Cypress

With both her hands full, Lola kicked open the screen door. Pa yelled at her from the kitchen to hurry up. Lola dumped two large garbage bags into the big trash cans outside and scurried back into the house to fix Pa's breakfast. She knew exactly how to cook his eggs, how crispy he liked his bacon, and how much sugar he wanted in his coffee. Every day, she sought to perfect that ensemble, and everyday Pa complained a little louder. Pa grumbled about work as he finished up breakfast. "Damn swamp people, think they're better than me cause they talk better. Shoulda moved to Polk. Job don't even pay that much these days." "Where's Polk, Pa?" Lola asked. "If you got time for questions, you got time for workin'. You done ate. Start on the dishes." Pa said. Lola excused herself from the table and started to wash. The running water rushed over her rough hands like a waterfall tumbling down over the earth. She enjoyed the sensation. The water was cool on her skin, a refreshing feeling as humid air was already seeping into the house. She kept the water on full force, drowning out some of Pa's ranting. If she concentrated hard enough, she could pretend she was outside playing in a real waterfall. Lola had never been to one in person, but she knew what they looked like from pictures. Before she could finish up, Pa interrupted her. "Girl, come fetch my shoes. I gotta be gettin' to work." Lola turned off the water and ran to get Pa's shoes. They were where they always were, at the foot of Pa's bed. A part of her wanted to know why Pa couldn't get it for himself, but she knew what he would say. He told it to Mama so many times. Because he deserves it for working so hard. She resented the "girl" bit a little. Now that she was twenty, she expected at some point Pa would stop thinking of her as a child. Lola didn't say anything about it. If Pa didn't change his mind on his own, nothing would. When that ordeal was done, Pa went off to work and Lola was left to clean up the house. It had been easier when Mama was still around to split the work. She scrubbed the old wooden floorboards on her hands and knees, the roughness of it scratching against her legs as she worked. At the thirteenth board from her bedroom door, the one perfectly center just below her window, she stopped and pulled the board slightly up to check on her treasures. Lola didn't linger there long, always worried Pa might come back early one day and find them. He took away all her other treasures. She went about cleaning the rest of the house in a hurried daze, each step faster than the next. The walls of the house leaned inward, their watchful scorn suffocating her. Lola kept her eyes on her hands. After she finished the housework, she got in her boat to check the traps she set out along the swamp. The still, dark water of the swamp used to unnerve her when she was little. Now, it brought her comfort to watch her wooden boat send out slow ripples across the concealing surface. Alligators played hide and seek with her amongst the fallen trees and debris that floated along. Water snakes swam on pasta her, creating a new pattern on the water that crossed with her boat's tiny waves. Pa always told her the swamp was dangerous, but the animals never bothered her. The swamp carried a low humming to it. If she let her mind wander, the noise faded altogether into an almost eerie silence. Today, the sky rumbled in tune with the humming as the clouds grayed above her. A storm was coming. She loved going through the swamp during the rain, but it was risky. Lola needed to turn back after checking the next trap. Before she reached the trap, she saw something splashing around in the water. Something was caught. She approached the trap slowly. What she found horrified her. A young woman appeared to be stuck in the netting. She was mostly submerged and covered in dirt and plants. Lola paddled faster to get to her. She got out her knife from her boot. "Hold on, Miss. I gotcha." Lola grabbed hold of the net and cut through it. The young woman swam out of it. Up close, Lola noticed things she couldn't see from afar. The woman's skin was a pale green, and her hair a darker shade of the same color. Her fingers were webbed with long, dagger-like claws protruding from them. Strangest of all, shining with beautiful, emerald scales--a tail. Its thickness and length were greater than any snake she had ever seen, and the end flowed out in an array of rich, bright colors like the fighting fish her brother used to have. The ends of the tail were frayed and punctured. A few scars lined the upper part of the tail, deep and patterned. Up top, aside from the strange coloration of her hair and skin, she looked like an ordinary woman. She had straight, thick hair and her eyes were a shade of green, though the shade was too deep and rich to be on a human. She wore nothing above. Lola blushed at the woman's exposed chest. The sight embarrassed her, but she couldn't stop her eyes from lingering on the woman's shapely breasts. She