A Woman in Pink

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Logline or Premise
She wants to align her principles and her way of moving through the world. She also wants to believe that Dutch is her Johnny Cash, that she is his June Carter, that theirs is a great love story. In the end, she will be left questioning everything she thought she knew.
First 10 Pages

Chapter One

Jerrod helps bolster classroom morale by cracking jokes, asking on Mondays about my weekend, and injecting comments like we’re friends. I think we would be, if I weren’t forty-four, or if he weren’t a teenager.

During a brief pause in my lecture, he notes, “You know, you play with that ring all the time.”

“I know.” I hastily shuffle through a pile of papers to redirect my hands. I never take off this ring. Having worn it for fifteen years, it feels like an organic protrusion on my finger, like the band and the skin beneath it have smoothly fused. Its removal would feel like an amputation.

This toying with it, the pad of my thumb finding the warm circle on my ring finger and rotating it, is constant and compulsive whenever I’m preoccupied or anxious or concentrating. Like right now, with the blinking cursor before me. I don’t know how to do this favor. That’s what Dutch said. “I need a favor.”

The request is highly unusual, not just in itself, but in the fact that Dutch needs a favor at all. I frequently need lifelines: money from my family when my old Honda breaks down, friends’ help painting walls and moving furniture, extensions on student loans, payment plans for bills that my teaching salary can’t absorb. Dutch has so much money that he never needs to ask anything of anyone. But he needs this letter, and he can’t buy it.

I have in the past written somewhat disingenuously, for instance in courses I took that called for endless literary analyses. Unsure of how they should sound or even the point of such an endeavor, I wrote them with sweeping, grandiose urgency. My papers suggested that the very fate of literature depended on my interpretation of it, and thinking of them now makes me cringe. I’ve also found myself in the uncomfortable position of writing recommendation letters for students who aggravated and fatigued me.

One such student, a pit bull named Teresa, continuously interrupted lectures with her barking questions, challenged the merit of every lesson, monopolized office hours, and harangued me endlessly whenever she got an A- instead of an A. When she cornered me to ask for a recommendation letter for her law school application, I was so flustered that I agreed. When I sat down to the grim task, I wanted to pronounce Teresa a giant pain in the ass. Instead, I wrote, “Her tenacity and passion for argument suggest that she is well suited to the study of law.” This statement, I rationalized at the time, was at least somewhat true.

But this letter for Dutch is different. To serve its purpose, it must contain a number of outright lies.

After I agreed to write it, he said, “Just remember it’s for court.” I heard the trepidation in his pause. “So, you know.”

Yes, I knew what he meant. Keep it short. He was no doubt thinking of the stack of letters he’d received from me years earlier, real letters, because an email or a text would never do. I’d constructed them like monuments, using red envelopes and my Waterman pen, a perfect weight in my hand, its rushing black ink tattooing my heavy, creamy stationery like sacred scrolls. These were letters from another era, the kind no one received anymore. But if they did, they would know, without even opening them, the significance of their contents, would gently bundle them together, tuck them away, save them.

Where Dutch is concerned, I have never been able to keep it short.

But this time, I resolve to try. Reviewing the court’s bulleted instructions, which Dutch has forwarded to me and which ask about the duration of our relationship, I tap the keys.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing on behalf of Dutch Van Lokeren, whom I’ve known for fifteen years. We met when we were twenty-nine.

This part, at least, is true.

The night we met, I was at home when a text from Kevin chimed on my phone: At Hurley’s. Wanna come up? My twenties had been strewn with Kevins, sweet, chivalrous guys who came from families like mine, in which men loved women in a distinctly 1950s way. Their code of conduct included always holding the door for a woman, paying her way, and walking her home. Their sexism was almost quaint. They would never trust a woman to change a tire or hold office, but they would never raise their voice or hand to one.

When I realized I’d become a woman who expected men to hold the door, pay my way, and walk me home, I wondered aloud to my girlfriends, “Am I sexist?”

But when they came to me with their troubles, tales of boyfriends who cheated on them and called them names and made them cry, I felt an uneasy, private appreciation for my upbringing. I’d dated good men who wanted me to let them know I’d arrived safely home at night, who kissed me only after they’d blushingly asked permission, who waited and waffled as they worked up the courage to ask for a real first date.

In the meantime, they operated like Kevin, testing the water by suggesting meetings like this, as if we were co-workers who might find ourselves at the same bar, and might as well chat over a drink.

My eyes and neck hurt from grading papers that night. The prospect of getting out of the house held a mild appeal. I blandly regarded my phone and, after a pause, tapped out a response: Be up in a bit.

