Picture Credits: Debby Hudson

art, marriage, relationship, unrequited love

Eyes of the Beholden

, February 27, 2024

A residue of attraction remained between them always present but never acknowledged. A smudge that could not be wiped away, left over from that very guilty pleasure of imbibing in one another’s flesh for one night when Theresa was first engaged to her husband. Now, it didn’t help that she’d had a blowout fight with Shota, her husband before she’d left for this trip. Asanohara sensei, her colleague, was still shining with attraction in her eyes. She was powerless but tried to concentrate on this teachers’ conference.  

“We are here to give all you fine teachers a chance to excel at something other than teaching.” An anticipatory twitter flowed through the audience with the MC’s enthusiasm. What had started as a yearly retreat for art teachers on the Cultural Day holiday became an all-teachers event for the Tokoha school conglomerate. This included teachers of an elementary school, three junior high and high schools of which one was an all-girls school, a two-year junior college, and a university. All these schools lay spotted across the whole of Shizuoka, Prefecture. The Chairman of the School Board’s wife had been a well-known and respected artist as well as art teacher, and had expanded the art teachers’ retreat to a program for any teacher who wanted to exhibit their creativity. The conference had also become a way to memorialize a famous person after she died of cancer. ‘Our teachers have hidden talents, they mustn’t remain hidden.’ Her words had opened the first such conference and adorned a kakejiku, a subtly gorgeous scroll, one of her own creations in the Chairman’s office. This year was special in that last year had been canceled because of the pandemic. Teachers and students, teenagers, and older individuals, were mostly all vaccinated. Japan had been in dire straights over the summer with new cases in the thousands, and hospitals overflowing with COVID patients, but by early November the cases were down to a trickle. All states of emergency had been lifted. (Mask mandates are not necessary, everyone wears masks. Japanese are naturally socialized for social distancing especially when it comes to touch.) 

Theresa appreciated this gathering of teachers as an outlet for her drawing and poetry. She gave her three colleagues a sideways glance, all of whom she held a deep fondness for. The needle of the meter spiked especially for Asanohara sensei, a Japanese teacher. Kuno sensei, hardly smiled and appeared to be concerned with some deep philosophical question other than chemistry which he taught. The handsomest of the three men, his austerity was endearing. Theresa would privately roll her eyes when she saw him walking down the hallways of the school surrounded by girls who obviously had crushes on him. Kawai Sensei was a lovely man and always had a smile for Theresa. This big-hearted math teacher joked with her about the vice principal who was much too severe for his own good. The four teachers, including Theresa, were all the same age, and had joined one of the schools for the first time during the same year many years ago. 

Thirty-seven years she had worked in the Tokoha conglomerate. The four of them had been at the same school off and on over the years. She was the only permanent gaijin teacher, and because of the pandemic the only gaijin teacher at any of the schools, period. She’d outlasted them all, the gaijin. She had persevered and all the crap she felt she’d had to put up with wasn’t that bad in light of this event. This Teacher’s art exhibition cum talent presentation was just what she needed and she was a part of a group with these three men. There was a feeling of having reached a pinnacle. 

The auditorium did not need to be colossal in size for this event, and participants were dispersed throughout the mid-sized auditorium. Theresa sat next to Asanohara sensei enjoying the affection that seeped from each of them to the other. Kuno sensei, who was sitting on the other side of Asanohara sensei had the most beautiful singing voice, which had brought him here with karaoke as his talent. In addition, he did a comedic manzai act with Kawai sensei, the reason he was here, completing the row of the four of them. Kuno and Kawai’s act was hilarious and you had to hand it to them that they balanced each other very well. Kuno’s head of thick jet-black hair, which he constantly ran his fingers through, and his serious movie star square jawline set off Kawai’s massive receding hairline and friendly, almost goofy demeanor. They called themselves K&K and could make anyone laugh simply by standing next to each other on stage. As the act went on, the audience never failed to teeter between tinkles of laughter and guffaws. 

