[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Once Nathalie had regained a small amount of composure, the crown prosecutor resumed her questioning. “Again I am sorry to bring up those painful memories. But it is important for the jury to understand what happened, how it happened, and why it might have happened.”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Now,” the prosecutor continued, “I want you to think back again to what happened right after you heard the news that your mother had died. Do you remember thinking it was odd, or weird, that she should die like this, so suddenly?”

“Yes. Like I was just telling you, I thought it was very surprising to hear she had died, given how healthy she had looked the last time I’d seen her.”

“Which was when, exactly?”

“It was the Sunday before her death. I had brought the kids over to lunch with her. We did that fairly often – I would bring sandwiches and we’d eat those in her room, with my dad usually joining us. I thought it was easier that way, because the kids had trouble behaving in the common dining room, and I didn’t like the looks I got sometimes from other residents who did not like having little kids around at mealtimes. Also,” Nathalie added with a shy smile, “my kids didn’t really like the food they had in the main dining room, and since they charged us a fair bit of money to eat there with my parents, it was a lot easier and cheaper to pack our own lunches. Plus to the kids it felt like camping in Grandma’s room, which they enjoyed. They would watch television while the grownups talked. It was like a party for them.”

“I see. So the last time you did this, you didn’t notice anything unusual?”

“I’ve been asking myself that question for months now, since my brother was arrested. I mean, I’ve been wondering; were my parents suicidal? Did they want to die? Is it possible that Jeff…”

“That’s your brother, of course, who is sitting right over there?” She pointed at him.

“Yes. I’ve asked myself if somehow what he did was done because my parents had asked him to… how to say this… to help them die.”

“And?”

Nathalie shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but would I really know?”

“Ms. Toussignant, did your mother have any close friends?”

“She had friends, yes, I think. Ladies at the nursing home, of course, and at least one old friend who used to work with her when she was at the insurance agency back when Jeff and I were in high school. But that friend is not around anymore; she met someone on a trip to South America at least 10 years ago and now lives there with him and his children. I believe my mom and her kept vaguely in touch via Facebook, but as far as I know they weren’t talking very often.”

“Please think carefully, Ms. Toussignant, do you think there might be someone out there who was as close to, or closer to, your mom than you were? Someone she might have confided in? A priest, maybe?”

Nathalie couldn’t repress a snort. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s not funny, really, but in a way it is. No, my mother had nothing but contempt for priests. She used to say they were only good for giving other people lessons on how to live, but that they were pretty bad at living themselves. Or something like that. My father was more religious, but I guess he kept it quiet around her.”

“So then would you say you, her daughter, were the person closest to your mother?”

“Probably, yes. Not that we were all that close. I mean, I went to visit her regularly and everything, and we talked on the phone most days when I wasn’t visiting, but,” Nathalie was looking down at the floor, “well, we weren’t very close.”

“Do you want to expand on that?”

“Er, not particularly, no, but I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”

There was a murmur among the jurors, which prompted the prosecutor to proceed, but with caution. For this might be headed in a direction she didn’t quite want to go.

“I appreciate that, thank you. Let me ask this instead: On average, how often would you say you visited your parents?”

“Usually I’d take the kids on Sunday, but I’d also go for short visits during the week, too, when my mom asked.”

“Why would she ask you to come visit her?”

“Well, she was often saying how she liked my company better than that of the other residents. My mother was a proud woman, and she liked to think her conversation was above that of most other people. I know this will sound unpleasant to the other residents who lived with her at that residence, but she often complained to me about how much she didn’t really enjoy their company. She found their conversation not particularly satisfying. She called me to come over so she could have someone to talk to.” Nathalie looked at Marc, who had a pained expression on his face. “I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious.”

“And what about your father, was he there during those visits, too?”

“Oh yes! My father never really left my mother alone for very long. He was her constant companion. But my mother did not always find his conversation sufficient, either. That was no secret; she was quite open about it. I don’t think he minded, either. For the most part he appeared completely happy just to sit there and be near her.”

“I see. Let me ask you something else. Did you, at any point in the first few days after you heard your mother had died, wonder about the possibility that she might have taken her own life?”

Ouch, Marc thought. These questions are tough.

Nathalie took a few seconds to mull the question over. “Not at first, no. At least, I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t remember everything I thought at the time, and in what order…”

“Just give us your best guess, please.”

“OK, my best guess is no, the thought that my mother might have committed suicide by herself or with help did not cross my mind at first. Nobody said anything about finding evidence of drugs that might have been used for that, she had never talked in a way that suggested she might be tired of living, and neither had my father. Again, I was surprised by how suddenly she died, given how healthy she seemed to be, but you never do know, do you. She was 72 years old. It’s not unusual for people that age to die…”

“Yes, that’s very true. So I suppose you did not think about suicide drugs in your father’s case either, correct?”

“Correct. Like I said, in his case it felt like he had just let go, that he had lost his will to live. But that’s not the same as taking drugs to kill yourself. He was older, he was 75, and I don’t think he knew how to go on living without his wife.”

Some jury members had to stifle a tear or two.

“Thank you. I’d like to move on to questions about your brother. Do you need a break or can you continue?”

Nathalie took a deep breath. “I’m fine. Please go ahead.”

[next chapter]