The Vow

Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter a word before God…When you make a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools; pay that which you vow. Better that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay. Suffer not your mouth to bring your flesh into guilt…” Ecclesiastes 5:1-5

erotic fictionSam Gold and I helped his elderly father Max out of my van early Monday morning. Sam unlocked the front door of the bakery and put on the lights. Max took my arm and we walked to his regular table in the corner. Sam laid down the morning papers—the Times, the Daily News and the Post—on the table for Max and went to brew some coffee.

I sat at another table and took out the book that Rabbi Asher had given me. I glanced over at Max who had already gone to the sports headlines on the back page of the Post. You had to admire the old guy. Ninety-years-old and he still went to 05:45 morning prayers at Rabbi Asher’s synagogue every day. You were never quite sure where Max was at any given moment but he was fiercely proud of being as mobile and independent as he was. He’d sit there most of the day, ensconced in his corner, reading his papers, occasionally greeting someone, waiting for his many grandchildren to come greet him on their way to and from school. Not a bad way to spend one’s old age if you ask me.

Sam came out with the coffee. “Here ya’ go Pop,” he said, filling Max’s mug, “How’d the Yankees do last night?”

“Bahhh!!!” Max grumbled from behind the Post, “Don’t remind me. Where’s Roger Maris when you need him?”

Sam and I smiled as he came over and poured me a cup.


“What’s Rabbi Asher got you reading now?”

I held up my book, about faith and Shabbat observance.

“Good luck,” Sam replied, “You know that Hannah and I admire you. It can’t be easy doing what you’re doing.”

“What? Becoming religious?”

“Changing your whole way of life, at age thirty-two. No, it can’t be that easy.”

“Ehh. I do what I have to.”

“Still.” Two of Sam’s employees rapped on the door. “Ah, there they are. Gotta go boil ‘n’ bake.” He went over to let them in.

“Hey Max! Hey ‘private dick’!” Roscoe called to Max and I as he and Joline followed Sam into the kitchen.

“Roscoe,” I replied, “I will kick the shit out of you one of these days.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he called back.

“Just bring me a whole-wheat plain as soon as you got it!”

“Don’t I always?” he yelled.

I chuckled and opened my book.

I had been an NYPD cop for eight years but I quit after Leslie died. Rabbi Asher was the Brooklyn Command’s Jewish chaplain. He helped me sit shiva for her: He told me what to do and organized everything. Going to his synagogue to say kaddish for Leslie—we had no kids, her Dad was dead and somebody had to say it for her—was the first time I had been inside a synagogue or temple since my brother’s bar-mitzvah.

From sitting shiva for Leslie, I started to become religious, i.e. orthodox, under Rabbi Asher’s tutelage. It just kinda happened. Little by little, God crept into my life. I shocked the hell out of just about everybody who knows me. But it seemed natural and I was happy.

So I quit the NYPD, passed the New York State Private Investigator’s licensing exam and hung out a shingle. I was much happier as a PI, Roscoe’s smart remarks notwithstanding. Ah hell, Roscoe was a pal.

A few minutes later, I was enjoying a fresh, hot whole-wheat bagel, when Meyer Silverstein rapped on the door.

“Sam’s not open yet!” I shouted.

“I don’t want bagels. I wanna talk to you!” he shouted back.

“Let him in,” Sam called out.

I let Meyer in. He waddled over to my table and sat down.

“You could have come to my office later,” I told him.

“What? I’m gonna walk up two narrow flights in that old rat-trap?”

I smiled. “What can I do for you?”

“Ner Israel wants me to knock down this dilapidated old five-storey apartment building over on Fourth and build a new wing for their girls school.”

“Nu? What do you need me for?”

“‘Cause I think someone’s living there. I hired some Dominicans to go check it for stuff that I could rip out and sell before I wreck it. You know, copper pipes, old fixtures, shit like that. They said that some crazy lady in a long dress, a fuckin’ ghost for cryin’ out loud, screamed at them, upset their tools, knocked masonry down on them and who knows what else. They got spooked and ran off. The only ghost is in their Thunderbird-addled brains! Somebody’s living there. Find her, I’ll pay her, just get her outta the building. I got deadlines. Can you imagine the stink if I knock it down and kill some ‘streetperson’? Oy, I’ll never get to build! I spoke to Rabbi Wasserman at Ner Israel; we’ll pay your standard fees.”

