Video & text teasers for the 11 chapters of Apricot Eyes
In Apricot Eyes by Rohan Quine, a cat-and-mouse pursuit through the New York City night involves a preacher, a psychic and a dominatrix, broadcast live on air—until a horror is unearthed, bringing two of them together and the third to a sticky end.
1 Jaymi’s hunt for Scorpio
I twist on the sill and swing my legs through the window, my heels against the bricks twenty floors above the street. Fanning in from points to right and left, running parallel and north to convergence ahead of me, the Avenues of Manhattan shoot away dead-straight, each one a groove cut deep through the city by a carving of metal, rubber, grit, frost, feet and dancing rain, lit in green and red and amber.
On several occasions I did of course try using this sight to locate Scorpio, without success. However, that was when the sight was still a bit weaker and more erratic than it’s now become: it has strengthened and clarified somewhat in recent weeks…
Oh alright, I’m persuaded. Let’s try it, right now. Right here on this window sill.
2 The black-thighed scorpion
—And we land beneath a grainy television screen. A speaker plays a drumbeat cut with whips and moans, an endless soundtrack piped to this room tucked away on New York’s West Side, where Scorpio works beneath a camera’s eye. The screen goes black, the soundtrack silent; then a harsh intake of breath.
A second loud breath—then a cone of light falls upon a small pair of breasts, each stroked by a hand of silver fingernails. Each hand’s ring-finger lifts up and pokes through the thin steel ring that pierces erect the tiny meat of its respective nipple. Now the camera rises, shows the whole seated body from above, clad in nothing but a pair of silver high-heeled boots. The head looks up from under long black hair, and Scorpio’s eyes smoulder at the lens and through the screen, into us (though this last is an illusion, as I know he cannot see us).
3 The stalking on the subway train
Turning back from the tunnel’s mouth, I chance to notice a poster on the wall saying “Sinner—Kev and Fernibel are praying for you.” I halt in my tracks, as an unexpected synapse crackles in my memory, aided by my half-glimpse just now of a photo on the poster. “Kev”? This wouldn’t, by any chance, be that lumbering idiot from Asbury Park, would it? Lucan’s dumb-ass henchman? I locate the photo I half-glimpsed, and stoop to inspect it. Yes, it’s him! The heavy-set black face grins out at me, beside a plastic-looking blonde woman who must be Fernibel. (Jeez, what kind of a doofus has a name like Fernibel?)
Outside the station Kev sets off without a pause, not west into the night-lit throb of Mott Haven, but east across Bruckner Boulevard and under the booming truck-roar of the Elevated Expressway. From here on, civilisation ends, for beyond this echoing space of concrete columns stretches the industrial district of Hunts Point. As Kev exits the Boulevard up Lafayette Avenue, I glance down at the rusty railroad in the cutting beneath us. From what I know about this grimy peninsula we’re heading into here, I decide we’d better conclude there can be no redeeming purpose whatsoever for Kev’s journey tonight. I follow him nevertheless, right onto Tiffany Street, keeping my distance.
In the daytime this corner of the Bronx is dominated by the rumble of trucks along Hunts Point Avenue to the wholesale food market at the end; and by traffic connected with the numerous chop-shops engaged in the business of breaking up stolen cars in order to sell off their components, many such establishments being staffed by mean-looking guard-dogs at the entrance, to ensure an attentive front-of-house welcome. By night the peninsula’s main trades are drugs, and sex for drugs.
4 The girls on West Fourteenth Street
A deafeningly amplified intake of breath cuts the lights and the voices in the nightclub dead. Scattered yells spurt—silence for a second, then a simmering of murmurs and talk between the candles. A cone of empty white light falls through the dark to the stage-floor. Catcalls, applause, and collective attention. A second loud breath stabs out from the speakers, anatomical and harsh. A scent of burning dust coils out across the room, then a white-lit face flicks stark and disembodied through the wall of the cone, as a guitar riff slides to a heartbeat of drums. Hanging still, the face lets its eyelids slide up; ringed in black and silver, its eyes blaze wide under heavy dark lashes, scanning slowly right to left across the crowd ahead. Its scarlet lips pout out a kiss, then draw back to let a hiss snake through its teeth.
The man approaches her; they chat. Echo’s laughter tinkles out across the cobbled street. She lightly takes the man’s arm and they wander west towards the elevated tracks before Tenth Avenue.
Scorpio follows at a discreet distance.
Once the traffic on the Avenue has passed, the couple veers right. Disengaging her arm from his, Echo points with one hand at the Liberty Hotel on the island diagonally across the intersection, while her other hand draws forth a short thick metal bar from her handbag. The man peers over at where she’s pointing, then begins to turn his head back to her, about to speak. She smiles, peals laughter out, and slams the bar down with convulsive grace.
