A Johnny Parenthesis

Matthew Pendleton

So I came back to town, first thing done was advise the Dentist a friend of mine of my presence. His voice on the phone was drowsy but he realised in the end who it was.

“So, finally,” he said, “do you have any wine?”

“I have red wine,” I said over the phone, “I’m of the mind — ”

“You want Deliverance, I’ll give you the number.”

Deliverance had blonde hair like in a bob. I had no idea what she would be wearing. I knew though, she was always weary and unamused, didn’t find much things of any particular interest. Even the night in the club where Johnny had the idea to wear a large red vibrator round his neck switched on all night failed to cause a reaction.

So I phoned her from the call box outside the coach station. I was feeling nervous, it had been a long time.

“Warm up the kitchen,” I said when she picked up, “I’m back here again.”

“Not home tonight please,” but I could imagine the smile on her face sly and sleek. “The Institute outside museum section.” And she hung up. I went sat on some steps by the pillared hall among smells of kebabs and anti-freeze. I opened my cheap screw-top red wine.


Deliverance insists on linkage systems with various stratas of society as it stands on a conscious level; she is against automobiles and for the dictum ‘during the day just park’, she sends her message via careful manipulation of the medicines she handles; she concentrates on serotonin level adjusters and can make the most subtle alterations; opiates she also occasionally traffics in — hallucinogens are generally avoided, and only what she calls ‘supplemental levels’ of pentaphron and mythadrine will be applied; these have combinations of properties and she finds them unreliable. She is probably right.


Last time I’d seen Deliverance was some months ago with Johnny, a bottle of red wine, a cafétiere of black coffee, and a small bowl of the white sugar coated depas pills we all seemed to like. We were sat on the floor of a room of mauve, and one wall was cotton wool red in the light of a bulb beneath it and moving slightly in the path of an aircon on full, it was hot outside, flowers hung dead and the dark brooded thick. Amongst lost kitten calls injured in the wake of recent accident spillage, automobile wreck, and/or intimations of gas attack in dank skies, it was best to remain indoors.

Johnny was the most beautiful boy I have ever seen. He wore all sorts of clothes, sometimes a kind of veil to hide away his face. The first thing noticed was a brightness in the yet-pale skin, cheeks gaunt due to purposeful malnourishment, dark smooth shadows of eyes large and brown, and hair, mainly bone white with slight lines of pale colour more imagined than actually there like in the sun or wherever, like bulb dim in a room colour, like pale blue and yellow and red. He looked a higher sky’s dream of human, he made the dirtiest act seem fresh and humble.

In the room of mauve, lamps lit low arrayed on tables and floor. Around us various groups of people we knew perhaps slightly, and Deliverance knew them more than Johnny or I, to the extent of their name and/or pill preference. I was not much interested in the others, Johnny too beautiful sat next to me and Deliverance phasing into benign space. Then a girl entered hair red tinged pile up loose strands down about her face occasionally coloured a thin yellow or blue or purple; her nose was small, eyes not so round but held angles and with glittery shadow on the upper lids; was wearing a long off-white dress fluffy black cardigan slipping slightly off one shoulder long sleeves bright yellow nails small fingers. Johnny nodded at me when he noticed me regarding this one. I smiled back meek.

(I may have walked over to the girl, sat next to her; not saying hello, noting familiar insipid smile of beginner to depas pill. A few in their grey packs still. Swallow them down with a mouthful of red wine. If I had took the girl by the hand and led her to one of the designated rooms … she was the most beautiful girl I have ever seen … )

“Well anyway,” I said, and made to get up. Johnny put his hand on my shoulder.

“Well dear,” I said to Deliverance, “the Dentist?”

“I have not seen of him,” she said, and Johnny shook his head. “Lately. What we doing here?” she asked. No-one said a word. We left with a ¾ of wine and walked the streets tired. Johnny placed the veil over his head despite the heat. His beauty hidden.

“The Dentist, oh the Dentist,” someone said. We moved towards his office. The streets were empty. “Where is everyone,” we asked.


Streets in this town are cleaner than expected. Although there are certain elements of the streets, there was no rubbish. Glass bottles tended to be kept for the brewing chambers and constant rains timed for three or four hours after midnight (whenever that quite was we didn’t know, passed a-hush through our bleary nights) cleared the products away, lean but dark streets of turbulent town place. Deliverance’s artfully aggrieved (at the leftside seam) woolen dress flapped in a gathering wind revealing the black wooden crossbow at her hip. We walked past the grave of a dead politician and I remembered that girl Charlotte. She had died young. “How did she die again,” I found myself asking Deliverance. She didn’t answer, and stopped walking. There was a dead bird lying on the road. It had no wings, perhaps they had been burnt off. Did we notice a small bundle of green wires lying beneath the corpse? We walked on. Deliverance spoke.

“Charlotte, as you call her,” she said. “She died young.”

“Oh sugar Charlotte,” Johnny said beneath his veil, “old dreams are lost are they not?”

