Going Ironside

by Holly Black

Illustration by Theo Black

La lala la. That’s part of the song. I don’t remember it all right now, but it’s okay. Cally remembers the rest. So we can go back to the hill soonsoonsoon. La la.When our bellies are big as moons. Then Bucan Jack will play his fiddle and there’ll be nettle wine and the Queen will ask me to tell this story a hundred hundred times.

But right now, the wall is cold against my back and I can feel the bricks shredding the gold lamй off my skirt. La lala la. The rain is cold too. Making my mascara run. I jam my hands in the pockets of my jacket, feeling the grit and the nasty tissues at the bottom.

I do a little dance, but nobody sees.

When we first came Ironside, we tried to make money out of leaves, but we didn’t know what money looked like and we did it wrong. The lady at the counter started yelling, "This is Monopoly money!"Her getting red in the face just made us laugh. We thought we were so smart. We stole everything right under people’s noses. Plastic skirts and dolls and lipsticks. Piles of magazines and apples with a bitter, chemical taste.

Food was the hardest. The milk tasted like iron and even the bread was bad. But now we eat caramel corn and licorice and Jolly Ranchers until we’re sick.

Cally should be back soon and I’m glad, ’cause my muscles are starting to cramp all over and I already scraped the half a bag I had tucked in my shoe.

We thought we were so smart. We thought it would be easy. Just go Ironside and come back with babies. Not steal ’em either. They’d be our babies. Elf babies. Find a human boy. Roll around in the grass. Dash back. What a prank! We’re no selkies.No one can grab our skins and keep us.

It might still work. Cally says we should give it three more months. Three’s a lucky number, so I said okay. Anyway, I can’t go alone. She’s got the second part of the song.

I’m rubbing my arms now. They hurt. Rubbing the insides of my elbows, rubbing the bruises, singing to my veins. Soon. Soonsoonsoon.

It’s easy to find boys Ironside. A touch of glamour covers your ears and eyes and all the other parts of you that might give you away. They buy you pizza and take you to parties and clubs, bring you watery drinks and drugs, and screw you in locking bathroom stalls.It was hard at first, but that’s what we wanted, right? I want my elf baby, don’t I?

I have a joint in my purse. I know it won’t help the aches, but I light it anyway. I drag deep, fill myself up with thick smoke. Wait for Cally, I tell myself. When we go back to the hill, I’m going to bring my lighter with me.The pretty pink hologram one. Won’t Bucan Jack laugh to see it! He’ll love it so much that he’ll make up a song just for me.

When I first got here, it was hard to breathe. All the chemicals and the iron, you can feel it, smell it. Molten and roiling. It sticks to your skin and makes you so heavy that you have to lie down. Magic’s hard, Ironside, even trifling stuff and the longer you’re here, the more you forget. Even the leaf trick doesn’t work anymore. But other things are a lot better. Like when I take a breath, all I smell is the marijuana smoke, the tar of the asphalt, spoiled food, and me, reeking of vomit. I need a bath soon.

Everything is soon, but nothing is nownownow.

I want a baby with crow black eyes and lips like plums. I want Cally to come back with my five bags of brown stuff — good stuff — so I can stop shivering and cramping out here in the rain. I want to go dancing, not at a club, but out there — in a lawn or park, someplace green,just me and Cally.

And Cally, if you come back now, I promise I’ll make the bags last this time. I will. I’ll space it out. Just enough to stop the aches. Just enough for three more months. We’ll do it your way. I’m willing. More than willing. Just bring me back my dope.

The insides of my arms are little pursed mouths and the needle in my bag is a snake, rolling and flapping against the sides of my handbag, rattling, making me want to shoot up water just to fake my arms out. And the single fang is iron, making black burns where it touches, but it is a good burn. I need that burn.

Do you remember the time we put knots in the horses’ manes before the last rade? Or how about the madcap chase when we stole that grindylow’s cap? It was you, me, and Jack that time. Do you remember? Lala la la la la.

I do another little dance, but this one is more like a shuffle. I don’t care if nobody sees. I don’t care.

You aren’t back yet, Cally, but I won’t worry. You could easily be stretched out, languid and sated, in the back of a car. Thick–necked Tom beside you, his gold–ringed fingers picking your pockets while that shrew–guy, I forget his name, drives. I hope not, Cally. Be careful. I need it.Put it in the one thing they won’t want you to open. Put it in your mouth.

I watch the rain–soaked headlights come towards me and fly past. Which one is you? I do a little turn on my toe and slip, but don’t fall. Not yet. I wonder if anyone will stop and ask me if I need a date? A fix? A ride?

Oh Cally, I’m thinking about Bucan Jack again, him standing on his head or teasing you. Does he wonder where we got to? Does he miss us? Oh, sure he heard us talk, but did he think we’d really do it? Did he think we were smart, crazy smart, sharp as nails, as tacks, as the needle in my bag?

Didja? Didja think it, Jack? Did you think we could do it, go between, go Ironside and get ourselves elf babies? But then maybe you don’t miss us at all, do you? Time’s different here. You don’t even know we’re gone. A hundred hundred years will pass for you in one sleepy day without me.