[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Monday morning. The courtroom. Nathalie was wearing simple clothes; a navy knee-length skirt and an off-white knitted sweater. She was also wearing nylons and one-inch heels in tan. A watch on her wrist, simple navy earrings. She was wearing her hair up, in a stylized pony tail. If it weren’t for the big dark circles under her eyes, she’d be looking great.

She was duly sworn in, and ready to go. As ready as she was ever going to be.

The crown prosecutor, a kind-looking woman in her early 40s, began.

“Nathalie Toussignant, you are 45 years old, correct?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And your brother, Jean-François, is 47 years old.”

“Yes.”

“He is your only sibling.”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry to have to ask you questions about these events, but please tell the court what your first thought was when you heard that your mother had died.”

“Oh,” Nathalie said, her voice falling to a very low level.

“Take your time.”

Even though Nathalie expected these questions, she found them nearly impossible to answer. And yet there she was, in the witness box, where she had to say something. And that something had to be true…

“Is it OK to say I don’t remember? I don’t mean to not answer your question, but I honestly don’t remember what I thought exactly. I was in shock, I cried, I couldn’t believe it, I was confused, I didn’t understand how she could have died since she seemed to be healthy enough the last time I’d seen her… I remember all these things going through my head but I can’t say which one came first, I’m sorry.”

The crown prosecutor smiled benevolently, both at her and at the jury. “That is quite alright, Ms. Toussignant. I think every member of the jury understands completely. Now about your father, do you remember what you thought when you first heard he had died, too?”

“This is a little easier,” answered Nathalie. “Because I had been fearing such an event. You see, after my mother died, my father went into deep shock. He had to be medicated to sleep, he had to be fed almost by force. We tried to have someone with him at all times and we did our best to cheer him up, but he was so lost without my mother that he just didn’t seem like he cared to go on anymore…”

Nathalie did her best to hold back her tears, but one or two escaped from her eyes anyway. Her heartache was very obvious for anyone to see, and Marc’s own heart felt like it was about to break at the sight of her, so vulnerable yet so brave on the witness stand.

“When you say ‘we tried to have someone with him,’ meaning your father, who do you mean by ‘we’? Do you mean you and your brother?”

Poor Nathalie felt like that was a nasty punch in the stomach. “No. I mean, my partner and I.”

“Thank you. I’m very sorry to cause you pain,” the crown prosecutor said gently, “and I’m sorry to press this point further, but if you could answer the question…”

“Oh! I’m sorry. You wanted to know what I thought first, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, again my memory is a little fuzzy and I’m afraid I can’t recall the exact words that went through my mind when I got the phone call from the nursing home. But it was something like sh… oh, sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t say a bad word like that in a court room, I apologize. But yes, I’m afraid it was probably a bad word that first went through my mind, followed by something like, ‘I knew it’ because the truth is, having seen his reaction in the days after my mother’s death, it was fairly clear my father would follow her into the grave unless someone gave him a real big kick in the pants. I tried – to give him a kick in the pants, I mean. I really did try to shock him into wanting to go on without her, for us, for his grandchildren, but…”

She couldn’t control her tears anymore, they flowed freely now.

“Take your time, Ms. Toussignant.”

“It’s just so hard,” she sobbed. “To know that he might have wanted to keep going for his children, for his grandchildren, and that maybe he had given himself that kick in the pants, that he was going to keep on living, but…”

“But what, Ms. Toussignant?”

“Well. You know. If he hadn’t been killed…”

“I understand. Would you like a minute?”

Nathalie nodded, and the crown prosecutor smiled understandingly before pretending to read her notes. This was going very well indeed.

[next chapter]