5 The golden limousine and the sudden hanging legs
On the right shines the East River, jagged with reflections of white and red and yellow lights burning on deserted warehouse buildings on the far Brooklyn shore.
Beside the black tanker, from a golden limousine, leaks gasoline, streaming out unseen upon the concrete.
A guard-dog howls somewhere, unheard by the drivers.
The limousine erupts with a dull boom, swelling to a fireball of orange flecked with scarlet. Cars scatter, screeching. Regardless of the road’s swerve left at East Fifteenth Street, the ball hurtles on, hits the barrier and bounces up and outward, raging and spinning.
Through the roar of dirty flame and bursting glass, a flail of tiny hands and mouths silent-screaming trapped in buckled metal flash, then they fall to the river with a crunch and hiss of steam.
The dog howls again among the yellow-lit projects, while the black tanker clanks on undaunted, up the East Side Highway towards the Bronx.
I find myself snatching single images of individual human pain—nails sticking out red and jagged from the grey flood of pain that is caused or increased by him. I catch in particular the pain of the few who are always targeted and damaged by the rest, to the music of his preaching. I feel for the nails, as they poke from the surface and get bent out of shape. Then, among these nails of pain, I focus on the golden nails of hard-won magic, and I cry at the beauty of them, sticking out against the light, against the odds, against the flood, in triumph: pinpricks of gold amid the grey and red…
6 Ten screens of eyes in the neon
So there they are: our favourite waste ground of oily pools with abandoned tyres in them, trash heaps, rusty metal bins and waving grasses; and our favourite expensively-furnished, high-ceilinged but claustrophobic bedroom, with the bedside Bible, the now-hidden water-bug, and those hanging severed legs up in the shadows near the ceiling, also hidden for the moment…
He halts and stares, twanging with a shocked self-recognition. Straightaway, a section of every screen—the section where the eyes of that churning and terrifying shape would have been if the picture were less abstract—becomes not just fully figurative but even photo-realistic, as his recognition, unforeseeable by him or me, reaches out and grabs my sight and makes of our connection a conduit so clear that for one long moment ten pairs of Scorpio eyes stare down at him, pin him to the pavement, enter him and peer around his mind.
Raped by his own gaze, he shivers, looks away, then back again defiantly at me, through the screens; but I’ve turned the heat down for a moment, so those Scorpio eyes melt back into the surrounding blackness of the shape that quivers snarling on the backdrop of the neon swirl.
7 Phaon and the second like a teardrop
I float on down through the heat between the chimneys, nearer to the giant hidden turbines’ hum.
A scrawny shape of white fur leaps at me, gibbering alarm as it senses my intrusion, its eyes red and beady in a flat pink face, mouth agape and tiny sharp teeth gleaming with spittle. It runs along a high thin pipe and gesticulates, caught in silhouette against the Manhattan skyline.
A monkey, albino, on this power station roof, above the rumbling of the furnaces! I land on the parapet and touch its wrinkled forehead. As it leaps away in fear at this, its screech splits the hum, like a nerve-end caught between two continental plates…
Dancing, he begins to spin, just beside the precipice. Inching ever closer to the edge, he gathers speed, so his big brown eyes through the whirl and streak of hands and arms flash toward the band like the wink of a lighthouse. Long-lashed brown light, half-lidded, self-tranced, smiling inside, sweeps over the watchers every two seconds, one second, half-second, less… Red light peeks through the strands of his hair where it streams out long across the width of the sun’s orb, half-sunk now beyond the marches of the city.
His slender frame is sharpened by the dusk to a silhouette, and now the moment comes (though he surely cannot know it), the moment in a life when such perfection is attained that a single fleeting second lodges, swells like a teardrop, gathers weight and falls away, sideways through the centuries—to land here, as lightning earths, captured and framed perhaps awhile, perhaps longer.
8 Screeching worms
Scorpio sniffs the fetid air and looks about him. His eyes grow hard, as an instinct makes his fingers feel inside his leather shoulder-bag and close around the handgun.
He can feel those other eyes again, fixing him from inside or out—the eyes he saw upon the screens on Forty-Second Street, that pinned him down and peered around his mind—my Jaymi eyes shining softly in, through his darkness, like they used to do before.
He sets off down the slope towards the oily pool of tyres. He turns left, slipping through the shadows of the waste ground. He reaches the heaps of trash and steers through them; they seem almost to part for him. He turns, springs up onto a heap and down its other side, turns again and ducks through a half-hidden hatch in the ground.
He arrives at a swing-door. Through it comes a sickness of sound like no other.
He tiptoes to the door, rubs a finger near the corner of the greasy plastic window that’s set in it, and cranes up to look, but the plastic is greasy on the inside too, so he still can’t see through.
