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El Almohadón de Pluma /The Feather Pillow

Horacio Quiroga (1907)

This short story is an allegorical tale about a young bride’s experience of marriage, told in the form of a horror story. The writing is notably laconic, with very simple sentence structure for a Spanish literary text of this time, and it has an observational, almost clinical feel. I have tried to preserve this tone in my translation.

Su luna de miel fue un largo escalofrío. Rubia, angelical y tímida, el carácter duro de su marido heló sus soñadas niñerías de novia. Lo quería mucho, sin embargo, a veces con un ligero estremecimiento cuando volviendo de noche juntos por la calle, echaba una furtiva mirada a la alta estatura de Jordán, mudo desde hacía una hora. Él, por su parte, la amaba profundamente, sin darlo a conocer.

The honeymoon passed in a prolonged chill. Blonde, angelic and timid, the hard core of her husband’s character frosted over her childish fantasies of being a bride. She loved him very much, though, sometimes a little tremblingly as returning home together through the streets at night she cast a furtive glance at Jordán’s lofty figure, silent for over an hour. For his part, he loved her very deeply, but he did not show it.

Durante tres meses –se habían casado en abril– vivieron una dicha especial. Sin duda hubiera ella deseada menos severidad en ese rígido cielo de amor, más expansiva e incauta ternura; pero el impasible semblante de su marido la contenía siempre.

For three months – they had married in April – they lived a special kind of bliss. Of course, she would have liked less severity in this unyielding lovers’ paradise, more expansive and incautious tenderness; but always her husband’s impassive expression held her back.

La casa en que vivían influía un poco en sus estremecimientos. La blancura del patio silencioso, frisos, columnas y estatuas de mármol– producía una otoñal impresión de palacio encantado. Dentro, el brillo glacial del estuco, sin el más leve rasguño en las altas paredes, afirmaba aquella sensación de desapacible frío. Al cruzar de una pieza a otra, los pasos hallaban eco en toda la casa, como si un largo abandono hubiera sensibilizado su resonancia.

The house in which they lived had something to do with her nervous state. The whiteness of the silent patio –  the friezes, columns and statues all in marble –  created the autumnal atmosphere of a palace that had been bewitched. Inside, the glacial sheen of the stucco, not a single scratch to be found on the high expanses of the walls, deepened this bleak sensation of coldness. Passing from one room to another, one’s footsteps echoed all around the house, as if its resonance had been heightened by long abandonment.

En ese extraño nido de amor, Alicia pasó todo el otoño. No obstante, había concluido por echar un velo sobre sus antiguos sueños, y aún vivía dormida en la casa hostil, sin querer pensar en nada hasta que llegaba su marido.

In this strange lovers’ sanctum Alicia passed the whole autumn. Nevertheless, she had finally drawn a curtain over her old dreams, and continued to live numbly in that inhospitable house, content to think of nothing at all until her husband returned.

No es raro que adelgazara. Tuvo un ligero ataque de influenza que se arrastró insidiosamente días y días; Alicia no se reponía nunca. Al fin una tarde pudo salir al jardín apoyada en el brazo de él. Miraba indiferente a uno y otro lado. De pronto Jordán, con honda ternura, le pasó la mano por la cabeza, y Alicia rompió enseguida en sollozos, echándole los brazos al cuello. Lloró largamente todo su espanto callado, redoblando el llanto a la menor tentativa de caricia. Luego los sollozos fueron retardándose, y aún quedó largo rato escondida en su cuello, sin moverse ni decir una palabra.

It was not surprising that she should lose weight. She suffered a mild attack of influenza which lingered insidiously for days and days; Alicia never seemed to be getting better. Eventually one evening she was able to go out to the garden, supporting herself on his arm. She looked from side to side, impassive. Suddenly, Jordán, with profound tenderness, stroked her head with his hand, and Alicia at once broke down, sobbing, throwing her arms around his neck. For a long time she wept, unleashing all of her smothered terror, her distress intensifying at his every tentative move to caress her. Later, even after he sobs began to subside, she remained for a long time with her face buried in his neck, without moving or saying a word.

Fue ese el último día que Alicia estuvo levantada. Al día siguiente amaneció desvanecida. El médico de Jordán la examinó con suma atención, ordenándole calma y descanso absolutos.

This was the last day that Alicia was to get out of bed. The next morning, she awoke wan and listless. Jordán’s physician examined her with great thoroughness, and ordered complete quiet and rest.

—No sé –le dijo a Jordán en la puerta de calle, con la voz todavía baja–. Tiene una gran debilidad que no me explico, y sin vómitos, nada…Si mañana se despierta como hoy, llámeme enseguida.

“I just don’t know,” he said to Jordán at the front door, his voice still lowered. “She is very weak, and I can’t see why, and without any vomiting or anything…if she is still like this tomorrow when she wakes up, call for me at once.”

