T-Bone and Janice were born in the Year of the Horse. Janice liked this similarity because, she believed, the zodiac sign proved T-Bone had a good-humored, friendly nature, everything she desired in a man. Janice had never been involved in a romantic relationship but was certain she loved T-Bone, even though she’d never actually met him.
The morning Janice decided to skip work she flat-ironed her hair, plucked three stray eyebrows, and chose a blouse, the one with the horseshoe shaped buttons, in case she changed her mind. Like any other work day she left her house at 6:37 a.m. and five minutes later merged onto Interstate 15. She began her search for T-Bone’s mobile tribute, a little game she liked to play.
“T-Bone,” she called out, swerving between cars. “Where are you, babe?”
And as she was about to give up, not more than two cars in front of her were the words she longed to read: R.I.P. T-Bone (1978 – 2013). She’d become obsessed with the man memorialized in decals stuck across the entire back window of a Grand Am.
The decals were askew, but Janice looked past the imperfection because she knew how stressful it must have been to get those decals on the window just right while grieving the loss of a loved one. Only a real special guy would have his name spelled out across the back of a car, she thought. The first time she saw T-Bone’s name she wondered where the customized description was purchased and guessed his favorite color must have been crimson since that color showcased his name. She decided a font other than boring Helvetica would’ve been a better choice because he deserved nothing but the best. She even went so far as thinking an extra decal, maybe a cowboy hat or something along those lines would’ve added a nice touch. She thought his nickname was just great and convinced herself he would’ve adored how she grilled steaks, pink on the inside, seared a bit on the outside, seasoned with sea salt and minced garlic. But steaks were something she rarely ate, due to the expense and all. And she thought it was a bonus that she also drove a Grand Am. She correctly assumed, even though she had no proof to base her assumption, that T-Bone once drove the Grand Am she liked to chase. She felt proud that she’d made such a smart choice long ago when she bought her first car, a choice T-Bone would’ve admired. T-Bone gave Janice a reason to keep believing in herself but also reminded her of loneliness. Janice knew if she died no one would ever put her name on a car window because she had no one. Her parents passed away when she was twenty, and she had no siblings and no close friends. Plus, her job selling life insurance made her feel lonelier than ever because most people didn’t want to think about death. But death wasn’t something that bothered her. She told herself if she’d been lucky enough to have been married to T-Bone and died before he did, her name would be displayed on the car window, not his. He would’ve selected orange colored fancy font and maybe a tropical flower decal in honor of her love for all things Hawaiian, even though she’d never visited the islands.
Instead of taking her usual exit, she followed T-Bone’s name. If the Grand Am changed lanes, so did Janice. Janice felt closest to T-Bone while she drove along the interstate. She wondered if he also liked to drive fast. She imagined he probably loved to listen to Bruce Springsteen too. Janice had hoped T-Bone had hair the color of Bruce’s, but he didn’t. T-Bone’s red hair became curlier and longer with each passing year. At the time of his death, his hair reached his waist, but he kept it secured in a man bun. This fact would’ve been a deal breaker for Janice, since she believed men should sport short hair. And the loss really would’ve been hers, because T-Bone was an honorable man, kind. He had volunteered at the library a couple of times a week and taught adults to read. Well-read, he appreciated anything by Raymond Carver, something Janice would never know.
Janice followed the Grand Am for several miles into a Safeway parking lot. She parked next to T-Bone’s shrine and wanted to press her face against the decals and cry out condolences. She’d never been in close proximity to something that represented someone so marvelous.
The woman driver of the Grand Am threw open the door, stomped over to Janice’s car. “Why you followin’ me?”
Janice rolled up the window in haste, not quite all the way, and correctly believed the woman was T-Bone’s widow, although she had no way of confirming her assumption. She spoke through the small crack and said, “How did T-Bone die?”
Profanities spewed from the woman’s mouth and Janice blushed. Janice convinced herself T-Bone’s widow made a stink since he wasn’t there to defend the bride he left behind. She was nice once and even pretty, but she’d let herself go, Janice thought.
From then on, Janice drove the side streets to work, even though her commute increased by fifteen minutes. T-Bone wouldn’t want me to upset his widow.
Occasionally, in the wee morning hours, Janice drove to the ridge above the interstate in search for T-Bone’s name and moaned.
Eventually, Janice got a second job at 7-Eleven, working evenings and weekends, and saved enough money to take a trip to Maui. Because that’s what T-Bone would’ve insisted she do.
Heather Villa is a freelance writer. Between paid assignments, she writes fiction. She’s been published in places such as Flash Fiction Magazine and Bartleby Snopes, among others.