The sound, muted but insistent, fractured the early morning quiet. I followed the gulp-croak, gulp-croak into the front hallway in time to place a towel under my vomiting dog’s muzzle. It was four-thirty in the morning. I could hear the churning of his intestines. He looked at the front door.
January had just begun and the sun wouldn’t be up for two hours. Only a foolish woman, featherweight and middle-aged, accompanied by no one other than a small, friendly dog would head into the dark urban morning. I grabbed the leash, my coat, a key.
For five blocks, I encountered no one. Cats screeched off a stoop and bolted across the road as we passed. The early riser who usually sits at his computer beside an oversize Buddha statue in a ground floor apartment full of books wasn’t yet up yet. But the older man who collects cans and bottles from people’s blue bins was. He said something as I passed. Two seconds later I realized it was a heavily accented “Happy New Year.” I wished him the same.
On our little neighborhood’s main street there were lights, an occasional car, and a slow but steady stream of people stopping at the one open shop for their morning coffee. I looked for patterns in these people heading to work in the holiday predawn, but there were none. They were Asian, Latino, White and Black, young and old, male and female.
Though I’d told myself I wouldn’t, I followed the dog on our usual route, past the commercial area and up toward Bernal Hill. In the glow of colorful Christmas lights, I saw inside the otherwise obscure homes of my neighbors, my inner voyeur thrilled to discover a colossal photo montage, a red wall, and a crumbling wood-beam ceiling. Twice I passed clusters of friends outside houses, suitcases beside them on the sidewalk, saying goodbye to each other and to the waning seasonal reprieve from everyday life.
The northern stretch of Bernal Boulevard has no streetlights. I could barely see the path in front of me. But I could see dozens of stars, a tiny sliver of new moon, and below us the city, its lights and contours sharp and sumptuous in the cool, clear air of a drought-inspired winter’s morning.
A walk like this is fun for almost anyone. For a writer, it’s also a gold mine. My senses on high alert, words and ideas filled the quiet. I only hoped I could remember them until I got home and could write them down.
Near my house, I avoided the park steps where a few years ago a young woman was raped, her cries unrecognized until it was too late. The dog cocked his head and looked up into the pine and eucalyptus. A raccoon, I told myself, or a possum. Maybe even a coyote. I have seen each of these animals in my yard or beyond, on Bernal Hill.
I know I shouldn’t walk alone in the dark, but I have the feeling I might do it again anyway.