The Black Cat’s Breakfast

by Chandra Steele 

I awoke to find the cat motionless. I bent my head near to its mouth. There was a steady hiss and return of breath.

I’d had a restless night. I’d been reading before bed and the characters’ realities mixed with my own through the shallow waves of my waking and dreaming. I shook them out of my ears and eyes. That Murakami can really mess with your head.

I shuffled down the hall to the bathroom. I checked my reflection and ran my hand down my face for a second opinion. Same old Genichi Sawamura. Not everything was the same though. I didn’t detect the smell of coffee that had unfailingly accompanied my waking for the three years I’d been married to Keiko.

I put on jeans and a t-shirt and went downstairs. A note was in the spot where breakfast usually was.

Had to leave extra early.
Fend for yourself today!


There was a café near the train station that I’d been meaning to try. Today was destined to be the day. I tugged on a sweater and went out into the bright autumn light.

Barely anyone was on the street since it was past the morning commute. But as a writer, I’m accustomed to a different schedule.

The café was between a newsagent and a florist. I opened the door to a light jingle from a small string of temple bells. The shop was bright and airy. Not spacious, but the matching blond wood of the vertically laid floor, the low counter, and the few tables and chairs gave that appearance.

“Welcome,” the elderly proprietor said.

“Good morning,” I said as I suddenly regretted not ducking into the newsagent’s first for a paper. At home I slowly turn over the pages rather than listening to the sound of my own chewing.

“Can I take a table, please, even though it’s just me?” With no other customers, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be a problem.

“Of course,” the shopkeeper said.

“I just made some rice porridge. It’s my specialty,” he said as I sat down. While it did imbue the shop with a homey smell, it wasn’t what was on my mind.

“I’ll actually have toast and eggs and coffee,” I said. I realized it was what the characters in the book I was reading were eating before I lost them to sleep.

“Easy enough. Scrambled? Omelet-style?”

“Let’s go with omelet-style.”

He went behind the counter and soon there was the hiss of the percolator and the sound of eggs in a hot skillet. The plate and a large mug of coffee, both steaming, were soon before me. I dove in.

“It’s a nice day,” the shopkeeper said. “Perfect autumn weather.”

Ah, the chatty type. Not really my specialty since I spend most of my day holed up by choice. Even when Keiko comes home I’m more in the listener role in our conversations.

I could feel him waiting for a response.

“My wife left me without breakfast today.”

“Ha,” the old man chuckled. “Since I’ve opened this shop, my wife never makes me breakfast.”

“How long have you been open?” I didn’t want to get into talk of marital discord, however minor. It’s part of what I like about Keiko. Even if we’ve been arguing, nothing affects the flow of daily living. Breakfast gets made, groceries get bought, garbage gets taken out, the cat gets fed.

The cat. I’d forgotten about him in favor of my own stomach. Suddenly I couldn’t take another bite. Tiredness swept my entire being like I was slowly being dragged out to sea.

“I don’t know what’s come over me. I must lie down for a moment.”

“I keep a cot in the back for that very reason,” the shopkeeper said. “When you get to be my age, these moments happen more and more.”

He walked me to a corner in the back. As soon as I hit the sling of fabric, I was in a kitchen that was mine but not, the way it is in dreams. A man had his back to me. He was spooning up bits of hard-boiled egg, a few melon pieces at the edge of his plate. Something about him was familiar. He had a stocky build, thick white-flecked black hair. I walked around to see him from the front. Haruki Murakami.

“This is very strange, you being in my kitchen. Well, sort of my kitchen,” I said to him.

He continued chewing. “I can’t be in sort of your kitchen,” he said very matter-of-factly when he was finished.

“I find it odd for you of all people to say that. People are sort of everything in your books.”

“But not in real life,” he said.

“This is a dream,” I said.

“This is real life,” he said. “I am eating breakfast.”

“I had toast and eggs and coffee,” I said. I don’t know why. Maybe I thought he’d recognize this signpost from his own work.

“Scrambled or omelet-style?” he asked.


He nodded.

Finally I said: “Have you seen a cat around?”

He looked me directly in the eye, which I realized he hadn’t been doing for our entire conversation. My eyelids opened.

The shopkeeper was washing pots. I sat up and began to apologize.

“No need, no need,” he said. He’d been really understanding of the whole strange episode. He patted me on the back and I took some bills out of my wallet and bid him goodbye.

When I got home in the kitchen there was a plate of half-eaten breakfast that had the exact amount and placement of food as Murakami‘s. The cat was sitting on the stool, as sleek and black and alive as ever, licking bits of egg from its whiskers and staring me straight in the eye.

Chandra Steele has had stories featured as Sunday Stories on Vol. 1 Brooklyn, has interviewed Banana Yoshimoto for The Scofield, been a finalist in L Magazine’s Literary Upstart series, had a novel make it to the semifinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and won the MTV Write Stuff competition. Rick Moody once said she wrote the best description of a racetrack he has ever read. She has never been to a racetrack. 
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