El almohadón de plumas / The Feather Pillow

El almohadón de plumas

The Feather Pillow

Their honeymoon had been one long shiver. Blonde, angelic, and shy, her husband’s hard character had frozen her childish dreams of what it meant to be a bride. Nonetheless, she loved him dearly. At times, with a slight malaise when returning from a night together on the street, she gave a furtive glance at Jordan’s tall stature, silent yet for an hour. He, for his part, loved her profoundly without letting it be seen.

For three months—they had been married in April—they lived a special kind of joy.

Without a doubt she would have wished less severity in their rigid heaven of love, more expansive feeling with cautious tenderness, but the indifferent countenance of her husband always restrained her desires.

The house in which they lived had little effect on her shivers. The whiteness of the silent patio—friezes, columns, and marble statues— produced an autumnal impression of an enchanted palace. Inside, the shining glacier of stucco, the tall walls without the slightest feature affirmed the sensation of bleak coldness. Walking back and forth between the rooms, footsteps echoed throughout the whole house, as if its long neglect heightened the resonating sound.

In this strange love nest Alicia spent the whole autumn.  However, she had thrown a veil over her old dreams, and still lived in the hostile house as if asleep, without wanting to think about anything until her husband came home.

It was not strange then that she grew thin. She came down with a slight attack of influenza that dragged on insidiously for days and days; Alicia never seemed to recover. Finally one day she managed to make it to the garden supported against the arm of her husband. She looked indifferently from one side to the other. Suddenly and with profound tenderness, Jordan slowly passed his hand over her head, and Alicia instantly broke down into tears, throwing her arms around his neck. She cried incessantly, releasing her silent fears, heightening her sobs from Jordan’s slightest attempts at affection. Then her cries ceased, and she stood awhile with her head hidden against his neck, unmoving, wordless.

That was the last day that Alicia was able to raise herself up. The following morning she awoke faint and without spirit. Jordan’s doctor examined her with total attention and ordered her to stay and bed and get her rest.

“I don’t know,” he told Jordan outside in the street in quieted voice. “She has a debilitating weakness that I cannot explain. And without vomiting…I have no idea…If she wakes up tomorrow in the same condition as today, call me immediately.”

The following day Alicia continued to get worse. The doctor returned. Anemia was diagnosed, completely unexplainable.  Alicia stopped fainting but she continued to move visibly towards death.  All day long the lights were kept on in the profoundly silent room.  Hours would pass without the slightest sound. Alicia slept.  Jordan lived in the living room, its lights also lit.  He walked back and forth between the far away walls for hours without stopping, insatiable in his perseverance.  The carpet drowned out his steps. From time to time he would enter the room and continue his silent pacing along the side of the bed, pausing a moment at each end to look at his wife.

Before long Alicia began to have, at first, confusing and floating visions that later seemed to bring her back down to the ground.  The young girl, with her eyes excessively open, did nothing but look back and forth at the carpet to both sides of her bedhead.  One night she suddenly transfixed her gaze.  After a moment she opened her mouth to scream, and her nostrils and lips pearled in sweat.

“Jordan!  Jordan!” she yelled, rigid with fear, her eyes still fixed on the carpet.

Jordan ran into the room.  Upon seeing him, Alicia let out a shriek of horror.

“Its me, Alicia, its me.”

Alicia looked at him with empty and fleeting eyes.  She looked at the carpet, returned her gaze to him and after a long pause of frightened confrontation, she grew calm.  She smiled and took the hand of her husband between her own and caressed it for half an hour, trembling.

Among her most enduring hallucinations was an anthropoid ape on the rug, resting upon its knuckles with its eyes fixed onto hers.

The doctors returned in vain.  There in front of them was a finished life, bleeding out day by day, hour by hour, without even knowing why.  In her last doctor visit Alicia laid in a stupor while they took her pulse, passing her limp wrist between themselves.  They observed her silently for a while and returned to the dining room.

“Pst…”  One of the doctors shrugged in discouragement, “It is a very serious case…There is little we can do.”

“This is all that I needed” Jordan exploded, drumming his fingers briskly over the table.

Alicia was fading away in a sub delirious state from the anemia, worse in the afternoon but that always let up in the early hours.  During the day her sickness never advanced, but each morning she woke up livid, in and out of consciousness.  Only at night did life seem to leave her in new waves of blood.  Always upon waking she had the sensation of a thousand kilos on top of her pinning her to the bed.  By the third day this sinking sensation never left her.  She could barely move her head.  She didn’t want anyone to touch the bed, not to even fluff her pillow.  Her twilight terrors came now in the form of monsters dragging themselves toward the bed and climbing up her quilt arduously.

Later she lost consciousness.  In her final two days she rambled incessantly in a low voice.  All the lights remained mournfully on in the room and in the living room.  In the agonizing silence of the house, one could not hear more than the delirious monotone mumbling coming from the bed and the quiet thuds of Jordan’s eternal footsteps.

At last, Alicia died.  The servant, returning alone to the room after stripping the bed, looked at the pillow for a moment in surprise.

“Señor!” She called out to Jordan in a low voice.  “There are stains on the pillow that look like blood.”

Jordan came over quickly and bent over the bed.  Indeed, on the pillow cover, on both sides of the dent where Alicia’s head rested, little dark stains could be seen.

“They look like bites.” Murmured the servant after a moment of immobile observation.

“Hold it up to the light” Jordan told her.

The servant lifted it up but immediately let it fall and stood looking down at it, pale and shaking.  Without knowing why, Jordan felt his hair stand up.

“What is it?” he murmured with a rough voice.

“It’s heavy.” She said slowly, still shaking.

Jordan lifted it up; it was extraordinarily heavy.  They brought it with them and over the dining room table Jordan gashed open the pillow cover.  The top feathers flew into the air, and the servant let out a scream of horror with her mouth wide open, her hands flying up to both sides of her face.  Over the sheets, between the feathers, slowly moved its hairy legs, it was a monstrous animal, a slimy and living ball.  It was so swollen that its mouth was barely pronounceable.

Night after night, since Alicia had fallen into bed, it would stealthily apply its mouth—it’s trunk, more like it—to her temples, sucking her blood.  The bite was barely perceptible.  The daily fluffing of the pillow without a doubt had slowed its progress at first, but ever since the young woman stopped moving the sucking went at a dizzying speed.  In five days and five nights, Alicia was emptied.

The parasites that live on birds, usually very small, manage to grow to an enormous size under certain conditions.  Human blood seemed to be to them particularly favorable, and it’s not unusual to find them on feather pillows.


17 thoughts on “El almohadón de plumas / The Feather Pillow

      1. Thank you for this translation. A South American lady called Quiroga the Edgar Allan Poe of that continent. Your translation does bring that Poe-esque quality to the story.

    1. It’s Horacio Quiroga, a man from Argentina and lived in the early 1900s. He has quite a few works and all are good, a few are mind benders or have twists at the end! Fantastic translation, good job for keeping it so close to the original.

      1. Horacio Quiroga was born in Uruguay although he lived and worked both in Uruguay and Argentina.

  1. I really appreciate you taking your time in translating this amazing story. When i tried reading it in Spanish i couldn’t understand any of it, not even google translate helped, so keep up the good work!

  2. My Uruguayan friend is introducing me to the literature of South America. Thank you for this translation.

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