I hadn’t realised Johnny had known the girl. Perhaps then, the rain began to fall. In ten years, I thought, we will have forgotten this just-past moment.


I think we felt transparent and invisible on the streets. It had the awful feeling of school. No wonder the streets were clean.

We reached the Dentist’s office. There was no-one in reception, the doors were open. He had been watching TV. He didn’t tell us what he had been watching but told us this:

“Are we all sprung from veils of goodness, and then this is corrupted in life? People have killed people, children have killed children have killed people. Listen to me, perhaps. We are undone.”

The basement of the Dentist’s is a bondage bar stroke club which often divulges into S&M. This is where we think we’ll find the secretary from reception. She moonlights as a soft core kind of mistress. Deliverance has all kinds of criticism about her:

“Doing the opposite of love gives same feelings perhaps, but generally it is inadequacy in society reflected, the inadequacy moulds people I’m talking of, it is in systems.”


All I remember was the seaweed in my mouth from some western via oriental soup the Dentist was fond of. It was a dark single room, some 30 people. I declined near sex, whether because of some recent event, some thing walked past, something done wrong something wrong done I don’t know. Did Johnny go with the rather cute mistress again I can’t be sure. I remember Deliverance avidly following the surprise performance of Master Akuchi and his ropes, she felt interest in that, well we all did. The Dentist, in a managerial role, relented to an extended spate of mistressing from two girls, went on behind closed doors.

Deliverance mentioned a queasy movement of the womb but we chose not to listen. Did we ignore her? There was sugar in my mouth from wine soup and/or pill.


I fell into conversation with the Dentist in his office, he was a large man with bald sweating head.

“Ah,” he said, “I remember you. You were a boy.” I nodded.

“What is your job like now?” I asked him.

“There are elements of the bad,” he said. “I find it often disturbing. Doesn’t work fundamentally disturb from its vital element of otherwise-starving-necessity? You been somewhere?”

“I will be,” I said. There was a commotion downstairs. I glanced down, perhaps a bit worried look on my face because the Dentist reassured me.

“It’s always like that,” he said large hand on my shoulder. “Anyway,” he continued, moving over to a chrome set of shallow drawers, “how about it?” I looked over his shoulder, at rows of scalpels, drills, gouging apparatus.

“Ah, no,” I said strained, “I think I’d need a hot bath.”

“Well I understand,” the Dentist said. He replaced the drawer. “Ach, anyway,” he said, and went downstairs. The noise there died down.

“What happened?” I asked Deliverance at the top of the stairs leading from the basement.

“Don’t worry,” she said shaken face.

“Where’s Johnny?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said moving past. “Let’s go.”


“Now, people don’t usually get to come to my house,” Deliverance was saying holding her woolen dress close in the cold street air.

“I just would like a bath,” I said. I couldn’t stop thinking about Johnny, where ever he was whatever he was doing.

“The awful thing about the love,” Deliverance said, “can’t get rid like a block, because half the world dying.”

“Well,” I offered. “Well anyway.” Sun at first rise over stone empty buildings, strange soft bleaching of the sky. Self harm gets like a habit, it is hard to break and yet it is perfectly natural.


“You want a bath?” Deliverance asked.

“I want a bath.”

Like old swollen blues the train station drew closer, first train aching rattle over the tracks, empty stomach feeling. Dirt more than just dirt lifted in the air. Like a mind presence of dirt can hardly move with ease can hardly allow anything but dark of skull space leading to that brightness in the blood; it was like suddenly seeing old dreams thought lost, hearing voice of one thought past away long ago; all the sounds you ever had made having left the world, could once more return?

“The hot water’s gone,” Deliverance said, waking me up where I had fallen asleep on her sofa. “You better go,” she said. After a while, after waking up, I nodded.


I finished the wine on the steps of that place and then made my way to the Institute. The streets were a little different. There were those back streets now empty. The small road of the petrol station now had a café beside it but it was perhaps closed. The parts of sculpture above the high concrete wall past which the Institute also lay were like old bone, not the colours I had remembered. But after climbing the stairs up the wall and seeing the sculpture in its entirety I realised it still retained traces of brightness, patchworked here and there. The walls of the Institute climbed very high. There was Deliverance, dressed in mauves and scarlets. She nodded to me, as I walked to her.

“How could it happen,” I began immediately. She smiled, “It’s OK,” she said.

“But — ”

“He had same awful human soul,” she said, “Johnny was no different from us all really.”

Her voice had that scrying look; behind hid small quotas of teary emotion.

We sat at the wall, a square block of water and the geometric path hanging over it below us, and later plastic rising noveau architecture of the electrics, pale yellows and blues over grey where redecorations had been attempted on blocks of flats with many windows.

“So,” I said to Deliverance, “sometimes I don’t remember a thing.” Deliverance smiled. “How exactly,” I asked her, “did Johnny die?”

She said nothing, and removed her smile from her face. I think I mentioned how she was often like this, didn’t I?

“Well anyway,” I continued wiping away the tear.

If you have not had enough of the Dentist then kindly let us refer you to “The Dig,“ in Birkensnake One.