Erika Kobayashi

Illustration by Emma Roulette

It was three years ago that she turned sixty and lost her husband. It happened after years of caring for him, and at the funeral she laughed that she’d had enough of wiping his bottom so it was rather a relief; hearing this, worry began to worm its way into her two daughters’ hearts. She seemed so resilient, and her friends offered words of comfort, telling her that once one of her daughters gave her a grandchild she’d forget her troubles—but when her oldest did in fact give birth to a daughter, her heart seemed no lighter.

It was one month ago that she died in a car accident. Her oldest daughter rushed to the hospital, clutching her own daughter to her, and found her still barely conscious. By the time the younger arrived, she’d already passed.

What shocked everyone was that at the time of the accident, she’d been riding in the car of a man neither daughter knew. What’s more, flowing from her corpse even more plentifully than blood was the choking scent of cheap perfume. The funeral parlor was flooded with its lingering stench.


Sadako slowly blinks her eyes. Open or shut, all she sees is darkness. In darkness, a few minutes feels like a decade, a decade like a few minutes. She can’t recall how long she’s been like this.

But she remembers the coffee shop itself down to the smallest detail. She can see it with such clarity—every stain on the wall, every drop of condensation clinging to the water glass as she raises it to her lips to swallow the pill.

A man who says his name is Yamada sits before Sadako as she nervously pulls at the hem of her miniskirt. He’s walking her through a stiltedly polite explanation of what he’d already explained to her in an email. Yamada’s front teeth protrude slightly from between his lips, and he looks to be in his late twenties, around the same age as Sadako herself. Thinking of those teeth, Sadako is relieved that at the very least, her younger sister, Riko, isn’t there to see her with this sort of man. If either she or her husband had had the slightest inkling she’d secretly signed up with Homerus, there’s no way either would have agreed to take care of her daughter.

“Once you take the medication, in approximately ten minutes your vision will begin to cloud. After you’ve lost sight completely, your designated handler will arrive. Your handler will act as your guide and take you for your drive to the sea.”

She’d seen photos online, of course, but this is the first time she’s seen the bluish pill in person. It feels like a joke that a drug inducing blindness ended up with the name “See.”

See had caused quite a stir when it first came out. As one might expect, sex fiends used it in place of blindfolds in their play, and disability advocates proposed using it to raise awareness of the plight of the blind; still others predicted ways it could be used to commit crimes, recommending it be handled as a controlled substance. A religious sect sprang up advocating its use for enlightenment, explaining that it reveals the extent to which all of us are already blind. The truth of existence resides in darkness, they said, and only by letting go of sight can we see the world’s true form.

A variety of businesses sprang up, ranging from sexual services to cafes to places using it to promote health and education, but this boom only lasted about a year; most endeavors ended up either prosecuted as illegal or simply went under. Homerus, along with a few others, managed nonetheless to continue, legally and quietly, after the initial craze died down.

“For your safety, cameras record the interior of the car and are monitored twenty-four hours a day, so rest assured that no matter what happens, our representatives can reach you immediately at any time. You will also be able to contact us easily if you begin to feel uncomfortable or nauseated; your handler will explain the exact method for doing so in the car. Blindness will last roughly three hours. You will remain securely within the car until your eyesight is fully restored. If you have any questions or concerns related to what I’ve just told you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Sadako recalls Yamada’s words as she sits here now, alone in the dark. She remembers an article she’d read about a young woman who took See and never regained her sight. It’s a side effect experienced by one out of every few million; there’s no way of guaranteeing who might be that one. Unease begins to percolate in the darkness—bubbles that burst and disappear, only to be replaced by more. The table before her should have the coffee she’d been drinking still on it, the glass of water just to the side. But she has no way to confirm this, and she feels herself losing her grip on where in the world she might be. She reaches out her hand and touches the objects before her, but the moment her fingers leave them again, everything becomes once more uncertain.

Sadako finds her heart growing small, like a lost child’s. She tries to commit to memory each moment she spends in darkness, but realizes she doesn’t know how to recall her experiences or put them in order if she can’t see them.

How long does she wait before her handler arrives? It feels as if it could have been a very long time or almost no time at all.

“Pleased to meet you. My name is Jeremy.”

The voice is low and resonant, the Japanese fluent. Normally, she would find it ridiculous to hear such a put-on, oh-so-Western moniker emerge from a Japanese face surely more suited to a name like “Kenta Morita,” but in her present state she finds the sound of it almost moving.

At Jeremy’s cue, Sadako takes his hand, clings to it. Their fingers interlace. Unthinkingly, Sadako sighs, trembling slightly. How is it that in darkness, to come in contact with the hand or fingers or body of another, with another’s warmth—how can this produce such comfort, and such excitement?