Hurley’s swelled that night, standing room only. I found Kevin at the bar, in conversation with Nick Gliston, a regular whom everyone called Glick, and Clever, the bartender, who was putting the finishing touches on two drinks for them. Clever considered himself a mad scientist and wrote his custom cocktail recipes, along with the sex jokes he’d heard from patrons, in a notebook he kept behind the bar.

He set the drinks in front of Kevin and Glick. “I call this the Skull Fuck. It’ll change your lives.” He looked hopefully at me. “You want one?”

I eyed the blue concoctions. “I think I’ll stick with beer.”

He looked a little forlorn. “That’s what most people say.” After he brought me a Budweiser, he and Glick resumed their argument about some athlete’s new multi-million dollar contract.

I heard Dutch before I saw him. A rumbling baritone cut through the general din of the place, causing me to look down the length of the crowded bar. He was sitting at the end with a woman I vaguely recognized as a server at Hurley’s.

“I know him,” Kevin said. Leaving Glick and Clever to their debate, we headed over to say hello. Kevin and Dutch were the kind of friends who had never exchanged phone numbers or made plans, but who spent so much time at Hurley’s that they inevitably fell into conversation at regular intervals.

Dutch stood when we approached, towering over us, and the four of us fell into an easy rhythm of banter. He hadn’t seen me before. My first time here? No, no, I’d done plenty of damage here. His was the only with a tan in a sea of pasty winter faces. Where had he been? Florida, golf trip. How did everyone know each other?

As we chatted, he seemed to be standing in the sun’s full dazzling force. And with his gaze focused on me, I suddenly stood in it, too.

He gestured at Kevin and me. “Are you guys together?”

“We’re just hanging out,” I said hurriedly. “How about you two?”

“We went out a few times.” He smiled encouragingly at the server. “Decided we’re better as friends though, right?”

The server smiled acidly.

As Dutch and I became more absorbed in our own conversation, I felt Kevin’s rustling rancor and watched the server’s face freeze into a mask. When Dutch asked me out in front of them, she looked like she’d been struck.

Kevin angled his body toward Dutch, his face incredulous. “Are you serious?” he sputtered. “You’ve got some fucking nerve.”

It thrilled me. I gave Dutch my number.

The next night at dinner, the air between us popped and snapped. From the restaurant we moved to a bar down the street, our chatter a laughing, animated flurry as we walked. He caught my hand. In the back entrance of the bar, a dimly lit stairwell that no one ever used and that smelled vaguely of mildewed beer taps, he suddenly stopped me and pressed me to the dark wood paneling, his mouth on mine. He drew back briefly and tucked an errant lock of hair behind my ear, his voice slightly uneven and gravelly. “Is there anyone else?”


“Will you say it?”

I could hardly form the words. “There’s no one else.”

To apply the full length of my body to his own and find my mouth again, he had to bend down considerably and tighten the slack of his arms. What a wonder, I thought as I tilted my face up to his, to feel so small.


Like exuberant teenagers, we rushed into each other’s physical and mental space, crowding it, welcoming it.

One afternoon, I bounded through his front door and found him on his couch, engrossed in a NASCAR race on TV. My eyes narrowed with feigned suspicion. “Not really.”

“Oh, yes, really,” he declared. “The first time I ever went, I took my snow cone all the way down to the fence, as close as I could get. First lap, the cars blew by me and blew that snow cone to fuckin’ bits. I wasn’t even sure I still had a face. And that’s when I fell in love.”

I laughed. “Can’t say I ever hung out with a NASCAR guy before.”

“Just wait. I’ll open up a whole new world for you.” He grinned. “Next time I go to a race, I’ll bring you and we’ll get all the gear, head-to-toe American flags and motor-oil logos. Then we’ll hit a poetry reading for you.”

“Would you consider taking off your gear off before we go to the reading?”

“Absolutely not. And neither can you.”

Perhaps we were, at first glance, an incongruous pair, the constant drone of ESPN in his living room, of CNN in mine, my blue nail polish and clutter of bracelets, his jockish preppiness. But our conversations had a liquidity, a warm rushing current, an immediate intimacy, a series of clicks of perfect recognition. Oh. It’s you.

We talked through the night in torrents. “Where have you been?” I asked repeatedly, as if joking.

His response was always the same. “Where have you been?”

I was sure, now that I knew him, that I would never again feel oceanic loneliness.

When we parted after a day together, which stretched into a night, which stretched into the following morning, on my way home I would think of a dozen things I’d forgotten to tell him. And when I pulled out my phone to call him, it was ringing, him on the other end. We never stopped talking.

I wanted him near me, touching me, inside me, all the time. His proximity made me crackle. That I could be both perfectly understood and completely electrified by one person astounded me.