averted her eyes from that area and stared up at the woman's face. The woman had a fierce look on her face. "You're...a mermaid..." Lola said. The woman sank underneath the water. Lola leaned over the side of the boat. "Wait, don't go! Let's be friends!" The mermaid rose back to the surface, watching Lola. She floated motionless. "My name's Amicalola, Lola for short." Lola extended her hand out to the woman in the water. "What's yer name, Miss?" The mermaid looked around and rested against a bald cypress tree. "Cypress? Is that what they call you?" Lola rowed her boat over a little closer to her. "It's a pretty tree to be named after. I'm named after a waterfall, the biggest one in the state. Though I've never seen it myself..." "Your name, it means 'tumbling water'. I've heard of that place from birds that pass through." The woman said. Lola's mouth hung open for a while before she spoke. "You can talk! I thought you might be mute." "You said you wanted to be friends. Don't you have human friends?" The mermaid circled the boat. "I don't know nobody really, so I've never had any friends." Lola looked away. The only people she had really known were her family. Pa didn't let her go into town and no one else ever visited them. Cypress sank underneath the water completely. Lola could barely see her through the dark water. Cypress swam underneath the boat. Lola was about to move to the other side when a hand rose out of the water and grabbed onto the edge of her boat. A second hand came up shortly after. Lola sat in shock as a young woman pulled herself into the boat. The woman had light brown skin and straight black hair. She wore a hat made of grass and a dress that matched. A shawl made of Spanish moss covered her shoulders. Her eyes were the same unnatural emerald. "Well, don't you want to have some fun?" She smiled. "You...you turned human! How did ya do that?" Lola couldn't believe it. "I can do this if I wish. It's very useful sometimes." Cypress took her oar and started to paddle. "I know somewhere nice and pretty. Let's go there." Lola remembered herself. "Wait, actually I need to be gettin' home. It's gonna rain soon and Pa will be real mad if I'm not home to fix his dinner." "It'll be alright. I can take you anywhere quickly." Cypress grinned. Lola didn't understand what she meant, but she didn't care. Even if Pa did get mad at her, she may never see Cypress again. She decided to let Cypress take her wherever she wanted to go. There would be plenty of days with Pa. He would forget in time. Cypress took her into a part of the swamp she didn't recognize. The water was so dark to see anything in, even darker than the waters she usually traveled, and there were more alligators here than she was comfortable with being around. Cypress wasn't worried. She waved to many of them. As Lola watched Cypress, she started to relax again. They left the trees behind as they went into a prairie. Lola didn't think that any swamp prairie extended this close to her home. A wooden path greeted them just ahead. Cypress got out of the boat and tied it to the railing of the path. She ran a few feet down the path and turned around, waiting for Lola to follow her. Thunder boomed overhead as Lola left the boat. "Are you sure this is a good idea? The rain'll be comin' down any minute now." "You're not scared of a little water, are you?" Cypress laughed as she skipped down the thin, winding path. Lola took a deep breath. She ran to Cypress. They walked along the path for hours. There seemed to be no end to it. The rain never fell, the sky looking as though it was taking everything in itself to hold the water from breaking free. As red began to line the horizon, Lola grew anxious. She stopped along the path and looked back. "Is it time?" Cypress asked. "I'm sorry. I have to go home. Pa'll be real mad if dinner's not done." Lola didn't want to go home. For a moment, she considered staying out with Cypress and never going back. Lola knew Cypress couldn't house her, and more than that, she only saw herself as a burden to anyone who kept her around. "Could I...see you again?" Cypress took hold of her hand and gave her a warm smile. "Of course. I'll take you back now." Lola nodded and turned around. She found herself standing alone in the backyard of her house, her boat tied up behind her. Cypress was gone. Pa walked out the back door. "Where you been at, girl? Ain't nothin' in the kitchen." Lola stared down at the dirt. "I'm sorry, Pa. I got lost on my way back." "You dumb girl. I told you to always stay on the path." Pa grabbed her by the wrist. He stared at her for a moment. "You look too happy to have been lost out in the swamp. You ain't sneaking off with some boy, are you?" "Boy? Ain't nobody live around us." Lola's body went cold. She couldn't let him know about Cypress. "Ya better not. I'll be takin' my shotgun to his tail. Now you get to cookin' quick. I worked too many hours keepin' a roof over yer head to not have dinner ready for me when I get home. It