Her two daughters were wearing cotton gloves. After the funeral, they’d decided to ready the house for sale immediately, and so they went straight away to clean it from stem to stern, if only to rid it of the smell of cheap perfume that lingered still in every room.

A business card fell all too easily from the drawer of the nightstand beside her pillow.


The word was embossed in gold letters across thick, glossy black paper.

Her younger daughter snatched up the card, indignation bursting through the mask she wore over her mouth.

“It wouldn’t have bothered me if Mama had remarried or done whatever else she felt like, after all she was an adult—but this! This is too much!”

Homerus was a “date club” you joined in order to take a dose of See and let a man take you on a seaside drive. It had been a frequent topic of conversation in the tabloids and on various television shows, so both daughters recognized the name.

Her older daughter opened the doors of her dresser and with gloved hands began rifling through clothes that had, up till then, only been handled with utmost care by bare ones. She gave her sister a noncommittal reply.

“We shouldn’t be mean about it. She must have been lonely after Papa died.”

“You think it’s a question of loneliness? First of all, why would she spend so much money on a thing like that? And did you see the picture of the guy who died in the accident with her? The police showed it to me and I almost fainted. If I’m going to end up dead like that, I’d like it to be with someone hot! At least that way, I’d be able to rest in peace.”

“He was balding, I remember . . . but after all, Mama never actually saw him.”

“That’s even worse!”

Both daughters suddenly became silent, until it became too much and they began to giggle uncontrollably.

“Remember how panicked she got when she had cataracts and thought she was losing her sight? And now she’s taking drugs to go blind for fun! Poor Papa.”

Her younger daughter’s mouth twisted in disapproval beneath her mask.

“He used to go to cabaret clubs, didn’t he?”

Her older daughter’s mouth twisted beneath her mask as well.

“He was young.”

“Old people have desires too.”

“Parents are different.”

“And besides, men get old and eventually can’t get it up anymore, but women can do it however old they get.”

At that, her daughters grew silent once more, then looked at one another.

Each imagined, for one brief instant, their mother having sex, or rather, their mother as she must have been when having sex in the past. Both daughters were of course themselves the product of her having had sex with their father, but to actually imagine it was a rare and strange thing.

“What can you even do on a date like that if you can’t see the sea? If only she hadn’t done it, there wouldn’t have been an accident and she’d still be here now.”

Her older daughter looked down at the double bed where no one would sleep again. She reached down with her gloved hand, picked up the Homerus card from where it had fallen, and slipped it into her pocket.


“We’ve reached the sea.”

Jeremy’s voice.

“The sea . . . ”

Blinking in darkness, Sadako repeats the word to herself: sea. And as she does, she’s overcome with the desire to reach out her hand, extend her fingers, and touch Jeremy’s body, if only to confirm he is there.

“If you look to your right, you can see it now.”

Sadako listens as hard as she can, as if to make sure not to miss the sound of his breath, the sound of his lips moving.

As she listens, the sun-drenched sea slowly spreads within her. The morning had been cloudy, and it’s autumn—the sea, if she could see it, would be the dirty grey Tokyo Bay, but instead it extends into the distance blue and endless just for her. She takes a deep breath. It’s filled with an odor specific to the car’s interior. Have they exited the highway? The car sways slightly side to side.

Sadako remembers making plans with her husband to rent a car and take a trip to the sea with their daughter. But with her mother’s sudden death, their summer was taken up with planning the funeral and dealing with her house, so in the end they only got as far as the neighborhood pool. Sitting poolside wearing not a bikini but a one-piece due to the scar left by her Caesarean, the person most annoyed by this development isn’t her husband, isn’t her daughter, but rather Sadako herself.

“Thanks to Mama dying, we never got to go to the sea and ended up here instead!”

Her daughter walks up, pool water dripping from her hair, and she holds out her tiny hand, her eyes shut tight. C’mon, just one more! Sadako draws a heart with her finger on her daughter’s palm.

“A heart!”

Her daughter almost immediately demands just one more once more, pressing her little hand into Sadako’s palm and screwing her eyes shut again.

Sadako’s husband laughs ruefully as he drinks his beer.

“It’s just the sea—we can always go next year.”

Next year, next summer—when they finally arrive, will they really go? Her mother left so suddenly, who’s to say who might be missing in another year’s time?

After all, none of them can see the future, not one single bit of it.

Sadako loses herself in her memories as if being pulled out by the tide.

The light of the sun in summer. Sadako in middle school, riding in the back seat with Riko. Her father’s at the wheel, her mother’s looking at a map spread out over her miniskirt.

Riko’s small soft hand takes Sadako’s, and she speaks, almost angrily.

“Your eyes are really shut, right?”

