When Lucy ran in and said she’d heard Uncle Evan speaking German I knew exactly what to do: go up to the attic and find proof he really was a Nazi. They would shoot him, and I’d miss the puddings and sweets, but I wouldn’t miss the way he drank father’s wine or ordered mother about as some skivvy.
My sister was supposed to hoot like an owl when he came back to the house. Perhaps she did, but I missed it completely, kneeling there transfixed by the uniform coat of a general in the Wehrmacht I found in his suitcase.
The light coming on overhead sprung me to life, and I shoved back the uniform and pushed the case under the bed. I was safe hidden behind tea chests and boxes by the time he mounted the stairs, stood there at the summit gaining his wind. His legs lit bright from below, his face made bulbous and obscene under the harsh light of the naked bulb. A single month with us and he’d changed, gone from an upright middle age into corpulent old. Now his pencil moustache was a thicket, the rest of his body doing its best to match the walrus look.
He moved to the desk set under the pale light of the dormer windows, and with a sigh squeezed his buttocks between the spindling arms of the old swivel chair father had fetched from the bank. It was now a waiting game. Dinner was only an hour, and there was no way that Evan the Guzzler was going to miss one of those.
I nearly knocked the tea chests over when he told me to come out.
He said, ‘Footprints in the talc, but none leading back down.’
He laughed as I crept into the open.
‘The boy,’ he said. ‘I should have known.’ He turned his head to gaze at the bed, at the corner where the valance wasn’t hanging straight.
‘Fetch it out for me, go on.’
He slipped into the uniform coat and buttoned it, put his shoulders back and stood there in our attic on the south coast of England, this proud Nazi German.
‘Now the photo,’ he said. ‘Top drawer of the desk.’
It was a black and white photo of a German officer done up proud and smart in his uniform, medals gleaming on the left half of his chest. His round fleshy face was cut in half by the bulging moustache.
‘Major General Ernst von Voss, my half-brother. A brutish look to him, no? The brass hats have this crazy notion there’s a resemblance.’ He patted the bulk of his belly, then plucked at the cloth almost gone taut. ‘Few more meals and I’m ready. Few more plum duffs and it’s one way ticket time.’ He spoke a few words of German, faintly chuckled and said, ‘I think I just said ‘Good morning Mein Fuhrer. Not, it’s not a bomb in my suitcase, but I am pleased to see you.’