The first chapter of Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute opens with the young Florentine working at the lunch counter at the local Five and Ten in St Henri. On this particular day, she feels a sense of anticipation, because she is hoping to see a young man she met at a bazaar the day before. She notes, however, that she has never expected to meet her destiny amid the "caramel" smells and "clacking" noises of the cash register at a store in her poverty-stricken neighborhood.
Nevertheless, the young man shows up at the lunch counter and beckons her to come over to him, demanding to know her name. When she won't tell, he says his own is Jean and that he knows hers is Florentine. She is both put off and attracted by his insolent, demanding, and sometimes brutal manner as he asks her out.
During the chapter, the scene shifts to Jean's point of view as he gazes at Florentine and gets a sense of how hard her life must be:
She stiffened under his brutal scrutiny, and he was able to see her better. He saw her upper body reflected in the wall mirror, and he was struck by her thinness. She had pulled the belt of her green uniform as tight as it would go around her waist, but you could see that her clothing barely clung to her slender body. And the young man had a sudden glimpse of what her life must be like, in the rush and bustle of St. Henri, that life of spruce young girls with rouged cheeks reading fifteen-cent serial novels and burning their fingers at the wretched little fires of what they took for love.
Jean informs her that he too is from St. Henri. When she ends up accepting his invitation, her life will change.
In the first chapter of The Tin Flute (published in 1945 under the title, Bonheur d'occasion), written by Canadian writer Gabrielle Roy, the protagonists are Florentine Lacasse (a young, working-class girl who works at a convenience store as a clerk) and the attractive, intelligent, but dismissive Jean Lévesque. Jean condescendingly invites her out to the movies, and Florentine is taken aback as, though a stranger, he "seemed to know her better than she knew herself."
The novel is set in Montreal during World War II, and Florentine sees many soldiers come and go from the store, but she is intrigued by Jean. Florentine is one of many children, and her family is poor. Soon after inviting her out, Jean will regret his decision, as he does not want to be distracted by a woman.
Looking ahead to the rest of the novel, Jean will remain without attachment to family, though he will affect Florentine's life profoundly.