“They are, okay?”

Sadako makes a show of pressing her eyelids together. Behind them isn’t darkness but rather the filtered light of the sun; she can see multicolored specks floating before her.

“What are you two doing?”

Her father’s voice.

“We’re playing Helen Keller!”

Riko’s answer.

“You’re playing what?”

Her mother’s voice, from the passenger seat.

“We draw words on each other’s hands, like ‘water’ or whatever.”

Riko tosses the explanation over her shoulder as she concentrates on drawing letters one by one across Sadako’s palm.

There in darkness, everything is given a name. The cold liquid emerging from a well becomes W-A-T-E-R. The feel of someone’s touch playing across her palm. A fingertip tells her the name of each and every thing around her, one by one by one.

Sadako focuses her attention on the palm of her hand.




Sea. The sea.

Sadako slowly opens her eyes.

What was it that Riko actually wrote on her palm all those years ago?

To her right, she can see the sea.

Her father takes a hand from the wheel and rolls down the window.

“The sea!”

A gust of wind blows in and makes the map in her mother’s lap dance.

Riko, in a bored tone of voice, whispers in her sister’s ear.

“I wanna go home. First of all, I hate the car, it makes me sick. This is the worst, the absolute pits!”

Riko doesn’t even glance at the sea and instead thrusts her left hand at Sadako, her eyes shut so tight there’s a crease between her brows. The light from the sun shines in through the window, dancing back and forth across her palm. Their mother, laughing, turns slowly to look at them. Small hairs escaping from the single braid she’s pulled her hair back into dance back and forth in the light. But Sadako cannot recall her mother’s face as it must have looked when she was that young.


Her older daughter made sure she was completely alone, then slipped the Homerus card from her pocket. She lightly traced the ridges of the embossed letters with her fingertip. In the end, she sent a message to the email address listed on the card.

If her younger daughter ever found out that her older daughter did this, she would surely never agree to take care of her older daughter’s daughter again.


She hears the sound of Jeremy pressing a switch, then feels the wind as it comes in through the window. It smells of the sea.

Sadako takes a deep breath and blinks in darkness. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, she lifts her right hand from where it’s been resting—the point where her leg emerges from her miniskirt—and slowly extends it in Jeremy’s direction. It wanders, suspended in space. But soon enough it’s enfolded in the warmth of Jeremy’s left hand. Their fingers interlace. From time to time a gust of wind blows in, making the tiny hairs escaping from the single braid she’s pulled her hair back into dance back and forth.

Sadako brings Jeremy’s left hand slowly down to rest upon her knee, opening it up so she can caress its palm with both hands.

“My daughter likes to play a game called ‘Helen Keller.’ Someone draws pictures or letters on your palm, and you have to guess what they are.”

Sadako uses her hands to open out Jeremy’s palm.

Sadako touches it with her fingertip. Jeremy, ticklish, begins to laugh. Which makes Sadako laugh too.

When was the last time she laughed like this?

Sadako takes another deep breath. This time, stronger than the smell of the sea is the smell of her own perfume.

Sadako begins to slowly trace a letter across Jeremy’s palm.


Sadako blinks as her fingertip begins to trace the next letter across his palm; at that exact moment, something shakes her violently. Something’s hit them. In the dark, the moment stretches out into infinity. She hears the sound of brakes, the sound of impact. Jeremy! Where are you?

No, the man next to her, he has a different name. Andrew? Tony? No, that’s right, it’s John. How many times has she done this, tracing letters across someone’s palm? Tens? Hundreds?

Here in darkness, she can’t recall how much time has passed since she went for her first drive with Jeremy to the sea. She feels herself slowly moving farther and farther away from that hand, that body, those fingers, that name. She extends her fingers, trying to grasp something, anything, and ends up touching something gooey and warm. The sound of a siren rings out in her memory as it fades.


“Mama! Mama!”

She had no idea how much time had passed while in darkness. It wasn’t Sadako who was calling for her Mama. It was Sadako who was being called. Searching through her memory, her eyes still firmly shut, Sadako vaguely recalled that she was no longer a daughter; she was now a mother.

Summer. At some point had they finally gone to see the sea?


When had she stopped being a daughter? She still felt like she’d felt back then, in her twenties. When had she gotten so old?

“Mama, please! Open your eyes!”

The voice of the daughter to whom she’d given birth. But she was afraid to open her eyes. When had her daughter given birth to a daughter of her own?

Her ears picked up the conversation of some people passing by.

“Do you smell that perfume! It’s awful!”

She had the feeling that, open or shut, her eyes would see nothing.

So instead of her eyelids, she slowly opened her palm. And waited, longingly, for the touch of a fingertip.

translated from the Japanese by Brian Bergstrom