The Feather PIllow (Translated by Diana Ferraro)

Her honeymoon was a long shudder. Blond, angelic and shy, her husband’s harsh temper froze her bride’s childlike dreams. She loved him very much, though, when at night they returned together through the street she, slightly shivering, would sneak a look up at the tall Jordan who would have been quiet for an hour. For his part he loved her deeply without making it known.

They had married in April and during the three months they lived a special happiness.

Without a doubt, she would have wished for less strictness in that rigid heaven-of-love, for a more expansive and unwary tenderness; but her husband impassivity always restrained her.

The house where they lived had no little influence upon her tremors. The whiteness of the silent patio --marble friezes, columns and statues gave the autumnal impression of a bewitched palace. Inside, the icy glaze of stucco, without a single scratch on the walls, reaffirmed the sensation of an unwelcoming coldness. As they crossed from one room to another, their steps echoed all over the house, as though a long abandonment had enhanced its resonance.

In was in this strange love-nest that Alicia spent the entire fall alone. Nevertheless, she decided to throw a veil over her old dreams, and she lived as one who were asleep, not wanting to think about anything until her husband returned.

It wasn’t odd that she would lose weight. She had a slight influenza attack which insidiously dragged for days and days, which she wasn’t recovering from. Finally, one afternoon leaning on her husband’s arm she was able to go out to the garden. Uninterested in her surroundings, she glanced from one side to the other. Then suddenly Jordan, with a deep tenderness, caressed her head, and Alicia broke-up in sobs, wrapping her arms around his neck. For a long time, she cried out her silent dread, redoubling her weeping at his slightest attempt to caress her. Then the sobs became sparser, while she dwelt, her face hidden in his neck, without moving or saying a word.

That was the last day Alicia was on her feet. The next day, at dawn, she fainted. Jordan’s doctor examined her, and ordered quiet and absolute rest.

-I don’t know- he told Jordan at the street door, with his voice still lowered -She has a weakness I cannot explain, and without vomits or anything. If tomorrow she wakes in the same state, call me at once.

The next day Alicia was worse. There was a consultation. A completely, unexplainable, acute and galloping anemia was diagnosed. Alicia didn’t faint again, but she was visibly on her way to death. Her bedroom was the whole day with the lights on and in a complete silence. Hours went by without any sound being heard.

As Alicia dozed. Jordan spent most of his time in the living room. Also with all the lights on he paced the length of the room with tireless obstinacy. The carpet swallowed the sound of his steps. From time to time, he entered the bedroom and repeated his silent pacing alongside the bed, looking at his wife every time he walked in her direction.

Soon Alicia began to hallucinate: In the beginning, confusing and floating images, which later descended onto the floor. The young woman, with her eyes wide, wouldn’t stop staring at the carpet and at both sides of the head of her bed. One night she suddenly remained watching fixedly. Later, she opened her mouth to cry out and her nostrils and lips were covered with sweat.

-Jordan! Jordan!- she shouted, rigid with fear, still staring at the carpet. Jordan ran into the bedroom and, when she saw him, Alicia screamed in terror.

-It’s me, Alicia, it’s me!

Alicia looked at him, lost, stared at the carpet, looked again at him, and after a long time of amazed confrontation, she calmed down. She smiled and took her husband’s hand between hers, caressing it while she shivered. Among her most resilient hallucinations was one of an anthropoid, standing on its fingers on the carpet, and staring back at her.

Doctors uselessly returned. In front of them they had a life that was ending; bleeding dry day-by-day, hour-by-hour, without them knowing how or why. In the last consult, Alicia lay unconscious while they took her pulse -- passing her inert wrist to each other. They observed her in silence and then went to the dining room.

-Phew ...- shrugged her doctor, discouraged -It’s a serious case, there is little we can do ...

-This is the last thing I needed!- snorted Jordan. And he abruptly drummed his fingers on the table.

Each day Alicia exhausted by the delirium of the anemia worsened in the afternoon and faded at dawn. During the day, her illness would not advance, but every morning she would wake up livid, in a heart stroke almost. It seemed that only at night her life drifted away in new waves of blood. When she awoke, she always had the sensation of being on her bed overwhelmed by what felt like the weight of a million kilos on top of her. From the third day on, this sinking never abandoned her. She could barely move her head. She didn’t want to have her bed arranged or to have her pillow fixed. Her evening terrors came forward under the shape of monsters which crawled onto her bed, climbing with difficulty over the spread.
Later, she swooned. The last days she raved in a half-voice. The lights were on in the bedroom and living room like in a wake room. In the dying silence of the house, there was only the sound of a monotonous frenzy that was coming from the bedroom and the drowned-out eternal steps of Jordan.

She finally died.

The maid, who came in later to unmake the now empty bed stared surprised at the pillow spots.

-Sir- she called Jordan in a low voice- There are spots on the pillow that look like blood.

Jordan approached her quickly and bent over the bed. Over the sham, examining both sides of the hollow that Alicia’s head had left on the pillow, there certainly were blood spots.

-They looked like bug bites- mumbled the servant after observing the sham for a while without moving.

- Bring it up to the light- Jordan told her.

The maid lifted the pillow but dropped it quickly, staring at Jordan, pale and trembling.

Without knowing why, Jordan felt his hair standing on end.

-What’s up- he mumbled with a coarse voice.

-It’s too heavy- answered the maid unable to stop her shudder.

Jordan lifted the pillow; it was extraordinarily heavy. They left the bedroom with it and, over the dining room table, Jordan slashed the sham and wrap. The upper feathers flew out and the maid cried out in horror, covering her head with her twitched hands: at the bottom, among the feathers, was a monstrous animal, a living and sticky ball. It was so swollen that its mouth could barely be seen.

Night after night, since Alicia had been in bed, it had attached its mouth --or rather, its snout-- to her temples, sucking her blood. The bite was imperceptible. A daily removal of the pillow would have certainly avoided this development, but after the young woman stopped moving, the sucking was vertiginous. In five days, in five nights, it had emptied Alicia.


Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937) was born in Uruguay, as the son of the Argentine Vice-Consul, holding then both nationalities, Argentine and Uruguayan. He wrote short stories characterized by the supernatural and the bizarre. He is considered the founding father of the Argentine short-story. A great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, he had an equally difficult life. He chose to live in the jungle of Misiones, in the Argentine North-East and, very sick, he took his life drinking a glass of cyanide. His best-known works are the collections of stories Stories of Love, Madness, and Death (1917), Jungle Tales (1918) and Anaconda (1921. ) The Feather Pillow is an early story from 1907.

These bird parasites, minuscule in their usual habitat, can acquire under certain circumstances enormous proportions. Human blood seems to suit them particularly, and it’s not unusual to find them in feather pillows.


All Rights Reserved--2007-2024