Autumn Flowers - Amy Bertacco

Autumn Flowers

By Amy Bertacco.

Relief doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.

It’s a fine Autumn day, and the leaves of the trees are turning into shades of burning red until they become subtle hues of yellow and gold. They fall as though they are flakes of actual gold, delicate and beautiful, swept away in gusts of wind. As I walk, the crunch of leaves on the footpath keeps me company, a smile coming to my face when the dried leaves shatter beneath my feet.

I’m going to see my best friend again. Anticipation claws away at me as if I haven’t seen her in months when I only saw her a couple of days ago.

My hands fiddle with the vibrant petals of the large bouquet of flowers they hold. Her favourite kind of bouquet is made of the deepest red roses and the happiest yellow sunflowers, the same colours as the Autumn trees she admired. My fingers brush the soft petals and realise the sting of the thorns as my hands linger on the action for a moment too long. The sting fades when I wipe the blood away onto my work pants, careful to keep the drops of red away from the sleeve of my white shirt.

Since moving back home for her, I appreciate that the walk isn’t too far. People pass by with dogs prancing alongside their owners, only too happy to be outside in the cool breeze of the autumn air. She’s my first true love. Although she didn’t know that until a few years ago, but she didn’t mind that I hadn’t told her earlier. I think the both of us preferred it that way. The pressure of knowing at the time would have been too much for us, maybe a little weird.


I remember the night I did tell her. We sat at the foot of the beach pier, our path left visible by the sand underneath our shoes, and the salt in the air so tangible we could almost taste it. Cold, billowing wind brushed through her usually neatly done curly brown hair, leaving it a mess that suited her perfectly somehow. She was wearing a yellow corduroy skirt and after I had told her to put something warmer on. But she hadn’t, and as always, she ended up wearing my jumper. I think she forgot to bring her own jumper just so she could wear mine. I never understood why she liked my jumpers so much. The one I had on that night was my club football jumper with my name on it. I always wore it, and so did she. I think she liked that she could hide away in it, my jumpers were always dresses on her.

‘You know,’ I said and turned to look out towards the sea, not brave enough to look in her honey-brown doe eyes. ‘You’re the first girl I ever truly loved.’

‘Well, that is very kind of you to say,’ she whispered back to me. ‘How poetic for the boy and the girl to be best friends then secretly fall in love.’

She was looking at me, shuffling over a little so that we could sit closer than we already were.

‘It’s too bad we admit it when it’s just a little too late,” she said.

That sentence always stuck with me. Replaying over and over in my head. So much so that I am sure her words are written on my brain. A chance missed. Even so, we gained and sustained the relationship we had, never tarnished, only deeper than it once was.


As I walk towards her now, the Autumn chill settles into my body. My long black jacket only just bringing enough warmth to ease the shivers of my body. Cold air cuts through everything in its path, making sure it is undisturbed until it gets to where it needs to go. I prefer Summer, being in the heat, and not having to wear layers of thick jumpers with jackets over top because I still feel cold. But she likes the cold. Her nose goes red when she feels the bite of the air; it’s one of my favourite things about her.


One Summer day, before I left town, we were hanging out at the park, and I realised she had become distanced from who I knew her to be. She used to be such fun. People would listen, full of laughter, to her interesting stories.

She was sitting on the tabletop, and I was sitting on the chair of the bench. She wasn’t looking at me like I was her. She was just staring at the sky in all its multicoloured madness, watching as the sun went away to make room for the moon to glow.

‘What’s making your mind turn?’ I said and began to recognise the broken grain of the wood poking at the pads of my fingertips.

‘No one ever appreciates the sun until it has begun to set,’ she said and continued to stare off into the sky. ‘Only at its most beautiful point do people notice it. I think that’s quite an unfortunate fate to have.’ She looked back at me, shrugging her shoulders.

The way she spoke was so poetic. Between whatever deadlines she faced or burdens placed onto her by friends, she would often romanticise her life where she could because her reality was so harsh.  I didn’t say anything, because what 18-year-old boy knows how to reply to such poetry without making a fool of himself.


That was three years ago now.

The last time I saw her was completely different to that day in the park. There were no trees swaying in the wind, no kookaburras laughing while we went about our day. I was bored, so I drove to her house. She lived a few towns over from me. I had moved away from home to live a bit closer to LaTrobe University, which meant we couldn’t hang out with each other as much anymore. But we still tried our best to see each other.

I knocked on the double doors of her parent’s cottage-like house. The fly screen rattled to tell her I was outside. Impatience ran through my veins. I waited a while and kicked a lone pebble around a couple of times, but she never answered the door. I knocked again. I waited again. I couldn’t wait anymore. I twisted the handle, and the door opened. So, I walked in.

There she was in the living room, bundled up beneath blankets and pillows on the couch. At a glance, she looked okay, comfortable even.

I walked up to her and put my hand on her blankets so she could feel I was there. Her energy was so drained that she didn’t react at all. It was like she was there, though not really present.