“Deal.” We shook hands.

“Here’s the address.” He gave me a card. “You’ll be in touch?”

“I’ll let you know.”

“Good. ‘Bye Max!”

Meyer waddled out.

Max held out a hand from behind his paper. “Ah, I remember that little pisher when he was this high.”

I grinned, took a bite out of my bagel and went back to my book.

* * * * *

I drove over to Meyer’s building later that morning. It looked like it had seen better decades. I changed into some old sweats I keep in the van, checked my Smith & Wesson M&P.40, grabbed my flashlight and went in to have a look. I wandered around for over an hour and found absolutely no signs that anyone was living there. I also found no drug paraphernalia. What was weird was that I didn’t see any signs of pigeons, rats, roaches or other animal nasties that would normally be all over an abandoned city building.

I went back to the van and sipped coffee from my thermos. Maybe somebody was only sleeping there? After prayers at the synagogue that evening, I went home and packed for a night out.

I drove back to Meyer’s building to spend the night. I picked a room on the top floor, set up tripwires so nobody could come up on me while I was sleeping and put an inflatable beach chair in a corner. I settled in, pulled a wool blanket over me, checked my shoulder-holster and flashlight, and fell asleep. I set my cellphone alarm to beep at 03:00 so I could check the place by night, and fell asleep.

I dreamed that I was in an ordinary bedroom from the 1920’s or 1930’s, like you’d see in an old movie. I was on a bed, sitting up against the headboard. A beautiful young woman wearing a flowing white dress came into the room. The dress disappeared and she climbed onto the bed. She had gorgeous long hair down to her waist, which she pulled aside, exposing her round, pale white breasts. She grabbed my cock and sat down on it, I watched it slide inside her pussy, with her legs on either side of me. She rocked on my dick, back-and-forth, kissing me all the while and putting my hands on her breasts. Her arousal was intense; the more I responded, the more it consumed her. She radiated passion. I was about to come, I was on the verge of one hell of an orgasm, and so was she, I could feel it, when all of a sudden she looked around and backed off abruptly. Her dress reappeared on her body and she stood up, in the bed, holding out her hands, begging,
imploring, all grief and sorrow. I reached up to comfort her, jerking awake as our fingers touched. She stood over me but the instant we touched, she faded and moved away, pleading, “The vow! The beit din!” with a wrenching sadness, until she vanished.

Panting, I looked at my watch. It was 02:58. I cancelled the alarm on my cellphone and shined my flashlight around the room. The only footprints in the dust were mine. I got up and examined my tripwires. They were all intact. I looked at the room, the walls, the height of the ceiling and the position of the door and the windows and realized that this was the room in my dream.

I gathered my stuff, deflated the chair and went down to the van. A beit din is a three-member rabbinical court; now what did she want one of them for? I sat there behind the wheel and tried to figure out what the hell had happened, until I realized that it was 05:20. The only conclusion I came to was that I knew I hadn’t imagined it, and that was the scary part. I drove over to the synagogue for morning prayers. I parked the van and waited for Rabbi Asher.

As usual, he was the first to arrive. “You’re here early. You OK? Rough night?”

“Yeah, um, not so good. I had a bizarre dream and I couldn’t sleep afterwards. I’ve been up since 03:00.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Uh, no, not right now, maybe later, thanks.” I did not want to talk to Rabbi Asher just then. I wanted to do some homework on that building and see if she would come back.

“Well, when you’re ready, I’m twenty-four/seven.”

“Rabbi wait, what do we believe about vows?”

He stared at me as he unlocked the door. “You didn’t take one did you?”

“Me? No.”

“Good. What do we believe about vows? After prayers, I’ll download an article about it for you, but right now, in a word, ‘Don’t’.”

We went in and put on the lights. The other regulars started to arrive, including Max and Sam. Afterwards, I drove Max and Sam to the bakery and read Rabbi Asher’s article on vows as I munched my bagel.