Theresa gave Asanohara a side-long glance, one of the loves of her life even though she was thirty-five years into marriage with Shota. It wasn’t allowed, this poly-amorousness, but it wasn’t even that, because she had always remained faithful to her husband. Only in her mind’s eye, filling her heart with desire, his sculptor’s hands roamed her body. She was engaged to be married when they had actually made love once. It wasn’t OK but it was. Theresa’s engagement had been announced at a teacher’s meeting and her fiancé had left for far-off places on a business trip when she and the then-single Asanohara had agreed and silently ended up at that love hotel. The hotel was a result of him giving her a ride home after a teacher’s meeting that had gone on forever. Sex can complicate, but they hadn’t careened crazily into each other’s lives. The encounter had had the effect of sustaining her with the added mutual understanding that it would remain their eternal secret. 

He had two pieces of life-sized sculptures at this year’s exhibition. They sent chills through her body. Her love was recognized and absolved through his exquisite art. His medium was wood with one statue a little girl’s arms flung back and chest out with an ecstatic joy to her features. She wore a blouse and skirt like any Japanese schoolgirl, and her knees were bent like she was about to launch herself into a jump. Her hair wasn’t straight but wavy on her shoulders, her race indiscernible. This opened up the possibility that the piece was herself as a little girl. Even if it wasn’t, she could think it. Conjecture was what they had. The second sculpture was an old man with his arms open as if to receive a hug from a grandchild. His features were like his arms, open, loving and accepting. The detail was exquisite from the lines on his palms to the wrinkles of his face. Maybe the little girl was about to jump into a hug with the old man. It was breathtaking. Asanohara sensei was wasted as a Japanese teacher.  

Theresa closed her eyes to picture her own artwork, her calligraphy of three haiku on two canvases of finely drawn seasonal flowers and greenery. She’d wanted the haiku to be translated from English to Japanese and for both languages to be exhibited. She and Asanohara had met twice the previous week for him to help her with the translations. It had been linguistically challenging and an intellectual stimulation that had reached out to every part of her body. He had only helped her tweak her Japanese, then watched patiently as she wrote it herself with a calligraphy brush. The English calligraphy had been done with a flare, pure pleasure. But she was nervous about the kanji, sure that her work would look like a first grader’s. 

“It’s beautiful.” He reassured her when she’d voiced her insecurity after writing a line. He looked into her eyes and before she knew it she was writing Japanese with confidence because what did it matter if her Japanese writing looked childish? This was art! 

Theresa wanted to thank him with her body, aching for a reenactment of that night. He took her hands in his, leaned his forehead on hers, and smiled at her. She smiled back and refrained from reminding him that he was divorced, his kids were grown as were hers, they were alone. But they said good night without further contact and went their separate ways. He had calmed and excited her all at once.

Theresa sighed. Shota hardly ever wanted her anymore, why would Asanohara? Theresa had always been happy with her married sex life. But now that they were just over sixty it was almost nonexistent. Which was fine, but the feeling that it was because her body didn’t have the right figure was not fine. She was fat and old. It not only hurt her feelings but also made her blood boil.

It was what the blowout had been about with Shota. Not that she was fat and old. He would never intentionally say that. But he had harped on her once again that she should exercise as much as he did. She did weigh more than she ever had in her life, but she needed to take care of it herself without being badgered. She’d been nasty and told him to leave her alone. He’d said he was concerned for her health. She’d said I’m perfectly healthy thank you. He’d reminded her that she needed to lose weight. She’d thought fuck off. She just wanted to be left alone.

She was healthy otherwise, but the tire around her stomach wouldn’t go away. Shota was an exercise fanatic and prided himself on never letting himself go to middle age-ness. She had the same idea, but her DNA or whatever it was about her body was stubborn. She and Shota only had themselves to take care of these days and they cooked and ate healthily. Shota loved sweets and he ate what he wanted and kept the pounds off by staying active. Theresa had stopped eating sweets years ago, only on special occasions, which had been sufficient, except it no longer helped her lose the tire. She didn’t do anything as harsh as running, (not even Shota did that after a knee injury) but she walked briskly for an hour and did advanced Ishta Yoga three or four times a week. According to her latest health check every everything was fine. 

The auditorium stirred as the afternoon waned into evening and the orientation drew to a close. All this excess mind work had her exhausted and she hadn’t heard a thing except the opening welcome greeting. She was physically drained of energy but self-preservation forced her not to leave her thoughts in negativity. She could still feel the attraction between her and Asanohara.

