The Feather Pillow (Translation of Quiroga story El Almohadon de Plumas)

Their honeymoon was a long, frosty affair. Blonde, angelic, and shy, the bride discovered that her childish dreams dissipated beneath the weight of her husband’s rigid character. She loved him very much, however. At times, walking together at night back along the street, she would furtively glance at Jordan, so tall and quiet for the past hour, and tremor slightly. For his part, he loved her deeply, without allowing himself to recognise the fact.

For three months – they had married in April – they were very happy. Without doubt she would have preferred less severity in the haven of love they shared, a broader, less cautious tenderness, but her impassive husband always held back.

The house in which they lived was of no little importance in this regard. The white patio, with its friezes, columns, and marble statues produced an autumn-like impression of an enchanted palace. Within, the stucco’s glacial shine, which revealed not even the faintest scratch on the high walls, confirmed that impression of unpleasant cold. Crossing from one room to another, one’s footsteps echoed throughout the whole house, as if a long abandonment heightened their resonance.

Alicia passed the whole autumn in this peculiar love nest. In spite of the fact that she had thrown a veil over her old dreams, she still slept in the hostile environment, unwilling to think of anything but her husband.

It’s hardly surprising that she lost weight. She suffered a mild dose of flu that laid her low in the most insidious fashion for several days; Alicia never quite recovered from it. Late one afternoon, she was able to take a walk in the garden, leaning on the supportive arm of her husband. She looked indifferently to either side of her. When Jordan, with great tenderness, suddenly ran his hand through her hair, she began sobbing at once and threw her arms around his neck. She cried for a long time. All her silent terror flowed in her tears, the intensity of which increased at the mere hint of a caress. Later, when her sobbing had almost stopped, she still clung to Jordan’s neck for a long time, without moving or saying a word.

This was the last day that Alicia left her bed. The next morning she tried to rise but fell in a faint. Jordan’s doctor examined her with due care and gave orders that she remain in bed with complete rest.

“I don’t know,” he said to Jordan at the door leading to the street, his voice still low. “She’s very weak, but I can’t explain why. She’s not vomiting or anything… If she’s the same in the morning, call me at once.”

The next day her condition had worsened. During another consultation it was observed that she was suffering anaemia relentless in its march and yet completely inexplicable. She experienced no more faints but clearly lay on the verge of death. The lights stayed on and silence reigned in her room the whole day long. Hours passed without the slightest noise from there. Alicia slept. Jordan remained in the living room, where the lights also remained on. He wandered ceaselessly, with tireless obstinacy, from one end to the other. The carpet muffled the sound of his steps. From time to time he entered the bedroom and continued his silent to-and-fro the length of the bed, stopping for a moment at each end to gaze at his wife.

Soon, Alicia began experiencing hallucinations that seemed to float above her confusedly at first but later dropped to floor level. The young woman, her eyes open to a disproportionate degree, did nothing more than gaze at the carpet to either side of the back of the bed. One night she began staring fixedly all of a sudden. Moments later she opened her mouth to cry out, her nostrils and lips beaded with sweat.

“Jordan! Jordan!” she cried, rigid with fright, still staring at the carpet.

Jordan ran into the bedroom. Sighting him, Alicia unleashed a horrified shriek.

“It’s me, Alicia, it’s me!”

Alicia looked at him as if she failed to recognise him, gazed at the carpet, looked back at him, and after a long moment of speechless stupefaction calmed down. She smiled and took her husband’s hands in hers, caressing them for half an hour, trembling.

An anthropoid that supported itself on the carpet on its fingers and gazed fixedly into her eyes featured among her most persistent hallucinations.

The doctors came back futilely. Before them a life was ebbing away, bleeding little by little every day, hour after hour, but they could not be certain of the reason why. During the last consultation, Alicia lay in a stupor while they checked her pulse, each one leaving the lifeless wrist for the one beside him. They studied her for a long time and then continued to the dining room.