I had to take care of other jobs that day but I don’t know how much work I actually got done because whatever I did, I couldn’t get her out of my head.

I slept at home that night. I wanted to see if she would follow me, if she was hooked on me or that building.

I was sleeping peacefully, soundly. I rolled over and there she was, standing next to my bed in the same long, white dress, staring at me. She pointed at my erect cock. I sat up and reached for her but she flew backwards, out my window, into the night, through the buffeting winds, across the street, around the park, over Flatbush Avenue, under the water tower, past the bakery, down Fourth and up into the room in her building where she held out her arms and wailed from across the borough, “The vow! The beit din!”

I jolted awake, soaked in a cold sweat. It was just after 05:00.

I spent Tuesday doing my research. I checked the city’s Buildings Information System and discovered that Ner Israel Institutions had inherited the building from a long-defunct non-profit Jewish communal trust. There was no list of former tenants. I checked with a local history expert at Brooklyn College I knew from my cop days and came up with squat. Where the hell was I gonna find somebody who knew something about that building and who might have an inkling who my ghostly ladyfriend was?

I went back to the building that night, set my tripwires, slumped down in the inflatable beach chair and fell asleep. I had the exact same dream as the first night. She came to me, we started having intense sex, she looked around the room and pulled off me just as I was about to come. I woke up and watched her glide backwards, fading as she went, begging, “The vow! The beit din!” with that same piercing sadness, before she vanished. Her passion was raw and powerful but it smoldered rather than burned. It seethed within her but couldn’t break out. Something held her back, something which drove her crazy; her frustration was palpable. Her sadness went way beyond normal depression. It was deep and pervasive but open, not held back. I looked at my watch. It was 02:58.

I collected my stuff, went down to the van and drove over to the synagogue and waited for Rabbi Asher. In my eight years as a New York cop, I had seen some pretty weird shit but this was different. I was way, way out of my league. Sitting there in my van in the dark, all I could see was her. All I could feel was my dick sliding into her pussy. Her plaintive voice, calling “The vow!” and begging for a beit din echoed and rang in my head. Her desire and her despair poured through me and wouldn’t let me go.

Rabbi Asher walked up around 05:35. I told him that I needed to speak to him after prayers. He rode with Max, Sam and I to the bakery after the morning service. We escorted Max to his corner table. Sam brought the papers and coffee, and took Roscoe and Joline into the kitchen, leaving the three of us out front.

“Alex, you’ll forgive me for saying this but you look like hell.”

“Do we believe in ghosts?”

His brow went up. “From vows to ghosts, you’re on a roll. The answer is a heavily qualified yes. Now what’s going on?”

I told him the whole story.

“And she’s asking for a beit din?”

“Yeah. For what, beats me, but she’s not just shouting the words at me, she wants a beit din. It’s obvious, at least it is to me. Rabbi, I’m not imagining this and I’m not making it up.”

“I believe you. But this…”


“This is getting into serious kabbalah, not that ersatz bullshit that Madonna dabbles in, but very deep stuff.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Kabbalah is only for the very few. Only the most learned and saintly need, or should, delve into it in any depth. It’s not something that I’m particularly familiar with.”

“So what do we do?”

“Well, it would help if we knew who she was.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t found…”

“Here ya’ go gents,” Joline said, coming into the front of the shop, “first batch of the day, right from the oven. Whole-wheat for the rabbi and the…gumshoe”

Joline gave Rabbi Asher and I two hot bagels wrapped in napkins.

“And here’s an egg bagel for you Mr. Gold.”

Joline gave Max his bagel, also wrapped in a napkin, and read from the front page of the Daily News, “‘Health Authorities Predict Shortage of Flu Shots This Winter’. Damn! Better go get me one now before the rush. Whaddyou say Mr. Gold?”

“Bahh,” Max waved and took his bagel.

Joline chuckled and sauntered back to the kitchen.

Max put down his paper and stared out the window. “That’s what killed her.”

“Who’s that Max?” I asked.

“Who else? I’m 90 but I’m not deaf. The rabbi’s widow, the one you been talking about. Oh, she was beautiful I tell you, with that long, long hair of hers.”

Rabbi Asher and I were stunned. “What else do you know about her Max?” I asked.

