Dear Mary Lou,

Dear Mary Lou

by David Daniel

Dear Mary Lou,

it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me & vice versa. Why I’m writing now—a total shot in the dark—today I drove across one of the bridges on the Merrimack, the big river here where I live in Lowell, Mass—one of 5 in all (bridges, not rivers), but this is the one I take to work & driving across it you feel it clatter & shake the bones. Anyways, I was reminded of another big river back . . . jeez, all those years ago, and I found your Oregon address in an old notebook, so . . . snail mail it is.

I got remembering the night we met, both new arrivals at UO, transfer students, and the dorm council advertised a “get acquainted” pub crawl (something that’d never fly these days). We were strangers from opposite coasts—you a beautiful California girl that I thought didn’t exist outside of Beach Boys songs; me a nose-in-a-book Boston guy—somehow, finding that synch right off. We ditched the pub crawl & you asked, “Wanna get loaded?” and that was the frisson (I think that’s the word). Off we wandered, strangers in a strange town, to discover Eugene on our own.

Which we did over the next days and weeks. You’d give that innocent look, “Wanna get…?” the rest unspoken. We’d toke in your dorm room and listen to records. You were always turning me on to music I’d somehow missed: Pure Prairie Leage, Commander Cody, Poco . . . your Fresno country roots showing.

In the easy groove of being friends we’d wander around the town finding stuff . . . that cozy bookstore w/ tea & comfy chairs, and Mama’s Home Fried Truck Stop, and Taylor’s on the corner of 13th & Kincaid where we’d drink dark beer and eat one of those great burgers they served. Remember the bathroom there? With the plaque: RICHARD M. NIXON Memorial Toilet? These days it’s maybe the TRUMP DUMPER.

I never saw so much rain as in Eugene, rain & mossy roofs—but soft rain, and we’d roam in it sometimes, “no particular place to go” (sez Chuck Berry), or walk “at lilac evening” (Kerouac sez in On the Road, which you knew from Fresno—old Bill Saroyan’s town—and who, BTW, was born here in Lowell, Kerouac, not Saroyan). On foot was the way to see all 3 towns.

I teased you about having thick ankles—“from taking ballet when I was little” you’d say. Then kick it right back to me—“Let’s go get some taa-cos and beeah”—yeah, like that was even close to a Boston accent. Smile.

There was that period when things were getting jangled w/ your boyfriend back in Fresno, and you said one day, in a kinda, I dunno, wistful way, “what we oughta do, let’s make a raft . . . and just float down the river, I hear Jasper is a really nice mellow town.” Crazy, I know. You mighta been reading Huckleberry Finn, (Fuckleberry Hen I think Kesey said) thinking of the Mighty Miss’sip . . . Jasper was actually upriver on the Willamette, not a direction a raft can really float . . . But when you said it we laughed

We never did, of course. Make a raft.

When I got back east, I gave up on college. Too distracting. I just wanted to paint, the way you were always wanting to work with your plants. Some of that musta rubbed off on me, BTW, because guess what? For a while I got into bottle gardens—self-contained mini-rain forests. Almaden bottles were good, soft green glass w/ fluid shapes & little loop handles; or sometimes, big chunky gallon jugs from Gallo mountain burgundy. The work was fussy—couldn’t do it right after drinking the wine—but some of those gardens lasted a long time. When my old lady & I split we agonized over who’d get the bottle gardens. I finally just said, “They’re yours.” What I didn’t know was that she also took a bunch of my favorite LPs. Say la vee. Thing about music and gardens is there’re always more. Life? Mmm—I’m not so sure.

I hear from a mutual friend that you’ve had health problems. If you get this & write back you can tell me about that if you want, but I’m not prying, because, shit, I’m not any younger, and for sure not smarter. Last winter I got Covid pretty bad. Yeah. I know. Knucklehead didn’t get the shots. But I’m mostly recovered now, just a little fog in the noggin.

I’ve got a nice apartment—3 rooms is all I need. And my kids keep in touch. I’m a manager at UPS (did I say that?) and still painting, mostly watercolors. No velvet Elvis yet—saving that for my golden years. You still gardening?

Funny what sets the mind turning, isn’t it? A bridge?! I hope they fix this one like the city’s been talking for years, I don’t feel safe going across it.

Guess I’m starting to ramble here. Anyways, like I said, crossing one river got me thinking of another river & I found your old address & I suppose what all rivers’ve got in common is flow . . . like time.

Yeah. Well … anyways. I do hope you’re well, Mary Lou. Write me if you get this. If you want.

Love & peace, etc.

Your friend, Simon

P.S. Sometimes (not gonna lie), I wonder where that raft trip might’ve led.

David Daniel’s newest book is Beach Town, a collection of stories from Loom Press (Order at


8 Responses to Dear Mary Lou,

  1. Joshua Shapiro says:

    Vintage Daniel: the voice, the ventriloquism, the gentle-seeming-but-clear-eyed look back, the homage to earlier masters (think ‘Pal Joey by John O’Hara–the short story, not the Broadway version), the humor, the humanity. David Daniel is a gift to us all.

  2. Jason Trask says:

    This little story creates a sense of two completely different sides of the country, from the rivers to the writers it mentions to the two characters to the feelings all of those aspects evoke. But it also creates a sense of two completely different times. That’s a lot for a story of less than a thousand words.

  3. Jim Provencher says:

    A lot of water flowed under that bridge…’Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart’! Memory Lane River, it’s deep & it’s wide &
    sometimes we can’t get to the other(sigh) side…

  4. Malcolm Sharps says:

    American short fiction so often suggests much more than it states. And that creates a sadness which is indirect and bearable: a score of things said, a hundred other things that might have been. You wonder if Mary Lou is going to answer; it’s as unlikely as Simon’s letter ever being written.

  5. Steve says:

    Simon’s letter recalls all those “roads that diverge,” whether in
    a yellow wood, or on a pub crawl in Oregon…

    and the words of the poet:

    Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
    The saddest are these: “It might have been.”

  6. byron hoot says:

    Could’ve, should’ve, didn’t, damn. A letter, a story. The hint of what might have been. The melancholy over what is.
    The only way this story could be improved is that Mary Lou writes back.
    Then we have “the rest of the story. ”
    Always a joy to read a David Daniel tale.

  7. Pat George says:

    Another CinemaScope jewel from the master. CA + MA , shooah, but OR too? Atmospheric. “Fog in the noggin’ “ indeed!

  8. James Byrd says:

    David Daniel is a cruel man. He wraps the ordinary in more ordinary and then wraps it around you and you become trapped in memories bubbling up from your own past. That casual goodbye that still haunts. The kiss you should have taken a chance on. David Daniel is a cruel man… and a master story teller.