Watching the leaves tumble slowly, softly, silently to the ground, of course I thought of her. I thought of her beside me, snuggled into the hood of her jacket, pretending not to be cold.
She would sit just looking at the trees; her eyes alight with wonder, like a small child. And she would run, kicking at the drifts of fallen leaves, laughing and gasping as they crackled and crunched beneath her feet, barely noticing the misting rain, creating a halo as it settled on her hair.
A line from a song drifted into my head: "You always loved this time of year".
Well, not quite.
Actually, a lot of the time, she hated it. It meant the end of sunny days and warm endless evenings with the heady perfume of late summer flowers.
But she did love the leaves.
It was the colours, I think. All those bright reds and oranges, twisting and twirling as the breeze wafted through the trees. They were warm colours, nature's last hurrah before the cold really took hold.
And, of course, they were like fire.
She loved fire; loved snuggling up beside a big open fireplace, watching the flames flicker around the logs, the embers glowing brightly with almost fluorescent intensity. The light would dance on her face, alternately making her eyes flare red and disappear into shadow.
Even just a candle flame could hold her undivided attention, flickering and flaring, twisting and turning, quaking at the least discernible breeze.
But best of all was a bonfire. That made autumn worthwhile. Perhaps that was why she loved the leaves — they meant the coming of the fire. The leaves would be collected, raked into a big pile and then the treasure hunt began.
Anything that could or would burn was added to the pile — a fallen limb or tree was gold, but old fences, broken furniture, one year even an old tumbledown shed. And the higher the pile grew the more excited she became, counting down the days to Burn Night.
There was always a second pile too, but this was different. It wasn't the steepled stack of the bonfire, no. It was carefully arranged, sorted and stacked according to size and weight. This was the fuel pile, each piece to be added manually to the bonfire through the evening. I never did figure out why it was necessary.
Finally, it would arrive: Burn Night. Torches made out of rags tied onto sticks were slopped with kerosene and set alight. The bonfire itself was slopped with diesel or kerosene and then the moment arrived. Some years the torches were thrown at the bonfire, other years carefully poked into it. There didn't seem to be a particular pattern to it, just however the whim took them.
And then there was the last time. Her father had banged up his leg and was effectively sidelined and her brother was away on active duty. But the bonfire was all ready. It had to happen — their family bonfire was a tradition in the whole district. The Halloween bonfire.
So she lit it.