[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] “Honey,” Marc said at the dinner table that night once the kids had left to go tidy up their rooms and brush their teeth, “there is something difficult and unpleasant I need to ask you about.”

Nathalie stiffened a bit. She appreciated Marc’s ability to talk straight but she rarely enjoyed these conversations. Usually they involved him having to do something dangerous for work or leaving for a training exercise or having to do something ghastly to help a colleague, and while she admired his willingness to help others and his generosity, she was always worried he’d never come back.

“It’s about your parents.” Phew, Nathalie thought, despite herself. He’s not about to go on a stupidly dangerous training exercise… She wondered briefly if this made her a bad person, to be relieved he only wanted to talk about her dead parents. Probably not, right?

She looked at him and waited for more. That was normally the way they discussed big important things; he’d talk at first, almost like a guy delivering a monologue he’d learned by heart, then she’d sit there and think about what he’d said for a few minutes, before giving him her reaction. It was very untypical of most couples they knew, who tended to interrupt one another and bicker about as much as they talked, but Marc and Nathalie found this quiet method worked well for them. It was very useful to prevent blow-ups, for one thing, and that was worth a lot in a relationship.

I often thought of trying something like that with Claire, but she doesn’t do waiting very well, sweet darling…

“This may sound a little weird,” Marc said by way of introduction, “and I’m sorry if this brings you any unpleasant memories or anything like that,” and here, contrary to most normal guys who would be fidgeting and hesitating and just generally walking in circles around the point, Marc got straight to it. Sometimes it paid to be a professional negotiator who specialized in talking suicidal people off their ledge. He didn’t beat about the bush, and that made him much better at dealing with the normal drama of family life. Not that this particular discussion was about anything normal. That’s why he’d practiced his speech pretty carefully in the car on the way home.

“There are stories circulating around the area where your parents lived about older folks in nursing care committing suicide.” True to form, Nathalie didn’t say anything, but she did look surprised. “I know it sounds a little paranoid, but there have been a number of deaths that are difficult to explain and people are starting to ask questions. Is there any chance you think that your parents might have gone to someone asking for help dying?”

Nathalie was tempted to laugh, but she thought better of it halfway through and the noise that came out of her head was a cross between a snort and a hiccup. It’s good that no one was watching. Well, except for me, I mean. And you a bit too.

She gave herself about two minutes of reflection before answering. Normally Marc found these pauses in their scripts comforting, but tonight he found this one particularly agonizing. His antenna had been buzzing all day, since he’d read that article in the paper, and he had a feeling somewhere in the pit of his stomach that there may have been something amiss in his in-laws’ demise. He didn’t like that, not one bit.

“Oh,” she finally said. “I shouldn’t laugh, but sorry, this is funny, in a horrible way. No, I don’t think so. I mean, who knows for sure. Mom always said she would rather die than live hooked up to machines, and she certainly wasn’t going to let anyone change her diapers. She was determined to keep herself in control of that, and I always knew that if she became incontinent she’d probably want a quick exit. But she wasn’t incontinent. Dad was probably going to be close to that, the poor guy, but no, Mom wasn’t anywhere near diapers as far as I could tell. And I’m pretty sure she would tell me. Certainly I would notice a pack of Depends in her cupboard; it’s not like people can hide things very easily in those nursing homes, and I very often went through her things to make sure she didn’t have any expired medications or anything, so I would have noticed incontinence products. I think we can probably rule that out. Mom was also in possession of her mental faculties; she wasn’t starting to forget things like her own mom did when she started showing signs of Alzheimer. Now maybe she could have been hiding things that way, apparently people can do that when they start getting signs of dementia, but I don’t think she did.” She studied the light fixture on the ceiling for another minute or so, trying to think of something else to say that would be relevant to Marc’s question. “No, I’m trying to be open-minded about this, but overall I can’t say she looked like she was ready to go just yet.”

She thought for another few seconds then added, “Of course, if my parents had been considering suicide, she would probably have gone first.”

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