“Just what I heard when I was a teenager. Her husband was meshuga. All he did was study, study, study. He had no time for her and you know, young women got needs, and he was uninterested in her that way. They were always fighting. He called her cold and selfish for buggin’ him all the time. One day, she asks for a divorce and says that she can’t wait to do it with another man. He shouts that he’s gonna kill himself and be revenged on her. He runs off and was never seen or heard from again.”

“And?” I asked.

“She wanted to get married again. She coulda had any guy she wanted. But the beit din said that in the absence of proof that their husband was dead, it couldn’t declare their marriage dissolved, and forbade her from remarrying.”

“Shit,” I muttered, “Some revenge.”

Rabbi Asher shook his head. “Such hatred.”

Max continued. “She screamed and shrieked, and cursed her husband. There was a flu epidemic in the winter of 1930-1931, during the Depression. Times were tough. Alot of people died, her too.”

“Do you know anything about her taking a vow?” Rabbi Asher asked.

“A vow, naw, can’t help ya. I don’t know nothing about that. Oh for cryin’ out loud, the Yankees dropped another one!”

I glanced at Rabbi Asher. “What do we do now?”

“Let me make some calls. I have your cellphone number. I’ll be in touch.” He took a bag for his bagel and left.


* * * * *

Rabbi Asher phoned me that evening and told me to meet him in front of the building just after midnight. I drove over there and parked opposite Rabbi Asher’s Buick. Rabbis Asher and Wasserman got out of the front and helped an elderly gentleman whom I had never seen before out of the back. He wore a long white kaftan and a close-fitting knitted white cap.

Rabbi Asher beckoned me over. “This is Rabbi Abulafia. He is the leading kabbalist in New York. Go with him.”

Rabbi Abulafia took my hand. “We must walk over the threshold. Rabbis Asher and Wasserman will wait here.”

We stepped just inside the building’s main entrance.


He closed his eyes and gripped my hand with surprising strength for a man his age. We stood there for a few minutes.

“Come. We go back.”

I helped him back outside. “Wait here,” he said and walked over to Rabbis Asher and Wasserman. He spoke to them and then got into the Buick.

Rabbi Asher came over to me. “We have a lot of work to do.”


* * * * *

It was just after midnight the next day and everything was ready. Rabbis Asher and Wasserman and I set up a rectangular picnic table in the room, draped it with a white tablecloth and put three chairs behind it. I set up a folding bed, complete with bedding, in front of the table. Lastly, Rabbi Abulafia affixed a mezuzah to the doorpost and recited the blessing.

The rabbis took their seats.

“I declare this beit din in session,” Rabbi Abulafia intoned before chanting some kind of prayer that I had never heard before. “Modesty bids us repair to another room,” he declared. He and his colleagues rose and left.

I took off my sweats, jockey shorts, socks, everything, and climbed into bed, completely naked. I was nervous as hell but exhausted. I soon fell asleep.

I sat up in bed and there she was, waiting for me. The room was as it had been previously, a typical 1920’s-1930’s bedroom, except that the rabbis’ table and three chairs were there, and the mezuzah. She considered them in wide-eyed shock, then slipped out of her dress and came to me.

I sat up and took her in my arms. She kissed me passionately, twisting her tongue around mine. I reached through her long hair and caressed a breast. She arched her back, pulling her hair aside, offering me her high, round breasts. I kissed and licked them, and took an areola into my mouth, licking the nipple and tweaking it gently between my teeth. She moaned, grabbed my hand and thrust it between her thighs. I felt her sex, my fingers exploring, probing; she was drenched. I stroked her clit and inserted two fingers; she writhed and thrust against my hand.

She pushed me down on the bed and straddled me. She grabbed my cock with both hands and shifted forward, lowering her pussy on it. As she gave full vent to her passion, the room began to blur and shift. The 1920’s-1930’s bedroom disappeared and was replaced by the bare, cracked room of 2007. She writhed on my cock, all heat and movement. She ground herself against me as I thrust into her, pleasure surging through our bodies. I reached out a thumb and stroked her clit. She tossed her head and shouted as her orgasm erupted. Her frenzied movements tipped me over the edge. My upper body snapped off the bed, pitching upward into her arms as I came. We cried out and shook as we came together. I was wide-awake and she was tangible, not a dream, not a shade, but real, in my arms, convulsing in ecstasy on my cock. When she was finished, she rested her head on my shoulder. I nuzzled her neck, tasting her sweat and reveling in her scent and soft skin.