ain't hard." Without another word, Lola went to the kitchen. Pa complained about work through dinner, then settled into listening to the ball game on the radio in his room. Lola retired to her own room, sitting in the windowsill. Her room didn't have electricity like some of the other rooms in the house. She kept a lantern hanging from the window. Outside, the rain poured down and the wind was strong enough to shake the house. She slipped into bed a while after that, counting the splashes of rain hitting against her window as she tried to forget tomorrow would come. She wondered if Cypress would keep her promise. Knowing her usual luck, Lola didn't hold on to that hope. In the morning, Pa yelled at her for her cooking again. He left late. That too, she was blamed for. When Pa was gone, Lola skipped the housework and went out to her boat. As she got in it, a familiar voice spoke to her. "Hello, Amicalola." Cypress walked out from behind a swamp tupelo. "When did..." Lola shook off her surprise. "Ya wanna go somewhere? I don't really like bein' home." Cypress sat down in the boat. "Why don't you lead the way today?" "Alright...but I don't know any places as pretty as the one you took me to." Lola paddled them down her usual path. "All of the world is beautiful, if you look with the right eyes." Cypress had a calm kindness about her that made Lola feel safe. Cypress moved a little closer to her in the boat. "Have you always lived here?" "Yeah, but Mama and Pa were from somewhere else. Pa got a job here when my brother was a baby, and they moved here from Rockmart. But Mama wasn't from there either. She was born in Savannah." Lola recalled one of Pa's complaints from dinner the previous night. "Pa's always goin' on about how the people who live down here talk funny. Too fancy and old. Says it's worse than listening to yankees." "I was wondering. Your accent sounds more like a tourist's. But you were raised here. Why isn't your accent closer to the other humans who live here?" Cypress asked. Lola asked many times to go into town with Pa and Mama, but they never let her go. The only people she ever saw were her family and strangers who got lost in the swamp, both rare occasions. "Pa doesn't let me go anywhere. I just stay home and go out to check the traps." "Didn't you go to school?" Cypress tilted her head. "I thought all humans did that these days." "Ah, Mama had me at home. They never told people outside our family, so I didn't have to go like my brother did. Pa says school's a waste of time and money, a bunch of government propaganda." Lola sighed. "Course my brother wasn't allowed to bring friends over neither." "That...doesn't seem right. Why couldn't your brother bring over friends?" Cypress gave Lola a look of concern. "Nobody was supposed to know about me. And Pa said the state would take us and lock him up because his way of discipline doesn't line up with theirs. Pa says they can lock you up for hittin' your wife." Pa used to hit Mama all the time, and her and her brother, whenever they didn't do right. Most of the time, Pa hit Mama when she was around, especially after her brother died. "That seems reasonable to me. Why would anyone be intentionally hurt their spouse?" Cypress said. "Pa did that all the time with Mama, and me and my brother. Though my brother would run real fast when he saw Pa coming so a lot of times it was just me." Her brother learned to run so fast he was on the track team in high school, but Pa threw out his trophies and medals after her brother died. "Course, both of them are gone now, so it's just me. This morning he hit me for not waking him up soon enough." Cypress's eyes widened. "That's horrible!" "Ah, Pa's always like that. He was even meaner back before everyone left, but he was nice when other family came over. I miss those days. Nobody visits now." Lola thought back to the last Christmas she spent with everyone. At time likes that, she forgot everything else. "Where did everyone go?" Cypress moved a little closer to Lola again. "My uncle and his family moved on up north to Tennessee. My aunt's side went to Savannah. Granny and granddaddy died 'bout a year apart when I was little. Mama's side of the family never really came 'round here. They didn't like Pa." She paused for a moment. "And my brother, he died about three years ago." "What happened?" Cypress asked in a soft voice. "He was going up to Atlanta to some music festival and he got in a car accident. Him and his buddies had been drinkin' on the way there. He rolled the car over the median on the interstate." Pa was furious that her brother went out somewhere so far away. He didn't cry at her brother's funeral. He only destroyed things in her brother's room. "Then it was just me and Mama. Mama went last year." Cypress covered her mouth with her hands. "You poor thing. Did she get sick?" "Nah, Pa says she fell." Lola said. "Down in the old well. Pa says she was being spiteful and trynna throw away her weddin' ring when she slipped over the edge. She's