Al otro día Alicia seguía peor. Hubo consulta. Constatóse una anemia de marcha agudísima, completamente inexplicable. Alicia no tuvo más desmayos, pero se iba visiblemente a la muerte. Todo el día el dormitorio estaba con las luces prendidas y en pleno silencio. Pasábanse horas sin oír el menor ruido. Alicia dormitaba. Jordán vivía casi en la sala, también con toda la luz encendida. Paseábase sin cesar de un extremo a otro, con incansable obstinación. La alfombra ahogaba sus pasos. A ratos entraba en el dormitorio y proseguía su mudo vaivén a lo largo de la cama, mirando a su mujer cada vez que caminaba en su dirección.   

The next day Alicia was worse still. A consultation was held. She was declared to be suffering from an acute anaemia which defied all explanation. Alicia was no longer fainting, but she was visibly moving closer and closer to death. All day long the lamps burned in her bedroom, which was completely silent. Hours would pass without the slightest sound. Alicia dozed. Jordán barely left the drawing room, where, too, all the lights were lit. He paced incessantly from one corner of the room to another, with unstinting tenacity. The carpet muffled his steps. Every now and then he would enter the bedroom and continue his silent, back-and-forth motion alongside the bed, watching his wife each time that he walked in her direction.

Pronto Alicia comenzó a tener alucinaciones, confusas y flotantes al principio, y que descendieron luego a ras del suelo. La joven, con los ojos desmesuradamente abiertos, no hacía sino mirar la alfombra a uno y otro lado del respaldo de la cama. Una noche se quedó de repente mirando fijamente. Al rato abrió la boca para gritar, y sus narices y labios se perlaron de sudor. —¡Jordán! ¡Jordán! –clamó, rígida de espanto, sin dejar de mirar la alfombra.

Soon Alicia began to have hallucinations, confused and nebulous at first but later taking more earthly form. Her eyes unnaturally wide, she did little but gaze at the carpet on either side of the headboard. One night her gaze suddenly became fixed on a single point. After a moment she opened her mouth to call out, sweat forming on her nostrils and lips like pearls. “Jordán! Jordán!” she cried, rigid with terror, without lifting her eyes from the carpet.

Jordán corrió al dormitorio, y al verlo aparecer Alicia dio un alarido de horror.

Jordán ran into the room, and seeing him appear Alicia let out a scream of horror.

—¡Soy yo, Alicia, soy yo!

“It’s me, Alicia, it’s me!”

Alicia lo miró con extravío, miró la alfombra, volvió a mirarlo, y después de largo rato de estupefacta confrontación, se serenó. Sonrió y tomó entre las suyas la mano de su marido, acariciándola temblando.

Alicia looked at him blankly, looked down at the carpet, looked back at Jordán, and after a long interval of astonished juxtaposition, she suddenly grew calm. She smiled and took his hand between her trembling ones, caressing it.

Entre sus alucinaciones más porfiadas, hubo un antropoide, apoyado en la alfombra sobre los dedos, que tenía fijos en ella los ojos.

Among her most persistent hallucinations was a humanoid figure, resting on its knuckles on the carpet, staring at her.

Los médicos volvieron inútilmente. Había allí delante de ellos una vida que se acababa, desangrándose día a día, hora a hora, sin saber absolutamente cómo. En la última consulta Alicia yacía en estupor mientras ellos la pulsaban, pasándose de uno a otro la muñeca inerte. La observaron largo rato en silencio y siguieron al comedor.

The doctors returned to no avail. Right in front of their eyes a life was being extinguished, draining away day by day, hour by hour, and they had not the faintest idea why. In the final visit, Alicia lay in a stupor while the doctors examined her, taking turns to hold her motionless wrist. They watched her in silence for a long time before filing into the dining room.

—Pst… –se encogió de hombros desalentado su médico–. Es un caso serio… poco hay que hacer…

“Pfft,” shrugged Jordán’s disheartened physician. “It’s a serious case…there is little to be done for her.”

—¡Sólo eso me faltaba! –resopló Jordán. Y tamborileó bruscamente sobre la mesa.

“That’s all I needed to hear!” spluttered Jordán. He drummed his fingers sharply on the tabletop.

Alicia fue extinguiéndose en su delirio de anemia, agravado de tarde, pero que remitía siempre en las primeras horas. Durante el día no avanzaba su enfermedad, pero cada mañana amanecía lívida, en síncope casi. Parecía que únicamente de noche se le fuera la vida en nuevas olas de sangre. Tenía siempre al despertar la sensación de estar desplomada en la cama con un millón de kilos encima. Desde el tercer día este hundimiento no la abandonó más. Apenas podía mover la cabeza. No quiso que le tocaran la cama, ni aun que le arreglaran el almohadón. Sus terrores crepusculares avanzaron en forma de monstruos que se arrastraban hasta la cama y trepaban dificultosamente por la colcha.

Alicia was fading away in an anaemic delirium, more severe in the evenings but always tempered in the early hours of the morning. Over the course of the day her illness did not grow any more acute, but every morning she awoke pallid, barely conscious. It was as if, only at night, her lifeblood was ebbing away. On waking, she always felt as if a thousand-tonne weight was pinning her to the bed. After the third day, this sinking feeling never left her again. She was barely able to move her head. She would not let anyone touch the bed, even to rearrange her pillow [1]. Her twilight terrors drew ever closer, in the form of monsters which would crawl towards the bed and laboriously climb up the bedspread.

