If you had told me when I was a little girl that I would grow up to marry a vampire I would have told you that you were meshugenah. Crazy in the head. Who has ever heard of such a thing – a Jewish vampire? Everyone knows that vampires are Christian; Protestants at that.
Except that is my luck. I would find the one Jewish vampire, fall in love with the one Jewish vampire, and marry the one Jewish vampire. Not the one Jewish vampire in all of Brooklyn, but the one Jewish vampire in all the world.
Levi Tannenbaum, my heart, undead for over 800 years, pretends to sleep next to me every night except for the days of nidah, a time each month of Jewish ritual separation that occurs whenever I have my period.
We have not been blessed yet with children, though not for lack of trying.
The rules of nidah are simple. From the first sight of blood each month until seven days after menstruation ends, a husband and wife should refrain from sexual intimacy. At the end of the seven clean days, the woman slips into the mikveh, the ritual bath, and purifies herself before returning to her husband.
Each month, a day before my period is due, Levi kisses me goodbye and squeezes my hand with that secret meaning that only the two of us know. He doesn’t tell me where he goes to wait out the blood. Leaving the apartment is a step beyond what any other Jewish man does for his wife during nidah. After all, the cessation of sexual relations is supposed to force the couple to focus on strengthening the relationship without utilizing the marital bed. Not being in the same apartment defeats the purpose of the ritual law, but those laws were created by rabbis without vampires in mind.
Of course, my Levi doesn’t need to stay away the entire time; just the first five days when I am bleeding. And then he returns to comfort me, since nidah is also a time when we know beyond a doubt that we were not successful once again in making a baby.
Each month we dread nidah, dread the time apart as well as the blood. It’s not just about my safety; a fear that Levi will somehow smell the blood of my monthly cycle, forget our wedding vows in a vampire frenzy and make short work of me like a lox platter at an oneg. It is because we yearn to be parents, to be fruitful and multiple. To replace in this lifetime at least me, since the undead will still be here long after Moshiach comes.
I clutch my purse tightly under my arm and walk back to our apartment from my physical therapy appointment. I am constantly in physical therapy for this injury or that. It’s part of the package when you marry a vampire, the jumping backwards, the knocking yourself against walls. It can be a scary thing, living with a vampire, especially on days when I’ve shaved my legs and maybe nicked myself or the times I’ve cut my finger descaling a fish.
But I live with it because I love him.
I climb the steps of our walk-up, let myself into the empty apartment, and sit down at the kitchen table to rest, noticing the telltale white paper bag from the bakery containing a single chocolate chip muffin, a gift from Levi since he knows I adore them. I eat it while I finish the last few pages of the latest vampire romance I found at the Strand.
I’ve read them all; bodice rippers with fanged male models on the cover, serious histories of Serbian vampire myths, dusty volumes of Mysteries of the World that I uncovered at the library, and – of course – popular teenage love triangles involving werewolves and blood suckers. I devour these books, hoping to find an answer to our fertility woes.
I skim the final page, closing the book, disappointed. Writers never get it right, except for a vampire’s inability to sleep at night. Sometimes I think about writing my own book, telling people what it is really like to love a vampire. My experience has been far from glittery skin and hypnotic breath, though I like to think that our love is just as rapturous.
Vampires do not look as if they have stepped out of a Tiffany’s catalog or a J Crew catalog, sparkling and stylish. My Levi is attractive, don’t get me wrong, with a full head of hair despite the fact that he was actually born in 1173. But if you didn’t know that he had a penchant for drinking blood and an inability to sleep, you would think that he is just an average man. He goes out in the day time, pretends to rest at night in order to keep me company in bed, and even can stand a hint of garlic in his blood soup. Too much gives him indigestion, just like my great aunt. See, just your average man.
I look around our kitchen, trying to come up with something to do. I stopped working when we got married, hopeful that I would soon have children to take care of. I would go down to our neighbour’s apartment to see if her arthritis is acting up and needs help, but she is in Florida visiting her daughter. I only need to cook for myself when Levi is home, but then there are days like today when Levi is not home, traveling for his job as a mashgiach – a supervisor who makes sure that the chef at an event observes the laws of kashrut.
A job that includes traveling is important to ensure that Levi never partakes in human blood, giving him the opportunity to hunt cows and lambs near the farms in Upstate New York. Luckily, a lot of wedding venues utilize bucolic scenery.
Believe me, the irony is not lost on us. The drinking of blood, forbidden to Jews because it is the carrier of life, is the only thing he consumes. For a long time back in that surge of philosophy known as the Enlightenment, he struggled with this dilemma. Could he be a Jew and a repulsive blood drinker at the same time? It is a difficult world when you cannot consult your rabbi. It took him many years to come to his own peace with his lot, paving a strange path through the forbidden.
I have never seen him do it, but he promises that he follows the same rules of ritual slaughter as the shochet, working as humanely as possible with a quick slash to the animal’s throat and then drinking the blood to satiate his thirst once the animal is pronounced dead. And he is not one to steal, leaving behind a nice donation in the mailbox of the farmer without a note attached. All in all, while it raises our monthly food budget, it is the one step that he needs to take to live with himself.
To be able to call himself a kosher vampire.
I spend the afternoon watching the clock, my eyes traveling with the long arm as it sweeps up the minutes, depositing them neatly into hours until my Levi comes home.