[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Claire and her parents were watching the 6:00 news on CBC, after clearing out the dining room from the remnants of a fine dinner of shepherd’s pie and chocolate pudding (the kind you made from a mix). Her mom had never been a great cook, to put it mildly, but Claire was nevertheless glad to be eating such comforting fare once more. She’d already gained two pounds since moving back home and her mother – who was quite plump herself – was very pleased by that. She had been scared by how gaunt her daughter looked.

The anchor sounded like something very exciting had happened at the trial of Jean-François Toussignant, and she introduced his reporter on the scene, Jason Martel, with a reference to a Tom Cruise movie.

“We are going live now to the front steps of the Laval court house where our Jason Martel is standing by with news from the trial of Jean-François Toussignant, which suddenly sounded like a Hollywood movie. Jason, what happened exactly?”

“Yes, Michael, it was interesting to say the least to watch the proceedings in the courtroom this afternoon. Nathalie Toussignant, the accused’s sister, was being questioned by the defence, like she had been all morning. But whereas this morning questions centred about the behaviour of the accused’s mother, this afternoon we saw the lawyer for the defence, Paul Smith, ask deeply personal questions about what kinds of feelings Nathalie Toussignant harboured towards her late mother.”

That was obviously the cue for the anchor to read his lines.

“Right. I guess, given how the defence is trying to prove that the accused’s parents were unloving and so on, that they tried to get that picture of the parents confirmed by the accused’s sister, am I right?”

“That’s right, Michael. Up until this afternoon Ms. Toussignant’s testimony painted a picture of difficult parents who were certainly not easy to live with, but every time she described something that sounded negative about her parents, especially her mother, Ms. Toussignant would offer a reason for the behaviour. Essentially she seems to have been better able to cope with her parents’ alleged deficiencies than her brother. But things changed this afternoon.”

“How so?”

Well, this afternoon we saw the defence lawyer, Paul Smith, really press Ms. Toussignant about her feelings. He kept trying to get her to admit that she, too – and here I’m quoting the lawyer – had “found it very difficult to grow up with such difficult and unloving parents, and that she had to struggle later in life to figure out the proper way to express motherly love towards her own children.” Ms. Toussignant kept resisting, kept insisting that while her parents certainly had been difficult she had found a way to emerge from that childhood and become a loving partner and mother and lead a pretty normal life. But Mr. Smith kept insisting. Those of you who’ve seen A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson will remember the part with Nicholson’s character, Col. Jessup, starts yelling ‘YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH’. Well, we reached a moment like that this afternoon when Nathalie Toussignant finally broke down and yelled at the lawyer that yes, he was right, she hated her mother too and despised her father for never having had the guts to stand up to her. It was a very emotional moment, as you can imagine, it left nobody indifferent.”

“OK, so now what’s next?” (News anchors are notorious for having failed the emotional IQ test back in orientation.)

“Well, after his witness exploded at him Paul Smith thanked Ms. Toussignant and declared he had no more questions for her, so the judge adjourned. Now we move on to the main witness, the accused himself, who will be questioned by the crown prosecutor starting tomorrow morning.”

“And you’ll be there to report on this for us?”

“You bet.”

“Thank you Jason, and see you tomorrow. That was Jason Martel, outside the Laval courthouse where the dramatic and emotional first-degree murder trial of Jean-François Toussignant is ongoing.”

“Wow,” Claire’s mother sighed. “Can you imagine having to answer these questions in public like that, and have everyone judge you?”

Claire didn’t want to say too much, but she certainly understood the plight of children who had a nasty grudge against their parents. She herself hadn’t hated hers so much that she wanted to hurt them, but she could see how this sort of thing might happen. She had a lot of friends and ex-friends who came from broken homes, who had been raised by neglectful or indifferent parents, who hadn’t been loved. She knew more than a few girls who’d been abused by their parents – usually a step-father, with a mother who cared more about the step-father than they did about their own daughters so they ignored the abuse. Claire knew how deep those wounds were, she had seen so many of those girls go on to hurt themselves – there was a lot of cutting among peelers, drug taking, too. Claire had never been mistreated like that, and she knew now that her parents had always loved her, they’d just been clueless and clumsy in showing it, but she could empathize with Jeff Toussignant.

“I know,” she said to her mom. “It must be so hard.”

****

Nathalie had not stopped crying since they’d left the courtroom.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” She also hadn’t stopped apologizing.

Marc kept saying there was no need to apologize, she kept apologizing anyway. So he kept repeating himself, too.

“Honey, there is nothing to apologize for. They pushed you past your limit and you reacted like a normal human being. They’re the ones who should be sorry, not you!”

“But I’m the one who shouted!”

“I know, baby, I know. But it’s OK, I promise. Nobody thinks badly of you because of it, I can promise you that. Here, let me call Sylvie and ask her to keep the kids a bit longer. You and I are going to sit down, drink some wine, and we’ll talk it over, OK?”

Marc’s strength was talking things over. He specialized in talking people off their suicidal ledge, he could sure talk his lovely partner out of this funk. Right at the moment he had to do a good job of keeping his feelings compartimentalized, though, because about half of him wanted to go over to the prison and beat Nathalie’s brother to a pulp. He knew where those questions had come from. He knew exactly what game that son of a bitch was playing. And he hated him for it.

“Oh, I feel terrible asking Sylvie to do more for us.”

“I’ll explain it to her. I need you to stop worrying about other people for an hour or two, and just focus on yourself, OK? Do that for us. Please.”

She was too exhausted to argue anymore. All she could think of was how relieved she was to be done testifying.

[next chapter]