THE FEATHER PILLOW


Horácio Quiroga


Her honeymoon was a long chill. Blond, angelic and shy, her husband’s stern temper chilled her dreaming bride fantasies. And yet she loved him very much, sometimes with a slight shudder when, at night, returning home together, she took a furtive look at Jordán’s tall stature, who had not spoken a word in the last hour. He also loved her very much, deeply, but he said nothing about it.
During the three months – they got married in April – they lived a peculiar happiness. Certainly she would have wanted less sobriety in that rigid love sky, a more expansive and less controlled tenderness. But her husband’s impassive countenance always held her back.
The house where they lived also contributed to their chills. The whiteness of the silent courtyard – friezes, columns, marble statues – made the autumnal impression of an enchanted palace. Inside, the icy glow of the stucco, without a single, shallow crack in the high walls, corroborated the uncomfortable feeling of cold. As he moved from one piece to another, footsteps echoed throughout the house, as if a long abandon had sharpened his resonance.
In this unique love nest, Alicia spent the whole autumn. She had thrown a veil over the old dreams and lived asleep in the hostile house, not wanting to think about anything until her husband arrived.
It was not surprising that he lost weight. He had a slight attack of influenza that went on, insidiously, for days and days. It never improved. One evening she was able to go to the garden, supported by her husband’s arm. He looked this way and that, indifferent. Jordán tenderly passed his hand over his head, and Alicia started to cry, hanging from his neck. She cried for a long time all her silent astonishment, redoubling her tears at the slightest caress. Then the sobs subsided and she continued to hug him, not moving and saying nothing.
That was the last day that Alicia got up. The next day dawn lay prostrate. Jordán’s doctor came to see her and recommended absolute rest.
“I don’t know what she has,” he said to Jordán in a low voice, already at the front door. – It’s a weakness I don’t understand. No vomiting, nothing … If tomorrow I wake up like today, send for me.
The next day Alicia was worse. The doctor came and found an anemia in rapid progress, completely unexplained.
Alicia had no more fainting spells, but it was visible that she was going to the end. Throughout the day the room remained with the light on and silent. The hours went by without the slightest noise being heard. She was dozing.
Jordán spent the day in the living room, also with all the lights on. He paced from side to side, with tireless obstinacy, the carpet muffling his steps. From time to time he would enter the room and continue in his silent swing along the bed, pausing for a moment at each end to look at the woman.
Then Alicia started to hallucinate. At first they were confused, varied, then they settled on the bedroom floor. With his eyes wide open, he did nothing but stare at the rug on either side of the headboard. One night, staring, he opened his mouth to scream, his nostrils and lips sweating.

  • Jordán! Jordán! Cried, finally, stiff with astonishment and still watching the carpet.
    Jordán came and Alicia, when she saw him, screamed.
  • It’s me, Alicia, it’s me!
    She looked lost, then at the rug, looked at her husband again, and after a moment of astonished confrontation, calmed down. He smiled and, taking Jordan’s hand in his, stroked it for a long half hour, always shaking.
    Among his most tenacious hallucinations, there was one that was that of an anthropoid on the carpet, standing at his fingertips and staring at her.
    The doctors went back to examining her, always in vain. It was a life that ended, day by day disintegrating, hour by hour, without knowing how and why it happened. At the last appointment, Alicia lay in a stupor while checking her pulse, handing that inert arm to the other. They watched her in silence for a long time and then went into the living room.
    “This is a very serious case,” and Jordán’s doctor shook his head in dismay. – Little or nothing can be done.
    “It was just what was missing,” Jordán said, fingers drumming violently on the table.
    Alicia was vanishing in anemia sub-deliriums. In the early hours of the afternoon his illness was attenuated, worsening with the arrival of night. The disease did not seem to progress during the day, but the next day she was livid, almost in syncope. It seemed that only during the night his life flowed in new waves of blood. Upon awakening, she had the feeling of being crushed in bed by a million pounds. Since the third day that prostration had not abandoned her. I could barely move my head and didn’t want to change the sheets and pillowcase. Their twilight terrors now advanced in the form of monsters that crawled to the bed and laboriously climbed the bedspread.

He lost consciousness. In the final two days he raved on and on under his breath. The lights were still on in the bedroom and in the living room. In the agonized silence of the house, only the monotonous delirium that came from the bed and Jordán’s deaf footsteps could be heard.
Alicia finally died. The maid, later entering the room to make the empty bed, looked puzzled at the pillow.
“Sir,” he called in a low voice. – On the pillow there are stains that look like blood.
Jordán approached quickly. In fact, on the pillowcase, on both sides of the hollow left by Alicia’s head, dark spots were visible.
“They look like stings,” murmured the maid, after a moment of careful observation.

  • Bring the lamp over here.
    The maid lifted the pillow and then dropped it, pale, shaking. Without knowing why, Jordán felt his hair stand on end.
  • What happened? He asked hoarsely.
    “It weighs a lot,” stammered the maid, still trembling.
    Jordán held it up. It weighed too much. They took him to the living room table and there Jordán cut the pillowcase and the inner wrap. The feathers on the surface flew, and the maid, with her mouth wide open, gave a cry of dread, bringing her clenched hands to the bandits. At the bottom, among the feathers, slowly moving the hairy paws, was a monstrous, living, slimy animal. It was so swollen that his mouth was barely visible.
    Night after night, since Alicia was bedridden, she had applied that mouth – that trunk, better said – to her temples, to suck her blood. The sting was almost imperceptible. The daily change of the pillowcase had prevented, at first, its development, but since the girl could no longer move, the suction had been dizzying. In five days and nights he had emptied Alicia.
    These parasites of birds, tiny in the usual environment, reach enormous proportions under certain conditions. Human blood seems to be especially favorable to them and it is not uncommon for them to be found on feather pillows.
    .

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