[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Upon reflection, Nathalie was prepared to concede that the previous day’s unexpected adjournment had been a blessing. The time spent in her family cocoon had fed her soul and helped her spirit rest. She and Marc had gone to bed at 9 o’clock and for once she didn’t have too much trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. With the happy result that she felt like a brand new woman that morning; refreshed and replenished.
They’d got the kids up as usual and sent them to school with a reminder to go to Sylvie’s for lunch again, and to please continue to send happy thoughts to their mom all day. Then she got dressed: black dress pants, beautifully tailored, dark red Calvin Klein jacket, and her fake pearls. Her hair was pulled together in a bun at the neck. On her ears she wore the fake pearls that went with the necklace. She wore just a little bit of makeup; enough to look alive and properly put together, that was all. On her feet she had the same sensible heels she had worn yesterday. Not that anybody ever pays much attention to your footwear.
Marc was in his usual spot in the spectator gallery, looking sharp in a starched oxford shirt and impeccable chinos. What a rock this man was to her. Whatever was waiting for her on the other side of that trial, she knew for certain she’d never go through it without him.
She took her spot, cleared her throat, and waited for her day to start. She was as ready as she was ever going to be.
Paul Smith got up, walked towards the witness stand, and took off his glasses. He took the time to clean them up nicely before putting them back on his nose.
“Ms. Toussignant,” he began, “let me begin by saying how very sorry I am for the loss of your parents.”
You could almost hear the crown prosecutor kicking herself in the ass for not having thought to begin her interrogation with this most basic expression of human sympathy.
“Thank you,” Nathalie answered, managing somehow to keep her eyes dry.
“I would also like to say I am sorry that you are forced to be in this situation where your only remaining relative is accused of murdering your parents and you have to answer all those difficult and personal questions. I know very well how challenging this must be for you.”
This wasn’t a question so Nathalie didn’t offer anything in answer, except for an almost imperceptible nod.
“Let me start by asking you what you did when you first saw your children yesterday.”
Marc was as startled as everyone else in the room. The collective stunned silence was impressive.
“My children? When I saw them yesterday – at my friend’s house, where they were having lunch, I walked in, said hello, hugged them and kissed them.”
“Right. And would you say that’s pretty normal behaviour for you when you pick up your children from school or say goodnight before bed, or any other time you see your children after being separated for a little while? Do you normally hug and kiss your children?”
“Yes, most of the time I do.” Nathalie wanted to add a terse, “and what’s it to you, bonehead,” but she restrained herself.
“Because you are a loving mother.”
Nathalie’s eyes got a touch darker. “I would never claim to be perfect or anything special as a mother, but I do love my children, yes. So I guess my answer is, yes, because I am a loving mother.”
“Thank you, Ms. Toussignant. The reason I asked you this question is that I am trying to establish, for the jury, that you are a good, loving mother. By no means perfect, but what a reasonable person would consider a good, normal, loving mother. A mother who takes the time to be with her children, who fixes their bumps and bruises with care and tenderness, who pays attention to what they think, who treats them as full persons with rights of their own, you know, a good mom. I believe, Ms. Toussignant, from what your brother told me about you, that you are such a person. And I would like the jury to get the same appreciation of your character as I do. So now we have two options: I can ask you a long string of questions about your parenting, how you express your love for your children, how you interact with them on a daily basis, that sort of thing. Or I could, with the court’s permission, read a short statement written by my client describing you and ask you if you have any issues with his assessment. My own preference is to read the letter, unless you or the court objects. Are you comfortable with me reading this letter to you, Ms. Toussignant?”
Paul Smith was asking Nathalie, but he was looking at the judge, who had to call on her internal resources to hide her puzzlement at this particular defence strategy. This trial was getting weird and she didn't like weird. She glanced at the prosecutor who was about as puzzled as she was and did not raise objections.
“I’m OK with it,” said Nathalie.
“Very well, you may proceed,” Judge Michaud said.
“Thank you, Ms. Toussignant, and thank you, Your Honour. Here’s the text my client wrote. I am quoting verbatim. Quote. This short text is intended as a description of my sister, Nathalie, for the benefit of the jury and anyone who is tempted to judge her based on my actions. Please don’t. Judge me based on my actions, judge my parents based on my actions. But judge my sister based on her character. My sister is a good person; always there for her family, always willing to help, always trying to be positive about everything, always trying to get everyone to get along with everyone else. She was there when my parents needed help finding a nursing home. She took them to at least a dozen different ones, all over town. She was there when they needed help downsizing a few years before moving into the nursing home. She found them a place to put their things in storage. She paid for it, too. She then moved everything they didn’t want to keep or sell, since my mother refused to have movers touch her things. My sister was there when I needed help to pay my rent a few times. You get the idea; she’s always there when someone needs her. Are we there for her in return? I wish I could say yes. But no, we are not.” Paul Smith looked up at the members of the jury, one at a time, before continuing. “We never were. In fact, we always took her for granted, and as far as I know she never resented that. I wouldn’t say she is perfect. Nobody is. But she’s pretty darn good. She is also a wonderful mother. I see how she cares for her children, with love, gentleness and tenderness. Her children make her happy, anyone who knows her will tell you that. They are the light in her life, and she is the centre of theirs. Looking at her interacting with her children breaks my heart, because she does exactly what my own mother never did. But that would be getting ahead of the story. I wrote this note to make it clear, for the record and without any interference, that my sister Nathalie is a profoundly good person who is a wonderful mother. Unquote.”