The Seventh Night
By Stephen Skelton
I dream every night about the Atori cake shop.
In those dreams it is a halfway house, someplace between the earth and the stars.
I am part of that mystery, In that dream a boy dies. Every time. I don't know how or why. I don't even know his name. I am guilty by implication.
The Atori cake shop is in a time warp, not part of the 'now.'
It's longer somehow, encompassing pasts and futures. I am stuck in the middle, unable to move forward.
Until I find her.
The Atori cake shop is a silver thread connecting us. Like an umbilical cord, it has a pulse, life, a beat all of its own.
We are part of that beat.
I wake up but I don't feel myself. I want to ask someone "What am I doing here?" "Why did you place me in this world?" There is no one to answer. The beautiful girl beside me is asleep, dead to this world. She wasn't the one I met at the Atori cake shop. Perhaps someone on the train, running right next to my apartment, which woke me out of my recurring dream, can answer. Find the place where I belong. I don't think so. Only she can answer me. The girl I met at the Atori cake shop. I sit up and reach for the glass of water beside my bed and two aspirin. I’ve been taking them regularly ever since these dreams started, as if they're trying to tell me something. "Hit you hard enough on the head, maybe then you'll listen!" the dreams say. The morning light is gray and it is raining. The last thing I want to do is get up and face the day. I know if I bother to get out the yoga may and stretch I'll feel better. Maybe even the headaches will go away. Then I'll feel more like myself. I'll be able to reach out and touch the girl I met in the Atori cake shop again. Hell, yeah, that might even help me remember the part of myself that still lights up now and then. It might force me to do something rather than wallow in an artist's pit of despair. I stop. Yes, she's here now, somewhere close, listening. That's it, that's why I feel separated out from myself. She's listening to me. The girl from the Atori cake shop. She's dangerous.
The Atori cake shop is a petite patisserie in Yokohama. I go there quite often to get cakes. No, let me be more specific. Strawberry shortcakes. She was there too. Standing right in front of the last piece of strawberry shortcake, the one I'd had my eye on. She'd pointed to the piece. My piece. This has got to be he best piece of strawberry shortcake I've ever seen is what she'd said. Just like hat. My words. My cake. If she hadn't spoken those words right in front of me like that I doubt I'd even have notices her. My attention was totally on that last piece of shortcake. Funny how destiny deals you a royal flush like this only once. It can happen in the blink of an eye. Turn your head to catch the eye of a pretty waitress and you've lost it. Gone forever. It'll never come again. So you have to be very aware. Very very alert.
The Atori cake shop is special. Mysterious, kind of. I don't know if it truly existed halfway between the earth and the stars but it felt that way. Every customer that entered was distinctive. I knew some of them. Artists mostly, like myself or musicians and writers. A potter who held exhibitions in the Lakes Districts in England twice a year. A singer-songwriter everyone knew who had been famous in his youth and now did mainly charity concerts. A florist who did the most expensive celebrity weddings in Omotesando. Each customer came with their own unique melody. A hum, a laugh, a song, a bright twinkle in their eyes. The cakes flew out like hot cakes. There just didn't seem to be enough to go around. Each unique melody was accompanied by a specific cake. The hummers chose a meringue base, the laughers, chocolate, singers like me preferred fruit, while the twinklers took the custard cremes. Atori was filled with melodies all day long.
The girl in front of my strawberry shortcake was singing Joe Dassin's 'Les Champs-Élysées' in a soft tone, with a beautiful lilt, the very song I was singing in my mind!
What a mysterious place, the Atori cake shop, a place between the earth and stars where two melodies can meet.
Atori reminded me of a symphony in four movements. The first, allegro, when all the customers bustle in, intent on ordering, the second, andante, when everything in the universe slows as the brain clicks into gear to make its choices, the third, scherzo, as very quick exchanges are made between the customers and the shop girls and sometimes each other as a way of acknowledging that we exist in this mysterious world. The fourth and last, as each potential lover bustles out again.
Atori is not a normal cake shop and it was never designed that way. The owner, in an inspirational moment, realized that everyone looking for love needed a place to meet so that she would provide it, disguised as a cake shop. A stroke of genius really. Everything blossomed from there.