[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Paul was tempted to do the thing with the glasses but for once he stopped himself. Nathalie’s eyes were filling up with tears. He brought her a tissue and made a show of giving her a minute to compose herself.

“Ms. Toussignant, would you say that description of you from your brother is accurate?”

She managed to smile. “Well, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m better than I am, but that is how I try to behave, yes.”

“Thank you." Paul Smith made as if he was going to walk towards the jury box then he stopped himself as if he’d just remembered something that might or might not be important. Just like Peter Falk’s Columbo when he said, ‘just one more thing’…

"Did you love your parents, Ms. Toussignant?”

Marc jumped in his seat.

“What?”

“I said, Did you love your parents, Ms. Toussignant?”

“I, uh, of course I did! Most children do, right?”

“I wouldn’t know about love, Ms. Toussignant, I’m just a lawyer. As you saw a minute ago, I have to read notes when I talk about it.” He gave her the closest thing to a friendly smile a lawyer at work is capable of. Many people in the courtroom smirked, too. “But fortunately, this isn’t about me. So you say you loved your parents, is that right?”

Nathalie hesitated just a touch then agreed that yes, that is what she had said.

“How many times a day did you tell them?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I gather that people who love each other tell each other how much they love each other, and do that on a regular basis. So I’m asking you, Ms. Toussignant, how many times a day did you tell your parents you loved them?”

“You mean, when I was a kid?”

“Sure, let’s start there. How many times a day would you say you used to tell your parents you loved them?”

She had to think pretty hard about that one. “Well, now, that’s not a very easy question to answer…”

“I’m sure it’s not. Take your time.”

She thought about it some more, and finally shrugged. “I don’t know. I can’t say I remember that very clearly.”

“I see. Would you say you told them you loved them every night before going to bed?”

She squinted hard at the floor, as though her shoes held the answer. “I don’t remember.”

“How about when you left for school in the morning. What did you tell your parents, then?”

“Oh, usually my mother reminded me not to forget my hat, or she’d tell me to do well on my exam, or something like that, and I’d just answer with a simple ‘yes, Mom’.”

“No ‘yes Mom, I love you Mom’”?

“I don’t remember.”

“OK. What about the week before they died. How many times did you tell them you loved them during that week?”

Wow, this was going to sound awkward. “I don’t remember saying it that week.”

“I see. What about the week before that?”

“I don’t remember.”

“OK. But you say you loved them.”

“Yes. I guess we didn’t say it very often, that’s all. Some people are like that.”

“No doubt. How about your parents? Did they tell you they loved you?”

Marc’s heart sank. He knew the answer to that one.

“I don’t remember them saying that very often, no.”

“About as often as you did, more often, or less?”

“About the same.”

“Which isn’t very often.”

“Right.” Poor Nathalie was blushing with embarrassment.

“Did you ever hear them tell your brother Jean-François that they loved him?”

“I don’t remember that.”

“Did you ever hear him tell them he loved them?”

“No.”

“Would you say your brother loved your parents?”

“Before last fall, I would have said he probably did, in his own way.”

“And now?”

“I have to say I was probably wrong about that. He probably didn’t love them.”

“Would you say your parents loved your brother?”

She was crying now. “I DON’T KNOW!”

“Objection, Your Honour!”

“Your Honour, the defence is trying to establish that the defendant acted to protect himself against parents who never loved him. The witness is in a position to give us a good idea of whether or not theirs was a loving family or not.”

“Overruled. Give the witness a minute to compose herself and proceed.”

“Thank you, Your Honour.” Paul Smith looked back at Nathalie and his facial expression – which was for the benefit of the jury, mostly – suggested he was sorry for putting her through all this. He gave her a minute to wipe her nose. “Ms. Toussignant, the impression I get from your testimony is that whatever love there was in your family was not the kind that gets expressed out loud with words, contrary to the love that is in your own family now, with your own partner and children. Am I correct?”

“Yes, you are.”

“Thank you. Now Ms. Toussignant I want to ask you a series of more specific questions designed to give the jury a sense of who your parents were, and of how they behaved towards you and your brother. I realize some of those questions will seem difficult to answer or harsh. They are. But they are necessary. Are you ready to proceed?”

