“The Feather Pillow”

This week’s weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Feather Pillow”, Horacio Quiroga, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden, 1907.

Quiroga is sometimes called the Uruguayan Poe and certainly the only author of weird fiction with a snake named after him.

This is, as we’ll see, an unusual piece of weird fiction. There are, of course, many definitions of “weird fiction”. Most include some horror stories, particularly supernatural horror. Weird fiction can have menace and not always of the supernatural. This story lies in that zone.

Married life hasn’t been what the “blonde, angelic, and timid young” Alicia thought it would be. Her husband Jordan is rather aloof and never expresses his love. Her first three months of marriage were blissful, but she gradually feels oppressed by the white interior of her house. It seems to be a fairly nice house with friezes, columns, and marble statues. 

She tries not to think of things until Jordan comes home in the evening. She married in April and by the autumn she is growing thin. She got the flu and never really recovered her health after that. 

On the last day she is out of bed, Jordan expresses physical tenderness towards her and she cries. 

The next day, Jordan has a doctor examine the weak Alicia. Nothing can be found. The concerned Jordan paces the floor while his wife is in bed. 

Alicia begins to hallucinate at times. One night she wakes and focuses her attention on a spot on the carpet and cries out in fear. Her most persistent hallucination is of an anthropoid poised on the carpet, looking at her. 

The doctor is again called and can offer no explanation. Alicia is delirious and anemic, and she always gets worse at night. 

On the third day of her relapse, she can barely move and doesn’t want the bedsheets or pillows messed with. She continues to speak deliriously of monsters climbing on the bed.

Then she loses consciousness and raves weakly and finally dies. 

When her sheets are being changed, the maid remarks on blood spots on her pillow. They look like punctures. 

The maid lifts the pillow and drops it, trembling. 

Jordan picks it up and finds it extraordinarily heavy. 

He slashes the pillow open and finds a “monstrous animal, a living, viscous ball” so swollen it looks like a ball. At first, the spider, in Alicia’s pillow, just punctured her temple with tiny marks. But, in the three days she was bedridden, it was undisturbed and could drain her life away. 

The last paragraph is

These parasites of feathered creatures, diminutive in their habitual environment, reach enormous proportions under certain conditions. Human blood seems particularly favourable to them, and it is not rare to encounter them in feather pillows. 

Quiroga was keenly interested in the natural world of the Amazon so, presumably, he’s mentioning something real if exaggerated here. He probably had in mind the bird-eating Goliath tarantula, the world’s largest spider. However, they only get to about half a pound in weight. No matter, Quiroga’s seems disturbingly plausible, enough to be memorable. 

And speaking of birds, are we to see Alicia as sort of a caged bird ripe for the devouring? Are we to take Alicia’s hallucinations as suppressed awareness of a real menace, that her human awareness of a predator has atrophied with the civilization symbolized by that house?  Devouring nature hides in an accoutrement of luxury here

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