Midnight is two hours behind when the tongue of vapor pushes across the lot, rolling off of Middle River, warm and thick in the cool air, like steam gathering into mist.
Crossing the bridge, past a man the color of the night, who greets me in passing nervously, rolling his shoulders under his jacket, the river shines a glassy black, reflecting the marina lights as these glassy eyes are shuttered by the creeping mist.
An hour later, in the house-blighted hills miles inland a skittish white woman walks her hairy dog in the middle of the street, hopefully voicing a trembling greeting. The silence of my reply reminds her that she should know better than to be out and about.
As I turn to enter the gate, the moon above nothing but a falling sliver, another woman walking her dog shushes it as it snarls me a warning.
Approaching the hour before dawn, under a cobalt sky, the unevenly house-walled lane invites a stroll, streetlights outshone by the glassy dark. Only Henry the Cat is out and about, snarling discontentedly to my refusal to let him in.
The old, fading mansions grin like carven totems, lights like eyes in their windows. The clatter of returning geese, the caw of a lazy crow, the peeping of their nested and perched lessers, and the absence of gulls—now headed to the bayshore—brings spring a month too soon.
Henry purrs at my coming back, seeking shelter before the sun reveals the ugly day, but with the sun yet an hour away, I stop and stretch, smiling at Henry as he arches his back, leaps sideways onto the table, and regards me with his slinking eyes—a human who fails to do his bidding, an impertinent waste of stature, too big to eat, too stupid to know his place.
Soon the House of Henry the Cat will receive its most useless guest, gaining entry by its confounded magical ways.