[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Jean-François and Nathalie Toussignant were siblings but they weren’t particularly close. It was something Nathalie regretted, since it would have been nice to be close to anyone in this family. She had a feeling this was what families should be like; reasonably close to one another. But alas, it was something she couldn’t change. She had her own kids and partner to look after now, and with her job at the convenience store two mornings a week, she was busy enough. Besides, no matter how much she tried to be nice to her brother he always stiff-armed her. He had his own issues all right.

She had texted him a bunch of times already that morning and had received no reply. She finally reached him by phone shortly after the kids were done with lunch, but the conversation didn’t help with the digestion.

“I don’t know what I want to do about it,” he said in response to her question about setting up a schedule to visit their dad and make sure he wasn’t alone.

“Well, we can’t just leave him like that!” she said, with more than a trace of irritation in her voice.

Jeff had always been quick to shrug off any and all kinds of family or even social obligations going back as far as she could remember, but this was pushing it. It was one thing to be a loner, quite another to be actively hostile to his father’s needs at such a terrible time.

“I am getting Sylvie to take my kids later this afternoon and she said she’d be able to keep them until bedtime, so I can go spend dinner with him and be there when the nurse puts him to bed with a sleeping pill, but I can’t be there when he wakes up in the morning. Marc is coming home late tomorrow so I should be able to spend a fair bit of the weekend with Dad but tomorrow morning I’m stuck. Can you take that shift, please?”

A pause. A hesitation.

“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t promise.”

****

“He’s been a bit bizarre, your brother, since the, well, since that night,” Marc didn’t want to say “since your mom died”. He also didn’t want to say “since she passed away” or use any of the lame euphemisms people used to avoid saying someone had died. He never understood why there was so big a taboo around such a simple word. It’s not like dying was unknown or weird or anything. It happened every day, and eventually it would happen to everyone.

“What do you mean, bizarre? That’s how Jeff always is, shifty, incapable of committing to anything, selfish…” She managed to stop herself there, which was already farther than she meant to go. She didn’t like bitching so much about her brother, especially this week. But she was right mad at him since he’d failed to show up at their father’s residence that morning.

“Oh, honey. I understand, I really do. Now, come here...” He held her close for a few minutes. He always had a marvelous ability to soothe her, to make her feel protected, looked after. He could tell his absence had been hard on her this week. She was putting up a brave front and doing what needed doing, but she resented having to do it all herself. Her father was so devastated he hadn’t even said hello to Marc when he went to see him on his way home. The old man was alone in his room, staring at the wall, not moving, not eating, not going to the bathroom, not doing anything. Marc had asked the nurse if there was anything he could do and she just shrugged. They’d already tried…

“Do you think,” he began, stroking her hair, “that he could be in so much pain from the, um, loss of your mother that he’s paralyzed, that he doesn’t know what to do, and retreats into his shell?”

“Yeah, that’s what the nurses are saying. Apparently it happens a lot with men who lose their wife after so many decades together. They don’t know what to do with themselves.”

“No, I mean, well yes I’m sure that’s true for your dad. But I was thinking maybe something like that was also happening to Jeff?”

She’d been half-sobbing for the last few minutes. It sounded a bit funny when she burst out laughing and snorting through the tears. Marc was afraid she’d choked…

“You’re kidding, right? Jeff, in pain? Emotional pain? From losing someone he hated? To be brutally honest, I’m surprised he’s not dancing with joy.”

Marc was not what you’d call a guy with no emotional IQ. One of the reasons he was a good cop was his ability to empathize with distressed people. That was very useful in his job with the Sûreté du Québec, where he specialized in talking people off their suicidal ledge. He liked to say he was the preventer of jumping for the area north of Montreal, and he was glad he was north of, and not in, Montreal. He wouldn’t want to have to deal with all the suicide attempts off the bridges there…

Marc didn’t have any significant moral problem with people who’d decided to end their lives. He thought it was sad and lazy and cowardly to commit suicide. And he was keenly aware of the statistics; that while more women talked of suicide, many more men went through with it. He also understood that there was a lot of pressure on older, sickly folks to shuffle off without too much resistance. Marc was convinced there was a significant number of older people who quietly let themselves go so as not to become a burden on others, and he thought that was a lot sadder than some bloke flinging himself off a bridge after his wife left him. But for all that, he wasn’t going to do much to prevent those suicides. No. The only suicides he wanted to prevent were those that endangered the lives of others (like the cretins who threw themselves in front of the subway) or the jumpers that shut down traffic on the bridges. Anyhow, that was his job, and he was good at it. But for all his ability to know exactly what to say to bring desperate people back to sanity and sunlight, he had not a clue what to tell his own wife at this particular moment…

She spared him the struggle by shaking her head and going back to the kitchen to fix him dinner. “A fine mess this family is, right?”

****

The funeral was going to take place on Wednesday, it was decided by the family committee composed primarily of Nathalie. Neither her brother nor her father had much to say about the arrangements, except for the part where her dad insisted there be no flowers.

“Your mother always hated flowers at funerals. She said they stank. Can we ask people not to bring any?”

“Yes, Dad, I told the funeral home. They said they can certainly ask people to send donations to her favourite charity in lieu of flowers, and they asked me what charity they should use. What do you suggest?”

The poor man hadn’t eaten anything solid in three days, hadn’t slept much either even with the sleeping pills, and he looked like hell, except more desiccated. He shook his ridiculously unshaven head. “Oh, I don’t know. She never really talked about any of that stuff.” He thought about it for a minute. “Can we just ask people not to bring flowers? I can’t think straight…”

She patted his hand gently. “Don’t worry about it Dad, I’ll tell them.”

[next chapter]