He pushes at the door, slips in and glances round. Then he sinks to his knees.
He’s alone, in a sense.
It’s a chamber with a large open tank, like an indoor swimming pool. The air is thick and crawling with droplets of moisture, so perspective on the edges of the tank is oddly warped. The stench is palpable.
9 A lapful of broken glass
The tanker slows to join the Bronx River Parkway, a car draws up alongside him and he glimpses a horrid vision, down beside him: a large family crammed into a tiny space, with leaping dogs, bawling children and loud inane voices on a radio. “Nightmare,” he thinks. “I’d sooner choose that prison barge.” Even more distressingly, two horrible gum-chewing children in the back seat have seen him and are now fighting over how to wind the window down. They hit each other, then are hit in turn by a parent… Scorpio drums his silver fingernails tightly on a metal strut and listens with impatience for the sound of vehicles moving up ahead. If the vermin succeed in winding the window down and start shouting up at him, then Kev will notice and probably investigate matters and discover him. He glances down, observes that the fight is still in progress, and catches for an instant the grinning semi-focused gaze of one child: passionless, compassionless, thoughtless and sealed-off, without imagination or real curiosity, and safely protected from the danger of wonder, it makes him laugh mirthlessly aloud.
One more glance down, and this time he catches just his own form reflected on the window, behind which the dreary family squabble carries on: clutching at his metal niche, his long black hair spilling out along his bare arms and round his fully made-up face (now a little smudged), he reminds himself of a manic dark monkey staring hatred out of wide-burning, silver-shadowed eyes. He laughs aloud a second time, and watches his reflected hand dip into his shoulder-bag and reach out a catapult. As the tanker revs its engine in readiness to move, he aims the weapon at the child, pulls back the elastic and shoots the little stone. For a split second Scorpio sees his own reflected face snarling up with a feral sensuality and glee, before it cracks at the window’s burst and falls into the screaming child’s blood-spattered lap, along with a lapful of broken glass.
Firing up its engine, with a roar that drowns the scream and the blaring of the car’s horn, the tanker presses grimly up the ramp to the Parkway.
10 A drag-queen drives a tanker
Kev pauses a moment, triumphant and glassy-eyed, gazing out above Scorpio in the shrubs, southwards from this hill to where the yellow-grey glow of New York City shines enormous off a bank of cloud.
He walks to the tanker’s rear, uncoils the tube from its brackets, and stoops to fix one end of it around the container’s closed rear hatch. He returns to the manhole, carrying the other end of the tube, which he hangs into the shaft above the water. Then he scales the ladder on the tanker, walks along the container, unlocks the hatch, lifts the lid up and lays it back.
And now another sound joins the water’s roar—a sticky, chewy, wriggling sound.
Scorpio slinks across the ground towards the tanker, like the shadow of a demon.
With his gun between his teeth, he scuttles softly up the ladder. He tiptoes the length of the container, creeping up behind Kev, who is kneeling through the hatch, savouring what looks to be a moment of messianic rapture not unlike Fernibel’s in the waste ground.
11 Ecstasy in Hunts Point
Soon the black tanker veers around the corner, bounces through the waste ground, turns in my direction and stops by the trash heaps.
Fernibel emerges through a hatch from below. Beaming, she waves, makes a crucifix sign in the air and approaches the tanker, to greet Kev. A gunshot cracks out; she shrieks, staggers, clutches her foot and falls sideways.
Scorpio flounces from the tanker’s cab and runs to where she lies thrashing on the ground. He frisks her at gunpoint, finding no weapons. “You’d better pray, you evil shit,” he hisses, spitting at her face. He darts across to the wheel on the tanker’s rear, yanks it around with an access of force, leaps aside and scrambles up to perch on the rear tyre-guard.
I approach, walking calm across the worm-slicked waste ground, floodlit in the full white glare of the headlights. Scorpio starts, to see this floating figure nearing him. And so he and I meet again at last: one white-lit before the tanker, and one red-lit behind.
The above teasers of the 11 chapters of Apricot Eyes are also in the Vimeo playlist “Apricot Eyes—samples of the 11 chapters”:
1i, 1ii, 2i, 2ii, 3i, 3ii, 4i, 4ii, 5i, 5ii, 6i, 6ii, 7i, 7ii, 8i, 8ii, 9i, 9ii, 10i, 10ii, 11i and 11ii.
Table of Contents of Apricot Eyes
1. Jaymi’s hunt for Scorpio
2. The black-thighed scorpion
3. The stalking on the subway train
4. The girls on West Fourteenth Street
5. The golden limousine and the sudden hanging legs
6. Ten screens of eyes in the neon
7. Phaon and the second like a teardrop
8. Screeching worms
9. A lapful of broken glass
10. A drag-queen drives a tanker
11. Ecstasy in Hunts Point