Perdió luego el conocimiento. Los dos días finales deliró sin cesar a media voz. Las luces continuaban fúnebremente encendidas en el dormitorio y la sala. En el silencio agónico de la casa, no se oía más que el delirio monótono que salía de la cama, y el rumor ahogado de los eternos pasos de Jordán.

Next, she lost consciousness.  On the final two days she rambled softly, incessantly. The lamps remained forlornly lit in the bedroom and the drawing room. In the funereal silence of the house, the only sound was the monotonous raving emanating from the bed, and the muffled echo of Jordán’s relentless pacing.

Murió, por fin. La sirvienta, que entró después a deshacer la cama, sola ya, miró un rato extrañada el almohadón.

At last, Alicia died. The maid, who came into the room after stripping the bed, empty now, stood for a moment looking at the pillow in surprise.

—¡Señor! –llamó a Jordán en voz baja–. En el almohadón hay manchas que parecen de sangre.

“Señor!” she called for Jordán in a hushed voice. “There are stains on the pillow, it looks like blood.”

Jordán se acercó rápidamente y se dobló a su vez. Efectivamente, sobre la funda, a ambos lados del hueco que había dejado la cabeza de Alicia, se veían manchitas oscuras.

Jordán came quickly, and he too bent over the bed. Sure enough, on the pillowcase, on either side of the hollow that Alicia’s head had left behind, some little dark marks could be seen.

—Parecen picaduras –murmuró la sirvienta después de un rato de inmóvil observación.

“They look like bites,” murmured the maid after a few moments of static contemplation.

—Levántelo a la luz –le dijo Jordán. La sirvienta lo levantó, pero enseguida lo dejó caer, y se quedó mirando a aquél, lívida y temblando. Sin saber por qué, Jordán sintió que los cabellos se le erizaban.

“Bring it up into the light,” Jordán said. The maid lifted the pillow, but immediately dropped it again and stood staring at it, pallid and trembling. Jordán felt his scalp prickle, although he could not have said why.

—¿Qué hay? –murmuró con la voz ronca.

—Pesa mucho –articuló la sirvienta, sin dejar de temblar.

“What’s the matter?” he murmured, his voice gruff.

“It’s so heavy,” the maid answered slowly. She was still trembling.

Jordán lo levantó; pesaba extraordinariamente. Salieron con él, y sobre la mesa del comedor Jordán cortó funda y envoltura de un tajo. Las plumas superiores volaron, y la sirvienta dio un grito de horror con toda la boca abierta, llevándose las manos crispadas a los bandos: –sobre el fondo, entre las plumas, moviendo lentamente las patas velludas, había un animal monstruoso, una bola viviente y viscosa. Estaba tan hinchado que apenas se le pronunciaba la boca.

Jordán lifted the pillow; it was astonishingly heavy. He took it from the room and, on the dining room table, cut through the pillowcase and the underlying cover in one slash. The uppermost feathers flew into the air, and the maid let out a cry of horror, open-mouthed, as she raised her clenched fists to her face. At the bottom, among the feathers, slowly stirring its downy legs was a monstrous creature, a gelatinous, living ball. It was so bloated that its mouth was barely discernible.

Noche a noche, desde que Alicia había caído en cama, había aplicado sigilosamente su boca –su trompa, mejor dicho– a las sienes de aquélla, chupándole la sangre. La picadura era casi imperceptible. La remoción diaria del almohadón había impedido sin duda su desarrollo, pero desde que la joven no pudo moverse, la succión fue vertiginosa. En cinco días, en cinco noches, había vaciado a Alicia.

Night after night, after Alicia had fallen into bed, the creature had stealthily applied its mouth – its proboscis, rather – to her temples, sucking out her blood. The puncture mark was almost imperceptible. The daily turning of the pillow had no doubt hampered its growth, but ever since Alicia had been unable to move, the suction had reached a furious rate. In five days and five nights, it had emptied Alicia.

Estos parásitos de las aves, diminutos en el medio habitual, llegan a adquirir en ciertas condiciones proporciones enormes. La sangre humana parece serles particularmente favorable, y no es raro hallarlos en los almohadones de pluma.

Such avian parasites, tiny in their usual habitat, can in certain conditions grow to a colossal size. Human blood seems to be particularly nourishing to them –  and it is not unusual to find them in feather pillows.

Copyright © 2016 Ruth Grant. Source text published by Biblioteca Ayacucho Digital under a Creative Commons Licence.


Quiroga, H. (2004). La Almohadón de Pluma [1907]. In Quiroga, H. Cuentos, 3rd Edition. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, pp. 45-48.


[1]: An almohadón is a large, flat, square pillow which can be used for sleeping or as a cushion,  similar in function but not in form to the old-fashioned bolster.


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