After midnight the day-old loaves of bread in the bakery turn into slumbering cats. Some are brown and toasty, some white and fragrant, some calico dotted with black, brown and golden patches that used to be raisins, apricots, and berries.
They stretch, blinking their golden eyes, then pad down off the discount shelves to chase mice, nibble on cold meat-filled pierogies, and lap up milk left on the cold window sill. By 3 am, feeling satisfied, they push open the unlocked windows, and by some instinctual knowledge, wander the path other bread cats have trod, arriving at a feral cat colony by the river. There they will live short lives of whimsey and adventure, until they become hard and dry and stale. They will close their eyes and abandon their crumbly bodies to the birds. It is an end they will not see coming, leaving the cats who arrive on this earth through more conventional means to wonder at the randomness of fate.
Back at the bakery, the baker knows his business thrives. He attributes this success to his own hard work and business acumen. He assumes homeless families who sleep on the church steps on the west side of the square shuffle into his closed shop at night to help themselves to his wares. They never take anything more than a half dozen or so day-old loaves, so the baker doesn’t bother to report the thefts. Nor does he bother to contribute to charity or offer alms for the poor. Giving the stolen loaves, he feels, is enough.
But his daughter knows magic is afoot. She wonders if magical creatures, perhaps elves or fairies, visit the bakery to cart off loaves of bread each night. She sprinkles the shelves with crumbled sprigs of rosemary—whether to welcome or dissuade them she can’t decide.
Only their dog—an aging German Shepherd called Francis—detects the scent of the bread cats. He sees them in the square, chasing rodents and begging scraps of meat from the butcher shop and the deli. He can distinguish them from the traditional long-lived cats. He knows which are the sourdough, the whole grain, the cinnamon loaf. He accepts this is the natural order, for what else could it be?