“Pst…” said Jordan’s doctor, shrugging his shoulders discouragingly. “It’s a serious case… There’s little can be done.”

“That’s all I needed!’ snorted Jordan. He drummed his fingers brusquely on the table.

Alicia was succumbing to a delirium of anaemia most pronounced in the evenings but less relentless in the early hours of the day. During the daytime her illness never worsened but every morning she awoke discoloured and almost blacked out. It appeared that new waves of blood flowed out of her only at night. She always awoke feeling as if she had collapsed on the bed with the weight of a million kilograms upon her. The sensation of sinking never left her after the third day. She could scarcely raise her head. She did not want anyone to touch the bed, or even arrange the pillow. Her nightly terror now took the form of monsters that crawled toward the bed and climbed with difficulty upon the bedspread.

Afterwards she lost consciousness. During the last two days she intoned softly in her delirium. The lights continued shining gloomily in the bedroom and the living room. In the agonising silence that hung over the house nothing could be heard but the monotonic delirium issuing from the bedroom and the dull resounding of Jordan’s never ending footsteps.

Alicia finally died. When the servant later entered the room to strip the bed, she gazed surprised at the pillow.

“Sir!” she called Jordan in a low voice. “There appear to be bloodstains on the pillow.”

Jordan appeared quickly and was at once taken aback by the sight. Indeed, upon the pillowcase, to both sides of the hollow where Alicia’s head had lain, there were dark stains.

“They look like bites,” murmured the servant after a studied glance.

“Bring it to the light,” Jordan said to her.

The servant lifted the pillow but at once let it drop and looked frightened and trembling at it. Without quite knowing why, Jordan felt his hair stand on end.

“What is it?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“It’s very heavy,” remarked the servant, still trembling.

Jordan lifted the pillow; it was extraordinarily heavy. He carried it to the table in the dining room, cut the pillowcase, and slashed the wrapping. The topmost feathers flew away and the servant gave a horrified cry, her mouth wide open, bringing her twitching hands to the sides of her face. At the bottom, among the feathers, slowly moving its shaggy feet, there was a monstrous animal, a living, viscous ball of flesh. It was so swollen that it was scarcely possible to discern the line of its mouth.

Night after night, ever since Alicia took to her bed, it stealthily applied its mouth, or rather its snout, to her temples and sucked her blood. The bites were almost imperceptible. Without doubt, the daily stripping of the pillow impeded the animal’s progress at first; but as soon as the young woman was unable to move the sucking was relentless. In five days and five nights Alicia lost all her blood.

These parasitic birds, diminutive in their habitual environment, can become gigantic under certain conditions. Human blood is especially to their liking and it is not uncommon to find them in feather pillows.

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About owenlindsayboyd

I am a follower of the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda - author of Autobiography of a Yogi. I begin and end each day with meditation, a spiritual base from which all else proceeds. I am a personal carer, writer and traveller, among other things, originally from just outside Melbourne in Australia. I lived in my hometown until 1984, obtaining a degree in Arts, with majors in sociology and communication studies, in 1980. I have spent a considerable amount of time since the late eighties living and working in a wide range of communities in many different parts of the world. I have lived and worked with homeless people, disabled people and refugees. As a writer, I am principally a novelist though I also write shorter pieces, both fiction and non-fiction and have published and self-published poetry, articles, short stories, memoirs and novels. In addition, I write screenplays and have made a number of low-budget film productions. In recent years I self-published a trilogy of novels dealing, principally, with the themes of healing and reconciliation. 'The Unintentional Healing of Soul' (Changeling / Trafford 2003) was followed by 'Proper Respect for a Wound' (Changeling / Trafford 2005) and 'Thanks Be to the World' (Changeling / Trafford 2009). 'Proper Respect for a Wound' was also published in e-book format by Jaffa Books, Brisbane, Australia in 2013. I self-published a two-book travel memoir, 'The Second of Three' and 'From a Caregiver's Point of View' early in 2014. It is distributed on smashwords. Later in 2014 I plan to publish a book of stories.
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