still down there now." "She's what?!" Cypress raised her voice, shocked. "Why didn't he get help?!" "Pa says she died right away." Lola repeated what Pa told her. "That doesn't matter. What about her funeral?!" Cypress was growing more furious with every revelation. "Pa didn't wanna pay for it. Said there was no point in payin' all that money for somethin' only two people are gonna come to." After that, Lola was alone. She cried all that week. "Wait...but why would it only be two? Your mother's side of the family is alive and well, are they not?" A horrible thought occurred to Cypress. "Do they know she's gone?" "Pa told me he called them about it and that they didn't want to come to her funeral if he was there." She said Cypress what Pa told her that night at dinner after her mother died. "Don't you want a funeral for her?" Cypress took hold of Lola's hand. "Well, I think it would be nice...but it's too late for that now. I can't give her a funeral a year later." Lola pictured the old well in her mind. It was always a dark and cold place. When she was little, she was afraid of being in there. Now, it terrified her even more. "Sometimes, I think about going down there to be with Mama." "Why? Are you sure you want to see her like that?" "I do. I never said goodbye. I know she's gone, but it feels like she won't really be gone until I say it." Lola stopped paddling. She put her head in her hands. "I can't go down there. I'm scared. She must be so mad at me..." Cypress placed a hand on Lola's back. "Lola, she's gone." "I know, but what if she's so mad her spirit's stuck down here?" Lola said with tears in her eyes. "Even if that were the case, she wouldn't be mad at you." Cypress reassured her. It didn't help. Lola broke down and cried. "Pa's always mad at me. Mama probably is too." "No, I don't think so." Cypress hugged her. "You don't need to blame yourself, Lola." Lola cried as much as she did the day her mother died. Cypress stayed there beside her, holding her and whispering sweet words to ease the pain. When Lola stopped crying, she looked up and found herself at that swamp prairie again. "But this is...how did we get here?" Lola looked around in confusion. "I thought you might want to see it again. Let's run." Cypress tied the boat to the railing of the wooden path and helped Lola out of the boat. They ran down the winding path. Overhead, the sky was gray and rumbling. A warm wind danced around them. An ibis watched them run, sitting in solitude searching for its next meal. Two otters swam underneath the pathway and followed them for a while before parting ways. When Lola got tired of running, she stopped to catch her breathe. Cypress laughed, breathing just as hard as Lola was. They played around more, wandering aimlessly down that path until the gray sky turned to red. Lola stopped and looked out at the setting sun. "Cypress, it's time." "I'll take you home." Cypress said in a quiet voice. When Lola looked back towards the direction of her boat, she was in her backyard again. Pa was yelling from the door. Lola went in to cook dinner. After dinner, Pa retired to his room as usual and listened to the radio. Lola cleaned up around the house before going to her room. She cleaned more than she normally would so Pa wouldn't notice she hadn't been cleaning during the day. Around ten, it started to rain again. Listening to the rain, Lola cleaned a little faster. At midnight, she went to her room and sat in the windowsill. She didn't light her lantern, not wanting Pa to know she was still awake. The darkness was calming. Lola found herself crying quietly, her mind empty. An hour later, Lola dragged herself to bed. Sleep escaped her. Late into night, Lola heard a hard noise hit against her window. Three more followed. She lit her lantern and went to go see what it was. Outside her window, Cypress was standing there. Lola was so shocked by her presence that she fell backwards and nearly dropped her lantern. She blew out the light and listened for any noise in the house. When she didn't hear anything, she lit it again and went back to the window. Cypress was still standing there in the rain. Lola opened her window. "What are you doing here?" Lola asked quietly. Cypress climbed in through the window. "I wanted to see you again." "Pa'll be mad if he catches ya here." Lola whispered. "Then let's not let him catch me. Come on. Let's go out tonight." Cypress held her hands and led Lola over to the window. "I can't stay out all night. I have to get up and fix Pa's breakfast." Lola said. "Just for an hour. I promise I'll bring you back within an hour." Cypress tugged at her hands as she pleaded with Lola. "But...it's raining..." Cypress took off her hat and put it on Lola. She placed her Spanish moss shawl around Lola's shoulders. "There." "You promise...just an hour..." Lola blushed at wearing Cypress's things. The hat fit nicely on her and the shawl was warmer than she expected. "One hour. I swear." Cypress pressed her forehead against Lola's, staring