“Yes.”

“Your brother says, and you agree, that on top of regularly telling your children that you love them, you treat your children with love and tenderness. Specifically, you hug them and kiss them and treat them with kindness. Would you say this is the way your mother used to treat you when you were a child – let’s say, when you were roughly the age your children are, now?”

Nathalie looked at the floor for a second or two, trying to figure out how she should phrase this. “This is a question that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no.”

“Alright, please answer using all the words you need.”

“The short answer is, not really. My mother was not a particularly affectionate person. I would not go so far as to say she didn’t love her children. I’m sure in her own way she did. But you see, her own parents had raised her to believe that children should respect their parents and not climb all over them, so she raised us to behave that way as well. We were not supposed to climb up on our parents, or ask for hugs, or any of that. We were supposed to keep a certain distance.”

“But when you had children of your own you obviously decided that wasn’t a good model for you…”

“That’s right. Times change, you know? I think if I raised my kids today the way my parents raised me four decades ago, it wouldn’t be good for my children. Today parents are not strict like mine used to be. They are much more friendly and affectionate with their children. That’s a model I found worked well for our family as well, so I’ve adopted it.”

“Did you ever talk about this with your mother, did you discuss the proper ways to raise children? Did she criticize what you were doing?”

Nathalie burst out laughing. “Oh yes. She did criticize. But that wasn’t anything unusual. My mother was usually quite critical of what I did.”

“You mean, with regards to your family life or more generally?”

“I mean she was quite critical of pretty much everything I did. She didn’t think much of my choice of job – she thought I should have had a more significant career, for one thing.” Nathalie looked at Marc for a second. “She also did not think very highly of me having a partner who is divorced with children from a previous marriage. She thought I’d get used then abandoned.”

“Were you?”

“No! My partner is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I love his children as my own, even though we very rarely see them.”

“Did your mother specifically criticize you for being affectionate with your children?”

“Yes. She used to say I was spoiling them and would one day regret treating them like that because they would turn into disrespectful little monsters.” There was a slight gasp in the jury box. “Yes,” Nathalie nodded as she said it, “she actually did say ‘monsters’. But you have to understand, she came from a world where nobody was shown the kind of affection we now routinely show our children. To her it was all so very strange and unfamiliar, she didn’t understand it so she criticized it.”

“I see. But you continued to show whatever level of affection your thought was appropriate for your children, correct?”

“Yes. I am quite used to my mother’s criticisms. I can take it or leave it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, sometimes she does – I mean, did have an interesting perspective on things that was worth paying attention to. Not every old-fashioned rule is necessarily wrong. But over the years I’ve developed a pretty good ability to sort through her words and take what I like and leave what I don’t like. In this particular case, I thought she was wrong and ignored her criticisms.”

“Do you still believe she was wrong?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because children need to know their parents love them.”

“Do you still think your parents loved you?”

“I think so. In their own way.”

“But you’re not so sure about whether they loved your brother.”

She hesitated. “Right. I don’t remember everything, of course, but I think they were doing alright when Jeff was little. But like I was saying earlier, they did have a bit of a falling out when he left for college and things have been strained ever since.”

“I see. Do you think the falling out was so bad that it caused your parents to stop loving their son, or is it possible that they had stopped loving him before that?”

“Oh, honestly! How would I know that?”

“Is that a no?”

“I don’t even know what your question was anymore!”

“My question is, Do you think the falling out between your parents and your brother happened because your parents stopped loving their son once he was a young adult, or would you say they had stopped loving him before that?”

“Well, I’m not sure they had stopped loving him, before the falling-out or after.”

“You said your parents, or maybe it was mostly your mother, were often critical of your actions and choices. To your knowledge were they also critical of your brother’s choices and actions? Did they criticize his choice of romantic partners, or jobs, or his ideas, or his clothes?”

“My mother? Oh dear me, yes. I don’t think there’s any subject on which she did not offer her opinions, whether we’d asked her to or not. That’s the way she was, you know?”

