On the hottest day of summer last year, Aunty Jana stood there in her green bathroom, casually, Europeanly naked. It was a sight I admired and feared all at once. She had long, droopy breasts and thinned, grey pubic hair which startled me. I tried to be nonchalant. “I like that tulip soap, Aunty Jana.”
Her overtanned stomach was peppered with small scars. I knew Uncle Fox had been a doctor in the Second World War. They had a terrace house right in the central river area of Amsterdam. They emigrated to Australia before Mum was born and at Christmas Aunty Jana would regularly announce, “A bomb destroyed the butcher shop back home on the Amstel and the butcher’s family had to be picked from the bones and gizzards of the beef and lamb hanging in there.” She laughed. I was always shocked at her terrifying lightness.
In my best casual voice, I asked Jana what all her scars were from. “Come here, give me your hand.” I placed my hand on her cold fat belly and felt the little pockets of pink on her skin. “Your Uncle Fox and I were clever during the war,” she whispered as if this information would bring the walls down. “Fox’s grandmother had given him gold, silver and diamonds… many precious gemstones and we needed to keep them safe. No one could be trusted so we came up with an idea. He turned the kitchen into a surgery. He asked me to lie down and used his fountain pen to mark little cut lines over my torso. I was sedated of course, and inside each little incision, he tucked away our treasures.”
I frowned in thought. “Like shoving garlic cloves into a lamb roast?”
“Haha yes, or like a safety deposit box, no one will find. And you know, soon there were women lining up at our door to have the contents of their jewellery boxes secreted away under their flesh. Some of the women were forced to come to us by their husbands. We had to push them down on the kitchen table and quickly cover their faces with the chloroform cloth to make sure they didn’t shout.” She was smiling. I was horrified. Her accent allowed her to say confronting, awkward words like ‘gizzards’, ‘pubis’, ‘guts’ or ‘sedation’. She chatted as we left the house together.
“After the war I had the things removed. But this place, here near my underarm… this place still has something. Feel. I can’t think what it is.” My fingers lingered on the bulging smooth scar tissue.
“When I die you can cut it out,” she said with a gleam in her eye. As I watched her wheezing and straining to get the windbreak up in the baking sand, I kept my eye on that shameless lump. Privileged by the secret shared, yet burdened by the gruesome historical task I was obliged to perform.