When we told each other our stories, they were different but the same, and when we agreed or disagreed, we did so with equal fervor. The more we wound ourselves around each other, the more I wondered at it. Oh. It’s you.

We talked endlessly about our families. He was an only child.

“Me too,” I said. “But I never felt like one because of all my cousins. We pretty much grew up together.”

“How many cousins?”

I did a quick mental tally. “Forty.”

“Forty?” He laughed. “Jesus.”

“Jesus, yes. He needs us Irish Catholics to keep filling the ranks.” I laughed with him. “We’re formidable breeders.”

“And you? Is your biological clock hammering away?”

“I hate that phrase,” I said immediately. “It never come out of my mouth.”

“Women use that phrase all the time,” he protested.

“I don’t.” I was adamant. “The whole ‘biological clock’ thing is just a hostage situation for women. We don’t need that pressure.”

“Fair enough. I won’t use it anymore.” He traced the inside of my arm. “Phrasing aside, you think you want kids?”

“I don’t know.” I scrunched my face, remembering. “I used to think I wasn’t cut out for it.”

Without any basis for thinking so, my parents had decided when I turned twelve that I was fit to care for other people’s children. They had constantly volunteered my babysitting services to everyone they knew, and this thankless task had dragged on until I’d escaped to college. For five dollars an hour, I’d refereed fights among the older ones and chased them around their houses, struggling to prevent destruction. I’d stopped the little ones from flushing assorted household items and pets down the toilet and tried in vain to cajole them to bed. I’d held the babies at arm’s length like ticking bombs and yearned for the return of their parents.

“But,” I mused, “I might want kids down the road. I could see that.”

The previous fall, I’d been reading at home when my mom had stopped by with Molly, a small sparking wire of a five-year-old with a tangle of red curls. Molly was my mom’s charge that day, a day that apparently included measuring my windows for curtains.

“I don’t need curtains, Mom.”

“Everyone needs curtains,” she tsked, bustling through the apartment with her tape measure. Over her shoulder to Molly, she said, “I’ll just be five minutes. Then we’ll go to the park.”

Clutching a plush stegosaurus, Molly plopped on the couch beside me, so close that our legs touched. “Are you my aunt?”

I set my book down. “No. Your dad is my cousin, so that means we’re cousins, too.”

“But you’re a grown-up.”

“I know. It’s a little complicated.” I paused. “What’s your dinosaur’s name?”



“He used to be President?”

Her exasperation made me laugh. “Yes. That’s right.”

She regarded the book on the couch. “I’m in kindergarten. I can read.”

“Can you?” I picked up the book, thumbed through it for a manageable sentence, and pointed to it. “What does this say?”

She’d been so pleased with herself after reading it that suddenly we found ourselves playing a game. I located another sentence for her to read, then another, then another, and was disappointed when my mom reappeared, telling Molly to put on her coat. I had liked the feel of the little girl tucked up against me, a little oven generating warmth, her small, clear voice like a bell.

After recalling this story to Dutch, I shrugged and smiled. “We’ll see.”

I told him about my parents, and he told me about his, whose names were John and June.

“John and June,” I repeated. I knew Walk the Line by heart. “Like Johnny Cash and June Carter. I love that movie. I love their story.”

“Meant to be, right?” He nodded. “They loved the name thing, too. Everybody did. They got together when they were kids. It seemed like they were supposed to be together.”

Once, after I started regularly spending the night, I tripped over the large, unwieldy glass case of superhero figures on the floor beside his bed. It would have made sense proudly displayed in the bedroom of a child, a comic book lover, but it didn’t in Dutch’s house, which was nicer than most single men’s places I’d seen, with hardwood floors and granite counters, a sleek soullessness that he supposed a single man’s place should have. All the walls were gray and bare. The leather furniture was excessive. The TV was too big. As I climbed into his bed, I asked about it.

“I trip over it constantly,” he told me. “My dad gave it to me.”

He said his dad, a vet who had gone to Vietnam and come back a different person, had woken up one morning when Dutch was ten, walked out, and never returned, retreating silently into alcoholic solitude.

I thought then of my own dad, who throughout my childhood had dutifully tacked my artwork to the refrigerator, attended every recital, and now came running to my aid when I got a flat tire. His worst offense, committed unknowingly, was giving me the wrong kind of compliments when I was a teenager.

I also thought, guiltily, that John might have spared Dutch somewhat if he had never been there at all. Maybe leaving behind a pregnant woman or a baby felt easy for some men. Maybe they felt like they were leaving an unformed idea rather than a person. But to abandon a ten-year-old, to know exactly who he was missing and to ensure that the boy did, too, seemed worse. I didn’t say that to Dutch.