Paul Smith offered a smile. “I’m starting to get that impression, yes. But what about her? What happened when you or your brother or your father had something critical to say to your mother? I’m sure she made mistakes sometimes, like most humans. How did she react when any of you pointed something she’d done that she could have done better?”

“Oh, we didn’t do that.”

“You didn’t point out her mistakes?”

“No.”

“Never?”

“No.”

“What about your brother, or your father?”

“No.”

There was a pause that lasted about three seconds but felt longer.

“Were you afraid of her?”

“I wouldn’t say afraid, no. I know my brother is trying to make a case against her, and he’s certainly right to claim that she was nowhere near perfect as a mother, but she also wasn’t Hitler, you know. She didn’t terrorize us or anything.”

“But then why would no one – not you, not your brother, not your father – dare criticize her?”

“It was unpleasant when we did, so we learned to hold our tongues.”

“Can you describe in what ways it was unpleasant?”

“Mostly she would argue with you. She would say, ‘Oh, you’re wrong, I didn’t do what you say I did,’ or ‘Oh no, you’ve got it wrong, this didn’t happen at the grocery store,’ and when you pointed out to her that in fact there was no mistake in your criticism, she’d give all kinds of reasons why she was right to do what she’d done anyway. Basically she went on and on and on picking holes in whatever you had to say until she was satisfied that she had been right after all. This could sometimes go on for days. And the worst thing about it was that usually our criticisms were about small, inconsequential things. Like she’d gotten lost on the way to a new store, or she’d bought the red dress instead of the blue one I’d asked for, stuff like that.”

Paul Smith made a face for the jury, like he couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “For days?”

“Oh yes. Take the dress thing. I remember it like it was yesterday even though I couldn’t have been much older than 10 or 11 when it happened. There was this dress I’d seen in the Sears catalogue – back in those days we received that catalogue and I was allowed to pick one or two items from it that my mother would then go out and buy whenever she went to the mall. Anyway, there was that dress I liked very much. A summer dress, simple A frame with a belt. There was a pretty flower at the belt. The dress came in a few colours; there was the blue I wanted, a red, and a few others I forget – maybe green, I’m not sure. I asked her, very clearly, for the blue one but she must have misunderstood because when I got home from school the day she’d been out shopping – excited to get my new blue dress – there was the red one in the bag.”

“What did you say?”

“First I asked if this was for me or for someone else and she said, ‘It’s for you, dummy, you asked for it!’. So I said, ‘But no, I asked for the blue one!’ and she said, ‘Well, now, of course you didn’t. Why would I buy you the wrong thing? Don’t be silly, that’s your dress.’”

“I see. And what happened then?”

“I started crying, because I didn’t like the red one. I really wanted the blue one. She yelled at me not to cry like a baby and to be happy with the dress I’d asked for. There was no convincing her she’d made a mistake. She said if I didn’t want that dress she’d bring it back to the store and never buy me anything new again. I believed her, too. But I was upset and it must have shown because she kept at it for almost a week, threatening never to buy me anything nice again and telling me it was silly for me to change my mind on the dress colour like that. So I kept the red dress and did my best to wear it often, even though I didn’t like it. Because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life wearing nothing but second-hand clothes. I learned my lesson, though. Next time I cut out the picture of what I wanted from the catalogue and gave it to her to make sure there would be no mistakes.”

Nathalie waited for the lawyer to say something, but he couldn’t quite come up with anything just now, so she added: “It wasn’t that big a deal, really, it was just a dress. And she could easily have exchanged it for the blue one – the mall wasn’t that far, it was 15 minutes away by car. But there was no convincing her that she was in the wrong, even about something so simple and small as that. And you know, it helped make me less difficult about my clothes. Now I’m happy to wear simple things, so I guess I’ve learned a good lesson from that episode.”

Paul Smith could feel the unspoken unease around him, and he looked at his client. Jean-François Toussignant was giving the “well done” signal (he’d touched his hair with his right hand), so the lawyer decided to see if he could leave the jury with this unease over the lunch break. He looked at the judge, and said, “Your Honour, the defence has more questions for the witness but if it pleases the court we could ask those after recess.”

“Very well, the court will adjourn until 2 pm.”

[next chapter]