right at her with those impossible green eyes. Lola's heart skipped a beat. Her fear of Pa slipped away from her. Taking Cypress's hand, she climbed out the window and ran away into the rain. Cypress ran with her to somewhere else she had never been before. Underneath the light cover of cypress trees, they danced in the rain. It faded into a soft drizzle until it stopped completely. When the storm passed over, lightning bugs lit up the trees like stars. Lola caught a few, showing them to Cypress. They crawled for a while on her hands before taking flight again. When she was young and her brother was around, they would sneak out at night and catch the little bugs and put them in mason jars with holes poked in the top. Mama would always find them later and let the bugs back outside in the morning. The next night, they started again. Lola missed those days when she was young. The three of them were always happy when Pa wasn't around. Cypress stopped her after the last one she caught left. She took Lola's hand and danced with her again under the light of the fake stars in rhythm with the music of the wind blowing through the trees. When the dance was over, she pressed her forehead against Lola's and took her hat and shawl back. The hour was over. Lola sighed and turned around, finding herself in front of her bedroom window. In the morning, she fixed Pa's breakfast and listened to his ranting. After he left, Lola abandoned her chores and went out to look for Cypress. Before she could get in her boat, Cypress tapped her on the shoulder from behind. Cypress laughed and held her hand. "Let's stay here today." She said. Lola nodded and sat with her by the edge of the water. Cypress leaned against her. "Why don't you leave this place?" "I cain't. I got nowhere to go. 'Sides, Pa keeps me fed and clothed. I don't wanna be ungrateful. And I ain't never had no real job. Who'd want me?" Lola said back. Her words weren't her own. She memorized them from all the times Pa lectured her. "I'm sure someone would take a nice girl like you." Cypress placed her hand on Lola's. "Isn't there anywhere you want to go?" "I don't know much about what's out there, but I guess..." Lola smiled. "I kinda always wanted to see that waterfall, the one I'm named after. Mama loved that place. I think it might be nice to see the places Mama used to live too." "You should go." Cypress laced her fingers with Lola's. They stayed down by the water and talked until the sunset. When the time came, they said their goodbyes. She hurried inside. As she was about to open the back door, Pa opened it and pulled her in. "Who were you talkin' to? I heard you talkin' out there. You have been whoring around, haven't you? Who's this boy?" Pa held tightly to her wrist and cornered her against the kitchen wall. "There's no boy. I was talking to the trees." Lola froze in place. "Liar!" Pa slapped her hard across the face. "I'm takin' a day off tomorrow. Let's see these trees you're talkin' to then. Now git to fixin' dinner." Lola silently cried as she cooked. Neither said a word during dinner. After dinner, she cleaned the dishes and went to her room. She cried again at her window until Pa went to sleep. When she couldn't hear Pa's radio anymore, she turned on her lantern and pulled back the thirteenth board on the floor. Lola pulled out each treasure. The postcards she used to get from her maternal grandparents when her mother was still alive, the book about the seven wonders of Georgia from them with a note inside saying "to our special wonder, Amicalola", and the most precious treasure of all, her mother's wedding ring. She always knew Pa was lying about what happened to her mother that day. Around March last year, her father started complaining about needing more money and items around the house went missing. Mama knew he was pawning or selling them off. The ring originally belonged to Lola's great-grandmother and her mother didn't want something so important to her to be sold in a shady building for a little bit of cash. Worried her husband would try to steal it off her, she told Lola to hide it somewhere safe while Mama pretended she couldn't find it. Pa was angry about the ring because that was money he could have, and everything of everyone's belonged to him. Four months after her mother told her to hide the ring, Mama fell in the well. If she stayed, one day, Lola knew she would be down in the well with Mama too. Lola slipped the last postcard from her grandparents and her mother's wedding ring into her pocket and opened the window. With her lantern in hand, she ran. She didn't know where to go, but with her heart, she called out to Cypress hoping, praying that somehow she would hear her. Out of breath, Lola stopped. She collapsed down on the ground, her whole body shaking. "What's wrong, Amicalola?" Cypress knelt before her. Lola raised her head and cried. Though it was dark and her lantern fading, Cypress could still make out the bruise on Lola's cheek. Her face filled with rage. "He did