The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 15, No. 4

One Afternoon at the Bakery

by Yoko Ogawa

Translated by Stephen Snyder

It was a beautiful Sunday. The sky was clear, leaves fluttered in a dry breeze, a dome of sunlight hung above the earth. Everything seemed to glow, almost as if with pride: the canopy of the ice cream stand, the eyes of a stray cat, the faucet on the drinking fountain, even the base of the clock tower covered with pigeon droppings.
     The square was crowded with people enjoying their day off. Pleasant squeaks could be heard from a corner where a man was twisting balloons, one after another, into the shapes of animals. A circle of children watched him with rapt attention. A woman sat on a bench knitting a sweater. Somewhere a horn sounded and the pigeons billowed up in a cloud, startling a child, who began to cry. The mother hurried over and gathered the baby in her arms.
     The flawless scene reflected back the sunlight that bathed it; and no matter how long you sat watching, no matter how hard you looked, you knew you would never discover anything lacking in this perfect world.

There was no one in the bakery. As I pushed the revolving door and went inside, the noise of the square was instantly muffled, replaced by the sweet scent of vanilla.
     "Excuse me," I called hesitantly, and when there was no reply I decided to sit on a stool to wait.
     It was my first time in the shop, which proved to be neat and clean and modest. The cakes and pies and chocolates were carefully arranged in a glass case, and tins of cookies lined shelves on either side. On the counter behind the register was a roll of pretty wrapping paper in a checkered pattern of orange and light blue.
     Everything looked delicious. But I knew before I entered the shop what I would buy: two strawberry shortcakes. That was all.
     The bell in the clock tower rang four times. Once more the flock of pigeons rose into the sky and flew across the square, settling in front of the flower shop. The florist came out with a scowl on her face and a mop to drive them away, and clouds of gray feathers wafted in the air.

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