‘Hey,’ I say to her in the gentlest voice I could muster. ‘Are you okay? Is there something wrong?’

A single tear fell from her eye. Not a muscle in her face flinched.

‘I’m just tired,’ she whispered.

‘Can you explain to me?’ I bent down so that I could be eye-to-eye with her. The couch’s leather sank when I put my hands on the armrest to steady myself for what might come next. ‘I want to understand so I can help you.’

I knew she struggled at times with anxiety or depression. Some days were tough for her to manage. She never was one to ask for help, and it took a lot for her to accept help, even if it was outwardly offered.

She drew in a slow, unsteady breath, and with heavy eyes she explained to me what was really making her mind turn.

‘I feel like…I’ve been holding my breath for so long… that I’ve forgotten what it feels like to breathe.’

If it was even possible, her already deflated body became even smaller, like the weight of what she had said to me allowed her to sink further into where she was.

Any air I had in my lungs got sucked out. I could feel beads of sweat form on my back, my mouth went dry, and the words I knew I should say would not come out. I couldn’t process anything properly. Those few, barely audible words told me everything I needed to know, told me everything I had missed. A veil was removed, and I could finally see the dark cloud that she had gotten so good at hiding from even her closest friends. The spark in her eye was now a scream. The laughter that was so bright had been strained. There was something in the back of her mind the whole time but everyone, myself included, had become blind to it.

Her usually tidy hair was a mess, her eyes were red from exhaustion, and the tears threatening to fall only worsened it. The blankets hid her small body, held her together and to kept her tucked safely onto the couch. The blankets hugging her let her relax a little, so she didn’t have to be the one holding herself together. Her knees were pressed to her chest, with her arms hugging her legs tight.

She looked drained from everything. Trying to keep friends safe from themselves, dealing with approaching university and work deadlines. The loneliness had caught up to her.

‘That’s okay,’ I said to her, my hands moving from the armrest to the soft abundance of blankets covering her up. ‘I’ll be here with you until you can breathe again.’

I didn’t move for a while that day, not even to the other couch. I sat right next to her on the tile floor instead. The only movement I saw from her was her hand coming out from underneath the blankets to wipe away fallen tears. Constant sniffles were our only soundtrack.

And for a few hours, I was with her, right beside her. Long enough to think she was better than when I arrived, or at least getting there. Her stifled cries had subsided. Both her arms had peaked through the top of the blankets. I had held her hand often so that she could feel I was still with her. I needed her to believe I was there for her.

But then I left.

I never should have left.


I try my best not to think about that day anymore. The memory haunted me for a long time. Now, a few months on, I don’t let it bother me as much. Especially not when I’m going to see her. It’s strange to me that she is still this immense light in my life, considering that I saw her during those days devoid of colour.

A particularly crunchy leaf from under my feet snaps me out of my thoughts. I look down at the flowers in my hands. They are still perky and lively, thriving exactly how she is to me. The bright purple of the jacaranda-lined streets takes my attention for a moment, and I realise that it’s not long now until we see each other again.

The rest of the walk goes by quickly. I listen to the whistles of the wind and the hurry of the cars driving by, not taking my eyes off where I needed to be for more than a few moments.


Sometimes I don’t visit her as often as I should. Although I try my best. She needs me now, though, and I need her too. So, when I’m nearby or, let’s be honest, in a bit of a crisis, I’ll come to see her. After everything we have been through together, making time for her is the very least I can do.

The worst part is walking up the hill beside the plants that wind alongside the path to the top. Like no time has passed, my heart drops to my stomach and my mind begins racing all over again.

I come here often enough that the groundskeeper knows who I am. His sad glance my way, and his gentle nod, always tell me that he knows why I come.

She helped me live my life while ignoring her own, and not once did she complain. I was a clueless boy who thought he knew what he was doing, and knew how to help her. I didn’t.

I take one final look at the bundle of Autumnal coloured flowers and place them at the bottom of her white marble headstone. The curved headstone stands tall in a bed of fallen leaves and petals from the trees that stand over her in protection from the world. In all this time, I have only been able to read her inscription a couple of times. Each time I read it, the tears blur my vision to the point where I can’t see her clearly anymore. But all I want to do is see her again.

Her life had been a constant flow of problems that weren’t her own. Without respite, the pressure broke her down. Piece by piece, it chipped away at her and eroded her to a point where she couldn’t take it anymore.

This time she left me, and that’s okay because I know she can now breathe without everyone else’s burden on her shoulders. She’s no longer worrying about them, and everyone is worrying about her too late. All the places she wanted to go, the things she wanted to see, she’s free to do that all now. She’s gone, but she will always be with me in what I do and where I go. How I act and how I treat others will all be because of her.

Suddenly the wind swept up the petals on the ground, swirling them around and away from her with enormous gusto, protecting her in death as she deserved in life.

My first true love, my lost love. Amelie. You had been holding your breath for so long, but you get to exhale now. You finally get to breathe.