section last.  There were many colorful bouquets for her to choose from, from carnations to roses.  But they paled in comparison with Leni’s memories of French florists.  She couldn’t pick the gorgeous flowers she wanted to make her own colorful arrangement, and whoever made the bouquets probably didn’t take the traditional symbolism into consideration.

 

Yeah, picking out flowers here in the States just isn’t the same.

 

Still, that didn’t stop Leni from enjoying the scents of heady roses and delicate irises.  She settled on an autumnal arrangement with sunflowers, tiger lilies and other small decorative flowers she couldn’t identify.  For six bucks she got an explosion of color and the memory of those awful mums.

 

When she got home, she stuck the flowers up on a bookshelf high out of Opie’s reach as he had the tendency to munch on anything green and Leni didn’t want to poison him.  She settled in to watch more of Katie’s Beckett’s videos on YouTube, but she couldn’t help but smile at the vase on her top shelf.

 

Who doesn’t love flowers?  Who doesn’t love getting flowers that won’t spook the crap out of them?

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