Gail Praims' Pages
Gail Praims shot up in the dark and let loose a piercing scream that echoed through the halls of her tiny apartment. The linen of her twin-sized bed was drenched to the mattress, and she could feel cold balls of sweat trickling down her shoulders to the small of her back. Other than his face, she couldn't recall the details of the nightmare that had set her reeling, but her waking reality didn't seem like much of an improvement. In fact, the two had become increasingly difficult to discern over the last several weeks.
Shivering, she reached across the nightstand on the right side of her bed, picked up her cell, and noted the time: 6:30 - still 15 minutes before her alarm was set to explode. Gail knew that she didn't want to return to that realm of demented phantoms for another minute, much less 15. So she decided to rise and prepare herself for the last day of her life as a public author.
As she went about what had once been her usual routine (coffee, cigarette, defecation, shower, makeup, etc.), thoughts of the preceding months' events collided against the obstructive walls within the labyrinth of her mind: The affair; the split; the reconciliation; the suicide. How much of a role did she play in his death? It wasn't like she pulled the trigger. What are the limits of complicity, or even responsibility, when it comes to a grown man shoving a barrel in his mouth?
Above all, she thought about the scattered pages - a collage of beautifully (and frantically) written prose. Words eloquently and elegantly placed, telling a story as complex and enticing as a spider's web, with the same mixture of consequent fatality and dazzling allure. Some of the pages were merely tossed or crinkled in the various recesses of his studio, but the best work surrounded his body like a literary version of a police chalk sketch, covered in blood and small chunks of skull. A grotesque scene to be sure, and one that she couldn't ignore. Whereas the average person's hands should have been dialing 911, Gail's were calmly going about the task of collecting the thoughts and dreams of the body slumped over the Olympia SM 9 that she'd given him as a present for some forgotten occasion in a foregone time.
She finished gathering the last (or maybe first?) pages of the disassembled manuscript and sprinted out the door in a frenzied panic. As she descended the spiral staircase located in the atrium of the apartment building, she collided with two children playing on the bottom step, sending her newly acquired property flying through the air. As she scooped to collect the pages, the younger of the two children looked at her and asked loudly (as if children have any other volume), "Is that blood on them papers?" Gail Praims ignored the child's question, shielded her face, and hurriedly shuffled out the door into the blistering hot sunshine of an otherwise ordinary July afternoon in Brooklyn.
That was five months ago. In the short time since, Gail had submitted the manuscript to a local independent publisher who had, upon seeing the potential of such singular work, passed it on to an acquaintance of his at Hatchette, who immediately offered Gail a massive advance for publishing rights. Last week, Gail Praims' Pages celebrated its third consecutive week atop the New York Times Bestseller list. Literary fame and fortune wasn't around the corner, it was knocking on the door, and Gail was cowering in the corner plugging her ears and clenching her eyes closed as tightly as possible to block out the light of her existence.
Today, she was to conduct the first public reading of her book at St. Marks in the East Village. After she'd dressed and eaten a light breakfast, she stood in front of the mirror with a copy of Pages in her hand taking in her countenance. She barely recognized herself. She swam in her blouse, her hair was thinning and wild, and her skin was nearly translucent. She didn't eat much these days and she hadn't left her apartment in over a month. Gail was a ghost, a thin ghost. She looked herself in the eye for a few moments and abruptly hurled the book at the mirror, causing her reflection to shatter in a dozen or so places. Then she fed the cat, gathered her materials in a small tote, and walked deliberately in the general direction of The Bowery.
She got on the subway underneath Houston Street and headed east toward the Village. She closed her eyes and tried to focus her thoughts on the upcoming reading and any unsuspected questions that might come afterward. When she opened them, his face was everywhere. He'd become the shabbily dressed salesman, the toddler playing on his mother's lap, the CBGB punk twitching in his seat near the closest door. He stared at her from every corner of the subway car. She closed her eyes again and kept them that way until she reached her stop.
"It's such an honor to have the author of Pages here with us today as part of our "Voices of NYC Series, Gail Praims."
Gail sat in an uncushioned wooden chair behind the podium located in the reading section in the rear of the bookstore. There were roughly 100 people seated before her, many of them members of the press, she suspected. Their inquisitive eyes and contemplative smiles slung sharp arrows into her temples, worsening the mind-numbing headache that she'd been enduring for roughly the last two weeks.
"Pages is Gail's first published work, and we're certain it won't be her last."
She felt the sudden urge to urinate. Her armpits were sweating profusely, and she was beginning to feel extremely nauseous. Her head was spinning as she began to scan the room for the nearest bathroom - no, exit! She caught the eye of a handsome young journalist that worked for the Post and his face began to melt into that of an unrecognizable figure, except that it was recognizable, she just couldn't place it. She pinched herself to escape the dream. This was the nightmare all over again, only this time, it was real.
"Please extend a warm welcome to our featured guest this month, Gail Praims!"
The figure behind the podium wheeled around with her mouth open in a perfectly appropriate smile and faced Gail while clapping softly. Gail kept her gaze lowered and stood on wobbly knees. She glanced once more at the handsome reporter who smiled broadly and winked at her. That was it, Gail vomited into her mouth and barely managed to push it back down into her stomach. The crowd gasped as Gail sprinted past them through the "Fiction" aisle and out the double doors of St. Mark's Bookstore, never to be seen or heard from again.
To the literary world at large, Gail Praims was an enigma, a tortured artist who shunned the trappings of artistic fame and all of the luxuries that are attached. She lived her life in the fashion of several great authors before her from Salinger to Pynchon, living in total seclusion and making great efforts to keep her personal life her own. Collectors and readers alike are eagerly awaiting her passing so that the owner of her estate can finally release all of the unpublished works that they are certain litter her property like so many stones on the shore.
But you and I know better. We see beneath the veneer. We see the scared woman, ashamed of herself and huddled in fear, terrified that, at any moment, she'll be found out. We see what Gail Praims fior what she truly is.