this to you, didn't he?" Lola nodded and buried her head in Cypress's chest. Cypress hugged her. "I'll get rid of him." "No, you can't do that. I'll run away..." Lola clung to Cypress. "Can I stay with you tonight? I don't know where to go..." "Shh...I'll keep you safe." Cypress petted her hair. "Shh..." The lantern light died. Lightning bugs replaced the glow and then some, illuminating the way. Cypress walked Lola through the swamp out to that winding path in the prairie. Lola didn't know how they got there, and she didn't care one bit. That night, they reached the end of the path where another boat waited. This boat was bigger than Lola's and had a cabin. Cypress led her onboard and inside the small cabin. She then lit a lantern and hung it from the ceiling. The cabin had a single, small bed with a blanket made of Spanish moss. Across from the bed was a board that stuck out of the wall intended to be a table and two small stools stuck in place by strange, thick roots wrapped around the legs. Cypress sat down on the bed and pulled Lola closer. Overwhelmed, Lola collapsed down into the moss. She cried again. "Cypress, I lied to you before." She said. "What do you mean?" Cypress lay down beside her. "I know Mama didn't throw away the ring. That ring was her most precious thing. I've had it all this time." Lola couldn't see Cypress anymore through her tears. "I couldn't get myself to say the truth. Pa...Pa killed Mama...He killed her..." Lola collapsed inward on herself, drawing her knees close. Cypress held her and kissed her forehead. Lola took the ring out of her pocket. "Mama's ring...She told me to keep it safe from Pa. I want to give it back to her. It's not his to take. My great-granny gave Mama this ring when she told them she was getting married and Pa wouldn't buy her one. It's Mama's ring." "Tomorrow, let's go see her." Cypress kissed her forehead again. "Until then, sleep." In the morning, Cypress started the boat and they headed back towards the well. Lola was terrified of Pa seeing her, but she felt safe with Cypress near. When they were close to the well, Lola told Cypress to stop. Since Mama died, Lola hadn't set foot anywhere near the well. Her stomach turned with each step she took. The old building that covered it was as menacing as ever. She stopped in front of it, unable to move forward. Cypress held her hand. "Do you not want to go in?" "I want to...I want to give her the ring." Lola pushed herself to move forward. She lit the lantern they brought with them and opened the door. The space inside was cramped, barely big enough for two people to be inside. Just ahead of her, she saw the well. The door shut behind them, leaving the only light source being the lantern. Lola froze again and started to cry, thinking about Mama being at the bottom of the well. "She's down in that cold, dark place." She gripped tightly onto Cypress's hand. "I don't want to see. She's gotta be mad at me for leaving her down there where it's so cold." "I'll go see her. Let me take the ring down." Cypress offered. "You sure?" Lola lifted the lantern. She couldn't see anything from where she was, but she knew the well went down very deep. "I don't know what it's like down there." "I'll be alright." Cypress said. Lola took the ring from her pocket and handed it to Cypress. The two of them walked over to the well. Lola held onto the rope for the bucket inside the well and pulled it up to a point where Cypress could get in. She was worried Cypress's weight might break the bucket, but it stayed strong. Lola handed the lantern over to Cypress and lowered her down. While the light disappeared down that long hole, Lola started to panic. She wanted to look down at Cypress, but she was too afraid to face Mama yet. "You can stop. I'm near the bottom." Cypress yelled. Lola held tightly to the rope, closing her eyes tight. Cypress found that the water at the bottom didn't go very deep. She was greeted by the skeleton of a woman dressed in plain clothing. The colors had distorted into a dark, splotchy mess, but Cypress could still make out the vague impression of a floral pattern. Half of the skeleton was submerged and the skull was titled forward. The skull was heavily damaged. Having seen many battles and murders, and the bodies left behind from them, Cypress recognized the wound as being from a gunshot at close range. She traced the point of entrance of the bullet as being through the left eye. Anger and sadness overcame her. "Is she down there?" Lola yelled down to her. "I see her." Cypress replied. She knew Lola must be close to being ready to come down there. Cypress dressed up Mama in her own hat and shawl. She took her hand and placed the wedding ring on it. "Cypress...I...I think I'm ready..." Lola pulled Cypress back up the well. "We'll go see her together." Cypress held onto the rope while Lola put her feet in the bucket with her. It was a tight fit. Lola held on tightly to part of the rope while Cypress lowered them down with the other part. The lantern