She sat up and touched my face, much the way a blind person might examine some unknown object. I tried to kiss her fingers but she pulled them away. She slid off me, reached for her dress and pulled it on, and stood next to the bed, facing the table. I pulled the blanket around me to cover my nakedness and watched.

The rabbis filed back into the room and took their seats. Rabbi Abulafia spoke. “Daughter of Israel, why have you come before this beit din?”

“To be quit of my vow and have peace.”

“What is your vow?”

“That I would not rest until I had pleased a man with my body and given him joy, and taken my own pleasure and joy.”

“You told your husband this when you demanded a divorce?”


“And have you taken your pleasure?”

She squeezed my hand. “Yes.”

“And have you pleased a man with your body and given him joy?” Rabbi Abulafia looked at me.

I suddenly understood what was happening. The words choked in my throat.

She looked at me longingly. “Please.”

I squeezed her hand and nodded.

“Then we declare your vow fulfilled. Daughter of Israel, go in peace.”

She gazed at me, transfigured, radiant, as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She became incorporeal and began to fade; my hand closed in on itself. “Thank you,” she whispered, and vanished.

I stood there, numb.

Rabbi Abulafia spoke. “Oftentimes the soul of a deceased person cannot pass to the world of spirits and is bound to this world because there is still something it must do, a tikkun, a rectification, that it must make. It finds a living person that has a similar need and joins with him or her. They heal each other. Together they accomplish what each of them, singly, could not. She took a rash and foolish vow to provoke her husband and it redounded on her horribly. You released her from it.”

“But what about me?”

“What in you has she healed? Rabbi Asher tells me that you are recently widowed. What kind of a husband were you?”

I sagged. “I was an arrogant, self-centered bastard. It broke Leslie’s heart.” I doubled over and sobbed.

“This realization is your tikkun. I would say that two souls are now free to continue on their respective journeys.” Rabbi Abulafia waited until I had composed myself. “Now gentlemen, what has happened here, stays here. Let us keep it among ourselves.”

We all nodded.


* * * * *

Rabbi Asher and I sat in the van and watched Meyer’s demolition crew carry out a controlled explosion. When Meyer gave us the all-clear, we got out and approached the colossal pile of rubble. We filled a bucket with small pieces of stone and shattered masonry. We put it in the van, got back in and drove out to the Hebrew Free Burial Association’s Mt. Richmond cemetery on Staten Island. The kind people at the HFBA had been very helpful.

The new headstone that I had ordered was covered with a black cloth. I removed it, took the prayerbook from Rabbi Asher and recited the short service in halting Hebrew. Afterwards, he and I each took a stone from the bucket and placed it on the grave.

The headstone reads: “Esther, daughter of Avram.” The Hebrew date corresponds to February 7, 1931. At the top of the stone are the Hebrew letters peh and nun, an acronym which usually means poh nikvar or “Here lies…” But Rabbi Asher and I know that for Esther it means poh nakha or “Here rests…” At last.

Part II, Fiend in Need

Author’s Notes for The Vow:
1) Roger Maris:
2) Shabbat (the Sabbath):
3) Bagels: See (See also Note: A “steamed roll with a hole” IS NOT a bagel. If it ain’t boiled, it ain’t a bagel, period. The foregoing is a matter of fact, not opinion; therefore, it is NOT subject to debate. 🙂
4) Sitting “shiva”, the kaddish prayer & Jewish mourning:
5) Becoming a PI in New York State:
6) “Nu”:
7) Thunderbird:
8) beit din (rabbinical court):
9) The Jewish view of vows:
10) New York City Buildings Information System:
11) Brooklyn College:
12) The Jewish view of ghosts: (See also
13) kabbalah:
14) meshuga:
15) Hebrew Free Burial Association:
16) Jewish graves & graveside etiquette: &

© 2010 Oxartes. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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