With this positive psychological boost, she accepted dinner and drinks with the three of them later that evening. The venue was an old-fashioned farmhouse renovated into an izakaya with the ambience she loved. An irori which they sat around sipping their drinks had a pot dangling from a thick rope high in the rafters. When the food came, they scooted over to a low table on the tatami which was more suitable for eating. They had all pulled off their face masks the minute they’d sat down with a feeling of abandonment in these times of constant carefulness. The place was only half full. 

“Man, I love this!” Theresa lifted her eyes to the high ceiling with its rafters. “I thought about going back to my room, but I’m glad I came.”

“Why go back to your room?” Asanohara cast her a concerned look which she appreciated more than he would ever know.

“I’m beat, feel really tired.” She smiled, hoping she didn’t look tired. “But this is excellent!” She took a bite of the pickled octopus and wakame seaweed otoshi and washed it down with the cold beer.

“You drove the whole way here, no wonder you’re tired.” Kuno was as serious as ever, but Theresa found herself flattered by what she felt was a compliment.

“You wouldn’t let any of us take over the driving,” Kawai ribbed her playfully.

“Never mind, I’m here and feeling much better with this.” She raised her glass. As she gulped a sheepishness overtook her for caring so much about wanting and being wanted. What a shame. It was enough to be a part of this group. The alcohol from the beer was taking over and she nearly blurted out, ‘You three make me feel very much at home. Possibly more than I feel at my actual home.’ She wanted to have a group hug right there. She shook her head to rid herself of such an overt act. “I can’t wait till tomorrow for the show and exhibition. Are you guys ready with your manzai? You want to practice now?” She giggled.

“We’re all right.” Kawai and Kuno nodded to each other in confirmation while Asanohara gave Theresa a lopsided grin. 

“You’re funny.” He said. He grabbed her hand and swayed it back and forth with their elbows as pivots on the table.

“Am I?”

“Me too!” 

“My turn!” Kuno and Kawai each took a turn at holding her hand and waved it back and forth with their elbows as a pivot. Theresa thought she would go mad. But threw her head back and laughed out loud instead. They appeared to appreciate her outburst.


Theresa pulled into the school parking lot with Asanohara. She’d dropped the other two off at their homes because they lived close enough. Asanohara lived two townships over. His car sat where he’d left it Saturday morning.

“Well, Theresa sensei.” 

Theresa got out of the car in order to remove herself from his proximity. She had never been called by her last name, Saito. At this moment it seemed unfair that she was the only teacher in the whole school that was called by their first name. (Only if there were two Satos or Suzukis would they use the first name of the younger teacher.)

Asanohara sensei joined her at the hood of her car. Before he could do anything awkward like extend his hand for a handshake, or worse yet, do the forehead thing again, (He wouldn’t do that in the school parking lot.) Theresa bowed her head and brought her eyes up to meet his. 

“I really had a great time this weekend. Thank you so much for everything.” Asanohara sensei had placed first, her work third in the exhibition contest. Their easy-going smiles assured that there was no misunderstanding, no hard feelings, nothing that she, or he, needed to worry about between them. She smiled and he smiled. She waved he waved. There wasn’t anything of regret in either of their eyes. There was only a tinge of a mournful something, ignorable in the fading light of the setting sun. “See you tomorrow.”

 “Thanks for driving. See you tomorrow.” He watched her open her door. “Oh, you need to help me use these coupons for two at Prego Due,” an Italian Restaurant run by an OB.  

“OK” As she drove away, Theresa sighed. It wasn’t difficult to put a tight lid on her imagination which would have carried her off to where a dinner for two with him could lead. She smiled as gratifying relief sent her home to tell Shota about her remarkable weekend.     

Karen Bremer Masuda

Karen Bremer Masuda

Karen Bremer Masuda is an American writer living in Japan. Eyes of the Beholden was written at the start of the pandemic when Japan first started its State of Emergency. She has been published eight times in 34th Parallel Magazine, the first year was 2008. The most recent issue was 81 in 2018. She loves writing short stories but has completed four novels and four novellas. She has compiled chapbooks with many of her short stories. She continues to work to get published. Karen took three on-line workshops and was able to be a part of Sirenland Writers Conference in 2022 (canceled for two years due to the pandemic.). Sirenland Writers Conference was the most inspirational learning experience of her writing career. She hopes to continue to grow as a writer.

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