dangled from Lola's wrist. Lola closed her eyes until Cypress stopped them. Tears slid down her face before she opened her eyes. The skeleton was lit up by the warm glow of the lantern. Though all her defining features were now gone, Lola knew the skeleton belonged to her mother. She cried harder. "Mama, I'm sorry it took me so long to come down here. I was scared...I know you're gone now. If you're still here, please go on now. You don't need to stay down in this cold place no more. I love you." Lola took a swamp lily out of her pocket. She picked it before they left that morning. She placed the lily in the brim of the hat. "Goodbye, Mama." Above, Lola heard Pa yelling. She could barely make out what he was saying. "That damn girl...when I find her..." Lola heard a whisper and then the lantern blew out. The door of the building slammed open. "Girl, you in here? You better come out. The longer you hide, the worse it's gonna be." Pa yelled a while longer and then left. When the door closed again, the lantern lit itself. Cypress and Lola stared at each other in confusion. "We better leave now." Cypress said. Cypress pulled them back up the well. Lola stared at Mama the whole time. She noticed something off. Cypress went down there to give the ring back to Mama, but she didn't see the ring. 'Maybe it fell in the water...' When they were out of the well, they snuck back to where the boat was. Pa was nowhere to be seen. They rested in front of the boat for a while. "Thank you, for takin' me to see Mama." Lola smiled. Her eyes were puffy from crying, but she felt happy. "I'm sure her spirit is at peace now." Cypress held her hand. "You were very brave. Lola, will you stay here for a moment? There's something I want to show you. I found it recently." "Sure. What is it?" Lola asked. "It's a surprise." Cypress walked into the water and changed into her mermaid form. She swam underneath the water. While she waited on Cypress to return, Lola looked at the postcard in her pocket. It was of the falls she was named after. Her grandparents went there on a road trip around the state and had just got back home. They wrote that they wanted to take her there someday. Lola put the postcard back in her pocket. She felt something else there. Lola pulled it out. Her mother's wedding ring was in her hand. "Impossible..." Lola didn't know how it got there. She knew she gave it to Cypress before going down into the well and she saw it on Mama's hand before the lantern went out. Lola looked the ring over and tried it on. It was a perfect fit. A cold metal pressed against her shoulder. "Girl, I told you, you piss me off one more time and I'll put you down there with yer mama." Pa hit her in the face with the barrel of his shotgun. He grabbed Lola by the wrist and pulled her away from the water. "You had it all along. You knew I was lookin' for it. She put you up to that, didn't she?" "No, I just found it yesterday." Lola cried out. Pa threw her against the boat. "This is that boy's boat, innit? You plannin' on runnin' off together. Like hell Ima allow that! Give me the ring, girl, and we can go back home. Come on now, give it." "No!" Lola screamed. "No? No?! That ring is my property! Give it to me now!" He pressed the barrel of the gun against her chest. Out of the murky black water, arms reached out and grabbed hold of Pa's ankles. He fell forward, the gun dropping out of his hand. The hands with their long claws dug deep into his skin and dragged him into the water. Pa clawed his hands into the ground in resistance. "Girl, help me!" Lola stayed at the boat, watching him be pulled under. From nearby, logs moved closer and submerged themselves. Pa disappeared under the water. The surface of the water was broken by splashes and whips of tails until nothing moved. When there was not a single ripple upon the surface, Cypress rose out of the water in her human form. "Come, Amicalola. Let's go." She offered her hand to Lola. Lola took it. They boarded Cypress's boat together and traveled down the swamp. Cypress handed Lola a folded up map. Lola unfolded it. "Here, my surprise. It's a tourist map of the state. Look, here we are. Up here is Amicalola Falls." Cypress pointed to a place in the far north. Lola recognized the shape of the state and some of the locations marked. The book her grandparents sent her had a less detailed version of the same thing. This map had towns and roads on it. She saw all the places her father used to complain about and those her mother missed. The city her grandparents wrote from was there too. "Thank you. Do you think we can make it there?" Lola held the map close to her heart. "We'll find a way." Cypress said. She walked to the side of the boat and waved goodbye to all her friends in the swamp. Lola looked at the ring on her finger. Her mother must have given it back to keep, much like her great-grandmother gave her mother the ring long ago. She wondered why. Lola watched Cypress and smiled.
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