I could call my grandmother cosmopolitan, since she has visited virtually every corner of the globe and everywhere felt immediately at home. But not every citizen of the world is likely to use a china tooth-mug decorated with a map of Greater Hungary and the irredentist slogan “Transylvania is Ours!” Because that’s what my Grandmother is like. She comes home at dawn having gorged herself, and uses this mug to rinse out her mouth. Sometimes she wakes me up with the noise of her gargling.
And that’s just how it was that morning. I stumbled out to the bathroom as I was, in my nightgown. It was a quarter past five. Grandma was just stripping away the layers of make-up she had plastered over her intense beauty. Because she is gorgeous, like a newly-restored porcelain doll. As the slinky little silk evening dress slid from her slim body, Grandma glittered in all her unvarnished glory and I just stood there awkwardly in the cotton nightdress that I wore now that the autumn nights were drawing in but before the district’s central heating had been switched on.
‘You’re late, Gran,’ I said pointedly.
‘Yes, I’m absolutely livid. This fellow tonight was an absolute disaster. I tried every trick in the book, body language and all, before he realised where I was headed. To cap it all, he lived out in the back of beyond and once I was done I had to wait an hour for a taxi. Meanwhile I watched him bleed dry. Once he’d snuffed it, I left.’
‘Please, spare me the details.’
Sometimes when I think of blood, I feel quite ill. Nauseated. In my mind’s eye I can see the gaping wounds, and it’s as if it was me the blood was draining out of. It makes me grow faint.
‘No good turning your nose up. You’ll get to like the taste sooner or later.’
‘I hope so, Gran.’
It may sound odd for someone like me to address this femme fatale impertinently as Grandmother. However, for one thing it is a fact that we were family and for another Grandma already had more than thirty-three names, none of which she was particularly attached to, while her grandmotherhood was permanent, like the stars in the sky. And for another thing, I always got confused about whether at any particular time she was being Lilith, Lamia or Empusa.
‘Look at me. Don’t I look terrific?’ Grandma forced me to look her in the face. Her lips were still damp and swollen. ‘That’s from the regular consumption of fresh blood. It’s packed with iron and minerals. And now just take a look at yourself,’ she went on. ‘Your hair is falling out and tired, you’re thin as a rake, and that makes your nose stick out of your face even more.’
I turned my head away, repelled by the sight of the bloody mouth. Grandma caught my glance and looked deep into my eyes.
‘You must suck out their blood before they suck out yours.’